Pursue the Fortune 500…

Here is a response I sent to a newsletter from Bob Bly, the direct-mail/copywriting guru. Bob is a fellow engineer turned successful marketing consultant many years ago.

I subscribe to his free newsletter (and have also bought some products) and find them useful and interesting.

The topic that promoted my response was Bob’s recommendation to pursue Fortune 500 clients. When starting out, you may be intimidated by the “big guys.”  Don’t be — they often make the best clients. As Bob pointed out they have deeper pockets… pay higher fees… and have more repeat assignments. They are loyal, too.

Here is my reply:

Hi Bob,

The Fortune 500 companies have been the best clients for our engineering consulting business too.They pay their bills, and bring you back again (assuming you do a good job in the first place.)

Sorry to say that the worst clients have been fellow consulting firms. Had to wait almost a year to get paid by one – their cash flow was abysmal as they were waiting on their clients. After that, we got advance payments from consulting firms.

Smaller firms were somewhere in the middle. If over about 200 employees, they were usually safe. One such smaller firm, however, was owned by a well known “politically connected” equity firm, and stuck us for $10K in a phony bankruptcy.

So I agree with your recommendations. Just because you are an independent practitioner, doesn’t mean you can’t play with the big boys. And once in, they can become very good clients.

Bob was featured here as a past success story – read it here.  You can subscribe to his free newsletter here.

P.S. The Fortune 1000 is pretty safe too. Even the bankruptcy was an anomaly, but I am still cautious of privately held firms. (Once burned – twice shy.)  

Copyright © 2015, All rights reserved.

Be approachable…

This post was inspired by a popular RV blog I’ve followed and enjoyed for several years. The author added this to a recent blog post:


This accompanied a terse reply to an RV newbie who expressed hope in meeting her, as our blogger had inspired and informed the newbie with her blog. I found it hurtful.

While there is likely something that precipitated this, I still respectfully disagree. Anyone who RVs knows the culture encourages cordiality.

No, you don’t have to become best friends, but being friendly is the order of the day. We’ve had many a pleasant conversation with our RV neighbors. Found great places to eat,visit, and camp too!

Unfortunately, I’ve seen similar behavior with consultants – to their detriments. It may be unintended, but such behavior can come across as arrogance. Not good. Remember, people buy from those they know, LIKE, and trust.

In our case, we long had a formal policy to be approachable. As older engineers, we were particularly worried about intimidating younger engineers, so we took positive steps.

  • We responded right away to email or phone questions (at no charge.)
  • We welcomed newbies at trade shows or other events (always good for a beer.)
  • We shared advice on becoming consultants (several have joined the ranks – yea!)

We knew it worked one day when I ran across a quote on a professional forum. Asking for a referral, the response was “Call Kimmel Gerke Associates. Not only do they know what they are doing, but they are very easy to work with.” You can not buy advertising like that!

Later, that sentiment was expressed when my business partner passed away early this year. He was a quiet introvert, yet praise came in from around the world (see eulogy.) I’m still hearing from colleagues who treasured his friendly humility, grace, and approachability.

So be approachable — and work at it too. Keep your ego in check. Not only is it good business, but it is also just being a good human being!

Copyright © 2015, All rights reserved.

Buy Lunch for a Vendor…

Want some quick insight and exposure into a market? Offer to buy a vendor lunch. After all, they spend their lives out in the marketplace.

This is particularly effective in niche markets. You have identified your potential niches, right? If not, review this post.

A new consulting colleague in Phoenix did this with good success.

Upon hanging out his shingle, he took a local sales engineer to lunch to pick his brain about the market. In return, he offered to help the sales engineer with technical support (gratis.)

It was, and is, a win-win situation. As the old saying goes, one hand washes the other.

On a personal note, I had that happen to me as a new sales engineer.

When a customer called about lunch, I figured I was going to hear about our delivery problems. It had been a hard slog and some of his key projects were in jeopardy.

I planned to buy lunch.

But instead, he insisted on buying lunch. Then he and his boss thanked me for my efforts on their behalf. What a pleasant surprise!

As a result, guess who got very fast response to future questions and concerns? We all like to be appreciated.

 So treat vendors and sales people in your market with respect. And if you get the chance, offer to buy lunch!

P.S. Know someone who might benefit from JumpToConsulting?  Please forward a link.  Thanks!

Copyright © 2015, All rights reserved.

Thought Leadership – Is is really necessary?

The short answer — NO! 

But you DO need to be able to help your clients. Time for a mini-rant.

If you are like me, you are probably weary of hearing about how you MUST become a though leader to succeed in business. Unless, of course, you are pitching books or programs on thought leadership.

But let’s back up. Just what is thought leadership, anyway? Wikipedia says a thought leader is “an individual or firm recognized as an authority in a specialized field, and whose expertise is sought and often rewarded.” Gee – that sounds like a consultant to me.

My big concern is the concept may hold people back. As in, “If I’m not a thought leader, how can I break into consulting?” Don’t let this business jargon bamboozle you.

Think about it. You doctor has specialized expertise that can help you. But do most doctors consider themselves thought leaders? I doubt it. Most just consider themselves professionals doing their jobs — helping their patients.

Now some doctors, such as specialists, may be considered thought leaders. When my wife had an unusual kidney condition, we consulted with one of the world’s experts at the Mayo Clinic. He fit my definition of a thought leader. Even then, he was modest to a fault. (Incidentally, he quickly diagnosed the issue, while ruling out any serious problems.)

There is nothing wrong with aspiring to and becoming a thought leader. But it doesn’t happen overnight, and you DON’T need it to get started as a consultant.

You DO need to identify your niches, and you DO need to be competent and experienced in those niches. In certain areas, you may need to be licensed.

OK, so I don’t need to be a thought leader to start, but how can I eventually become one anyway? Writing and speaking are two good avenues.

Magazine articles and white papers are a good start. A book is even better, preferably published by recognized publisher.

Speeches and seminars also good avenues. All these take time, however, so don’t expect to be vaulted overnight into a thought leadership position.

But don’t overlook just doing a good job for your clients. Experience is a big part of becoming a thought leader, and the only way to get experience is to  DO it — over and over.

Malcom Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to really master a subject. Some pundits dispute the numbers, but the fact is it takes time and effort to become an expert – or a thought leader.

As an example, we started Kimmel Gerke Associates almost 30 years ago as a couple of reasonably competent engineers. To market ourselves, we started writing magazine articles and doing technical presentations. At that time, we did not consider ourselves though leaders.

Over time, this eventually led to 200+ articles, three books, hundreds of consultations, and training 10,000+ students through public and in-house seminars.

At some point, I suppose, we became thought leaders in our field – not that it really mattered to either of us anyway. But that came later, not right away.

NO, you don’t need to be a “thought leader” to make your JumpToConsulting. But the sooner you do make the jump, the the sooner you can become a thought leader – if that is even your goal in the first place.

Copyright © 2015, All rights reserved.

Should you take equity in lieu of cash?

Here is a reply to a post by Michael Zipursky over at Consulting Success, where Michael discusses the pros and cons (mostly cons) of accepting equity or shares as payment for services.

Either way, both Michael and I do NOT recommend this. 

I completely agree! Never took stock, nor did I ever agree to work for free on proposals, with the idea that I would get the business if the company won the project (sometimes suggested by defense contractors.)

If asked, I simply explain that I’m too small to carry anyone for free. Better to pursue paying jobs than to lose opportunities being tied up with freebies. Besides, if they really need you they will find the money.

While I have a soft spot in my heart (or maybe my head) for startups, I’ve avoided them and pursued Fortune 1000 clients instead. Even then I’ve been burned (bankruptcies), but only twice in 28 years. Great post!

As a new consultant, you will run into this sooner or later, particularly with smaller firms. Some are strapped for cash — probably not good clients anyway. Others may be testing you — assuming you are hungry for business.

Neither are a good deal. Better to focus your time on real paying prospects.

Remember, you are a professional, just like your dentist or doctor. Very doubtful they would go for this either.


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Lead Generator # 20 – Last (and perhaps least)… Advertising…

There is a reason I saved advertising for last — because (IMHO) it is just not that effective for consulting practices — particularly when starting out.

Yet advertising is the first thing many newbies want to try. After all, Proctor & Gamble uses it to sell soap, and General Motors uses it to sell cars. We’re bombarded by ads every day, so it must be the way to go, right?

Two problems with this thinking.  First, you’re selling a service, not a product. Second, you’re a small business with limited resources, not a huge conglomerate with deep pockets. Incidentally, we’ve seen large company refugees struggle with this transition.

So forget about radio/TV, newspapers, and national magazines. While you’re at it, forget about on-line consumer-oriented stuff like AdWords or PayPerClick. Think like a doctor, not like a car dealer.

Nevertheless, some advertising should be in your marketing mix. The secret is to rule out “mass market” advertising, and focus on “niche market” advertising. You’re not trying to build brand awareness for a new toothpaste — rather, you’re trying to attract the right clients to your services.

With that in mind, let’s look at some adverting methods suitable for consulting. They combine focus with direct response. Consider both printed and on-line versions of these methods.

–Space ads – Place small ads in specialty publication read by your potential clients (not necessarily by your peers.) For example, if you are an engineer looking to provide expert witness services, advertise in legal magazines, not engineering magazines.

Unless they are potential clients, avoid academic publications that are read primarily by researchers. We once made this mistake, and all we attracted were inquiries from recently minted PhDs looking for employment.

Example – We run “business card” ads in two specialty publications that serve our niche. Not every issue — usually the annual buyer’s guide and the trade show edition. If we have an article appearing in the magazine, we run a space ad in that issue too.

–Directories – Pick directories that will be checked by potential clients. Some directories are run by magazine publishers, and others by trade/professional/business organizations. Consider both types.

It is usually best to avoid generic directories such as the yellow pages, unless your market is local. When we once ran a yellow page ad, we got inquiries from copier salesmen — but no business leads.

Example – We are listed in several directories, both print and on-line. Some are free, some have a nominal charge. When offered, we pay a premium for highlighted listing.

–Direct mail – Use targeted lists, including your own. Make it response driven. Include an offer for a white paper, newsletter, etc. Avoid fluff letters that sound like press releases. If you don’t have a call to action, don’t mail it.

Consider a mix of e-mail and snail mail. The former works better for high volume and repetition (such as mailing newsletters). The latter works better for low volume messages, and may have a bigger impact. Sometimes a “real” piece of mail stands out. If using e-mail, make sure you are not spamming.

Example – We’ve used targeted direct snail-mail for 20 years for our classes. Some years we’ve sent out over 100,000 mail pieces. The is not cheap. Years ago the response rate was 1-2%, but has since dropped lower, so make sure it is worth it. While e-mail may be cheaper, our response rates have been even lower yet.

Finally, consider advertising “air support” for your other marketing efforts — NOT your primary method for lead generation. Don’t put all your lead-generating eggs in the advertising basket!

P.S. This concludes the series on “20 Ways to Generate Leads.”  The next series will be “Seven Steps in Selling,” with a focus on selling consulting services.

Copyright © 2015, All rights reserved.

Lead Generator # 19 – Gimmicks

Generally not in favor of gimmicks here – thing like coffee cups, key chains, T-shirts, etc. Frankly, I’m not sure they are appropriate for most consulting practices.

But the RIGHT gimmick can be an effective marketing tool, as long as it is practical and useful.

Planning calendars are a good example — and they keep your name out there all year. I’ve been the recipient of desk planners and pocket planners, and appreciated them both. And when using them, I was always favorably reminded of the calendar donor.

While we’ve not given out calendars ourselves, we have used two other gimmicks with success. Both are useful, and one even includes a bit of humor. Neither is expensive, and both are keepers — having a much longer potential life than calendars.

Useful Bits of Information (UBI) – This is a three fold mini-brochure that fits a shirt pocket. The inside panels contain several tables of engineering information relevant to our business, while the outside panels brief descriptions of our services and backgrounds. Most important — both sides contain our full contact information.

Our fellow engineers love stuff like this (and we do too.) While our business cards may get tossed, UBI may be saved for years. If/when a need for our help arises, the contact information is readily available — including our toll free 800 number.

UBI was conceived many years ago as an inexpensive handout for talk at a trade show. When people began stopping us in the halls to get their own copy of UBI, we knew we had a winner. We now hand these out with our business cards, and also in our classes.

To date, several thousand UBIs are out there, silently marketing our services while helping our engineering colleagues.

EMI-GURU Button – This is a two inch metal button one can wear. It is bright red, like the Staples “Easy Button.” Since we were first, we’ve often joked that Staples must have copied US :-).

Our fellow engineers like this too. After all, who doesn’t want to be a guru? Like UBI, the button gets saved. We’ve even seen them pinned on cubicle walls – advertising our services to other engineers at the same time. More silent marketing.

A narrow white border has both our web site (WWW.EMIGURU.COM) and our toll free phone number (1-888-EMI-GURU.) As an aside, ALWAYS include your contact information on ANY marketing materials.

The button was conceived as a handout at a show to announce our website and phone number. Like UBI, we knew we had another winner when people were stopping us in the halls. Appreciating the humor, we even had several of our friendly competitors wearing our button.

Incidentally, the button was instrumental when we trademarked “EMI-GURU”, as it established legal proof of the use of our trademark. Or so our lawyer explained. We also pass out the buttons in our classes, making our students “deputy EMI-GURUs.” Good fun.

So don’t overlook gimmicks, but do make them useful or fun. Most important, they can generate leads when you least expect it!

Copyright © 2015, All rights reserved.

Lead Generator # 18 – Collaborate…

“No Man is an Island…” beings a poem by John Donne. Written almost 400 years ago, it is still true today. True in life, and true in your own consulting practice.

In this post, we’ll look at leveraging your business by collaborating with others. We’ll examine several facets of collaboration — marketing (lead generation), production (joint projects), or a combination of both. We’ve done all three over the years with success.

-Marketing Use joint efforts to promote your businesses. These can be simple, like cross referrals on web sites or guest blog posts. They can be more sophisticated, like forming a group to provide cross marketing. An example of the latter is the Forensic Group, a local engineering group in Arizona who help each other as expert witnesses.

-ProductionCall in colleagues for help. Maybe you get the huge job, but can’t handle all of it or don’t have all the necessary expertise. A common example is the remodeling contractor. While the contractor may do much of the work, he/she calls in preferred plumbers, electricians, or concrete finishers to take care of special tasks.

-Combo marketing & productionThink temporary  partnerships. That means the relationships don’t need to last forever, but they do need to benefit all parties involved. These are often complimentary businesses, but can even include friendly competitors.

Here are several examples of successful collaborations for us:

  • Teamed with TUV Product Service (a local test lab) on a mini-trade show. Started in 1986, the annual Minnesota EMC Event is now 26 years old. It was our fist collaboration, and gave both firms great visibility in our local MN market.
  • Teamed with Tektronix (a large test equipment manufacturer) on public training seminars. Started in 1993, this successful partnership is now 20 years old. This gave both firms national visibility in our specialty.
  • Teamed with EDN (a major engineering magazine) on a 100 page design guide. Not only did we write all the content, but we helped solicit the advertisers. As a result, it was highly successful for the publisher. And with over 130,000 copies, it gave us worldwide visibility and credibility. The guide eventually became a book, which we now sell on our website and hand out in our classes.
  • Teamed with a consulting colleague on a specialty web portal. This turned out to be a poor fit for our consulting businesses, but it was good fit for a magazine publisher who subsequently purchased it. For the publisher, it was a make or buy decision, and we had already done the heavy lifting.
  • Most recently teamed with the Applied Technology Institute on a specialty class. ATI specializes in technical training programs for the military/aerospace market. We tailored an existing in-house class for their market, plus they promote our existing public classes. Definitely a win-win for both firms.

Don’t want to mislead you — all of the above involved substantial efforts. Yet they have all paid off rather nicely. As with most marketing efforts, be prepared to a lot of work.

Here are some additional do’s and don’ts on collaboration:

  • DO seek a win-win-win – You must benefit, your partner(s) must benefit, and your clients/customers must benefit. The benefits need not be purely financial. Increased visibility alone may justify collaboration, particularly when you are starting out.
  • DO get something in writing – We prefer a memo of understanding. You don’t need a formal contract (which may mean lawyers), but you do need to document the relationship and expectations This is particularly true if money is involved — who does what, costs, and profit splits.
  • DON’T call up and ask for overflow  business – This is begging, not collaboration. We occasionally get these calls, and frankly find them rather annoying. Bring something to the party first.

Finally, collaboration allows small firms to leverage their strengths and multiply the results. Just make sure there are benefits for everybody!

PS – Fellow Arizona blogger Pam Slim (Escape From Cubicle Nation) offers a nice on-line class on collaboration. Check it out here.

Copyright © 2015, All rights reserved.

Questions from a CPA trying to break free…

This question was posted recently on LinkedIn. Can’t help myself … I just had to jump in… marketing a consulting practice is a favorite topic!

I am a CPA who would like to would like to own my own CPA firm, but clients have been hard to come by.  Any ideas on a proven marketing program?

Here is my reply:

Yours is the first question asked when people find out I’m an independent consulting engineer. But after 30+ years in business, I’ve concluded there is no “magic bullet” or “proven marketing program.”

But don’t despair – you can do it as many have before you. It just takes time and effort.

One big advantage you have is a professional license, in an area where almost everyone can use your help. The big questions are WHO do you go after, and HOW how do you reach them?

The key is to focus. You need both strategies and tactics.

STRATEGIES — Try to define your ideal market(s), subdividing into niches. For example:

  • Business (B2B) or personal (B2C)?
  • Local or nationwide?
  • Special services like tax, audit, financial planning, estate planning, or???
  • What about specialty markets, like accounting for medical practices, or??? (Heard of one accountant who specialized in homeowner associations, and owned his local market – now that is a clever niche.)

TACTICS – Its all about credibility and visibility. That can be done through:

  • Speaking (such as local professional groups)
  • Writing (focused tutorial articles or white papers)
  • Teaching (adult education,seminars, webinars)
  • Networking (LinkedIn of course, along with cultivating live contacts.)

It won’t happen overnight, but it is worth it. Pick a couple and start working on them.

Incidentally, many of these can be done while you are still employed. We spent several years “laying pipe” before breaking free in 1987. Even though the market crashed (the very first day in business!) we still survived thanks to those previous efforts.

So it is doable, but it takes work. Is it worth it? I certainly think so – no regrets here!

Several other replied, but here is my favorite, from Carl Harrington, another tax accountant. Great nuts and bolts advice – my favorite kind.  These ideas apply to other disciplines too.

Couple of brief comments based upon my myopic view.

1. People don’t want to pay CPA’s to do the tax work because they didn’t want to pay the taxes in the first place.

2. Many people don’t understand the limited FAT privilege. The people who need you the most (in trouble) can’t hire you or share with you as you are not privileged. I would target every tax attorney in town and offer assistance, to come and meet the client at their office as part of their virtual staff or under a kovel letter. I would do this for free, or else you are not helping to facilitate their employing you.

3. You have a great chapter 9 going on in Detroit, probably with enough accounting and audit work for 30 CPA’s. Have you scoped it out yet? Why not? That work is not only huge, it would be fun too. They are re-negotiating thousands of contracts…..

4. Start volunteering with VITA, Start volunteering with public law firms who do things for indigent people. Soon your reputation will precede you. Go to small business meetings, become a volunteer for SCORE and other similar organizations. Teach classes on tax and accounting. Teach areas of taxation for attorneys, CPAs and EAs.

5. Shadow the local CPA; EA; TAX ATTORNEY meetings. Look for office space opportunities (a) to find what’s out there, (b) as a pretext to meeting new people.

6. Get the tax prep software (demos) and become familiar. Take free training from Drake etc. Get all your computers organized to go into business and clone everything so that you will have backup.

You will have a lot to do, and you will be able to open the CPA office “naturally” as you become so in demand that it is the greater of your choices.

Get busy and sustainedly busy before you launch.

Lot of work to do this……no time to slack off…….but you will be in demand…..

Of course, I invited Max and the others following the discussion to visit us here.

If you are one of those readers, welcome.  If not, you are also welcome!

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