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!

© 2013, 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.

© 2013, 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!

© 2013, All rights reserved.

Lead Generator #17 – Sales Agents & Reps

Using a sales agent sounds like the ideal method for those who don’t like sales and marketing. Just pay someone else to do it, right?.

Unfortunately, nobody cares for your business like you do, so I do NOT recommend this as a primary source of business. To be blunt, if you are not ready and willing to market and sell, you are not ready to start a consulting practice!

But done correctly, agents and reps can generate incremental business. It has worked for us, and we are even included on one manufacturing rep’s line card. We are also listed in a training catalog. While neither is a major source of business, it is still good business and much appreciated.

Here are some comments on dealing with sales agents and reps, based on my 25 years as a full-time consultant — 7 years as a field sales engineer — and 2 years managing independent sales reps.

  • Synergy – Look for someone already in your market niches. For example, both our rep and our training firm serve the same business niches we do. They are already in front of the right people, so it is easy for them to offer our services as an add-on.
  • Share of mind – Good sales people are busy. Keep in contact — out of sight, out of mind — but don’t overdo it. An occassional e-mail or phone call will suffice. If/when the opportunity arises, offer to buy them lunch or dinner (or even a beer.)
  • Support – Good sales people value their time. It is a precious resource. Make it easy for them — provide materials, answer questions, and follow up right away. And don’t be bossy — rather, ask what they need and how you can help them.
  • Payment – Good sales people are motivated by money. Don’t expect things for free. We pay commissions as follows:
    –10% on a lead. We follow up, close the business, do the work, and bill the client.
    — 20% on a purchase order. We do the work and bill the client.
    — 30% on paid business. We do  the work, then and get paid for it.
    Our payments are based on fees only, but not expenses. They get paid when we get paid. And we mail their check out right away — no delays.
  • Agreements – You need an agreement or memo of understanding that spells out terms and responsibilities. Keep  it short, but it must be signed by both parties.

So how do you find a suitable sales person? Network and cultivate contacts.

A good place to start is trade shows. Ask companies in your market place who they use. This is particularly useful if you are targeting a specific locality. Most people will share this, as long as you are not seen as a potential competitor.

Another good place is professional organizations. That is how we met our manufacturer’s rep, along with several clients. Local  chapters are particularly effective — they are like watering holes where everybody regularly meets to quench their business thirsts.

What kind of sales person are you looking for? Briefly, here are four classes of sales personnel:

  • Reps – Also known as manufacturer’s representatives. These are often small independent sales organizations who focus on both a business niche and a geographical niche. They usually operate on full commission, do not carry products for sale, and are paid upon sales/delivery. We are on the “line card” of one rep who serves our business niche.
  • Resellers – Like reps, there are often smaller firms that specialize in marketing services to specific business niches. One example is firms who match-make expert witnesses with law firms. Another is training catalogs, a method we use. Like a rep, both make their money upon the sale.  (Unfortunately, there are charlatans who want advance payment — my advice — don’t do it.)
  • Distributors – These are usually larger organizations, but may also focus on business niches. They usually carry products for sale, and may offer ancillary services. The latter is where you may fit as a consultant, particularly if you serve a special niche. We’ve done business this way.
  • Field sales – These are full time company employees, and likely can not represent you, but may provide contacts as they have a lot of visibility into their territories. I was a field sales engineer (Intel & Tektronix) for seven years, and often passed along leads to consultants as a courtesy (no fees.). In return, they advised me of potential sales opportunities.

Don’t overlook other professionals or similar businesses. Depending on the business, fees may or not be the norm. If no fees are involved, do your best to return the courtesy. Don’t take without giving back.

Finally, avoid conflicts of interest. As Registered Professional Engineers (PE), we do NOT pay fees to non-sales organizations, nor do we accept fees for referrals. Neither are allowed by our rules of professional ethics.

We do pass leads and recommendations along as appropriate, and we make sure our clients understand that no money changes hands. Keeps it clean and simple.

Hope his has given you some ideas on how you might use existing sales organizations. But you still need to do the bulk of the sales and marketing yourselves — at least if you want to stay in business!

© 2013, All rights reserved.

Lead Generator # 16 – Referrals & Testimonials…

No doubt about it, referrals are a leading source of leads for established consultants. But how do you get leads and testimonials when just starting out? Simple… ask for them!

Yes, I know that asking for something scares a lot of people. What if they reject you? Don’t worry — most people won’t. If they know you and like you (and your work), they will be happy to help.  Who doesn’t like passing along a favorite doctor, accountant, mechanic, or even a restaurant?

And if they do turn you down? So what – just move on. Incidentally, this often happens if you deal with sensitive issues. But you still may be able to get a passive referral.

The secret is to make it as easy as possible for others to help you. In this post we’ll look at several avenues — active referrals, testimonials, passive referrals, and references.

Active referrals –  You’ve just finished a project for a client, and they are pleased. This is the ideal time to simply ask “Do you know anybody else that might benefit from my services?  If so, can you share their name?”

Next, follow up with a short letter to the referral. I prefer this to an e-mail (which can end up in the spam folder anyway) or a phone call (which can be intrusive.) Mention the referral source, briefly introduce yourself, and include your brochure and business card. Invite them to visit your web site.

You don’t have a brochure? See my post on collateral. A simple three fold brochure is ideal — keep it simple. You don’t have a web site? Well, what are you waiting for?

About a week later, follow up with a brief phone call to verify receipt. Don’t push. If you have a newsletter, ask if you can add them to your mail list (the polite thing to do.)

This may not lead to immediate business (and probably won’t), but it does plant a seed for future business. And it only takes a few minutes, and the courage to simply ask.

Once in a while, though, you’ll get some immediate work. So keep at it — particularly if you are just starting out.

Testimonials – This is a variation on referrals that can be very effective. In this case, you ask if your client would be willing to endorse you on your web site.

You need to do the leg work. Write up a two or three paragraph summary of the project, and what was accomplished. Be specific. Did you solve a vexing problem? Did you increase sales or reduce costs?

Make it simple for the client – don’t ask them to write the summary – it will likely never happen. But do have the client review and approve the testimonial prior to publication. No embarrassments that way. Ask for a personal comment or two.

In some cases, the client may be uneasy with a live testimonial (complete with their name & company.) The fact that they have used a consultant may be sensitive. We run into this in our engineering practice, and often sign nondisclosure agreements promising to keep the consultation private.

The alternate is a anonymous testimonial. You write this, but keep it general so nobody can identify the client. However, try first for a live testimonial — much more effective.

Passive Referrals – Similar to active clients, these are non-clients who can still refer business. These include friends, business/professional colleagues, vendors, and more.

If you haven’t done so, you need to develop your networks. It is important to keep  in touch with these contacts. We’ve found our newsletter to be very effective.

We also spend time with the vendors at conferences, and support them whenever we can. Sales people are an excellent source of leads, as they are in the marketplace every day.

Should you pay for referrals? It depends (see my recent post on Referral Fees.) To avoid conflicts of interest, we do not pay (nor accept) referral fees from clients or colleagues.

We do pay fees to bona-fide sales/marketing companies. These include a manufacturer’s rep (we are on their line card) and with training firm (we are in their catalog.)  All other referrals are exchanged on a courtesy basis.

Incidentally, most of our engineering business now comes from passive referrals, along with former clients and students. But we’ve been at this full time for over 25 years – one of the few benefits of getting older 🙂

References – The  most generic, a list of references can be effective. But if you are just starting out, you may not much of a list. As your business develops, however, you’ll want to include a list of references.

Many consultants include a list of client names (thinking the more names, the more impressive.) If you do this, make sure you have everybody’s permission first. Many companies are very sensitive about their names appearing in your marketing materials. You don’t want to hear from anybody’s legal department.

My recommendation – don’t use client names. Instead, use a project list. Most prospective clients don’t really care who you have worked for — they care what you can do for them — and what you have done in the past.

A project list does this, and protects client confidentiality. It also sends a subtle message that new clients will be treated the same way. Here is our project list.

What if somebody wants a live reference? We will provide them, but only after first contacting the prospective reference. To keep it simple, we usually provide two names.

When starting out, you may need to have some names ready to go. After all, you are still an unknown. This will diminish as you become established.

In closing, referrals and testimonials are very effective… and should be an integral part of marketing  your practice and generating new leads. Keep at it, as referrals become even more effective over time!

© 2013 – 2016, All rights reserved.

A question on workshops…

Here is a question from Cheryl at the Business Consulting Buzz group:

Has anyone had luck at using workshops as a sales tool?

I am considering this in my area at no charge to increase my client base. Has anyone been successful doing this? If so, what have you found to be the best time of day for larger attendance?

Does anyone think this is a really bad idea?

And here is my comment:

Cheryl — I think workshops and seminars are a great idea! They have been a major marketing tool in our engineering consulting practice for the past 25 years.

I agree with Bob Richard regarding conferences — always good to have a sponsor. We started with free workshops (1-3 hours typical), primarily at technical conferences. This provides a ready audience of highly qualified prospects (both interested in the topic, AND able to get money to go to a conference in the first place.)

Later, some of these grew into paid offerings, although we still do the freebies. In fact, the paid seminars now generate a significant part of our revenues. Over the years, we morphed from a pure consulting firm into a consulting/training firm.

Along with conferences, don’t overlook talks/workshops for local organizations (monthly chapter meetings, etc.) Just make sure you are talking to the right people with the right topic.

Two final final bits of advice:
— Keep is simple. You are not trying to impress your peers, but rather you are trying to reach those who need your help. Think tutorials.
— Don’t sell. Nothing turns people off quicker than a sales pitch. Deliver useful information. The acid test for us is “Even if we never do business, has this session been helpful?”

More details right here at JumpToConsulting – just check the archives under Marketing.

© 2013, All rights reserved.

Lead Generator #15 – Networking…

Consulting isn’t just about expertise — it is also about relationships. What better way to build those relationships than through networking?

Networking isn’t just for consultants. It is something you should do regardless of your career. As the old saying goes, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” True for finding new jobs… and for finding new clients.

Networking can seem painful. Many consultants are introverts — we’re thinkers and planners. We like to deal with problems and ideas, not necessarily with people. Leave that for the sales and marketing types, right?

But if you are a solo practitioner, it is up to you (and you alone) to get the business. You first need to GET the projects before you can DO the projects. That means YOU are the now sales and marketing department.

As an aside, I often advise my engineering colleagues (among the most introverted and distrustful of sales and marketing) to treat getting the business as just another challenging problem to be solved. Looking at it that way, it can even be fun. It is for me.

So how do you network? Strategically. Go where your potential clients are. Think about the niches you serve. This is not about “speed dating” or collecting business cards. Rather, you need to focus — use a rifle, not a shotgun.

And don’t overlook recommenders — others serving your markets. These include professionals (attorneys, lawyers, bankers), media (magazine editors and newspaper reporters), and yes, sales people (reps, distributors, etc.)  Some of my best business leads over the years have come from these sources.

Here are some ways to network strategically:

–Professional organizations… If you are a professional and not already a member — join today!  Participate — don’t just attend meetings. If you business is local, get involved at the local chapter level. If you business is national, get involved at the national level.  If both, well, get involved at both levels.

Volunteer to speak. Short talks and tutorial sessions provide great exposure, and help your colleagues at the same time. Special committees are good too.  We’ve done both, and it has paid off well. Plus, we’ve made a lot of good friends along the way.

One caveat — pick and choose you efforts with care, as volunteer organizations can suck up time like crazy. Don’t spread yourself too thin — you still need to make a living.

–Symposiums… Many professional organizations have annual trade shows. You should attend these too. These are an excellent opportunity to meet the movers and shakers in your industry, which include influencers like journalists and marketers.

Skip the academic sessions, and head for the tutorials. Better yet – volunteer to present – this puts you in front of potential clients. And spend time on the show floor talking to the sales/marketing folks. You’ll learn about new products/services, and often new opportunities as well.

–Trade & Civic organizations… Think about places your clients and potential clients hang out to network. Then plug into those networks, at least on an occasional basis.

For example, if you are an accountant serving a local business market, consider joining local Rotary or Lions clubs. If you are an accountant serving a special niche such as HOAs (home owners associations), consider joining the local or national HOA group. (Yes, such groups exist.)

–Social media... Thanks to the Internet, social media offers many opportunities to expand your networks at very low cost. One caveat — do not rely solely on social media — the personal touch is still crucial.

The big four today are LinkedIn, FaceBook, Twitter, and Google+.  My experience suggests that LinkedIn is preferred for B2B, while FaceBook shines with B2C. Done right, Twitter can be effective for both. Just joined Google+ so I have no opinions on it yet.

The key is to be where your potential clients are at. Once again — watch your time. If you are not careful, these can be addictive and can become tremendous time sucks.

Finally, don’t expect immediate results — networking is for the long term and will eventually pay off.  As a plaque in my office says, “In the pond when you least expect it, a fish will appear.” But you need to have your line in the water…

People buy from those they know, like, and trust. Networking works!

© 2013, All rights reserved.

Marketing is key for both authors and consultants…

As part of my commitment to get off my butt and write my book on consulting, I attended the Indie Author Publishing Conference this weekend in Phoenix. Over 120 authors and prospective authors heard from several panels of experts that included book editors, agents, publishers, legal experts, and more.

The focus was on the business end of writing. Lots of nuts and bolts stuff – how to pitch your book to agents and editors, published vs. self published, digital books, copyright issues, and much more. Learned a LOT about the ins and outs of the book business. In fact, I’ll never look at a book the same again.

A crucial message repeated throughout the conference — marketing is key! You can write the best book in the world, but without marketing it won’t go far.

As one presenter said, “Writing is an craft — publishing is a business.” It struck me that consulting and writing are similar. If you want to make a living at either, you must first treat them as businesses.

That doesn’t mean you don’t deliver quality. It was reiterated many times — you still need to write good stuff. So it is with consulting — you still need to deliver good results.

Incidentally, it is OK to write or consult as a hobby. Many do this in retirement, or as a pleasant diversion during the working years. We moonlighted for almost ten years before going full time as consultants, and enjoyed it. Even made a few bucks along the way.

But if you want to make a living at writing or consulting, you must focus on the business end of things. And the most important aspect of both businesses is the marketing! Without clients or readers, you won’t make any money.

Here were several insights gleaned on the book business:

Publishers don’t market. They print and distribute. Any marketing they provide usually ends within the first 30 days of release. After that, it is up to YOU to promote your book.

Publishers like to see a platform. If you have a blog with 100,000 new visits per month, you can get published pretty fast. Ditto 100,000 (legitimate) follower on Facebook or Twitter. Do you have an existing fan base?  Don’t worry — even a smaller following helps.

Publishers like credibility. Have you written a book? How did it do? What about magazine articles or columns? Are you known in your market?

Publishers (particularly smaller ones) serve niches. For example, we were told that books on southwest gardening often do well in Arizona. Niche marketing works! (In this case, geography and topic.)

Publishers (particularly the larger ones) often work solely with agents. You may need the connections and guidance these specialized consultants provide.

Publishers reject a lot of stuff. Even really good stuff. So don’t give up — at least right away. But be sure you have a quality product.

Finally, it also struck me that there are many consulting opportunities in the publishing business. A prime example is the the husband and wife team of Arielle Eckstut and David Sterry. They founded and run The Book Doctors, a consultancy that helps aspiring writers get published.

Both are published authors (7 for Arielle and 12 for David), plus Arielle is an agent with a respected New York book agency. They presented a session on “How to Pitch a Book” followed by the Pitchapalooza at the end of the day. Good people!

So this weekend I learned about book publishing, and that writing and consulting have a lot in common. Marketing is key for both. Now, back to the book!

P.S. Special thanks to my favorite book store – Changing Hands in Tempe AZ – the sponsor of the conference.

© 2013, All rights reserved.

Lead Generator #14 – Directories

Directories should be a part of every consultant’s marketing strategies. The secret is to be listed in the right directories – those used by potential clients. So give some thought to where you might look to find someone like yourself.

Most directories provide search capabilities (expertise, location…), so consider your search categories. If you don’t see a good match, contact the directory owner and suggest a new category. This is particularly important if you serve a narrow niche.

Directories alone, however, are not enough. They are just a starting point, so you need to have other pieces in place. A web site is ideal, since most directories allow only minimal information.  Be sure to include your web address and e-mail in the listing.

Don’t have a web site? Set one up — even if it is a single page. Nowadays, a phone number is not enough — most people want to check you out before initiating contact.

The good news is that many directories are inexpensive or free. So where are these directories, and how do you get listed? Here are several options:

  • Professional organizations – Good for visibility with professional colleagues, which often lead to referrals. Most have on-line directories, although some still offer printed directories. Often free, but may include a nominal annual charge.
  • Trade magazines – Good for visibility with potential nationwide clients. Most have on-line directories, and some include printed directories as part of annual Buyer’s Guides. Often free, but for a nominal charge you can often enhance your listing. If offered, I recommend doing so.
  • Civic/business organizations – A good choice if your clientele is primarily local, such as legal, accounting, architecture, etc. Examples are Chambers of Commerce, Business Round Tables, etc. You may want to participate in the organization for even more visibility.
  • Technical answering services – For years, we’ve belonged to Intota (formerly Teltech),  an organization that connects businesses with peer recommended experts. Over 10,000 experts in the science, engineering, medicine, regulations, and business. Free for consultants, and you even get paid to answer simple questions (which often lead to longer consultations.)

Finally, directories are best used in conjunction with other lead generation methods, such as web sites, professional activities,  articles, presentations, etc. In fact, our experience has shown that multiple methods multiply your success.

© 2013, All rights reserved.

Resource Review – The Likeable Expert Gazette…

Recently ran across this web site and newsletter, and wanted to share it here. In addition to being a useful resource, it is also a delightful success story.

In 2000, Michael Katz launched Blue Penguin Development, a one man firm that teaches professional service providers how to position themselves as “likeable experts.” Much of his emphasis is on newsletters (a favorite technique of mine) and social media.

Following his own advice, he has published over 275 issues of “The Likeable Expert Gazette,” a weekly E-Newsletter with over 7000 subscribers around the world. Just added my name to his list, and really enjoy his musings. Light, refreshing, and easy to digest. (Gee, I sound like a food critic.) Nutritional, too.

Michael has a BA in Psychology, an MBA, and a past career as a columnist and humorist before going independent twelve years ago. He started about age 40 (boomers take note) and is still going strong. Best of all, he is as bald as a billiard ball, which always sits well with me. Hair is way overrated…

His services range from writing newsletters to helping with marketing. He does this through books, webinars, and individual consulting. If you sign up for his newsletter, he’ll even send you a link to his free E-Book, “It Sure Beats Working – 29 Quirky Stories and Practical Business Lessons for The First Time, Mid-Life Solo Professional.” Loved it!

I’ve not met Michael Katz, but hope to at some point in the future. It is a real pleasure to recommend him to those of you considering your own JumpToConsulting.

The Likeable Expert Gazettete, by Michael

© 2013, All rights reserved.

Lead Generator #13 – Cold/warm calls…

Not my favorite approach, but when times are desperate…

I’m with luminaries like Alan Weiss, Howard Shenson, and Perry Marshal on this method. Much better to have potential clients call you, rather than the other way around. As Shenson once said, your marketing goal should be have clients clamoring for you.

Think about it. As a professional, does you doctor call you to see if you want to buy a penicillin shot today? Does your lawyer call you to see if you want to buy a will today? No, they create both the credibility and visibility so you will first call them.

But there are times when cold calling can help. If you are just starting out, for example, you could (and should) call everyone you know to announce your new business. You can ask if they know anyone who might need your services. Just don’t push your services on them — if interested, they will let you know.

One important suggestion. Don’t rely on e-mails alone for the initial contact. Most of us get a hundred or more cold-call e-mails every day, and we are all good at zapping them to the delete folder. That is, if the spam filters don’t catch them first.

Consider a personal letter. No, snail mail is not dead, and a well written personal letter will stand out. Use it to break the ice, and then follow up with a personal phone call. I think you will be pleased with the results from this two step process.

Pick a number – say 20 per week – and work your way through your list. It is said that most of us know around 200 people. Make 4 calls per day, and in ten weeks you’ve personally contacted all of them. If lucky, you may even have snagged a project.

But don’t stop there. If you publish a newsletter, ask to add them on your list. You’re not publishing a newsletter? Well, time is a wasting. Consider a short e-mail letter. Now that you’ve made the personal contact, the e-mail follow up is fine and very inexpensive. You want to keep in touch.

Technically, the cold calls above are really warm calls.
Since you already know the person, you have a reason to call. But what about complete strangers?

This is where targeted cold calls can work. For example, you just read that the XYZ company just won a contract where your area of expertise could help. Get on the phone and find out who would be a good contact. Check out your contacts on LinkedIn too.

When you find the right person, give them a call or send a letter. But do your research first.  Don’t waste their time “exploring what keeps them up a night” or other similar nonsense.  Rather, offer some ideas or examples of how you have helped others. After all, that is what consultants do.

Here are two examples of cold/warm calling..

The first is Dr. Gary Blank, a fellow consulting engineer. He tells a great story of how he quickly transitioned from corporate employment to full employment as a consulting engineer.

When told of an impending job change, he decided it was time to hang out his consulting shingle. Highly motivated, but not sure where to start, he sent out personal letters to everyone he knew.  Within a month he landed his first project.

Dr. Blank shared that story many times with prospective consulting engineers through his activities with the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Consulting Engineers Network. As a result of his hard work and visibility, he was recently elected the President of IEEE-USA, a capstone to his fulfilling career.

The second is Your Truly. Thirty five years ago as a young sales engineer, I tried a similar approach with some success. Involved with the launch of a new design system, I scoured the want ads (remember those?) for companies seeking design engineers who might use our system.

It only took a few minutes of searching every week, followed up by a short letter with a brochure, and later a phone call. Although not my main source of leads, it did result in a couple of sales. Not only that, my boss even commended me in my next review.

Finally, most people shy away from cold calls. But highly targeted cold calls work, with both acquaintances and strangers. They work best when you first warm them up, and they can be very effective when you start out.

© 2013, All rights reserved.

Starting a consulting practice is easy…

The tough part is making it a success.

Recently ran across a blog post on business startups. The author suggested consulting, since it was so easy that anybody could do it. Of course, the author had never started and run a full time consulting practice himself. Go figure.

So, time for a short rant…

But the author is right. You can start a consulting practice right this instant. Just call yourself a consultant, order some business cards, and you’re in business. The telephone should start ringing any minute, right?

It really is that simple. Except it isn’t.

Unfortunately, this is a common misperception, particularly by those with lots of credentials (letters that can be put after their name.)  Having already achieved some career success and prestige, they assume the rest of the world will immediately recognize their expertise and abilities.

It is the mousetrap syndrome. You know, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” Wonder who cooked up that piece of fiction?

No, it doesn’t work that way. You need customers. Furthermore, you need customers who are willing to pay you, too. For solutions. Not ivory tower lectures or esoteric theories, but real world solutions to their real world concerns.

So how do you get those customers? You market. You sell. You peddle your butt off. Hmmm, not so simple anymore.

Maybe, like any business venture, it takes some plotting, planning, and old fashioned hard work. Sorry, THIS blogger is not offering any magic miracles today.

At the fundamental level, all businesses have three components:

  • Products or services to sell
  • Customers or clients who will buy those products and services.
  • A way to connect the parties (aka a marketplace.)

Really, that’s it. Congratulations, you’ve just earned your One-Minute MBA.

Now let’s dig a little deeper, using the old reporter’s method of 5W/H – what, who, why, where, when, and how.

  • WHAT do you have to sell? As a consultant, it is your expertise and advice. So what do you have that others might want and be willing to pay for? What are you really good at, AND that has value in the marketplace?
  • WHO might buy your expertise? Ah, now you are starting to identify your market or markets. Can you identify niches? i.e. – business/consumer, local/national, demographic, etc.
  • WHY would they buy your services? Do they have problems to solve? Or prevent? Do they have dreams to pursue?
  • WHERE do your customers hang out? Can you identify groups or organizations do they belong to? Media they read – magazines, newspapers, web? Do they use social media?
  • WHEN do they buy? Short or long sales cycle? Seasonal? Impulse?
  • HOW do you reach them? Having answered the 5W questions, you may already have a good idea HOW to start. But starting is not enough — you need plan, and then you need to execute the plan, over and over. Wash, rinse, REPEAT.

Ride along here and I’ll do my best to help you understand and address these questions. Ultimately, however, the specific answers will be yours. Incidentally, I’ve been at it this game for over 30 years, and I still ask these questions myself.

Thus ends the rant.

Yes, it IS easy to START a consulting practice, and anybody can do it. The real question is can you BUILD and MAINTAIN a successful consulting practice? It takes time and effort. Just like anything else worthwhile in life.

Happy New Year! Is 2013 the year you make your JumpToConsulting?

P.S. Signup for our newsletter. In 2013, we plan a regular mailing with recent posts and other relevant information.  Don’t worry about spam — our list is PRIVATE.

© 2013, All rights reserved.

Lead Generator #12 – Seminars & Workshops

If you like teaching (Lead Generator #11), you may consider developing and presenting your own materials.

Due to the considerable start up efforts, however, I don’t recommend this for brand new consultants. Other marketing methods usually provide faster results with less work and money. This is an excellent method to consider, however, after you become established.

We started offering our own seminars at about five years as full time consultants. By that time, we had established ourselves, and were ready to expand the business. Had we tried much earlier, I’m not sure we would have been successful.

It has worked out well. Since 1992, we’ve trained over 10,000 students in our engineering specialty through a combination of public and in-house classes.

The training business nicely  complements the consulting business. Many students become clients, and many clients bring us in to train their colleagues.

But our success was not immediate. We experimented with both content and promotion. After several iterations and a few setbacks, we finally got it right.

So don’t be disappointed if your success is not immediate — one reason why I don’t recommend this as an initial marketing method.


Most training seminars today run ½ to 5 days, with 1-2 days very typical. Longer than a webinar, but shorter than a class. Unlike classes, most seminars are done in a single session — a short cram course where students can focus on the subject alone.

We have found that shorter is better — a major concern is often time away from the office, not the not the dollar cost of the seminar.

Thus, the content needs to be focused and precise.  Most of our seminars range between ½ and 3 days, with 2 days being the most popular for our topics.

The content should also be tutorial. Like writing articles or white papers, your goal is to transfer knowledge, not to impress your peers. Think “How to Tell Time” –-NOT “An In-depth History of Clock Making.”

Thanks to the Internet, there is a trend to offer seminars/workshops on line in one hour chunks. In those cases, it starts to look like a traditional class. Another trend is to record seminars on audio or a DVD.  Like traditional seminars, a lot of effort is still required.


The development time can vary widely, depending on how well you know your material.  Maybe you taught classes or wrote a book based on your expertise, so you already have plenty of content and ideas. But there is still a LOT of work to get to a finished product.

Rest assured, it will take much more time than you thought. And plan on spending more time editing and polishing than on developing the content in the first place.

We’ve seen various rules of thumb over the years. For technical training, we assume  5-10 hours of development per hour of class time. That means a ½ day workshop could take a week from start to finish, and a two day class can easily take up to a month.


The next big hurdle is the promotion. Typical techniques include direct mail, e-mail, advertising, and more. No, it is not enough to build that better mousetrap — you need to promote it too!

As part of your promotion, you also need a plan for registration and payment. There are a number of on-line services that can help here. There are also plug-ins for your web site. We’ve used both methods with good success.

One way to ease the efforts is to find a sponsor. The good news is that the sponsor handles all the promo/registration details. The bad news is that you end up splitting the proceeds.

In some cases, you get nothing except the exposure. This is typical for trade shows.

We’ve partnered several times. Our most successful is a 20 year partnership with an electronics  manufacturer. They have been a joy to work with. We recently partnered with a training firm that specializes in military/defense systems, which complements and does NOT compete with our main partnership.

Going alone is the most challenging. If you do so, expect to spend some serious time and money on this. (See barriers to entry.) It can be done, but going alone is NOT recommended for new consultants.


The final hurdle is the fulfillment. In addition to the presentation, you need to prepare materials and handouts.

If going alone, you’ll need a venue. Will you use a hotel? What about meals and refreshments? What about A/V? Don’t assume anything, and double check everything.

Most of this work needs to be done well in advance, and often involves financial commitments and risks. Be prepared for nonrefundable deposits and guarantees. We’ve had a few failures that cost us thousands of dollars. Try to minimize your risks.

In closing, seminars and workshops can be effective marketing tools. They can also nicely augment your consulting business. But the hurdles are there, so proceed with caution, particularly when just starting out. Don’t fret –there will be plenty of opportunities after you are established.

More examples and information on our seminars at 

© 2012 – 2016, All rights reserved.

Giving Free Advice… Yes or No?

To share, or not to share – that is the question. (With my apologies to William Shakespeare.)

Two schools of thought. One says YES, the other NO. (You say tom-A-to, I say tom-AH-to.) Who is right? Well, it depends — on you and your overall objectives.

  • NO to free advice. As Abraham Lincoln said, “A lawyer’s time and advice are his stock in trade.” Many lawyers today still follow this advice. Thus, the often annoying “six minute” charge for a phone call.
  • YES to free advice. As Desert Pete said, ” You’ve got to give of yourself, before you’re worthy to receive… Leave the bottle full for others. Thank you kindly, Desert Pete.” Click here for the Kingston Trio version.

Maybe because I live in Arizona, I prefer Desert Pete. It also better fits my business model. Most of my engineering consultations range from a 1-10 days or more. Thus, charging someone for a quick answer isn’t worth the effort to track the time, prepare an invoice, etc.

Not only that, is can be seen as “nickel and dimeing.” I’m not pursuing five minute jobs — I’m after five day jobs (or more.) So I just chalk up the free advice to marketing.

If my advice helps, I’ll be considered when the customer has a bigger job. That customer is also more likely to pass my name along to others.

Thus, at Kimmel Gerke Associates it has long been our business policy NOT to charge for short phone call inquiries. We’ve always encouraged our class attendees (10,000+) to call/e-mail us with quick questions. Ditto consulting clients.

To date, no one has abused that policy. Well, I did have one. After answering several questions, I finally suggested he needed to get someone on site to dig into his problem. That in itself was good advice, as I had already run out the string on simple solutions. The calls stopped, but apparently he was not going to spend money anyway.

If it looks like it might take more than a few minutes (research, design reviews, written memos) we’ll provide a budgetary estimate. We also guarantee we won’t exceed the estimate without prior approval. This protects both parties. If the scope increases, we’re not stuck with a fixed fee. At the same time, there are no surprises for the client.

This policy might not work for everyone. For example, if you are an accountant or a lawyer, your short answer may be very valuable. And, it may have taken you years of study and experience to get to the point where you can quickly answer the question.

In that case, charging for short questions makes sense. Here are some options to consider:

  • Flat fee for questions. ($75-100  for up to 15 minutes or so.) You make a few $$$, and still serve your client. Charge it to their credit card, which eliminates the paperwork. Most companies now prefer to pay small amounts by credit card.
  • We belong to a technical answering service that operates this way. Their clients sign up for the service, and when we (as an expert) get a call, we get paid to respond. We don’t make a lot, but it does provide occasional beer money.
  • Offer a retainer. Popular with lawyers and business consultants. For a fixed amount per month, you agree to be available to answer questions. You may need to bound this (up to 4 hours per month — phone calls only — no onsite work — no writing reports — etc.)  Get paid in advance, and don’t refund unused time.
  • Prepaid coupons for short blocks of time. Once again, charge a premium, get paid in advance, and set an expiration date — perhaps a year. This seems to be quite popular in the personal coaching business.

A closing anecdote. A few years after we started, I ran across a reference to our company on a forum. When asked for a consulting recommendation, the responder said, “Call Kimmel Gerke Associates. Not only are they good at what they do, but they are easy to work with. And they won’t nickel and dime you…”

It was then I realized our policies were working — you simply can not buy that type of advertising. Sharing quick advice is right for us, and we still do so today.

The consulting business is one of relationships, not just expertise. Clients buy services from those they know, like, and trust. Be that person!

© 2012, All rights reserved.

Lead Generator #11 – Teach a class…

Teaching can be a great lead generator. It is how I got started in consulting over thirty years ago, and it continues to a nice source of business and income today. Here are five good reasons to consider teaching.

1 – You can begin right away. You don’t need to do extensive marketing or build a customer base. Just check your local university, junior college, or adult education program. Many are begging for consultants (or potential consultants) to share their real world experience, and would love to add you to their catalogs.

2 – Gives you immediate credibility and visibility.
Teaching a class implies you know what you are doing, and that you have been vetted by the teaching organization. Of course, you do need to deliver, but if you have the right experience, you are already on the right track.

3 – You can make a few bucks.
You won’t get rich teaching, but you can make this marketing method pay for itself, and help support your other marketing efforts.

4 – Develops your presentation skills. This is a very important skill for consultants, and there is nothing like practice to improve those skills. (With over 200 classes under my belt, I’m still learning…)

5 – Showcases your knowledge and experience to potential clients. No, don’t do a hard sell, but if they need more help, you’ll be among the first they will ask. After all, presumably you have already helped them through your teaching.

This marketing method is ideal for potential or part time consultants. Teaching a class presents a very low threat to your employer, and even enhances your value. Along with skills and experience, you’ll be seen as someone with initiative to improve both yourself and your students.

Teaching is how it all began for me. My business partner was already teaching an adult evening class at a local vo-tech (vocational technical school), and recruited me to teach a class. These were introductory electronics classes, so as electrical engineers we were pretty well qualified.  The real challenge was to keep it simple.

Even so, at first  I wasn’t sure. I’d never taught, but it sounded interesting. Besides, the school was in a bit of a panic, as the instructor for my class had to back out at the last minute due to health problems. So I jumped in, and have never regretted it.

The teaching assignment led to several interesting projects, which only served to whet our appetites for consulting. For several years, the school was our primary client.  And yes, we got paid for these extracurricular projects.

  • Our first project was to clean up the adult electronics curriculum for the vo-tech. The classes were disjointed, and they wanted to make them more cohesive. We identified several new classes to fill in the gaps, and even recruited engineering colleagues to teach them. Both the school and our colleagues were delighted.
  • A big project emerged to develop a two year program on printed circuit board design.  Unknown to us, the school had received a state grant, and needed someone to do the technical work. It turned out to be a lot of work, but the grant was generous enough that we made a very nice  profit on the project.
  • Another interesting project was to develop a seminar on how to select a business computer. This was when the IBM PC first arrived, and the local business community was hungry for unbiased advice. The school wanted to do a semester class, but we suggested a three hour seminar instead. This was quite successful, and gave us or first experience with focused seminars.
  • The classes started to generated external consulting. Our first independent project was helping  select a computer system for a local medical society. The clients had attended our computer  seminar. Other similar projects followed.

As a bonus, the teaching experience gave us the confidence and the skills to offer our own seminars and workshops some years later as full time consultants. These eventually became a significant part of our income. (We have now trained over 10,000 students in our technical specialty, greatly enhancing our client base.) But without the early teaching, we might not have done it.

So where do you start? Check out your local adult education programs (colleges, junior colleges, libraries, etc.)  They make it simple for you, as they provide the venue and do all the marketing.  They may have prepared classes they want taught, such as introductory accounting, business law, web design, computer programming, etc. They may also have some elementary training for new instructors.

Another option is for-profit training companies. These companies often use contract instructors to deliver their materials. Most are also open to new classes if you are ready to develop your own materials. Keep in mind, thought, that this can turn into a lot more work than expected. Nevertheless, if you have a topic you feel strongly about, this can be a good option.

Can you do this? Yes, if you have the interest and experience. I had a speech class in college and hated it, but when I started teaching basic electronics, I was amazed at how easy and fun it was.  The latter is important — there is no thrill quite like seeing the “light go on” when a student “gets it.”

Finally, keep it simple. Stick to the basics. You are not trying to impress your peers — rather, you are trying to convey introductory information. If your students want more advanced information,  they may eventually turn into clients. But if not, you’ll still have the satisfaction of helping someone learn more about your subject.

In closing, consider teaching as a potential stepping stone to your own JumpToConsulting.

P.S. – What about your own seminars/workshops/webinars? Another variation on teaching, but much more work up front. As such, generally not recommended until you are establisehd.  We’ll cover those in more detail in a  future post.

© 2012 – 2013, All rights reserved.

Create Your Sales Collateral…

When you finally make client contact (marketing becomes sales), you often need simple stuff you can hand out or mail – business cards, brochures, folders, letterhead, envelopes, labels, etc.

Since these create first impressions of your business, they should be an integral part of your sales and marketing process.

These items are often referred to as sales collateral. Some people include web content, pricing and data sheets, white papers, and more in this definition. In this post, we’ll focus on the simple printed materials.

Before we get specific, here are some general comments:

  • Keep it simple. Like a doctor or lawyer, you are trying to present yourself as a professional.  One exception — if you are in a highly creative business, you may want to showcase your creativity. Otherwise, simpler is safer.
  • But don’t skimp on quality. This is NOT the place to cut corners. Go with high quality paper stock with a fine finish, such as textured or matte. Just make sure the printing looks good on it. (I prefer a light colored stock to plain white.)
  • Coordinate the look and feel. This applies to both printed and electronic marketing materials. You want consistency among the colors, fonts, and logos (if applicable). Subtle, but this is all part of your branding process.
  • Put contact information everywhere! One of my biggest pet peeves is having to hunt for contact information. This is particularly true with web sites, but I’ve also had to hunt on printed brochures and even letterheads. In the latter case, I suggest full contact info on the bottom of the page — address, phone number, and web site.

Here are some suggestions based on what we have done:

1. Business Cards – Don’t be cute — use a standard size in a suitably heavy stock. You don’t want your card to feel flimsy, and you want to make it easy for people to file or scan. Although increasingly popular, I prefer NOT to use a picture on the card (but definitely put that in your brochures.)

We settled on a  light gray linen finish with two print colors — dark gray and dark blue, with a simple dark blue logo. Although the second color adds a small cost, we felt it conveys a more professional image.

2. Letterhead/envelopes – Should match your business card, although the paper stock may be lighter. We use 20#  stock which feeds well with most printers and copiers. We also use a matching letterhead for electronic communication, which we usually send as PDF files.

3. Brochures – Should also match your business card and letterhead. As a minimum, I feel you should have a simple three fold brochure that fits in a standard envelope. Yes, many argue this is not necessary with web sites, but there are times when a printed brochure makes sense.

Keep the content simple. Include a BRIEF background with a professional photograph. The photo can be black and white, but you will also want matching color copies for article biographies, press releases, etc.

The rest of the brochure should be simple too. Use bullet points to summarize capabilities, and include a short testimonial or two if available. Regarding clients — get permission FIRST if you use their names. Incidentally, we do NOT use client names to protect confidentiality. Instead, we include a list of typical past projects.

In addition to a general brochure, we also developed a special brochure describing our training classes. We also developed a special mini-brochure with some tables of technical information.  Dubbed UBI (Useful Bits of Information), we find our engineering colleagues often keep these for years – long after throwing out cards and brochures.

Of course, ALL of these brochures should have full contact information on both sides, as people often photocopy them. Always make it easy for potential clients to contact you!

4. Other – These can include mail labels, presentation folders, etc. Once again, these should match your other printed collateral. As an aside, we rarely use presentation folders any more, but when you want to make an impression, they are very useful. We printed a couple hundred with our name/logo for a nominal amount, and they have lasted us for years.

Some final thoughts. You may want to engage a graphics designer for help. We did, and got good advice on colors, fonts, and even a simple logo. It was money well spent.

We also use a small commercial printer. Nothing wrong with the large print chains, but we’ve found the extra service invaluable. They have also referred us to other vendors as needed – mail houses, etc. In fact, our graphics designer was on their staff.

So what is the cost of all of this? Depending on quantities, you should be able to outfit yourself for $500-$2000 depending on quantities and amount of graphics design.

Remember, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

© 2012 – 2013, All rights reserved.

Lead Generator #10 – Start Your Own Mini-Trade Show

Need some immediate exposure? Is your market primarily local? Do you serve a niche market that is tightly focused? Big trade shows – local or otherwise – too expensive?

All good reasons to start your OWN local mini-trade show.

We did this in 1986, just prior to launching our engineering consulting business. Like most startups, we did not have much cash and we needed to gain exposure. We needed to make a splash — FAST — to let people know we were in business.

So, we cooked up the First Annual Minnesota EMC Event, realizing there might not be a second one. It made the splash we wanted, and all these years later, the show is still going strong. In fact, the show has outlived several much larger trade shows in the Minnesota market.

And, it was easier than you might think.

  • First, we checked with a local with a local hotel, and they quoted us $300 for a room for a late afternoon/evening (4-7 PM) meeting. But get this — the room was FREE is we bought $300 worth of food. It was amazing how much food you could get for $300 in 1986!
  • Next, we invited five local vendors to join us, which now reduced our share of the hotel cost to only $50. We also leveraged all of our local contacts. We then printed flyers, and mailed them out to members of our local professional organization, adding another $100 or so in costs. (Today you could use email.)
  • The result? Over 100 people showed up for our glorified cocktail party. And we now had a bunch of fresh leads, plus several vendors who would recommend us.
  • As an aside, we did not provide alcohol. No moral issue — rather it kept costs down and limited our liability against somebody imbibing too much.

We considered the show such a success that we did it again the following year. Only this time we joined forces with a local test lab (one of the original vendors), and turned it into a full day show, complete with speakers and about 20 vendor exhibits. With over 200 people this time, we dubbed it an even bigger success.

By the way, 100 or 200 people at a trade show may not sound like much compared to the big shows, but the attendees were very focused on our engineering niche. The vendors agreed — one even landed a multi-million dollar contract as a result of the second show.  Needless to say, they became one of our most ardent supporters.

The show continued over the years. In addition to the local visibility, it also enhanced our national visibility as our vendors recommended us to their larger markets. I should add many vendors became our friends.  We always look always look forward to seeing them at our local show, along with larger national symposiums.

We no longer run the show, but we actively support it.  Several local firms with administrative staffs now cover the very important detail work to make it a success.

But it all started with about $150 our of our pocket, and a little bit of work!

One final comment — we did not do this to make money, but rather to simply market our practice.  Although we charged the vendors a modest amount (attendees were free), our goal was simply to break even.  In recent years, a modest attendee fee was added to cover some of the costs. Had we become greedy and tried to “monetize” the show in a big way , I’m not sure it would still be around.

So, if you need a jump start for a local market, consider starting your own local mini-trade show. Keep it simple — keep it inexpensive — and keep it fun.

P.S. Click here for info on the latest Minnesota EMC Event.

© 2012 – 2016, All rights reserved.

Lead Generator #9 – Trade Shows

Done properly, trade shows are a great way to generate leads. Done poorly, they can be a tremendous waste of time and money.

Trade shows represent a unique opportunity for both networking (one-on-one) and/or gaining exposure (one-to-many). And unlike most other methods, trade shows can be very personal. Where else can you spend a few days and be in contact with so many industry leaders, influencers, and potential clients?

A trade show is a business opportunity, not a boondoggle. Corporate employees often see a trade shows as a company paid vacation. As a small business person, however, you simply can’t afford that. Rather than goof off, you need to WORK the trade show. Here are some recommendations:

1. Decide who you want to meet. Industry leaders often attend trade shows. So do influencers, like magazine editors. Want to write for a magazine?  A trade show is an excellent way to make the initial contact. Certainly more personal than a query letter. If you really want to meet someone, make a “date” for breakfast, lunch, or even just coffee.

2. Volunteer to participate. This is a good way to meet the “movers and shakers” in your community. Your help will be appreciated, and you will be remembered.  Just be careful not to bite off more than you can chew, particularly when starting out. As the old saying goes, do a little — do it well — you’ve done a lot.

3. Support the tutorials. If you present, make it a tutorial session rather than a formal paper.  Tutorials expose you to the “newbies” most in need of your services. While others are busy trying to impress their colleagues, you’ll be in front of  potential clients.

4. Visit the vendors. Ask about new products and services in your industry. Don’t spend all your time in technical sessions — you can read the papers later. Furthermore, vendors can be a great source of recommendations to potential clients. I always enjoy my time with vendors.

5. Attend the social events. Remember, “all work and not play…” Besides, this is a great chance to meet people on an informal basis. That includes hitting the bars. Even if you don’t drink, you’ll often find interesting discussions going on — particularly later in the evening. (Offer to buy a round and you will be most welcome to join in.)

6. Exchange business cards. Yes, I know they may see old fashioned in our electronic age, but trade shows are all about live personal contact. After the show, send an e-mail or note to those of interest to you. Invite them to join you on LinkedIn — add them to your data base. Don’t just throw the cards in a pile.

Remember, leads are the lifeblood of the consulting business. No, the world is NOT going to beat a path to your door — you need to light the way. Too many consulting businesses have crashed while waiting for business to walk through the door.

PS- Been a little lax here is going through my list of 20 lead generators. We’ll work on picking up the pace.  In the meantime, any topics you would like to see?

© 2012, All rights reserved.

Multiple Referrals Multiply Success…

If referrals are golden, then multiple referrals are platinum! As you become established, cultivating referrals should be a high priority.

Here is a personal example, just published in Million Dollar Referrals, the latest book by Alan Weiss. When asked for examples of “greatest referrals” earlier this year, I responded with the following story. It is an honor to be included in his new book (pp 126-127.)

My Greatest Referral…

While not the greatest financial referral, this was kind of fun. Not one, but multiple referrals, that had the client clamoring to do business with us. No need to sell this one — the client was so hot to buy he was sizzling.

First, some brief background information. We are electrical engineers who specialize in a very narrow niche, electromagnetic interference and compatibility (EMI/EMC). For the non-technical, we are the “ghost busters” of the electronics industry.

Our clients often call us when they are in pain. Something is broken, or they have failed a critical test that prevents shipping their product. Expensive either way, and they need help fast. But they do want to make sure whoever they call can solve the problem and not make it worse.

So a typical first step is to ask others for recommendations. This is exactly what our client, a young engineer recently out of school, decided to do. His boss told him to check around, so he first called a favorite college professor to ask if he knew anyone that could help. The first referral: “Call Kimmel Gerke Associates.

Not knowing who we were, he decided to get a second opinion. He called another college professor who had just written an article on EMI/EMC. The second referral: “Call Kimmel Gerke Associates.”

The professor also mentioned a nearby EMI/EMC test laboratory. So he decided to call them too. The third referral: “Call Kimmel Gerke Associates.”

The next phone call was to us. He said, “Look, I’m a new engineer and I don’t know who you are. But every time I call someone, the tell me to call Kimmel Gerke Associates. Either you guys are good, or you have been paying everyone off. Either way, I need help!”

After a brief discussion, it was obvious we could help. So we set up a meeting, reviewed his design, made recommendations, and accompanied him to a test lab to validate the fixes. After the consultation, we knew that if anyone asked him for a referral, he would say: “Call Kimmel Gerke Associates!”

The multiple referrals were the result of what Alan Weiss calls marketing gravity. Thanks to our multiple marketing efforts, the first referral knew us from technical articles we had written. The second referral knew us from our professional society activities. And the third referral knew us from collaborating on several projects.

We’ve seen this happen a number of times. As engineers, we refer to this as an exponential multiplier. That is, if one referral doubles your chance of success, a second one quadruples it, and a third one drives it up by a factor of eight.  Call it gravity or call it exponential, multiple referrals really work!

Million Dollar Referrals, by Alan Weiss, PhD.  McGraw Hill, 2012.  ISBN 978-0-07-176927-3.  The latest in Dr. Weiss’s series of over 30 books on consulting.  Recommended reading for both new and established consultants.

© 2011, All rights reserved.

Lead Generator #8 – Become a speaker…

Speaking can be a good lead generator, as long as you are in front of the right audience. The secret is to identify your ideal clients, so you don’t waste your time in front of the wrong groups. Focus on your target niches — specialty, geography, industry, and type of business (B2B, B2C, B2G)

Speaking (like writing articles) is something you can do prior to launching your consulting firm. If you speak about your existing specialty, it likely won’t be seen as a threat to your employer.  In fact, it may enhance your perceived value.

Keep the topics simple and tutorial. Like magazine articles, you are not trying to impress your peers — you are trying to show potential clients how you might help. Here are a couple of examples of focused yet practical topics – both professional and business:

  • Professional -An accountant talking about estate planning
  • Business – A marketer talking about LinkedIn for lead generation

OK, you’ve convinced me. Where can I speak?

  • Professional groups – Local society chapters are always looking for speakers, and are a good place to start. Symposiums are also good, but focus on the “tutorial tracks.” Leave the advance topics to the academics.
  • Business groups – For business topics, local organizations like the LIONS, Rotary, and Chamber of Commerce are also hungry for speakers.  Once again, focus on helping those who might actually need and buy your services.

Your talks (professional or business) must be informative and entertaining. Make your talks interesting. Whatever you do, don’t make them salesy.  A good test is to ask yourself, “Even if we never do business, has the talk been helpful?”

If you are really good and enjoy this, it might even lead professional speaking. Many leading consultants make thousands of dollars a year as speakers, doing keynote addresses, etc. Don’t expect to achieve that overnight – you need to earn your stripes. But even if you never make it to the paid speaker ranks, the business you bring in can make it worthwhile.

What to talk about?  Something of interest to both you and your audience.

  • Keep it basic. Think tutorial — you’re not doing a college lecture.
  • Keep it short. 20 -30 minutes for a lunch meeting.  30 minutes to an hour for a professional meeting. If an hour, make sure there is some technical meat in it.
  • Keep it simple. Three things to…  Top five problems…  Four ways to approach… New regulatory impact of …  How to avoid… Understanding the mysteries of …
  • Recycle. Did you write a  magazine article or publish a paper? Turn it into a talk. Add some overheads and you are good to go.  Don’t overdo it, though — we all know about “Death by Powerpoint.”

Your first talk.. Here are some last minute thoughts..

  • Practice, don’t wing it. Have a friend (or better yet, a group of friends) critique it. Time it to make sure it doesn’t run too long. Then practice it again until you feel confident.
  • Going live. If you are like most of us, there may still be butterflies.  Perfectly normal, don’t worry about it. In fact, I get worried if there are not butterflies — that is when thing usually turn sour.
  • Prepare an introduction for your host. Type it out, but keep it brief. No life history. Should be deliverable in about 30 seconds.

Unsure of your skills? Try Toastmasters. Although not a Toastmaster alum myself, several colleagues have praised the organization. I developed my “platform skills” through in-house presentations and teaching technical classes. We’ll talk about the latter in a future post.  Like sports, the more you practice, the better you get.

My own experience. Although I’ve now done hundreds of talks (and taught over 200 technical  classes), I did not start out as a natural speaker. In fact, I took a speech class in college and absolutely hated it!

Later, I discovered that  when I was interested in a topic, I could easily talk about it.  It wasn’t a speech — rather, it was a conversation with a friend or group of friends. The goal was not to impress, but rather to convey information. It does get easier with time — I promise.

A favorite talk was for the Society of Women Engineers many years ago as a sales engineer.  As the only man in the room, it was an eerie feeling to say the least.  Remember, engineering is still a male dominated profession.  (But I am delighted to see that is finally changing a bit..) .

So, I began my talk with “I’ve been trying to figure out why I feel so different here. Then it dawned on me — I’m the only person in the room with no hair… ” They roared. A little self deprecating humor can go a long way. For several years, I would run into attendees at that meeting. One even became a client after I launched the consulting practice.

In closing — speaking can be a very effective way to and generate leads and business, and can  generate new friends as well. Both have happened to me.

Comments or questions?

© 2011, All rights reserved.

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