Geezer Alert… Age Can Be Your Friend

Like it or not, age often matters in marketing a consulting practice. Age also matters in customer perceptions, as evidenced by the following examples.

Real Life Story # 1 – Floyd, a fellow engineer, was going to law school at night.  At the time, he was in his mid 40s, and I was in my late 20s. As he approached his graduation, I asked if he planned to hang out his lawyer’s shingle. His reply surprised me, but also set me thinking about my future.

“No,” he replied, “not unless I have to. I really enjoy what I do here, but law school is my insurance policy.”  I should add that Floyd had been in a car accident many years earlier that had left him partially paralyzed.

“Look at me,”  he said. “I’m over 40 and a cripple.  Who would hire me if I lost my job?”  I started to mumble an apology, but he continued. “No, don’t be embarrassed by your question — it was a good one. But even if I had no handicap, finding another engineering job would still be a problem because of my age.”

He then added, “The irony is that, as an older attorney, age is an asset, not the liability it can be in corporate world. Everyone will just assume I have many years of experience. Like fine wine, my value will increase — not decrease — with age.”

Wow! That set me thinking about my life after 40. Within two years, I hung out my shingle as a part time consultant.

Real Life Story # 2 – A dozen years later, now a full-time consultant over 40 myself, I was called in to help a small company with a serious design problem.  I was also now completely bald and starting to show some gray in the beard.  Oh, the ravages of time…

After solving the problem, I was wrapping things up with the equally bald VP of Engineering.  He thanked me, and then added with a twinkle in his eye, “You don’t know how happy I was to see a bald guy walking in here.  I knew I needed some old rooster that had been around the barn a few times… ”

That’s when I realized Floyd was right — as a consultant, age can be your friend!

Real Life Story #3 – For those of you who are younger, you may want to consider this approach. A consulting colleague has sported old fashioned  “mutton chop” sideburns from a young age.  As he explained, when he started out he looked even younger than he was, and it was hindering his ability to be taken seriously.

Incidentally, it worked (although like many of us, he no longer needs to add years…)

The bottom line — while age should not matter, perception does.  And in the mind of the customer, that perception is their reality.

PS – Don’t miss the “Special Welcome for Geezers”

© 2011 – 2012, All rights reserved.

Lead Generator # 7- Write a book…

Will writing a book help your consulting practice?

In my experience, yes! But it is a lot of work, and not something I recommend to those just starting out. Unless you have materials already (such as class notes or a bunch of research), better to start small and consider a full blown book when better established.

Still, there is no doubt that a published book is a huge marketing asset. Alan Weiss, author of Million Dollar Consulting (plus 31 other books ) calls a book the gold standard for credibility. I agree. When our first book hit the streets almost 20 years ago, we immediately went from a local consulting firm to one with nationwide recognition.

Before beginning a book, you need to decide if you seeking profit or seeking visibility.  Unless you are a NY Times Best Seller, you will unlikely achieve both. Ask any author — most books never make enough money themselves to justify the time and effort. The real payoff for consultants is in the additional business.

Three ways to publish: Prior to the Internet, virtually all books were printed and sold through bookstores or catalogues. Although you might be the author, you still needed a publisher to print and distribute your work. Today, of course, that has all changed.  Here are three popular avenues:

  • Print – Commercially published –  Generally confers the most status (with a recognized publisher) with the least direct profit. It also likely involves the most work (rewrites, proofing, indexing, etc.) with the longest time to market. Since this is the most complex, you may want to engage a literary agent. Ask existing authors for recommendations.
  • If you can pull this off, it can vault you to the top. Although usually a poor strategy when starting out, it often makes sense after a few years in business. On the other hand, an engineering colleague wrote a comprehensive technical book while employed. When he retired, this quickly launched his successful consulting practice and his book is still his main marketing vehicle.
  • Print – Self Published – Provides medium to low status but more direct profit. Still a lot of work with a medium time to market. A word of caution — beware of the “vanity publishers” that prey on hopeful authors. For self published books, you don’t need a literary agent, but proofreaders and other support may be helpful.
  • If you are already well known, this may be a good approach. Thanks to “print on demand” and Amazon, you can even handle your own production and distribution. I know a successful business consultant who uses this approach. He sells his book on his web site, and also on Amazon. He prints them as he needs them, usually a dozen or so at a time.
  • E-Book – Self Published – Provides the lowest status but potentially the most direct profit. It has the lowest status (anybody can do this — no vetting by a recognized publisher) but can provide the fastest time to market.
  • This is a good approach when just starting out. An added advantage is that E-books are not expected to be as comprehensive as a printed book. As such, you can turn out an E-book pretty fast. Many bloggers supplement their content with a series of E-books. Most are pretty basic, but sell well at low cost and high profit.

Sources of materials: So you’ve decided to write a book. Where do you get the materials? With a 200 page book, you may be looking at upwards of 100,000 words, but even a shorter E-book could be 20,000+ words. Recycle! If you are considering a book, you have probably written other materials that can be reused.

Using existing materials makes a lot of sense. Just be sure they are your materials and you are free to use them. Whatever you do, don’t plagiarize! Here are several sources:

  • Articles and white papers — These can be excellent book resources. You’ll probably need to expand certain areas, and you’ll need to tie everything together in an organized manner. We used this approach in a specialized book for the medical design community, based on an earlier series of magazine articles.
  • One caveat. In order to repurpose magazine articles, you’ll need to either obtain a copyright release, or retain the subsequent publication rights in the first place. With white papers, that is not an issue since you are the original publisher, unless you have assigned the copyright.
  • Blogs and newsletters – These are also excellent resources for a book. Since blog posts and newsletter articles are generally shorter than magazine articles or white papers, they may require additional work to incorporate into a book.
  • On the other hand, even leading authors today often publish collections of their blog postings. Just organize them into sections, and add an introduction. Once again, if you own the copyright, you are free to repurpose your materials. Many readers appreciate having these collections all in one place.
  • Class materials – If you have taught a class on a subject, you already have notes (and most of the words in your head.) You also have the benefit of past questions, so you know your reader’s likely concerns.
  • You could even record a class, and have your lectures transcribed. You would still need to polish things, but much of the original work would already be done.

Personal experience –  My business partner and I currently have three books under our belts. One was commercially published, one was first published as a magazine supplement, and one was a series of columns turned into a book.  Both self published books were later turned into an E-books. People were asking for digital copies, so why not?

Our books were based on class notes, magazine articles, our newsletter, and a column for a specialty newsletter. The self-published books are for sale on our web site, while the commercial book is available from a publisher specializing in technical books.

All three books have been very helpful in establishing both our credibility and visibility. They didn’t happen overnight, so don’t feel you need to do everything at once.

Publishing books is more a marathon than a sprint — stay with it for the long haul. Comments or Questions?

© 2011 – 2016, All rights reserved.

Barriers to Entry…

Learned this lesson the hard way, at a cost of several thousand dollars. You’re getting it here for free.

This story goes back to 1981 and my early days as a part-time consultant. IBM had just introduced the PC. Our major client, a vocational school, asked for an evening class that focused on how to use PCs in small business.

Their original request was for a multi-week series, but realizing how valuable time is to a small business, my business partner and I suggested a single four hour evening session instead. They agreed.

So, off we went. We developed the class, and the school advertised it in their next bulletin. We knew we had a winner when over 80 people showed up for the first class. We repeated it several times, got good reviews, and the attendance continued to be strong.

Recognizing an opportunity and with the school’s permission, we decided to expand the class to a full day and offer it ourselves. This meant placing expensive newspaper ads (no Internet in those days) and renting a hotel meeting room.

Figuring the class was a certain success, we plunked down several thousand dollars and went for the gold. We didn’t bother with a pre-registration, but opted for walk-ins. After all, “Build it, and they will come, right?

But when the big day arrived, only three people showed up — and they were all from the same small company!

Well, the show must go on. There we were with three students, a room that could seat 40, and plenty of (expensive) refreshments. Over lunch we explained we didn’t know what had happened. After all, the previous sessions had been so successful.

“What did we do wrong?“, we asked. One of them replied, “Nothing. The class is good, but we are here only because we missed the FREE class last week.”

“FREE!!! What free class?” we responded. Well, it turns out that a new computer store had just opened, and to bring in business, they decided to offer a FREE seminar. Now how do you compete with FREE?

So that was the end of that adventure. It also quickly killed the classes at the school. But as we were licking our wounds, I ranted, “We are engineers. Never again will I go into a business where some kid from a computer store can eat my lunch. I now fully understand barriers to entry!

Not long after that, we decided to focus our efforts on Electromagnetic Interference, an area in which we both had extensive experience. It usually takes a degree in Electrical Engineering plus several years of direct  experience to become proficient. Furthermore, most engineers would rather not deal with these problems in the first place — another good reason to pursue this niche.  Thirty years later, those barriers are still there.

What are YOUR barriers to entry?

© 2011, All rights reserved.

Age Matters When Marketing…

When dealing with prospects or clients, age is a very important parameter. One size (or approach) does not fit all.

According to many authors, there are four major age groups that coexist today, each with their own distinct culture and ways of doing things. All were influenced by the conditions when they were growing up.

This distinction is particularly important when marketing, as you need to tailor both your message and your methods to your target clients. If you serve multiple age groups, you may need to use multiple methods and approaches.

Here are the four age groups, along with some comments:

Traditionalists – Born between 1925 and 1945, they grew up with the Depression, World War II, Korea, and the Cold War. They are often frugal, and value dedication and discipline. Most are now retired, but many continue to work or are “emeritus” employees. Some are computer and technology literate, but many more are not.

A good way to market your services is in live groups, such as short presentations or seminars. This approach is popular with consultants serving senior citizens, such as financial or estate planners. Another way is written communications, such as magazine articles or even newsletters. Electronic methods such as Twitter, Facebook, blogs, web-sites, and e-mail are likely not very effective for this age group.

Boomers – Born between 1945 and 1964, they grew up with Vietnam, civil rights, and Watergate. They are generally optimistic, team oriented, and independent. Many boomers are also “workaholics.” Since many are approaching retirement, financial security is important. Most are computer literate, but may or may not not be involved with the latest in social media.

A good way to market your services is a hybrid of live/written communication, such as live seminars or webinars, and written magazine/newsletters combined with web sites. E-mail is less effective due to the high levels of spam. Blogs are probably a good method for the computer literate in this age group, but other social media may be less effective.

GenX – Born between 1965 and 1982, they grew up with layoffs, divorces, and daycare. As such, they often challenge authority and seek a work/life balance. The readily multitask, and value  independence, tolerance, and diversity. As the first generation to grow up with computers, most are highly computer literate.

A good way to market your services is through web sites and interactive social media, such as blogs,  Facebook, and Twitter. For most, print media such as magazines and newspapers are not as effective as on-line newsletters and e-zines.

GenY  – Born between 1983 and 2000, they grew up with the Internet, terrorism, and globalization, They tend to be creative, busy, and highly social. As the youngest, they also typically have the fewest family responsibilities. In fact, many are in an extended adolescence.  This age group is both highly computer and highly Internet literate, and generally very comfortable with the latest in technology.

A good way to market your services is through web sites and interactive social media, or more personal alternatives such as meet-ups. This is the Twitter and texting generation — if you can’t describe your offer in 140 characters or less, you’ll likely miss the target.

Finally, a personal anecdote. When we first used e-mail in the early 1990s, most of the younger engineers would contact us via e-mail, while the older engineers would call on the phone. Within a few short years that changed, as e-mail became the preferred medium. But even today, our newsletter list is still split about 50/50 between e-mail and snail mail.

If you are serving client across different age groups, you may need multiple methods to reach them. Finally, it is your client’s age that matters, not your own.

© 2011 – 2012, All rights reserved.

Lead Generator # 6 – Websites

Do you need a  website, particularly if you are just starting out in consulting?

YES! Just like you need business cards, letterhead, envelopes, and some sort of brochure. Not only does a web site (and other simple collateral) provide information, but it shows that you are serious about being in business.

Think of your web site as your on-line ambassador, spreading good will about your practice.  Although passive, web sites are often combined with a blog and newsletter to make them more active marketing tools. All three can increase your visibility/credibility.

One important caveat. Make sure your web site (and blog/newsletter) appear professional. A sloppy or poorly maintained site can do more harm than good.

If you don’t feel comfortable doing this yourself, hire a web/blog designer. Thanks to advanced technology, web designers are relatively inexpensive. Your time is valuable, and you probably already use other professionals like a lawyer and accountant.

I hired a web designer for both this blog and our engineering consulting website (, and I’m glad I did. He saved me much time and frustration, and the final product was much better than I would have produced anyway. (Thanks, Sunil!)

Another caveat. Don’t count on your web site to get the phone ringing off the hook. A web site alone is passive. You still need to pursue active marketing, such as articles, networking, speaking, direct mail, and more.

As mentioned in an earlier post (20 Ways to Attract Clients), getting leads is like fishing — the more lines you have in the water, the more bites you will get.

Finally, don’t worry about the numbers. For many web sites (and blogs,) counts become a matter of pride. Am I getting more traffic than yesterday? More than my competition? But as a consultant, do you really care?

You are not an on-line marketer hawking the latest gimmick —  rather, you are a professional making your presence known to those who might benefit from your expertise. You are a niche player, not a jack-of-all trades.

Getting started. Here are some suggestions for your web site:

  • Register your own domain. Yes, it may cost a few dollars over using a free site, but your own domain makes you look serious and professional. While you are at it, register the same name with similar extensions (.net, .org,  .info, etc.) This prevents squatters from setting up a similar site. Had this happen some years ago,  and it was expensive to resolve (lawyers and all…)
  • Provide contact information. One of my pet peeves is having to hunt for address, phone, or e-mail information on a web site. On every page, you should have either a Contact button or your full contact information. You also need a Contact tab at the top of the page with full contact information (including an e-mail form). Make it easy for your visitors to contact you!
  • Make the site easy to navigate. I prefer tabs across the top of the page, with a few simple sidebars. A simple site map can be helpful. For an initial web site, you only need a few tabs, such as Home, About, Services, and Contact. I like to augment those with Welcome, FAQ, and Resource tabs. The latter provide both a personal touch and additional information. However, don’t get too carried away — keep it simple.
  • Consider a combined blog/website. With static pages and a blog platform, you can have both.  If you don’t want to blog right away, just make all the pages static. You can easily add a blog later, and all the tools will be there. This site uses WordPress (with a custom theme), and I am very pleased. WordPress is widely  popular, and has an almost endless variety of “plug-ins” for future expansion and features. (See my earlier post on Blogs.)
  • Consider adding a newsletter. Building a client list is crucial to building your business. We’ll cover this in more detail in a future post, but adding a newsletter to your web site is a quick way to start gathering names. You can purchase “plug-ins” or use external services (AWeber or Mail Chimp) to facilitate this. I must confess that I haven’t done much with a newsletter on this site (plans are brewing), but have found a list to be very effective on our engineering consulting website.  (See my earlier post on Newsletters.)

As your business grows, you’ll likely want to add other features to your web site. The possibilities are almost endless, but make sure anything you add is useful to your clients. Don’t do it just because it is the latest “cool” thing to do.

For example, here are some extra features we added to when we updated last year. This represents the current status, but as a “work in progress”, more updates are coming.

Incidentally, the consulting web site runs on Joomla rather than WordPress, as it is a bit more complex.  (As an aside, I’ve found both Joomla and WordPress easy to maintain.)

  • On-line Store – Three books, and a software product we developed. One of the books was out of print, so we offer it as an E-Book. Linked to Paypal and e-junkie for payment and fulfillment.
  • On-Line Registration – Allows sign-up and payment (Paypal) for our public seminars and webinars. Works well, and has simplified business.
  • Blog – Short technical articles of interest to our readers.  The blog postings are now mirrored on an industry publication, giving us wider exposure.
  • Resources – Past newsletters (20 years worth) and a detailed technical bibliography of publications, web sites, and other resources unique to our niche. Considering more stuff in the future. The goals — help our clients, and keep them coming back.

So, make a web site a high priority if you are considering a JumpToConsulting. You can start out simple, and grow it as needed. Finally, get some professional help — don’t try to do it all yourself.  After all, as a  consultant, that is what you are advising your clients to do.

Comments or questions? I’d love to hear from you.

© 2011 – 2016, All rights reserved.

Lead Generator # 5 – Professional Organizations

Professional organizations offer a ready made network of friendly potential clients. The secret is to be an active participant, not just a passive member. As an added bonus, these organizations can help dispel the loneliness that often accompanies consulting, particularly for solos.

Most technical professions (medicine, law, accounting, engineering) have well established organizations. They may be national, or even international. They often host national symposiums where you can meet professional leaders, as well as the ever important vendors.

Don’t overlook the latter. While vendors may not be prospective clients,they can be very effective recommenders. Thus, it is usually in your best interest to cultivate contacts among the vendors serving your profession. Finally, as salespeople, most are friendly and gregarious — I’ve always enjoyed time spent with vendors.

Professional organizations exist for general business, too. Many focus on specific disciplines (sales, marketing, purchasing, etc.) Like the technical professionals, they often host national symposiums with presentations by business thought leaders.

While one can become active at the national level in either type of organization, your immediate efforts may be better spent at the local level. The reason — less politics, and more direct contact with actual potential clients. This is particularly helpful if you are targeting a geographical area, such as your own backyard.

We’ve had very good results with this strategy. Here are two examples:

  • When we started out, we volunteered to edit a regional newsletter for our professional organization when the position vacated.  As it was a bit of work, the local leaders were happy to have some new volunteers.
  • In addition to editing the newsletter, one of us needed to attend monthly board meetings.  What a great way to network! When our local power utility had a serious interference problem, one of the board members immediately recommended us. Why? To her, we were a known and trusted consulting firm.
  • When I moved to Phoenix, the local professional chapter had been inactive for many years. A colleague and I decided to reactivate it, and hosted a couple of meetings at a Mexican restaurant –always popular in Arizona. We were soon joined by a third “conspirator”, and the chapter was off and running.
  • We are still active many years later. Not only has this affiliation resulted in several significant projects over the years, but I also made several new friends through our common technical interests.

The best part of all this is that you can begin doing this today. Furthermore, your employer will not be threatened or upset, but will likely be delighted by your initiative. And even if you never make the JumpToConsulting, the professional contacts you make through your professional organization will only help your career.

Finally, you’ll be doing some good. As my father always said, “Cast your bread upon the waters…”  To receive, you first must give.

PS – Posts may be sparse over the next month, due both to business and a medical issue with a hand that needs to heal.  Hope to pick up the pace again in May.

© 2011 – 2016, All rights reserved.

Lead Generator # 4- Newsletters

Newsletters are effective lead generators when you already have a list of  past business contacts. What? You don’t have a list? Well, I guess we need to talk about that real soon. Until then, read on.

Newsletters are a great way to stay in touch, and to remind people you are in business. They are particularly useful when clients need you on an occasional basis. In those cases, you want to be top of mind when the next need arises.

Newsletters can be printed, digital, or both. Most are short, typically 1-4  pages. For printed newsletters, the format is often fixed, while digital newsletters are more flexible. Digital versions,  of course, are cheaper as they have virtually no printing or distribution costs.

As a result, digital newsletters are very popular, and are often used as list bait on blogs and web sites. This can be effective in further developing your list. The key to success is to make sure your newsletter is newsworthy for your readers.

If  you don’t feel up to publishing your own newsletter, prepared ones can be purchased. For example, my accountant sends a newsletter with general business and financial tips. He does not write it, but his name and company information appear on the masthead.

Incidentally, my accountant’s newsletter is printed. I like that, as I can take it with me and read it on the next flight to somewhere. After I’m done, I often pass it along to others. Of course, his name gets passed along as well. No, print media is NOT dead.

Here is my own newsletter story. After about two years in business, we realized we needed a way to keep in touch with our existing clients in a proactive way. So we started a newsletter for our friends, clients, and colleagues. Since this was pre-Internet, the newsletter was printed.

We decided to publish it four times a year. The pleasant surprise was that every time it hit the streets, the phone would  ring with a new job  or two. The newsletter was actually paying for itself! How great is that?

Over twenty years later, we still publish it, but now only twice a year. We eventually went electronic, giving readers the option to receive it by snail mail. The current split is about 50/50, so don’t dismiss printed versions. Although a bit expensive, we feel it is worth it.

We experimented with format, and settled on a formula. That made it easier to write, as we now just  “fill in the blanks.”  We decided on four pages.

Click here  to see archived past copies – great for credibility!

  • Front page – Short introduction, upcoming industry events, and a paragraph or two on some item of interest, often about our services.
  • Pages 2 and 3 – First, a focus article, much like a blog post. Second, brief items of interest such as a book review or perhaps a client question (sanitized of course.) Third, some tidbits (Bullets) and finally, some “engineering humor”.
  • Page 4 Summary of our services, contact information, and a copy of a business card advertisement we run in the technical magazines. As the newsletter is folded, half of page 4 is for addressing.

Finally, you don’t need to wait to try a newsletter. As mentioned other places, I started two newsletters as a Sales Engineer in the big-corporate world. Both were targeted at my customers, who liked them and gave me positive feedback. They also let me work out the kinks for my consulting newsletter.

As an aside, when I offered these newsletters to our corporate marketers, they were rejected. Both cases of NIH (not invented here), I suppose. But that also reinforced my belief that most big company marketers are not entrepreneurs, and often do not fully understand the sales process. One of the reasons I made my JumpToConsulting.

Not to be too harsh, but if you are with a big company, you may want to divest yourself of many of your big company ideas before you make your JumpToConsulting.

Questions or comments?  I’d love to hear from you.

© 2011 – 2016, All rights reserved.

Lead Generator #3 – Blogs

A blog can be an effective way to generate leads, particularly if you enjoy writing and are willing to do so on a regular basis.  A well written blog also enhances your credibility and visibility. But the best reasons for starting is business blog are that you can do so immediately — and even at no cost!

Thanks to services like Blogger and WordPress, you can be on the air within minutes. No need for web designers or Internet hosting when starting out. Sure, as your blog grows, you may want to upscale and have your own URL, but there is no reason that you can not start blogging right now.

Don’t expect immediate results — it takes time to develop a following. While a published magazine article will reach thousands right away, it will much longer to reach that many readers with a new blog. Most successful business bloggers were at it for several years before things really took off. But when they did…

A well written blog, however, often leads to magazine articles (both digital and print) giving you wide exposure. Editors are constantly on the prowl for good content, so your blog is also an on-line portfolio. Don’t be surprised to be invited to contribute to leading magazines. You can even recycle your posts — most editors today no longer insist on original unpublished content.

Here are three examples from right in my own backyard in Arizona:

Escape from Cubicle Nation. Pam Slim started blogging about six years ago. As a new mom and a successful training consultant, she wanted to spend less time on the road, so she decided explore “life coaching.”  It took a while, but her blog led to guest postings and magazine articles. Those eventually led to her best selling book. (Click Here)

StartUp Processionals. Marty Zwilling started blogging about two years ago. As a recent retiree and successful serial entrepreneur, he wanted to share his experience and help others just starting out. In less than two years, his blog led to articles in the Wall Street Journal and Forbes, where he now has a regular column. He just published an excellent book for entrepreneurs. (Click Here.)

EMI-GURU. In addition to JumpToConsulting, two months ago I added a blog to my engineering consulting web site. I then explored mirroring the blog on a leading technical magazine. They added it to their blogroll, but just asked if I would consider being a columnist instead, using the same materials. Honored, I said yes.  (Click Here.)

What about blogs versus web-sites? I recommend both for consultants. While a blog is dynamic,  a web site is static. The latter is important for details like your capabilities, biography, etc.  Thanks to static pages, platforms like WordPress even lets you combine the best of both worlds. For a simple web site, this can work quite well.

As your blog or business grows, you’ll eventually want to consult with a web designer. Good news — the content is not lost. You can always import the contents of your old blog into a new one. We’ll explore web sites in a future post.

So where do I start? There are dozens of  books and blogs with advice on blogging. Here are three I have found particularly useful:

ProBlogger – Darren Rowse blogs from Australia to a worldwide following. He started out blogging about photography, but it grew into a blogging mini-empire. He sells an excellent e-book — 31 Days to Building a Better Blog. About $20.

Art of Non Conformity – Chris Gullibeau shares his blogging experiences in another excellent e-book — 279 Days to Overnight Success. FREE.

Geeks on Tour – Jim and Chris Guld tour the country in their RV helping fellow RVers (mostly retirees) understand and use all the neat stuff on the Internet.  Join them for $39/year and have access to their library of simple video tutorials. They will show you how you can begin blogging with Blogger in under an hour.

So, if you are thinking about making the JumpToConsulting, start thinking about how to use a blog as a marketing tool. Setting one up is easy (and can be free), but you need to feed it good content on a regular basis to make it a success.

See you in the blogoshpere!

© 2011, All rights reserved.

Lead Generator #2 – White Papers

White papers have become the rage in recent years, and for good reason.        They are an excellent way to showcase your expertise and build credibility. A well crafted white paper can quickly establish you as an expert among experts.

So what is a white paper, anyway? In very simple terms, a magazine article you self-publish. White papers strive to position your company as a solution to problems. They typically demonstrate this through case studies, test results, or position statements.

Unlike magazine articles, however, the visibility part is up to you. Most people today post white papers on their web site. It is popular to use white papers as bait for e-mail addresses, as part of a list building strategy. This can be effective, but the white paper must be worthwhile.

Another use for white papers is for sales collateral. They can be included in sales calls or sales responses to build your credibility. They can also be used as handouts at trade shows or conferences. In that case, however, be sure to get the contact information before you give them away.

White papers are not subject to editorial limitations. You control the content, layout, and length.  Here are some comments on each of these parameters:

Content – The material must be useful to your potential client or customers. This can include case studies, test or survey results, top-ten lists, and the like. Make them information rich – not salesy!

An acid test I’ve always applied to any written piece is, “If I never do business with this person, is the information still useful and of value?” If it is just a sales pitch (we’re better than XYZ and here’s why) it is more likely to offend rather than to convince.

In the technical world, white papers are often called application notes.  These have been around for years, and typically show how to design and use a manufacturer’s products. Follow the examples to get similar results — you don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

Layout – This is probably one of the biggest advantages over a magazine article. You can coordinate the look and feel of your white paper with the rest of your collateral – letterhead, brochures, and web site. Spend the time and money to make your white paper look professional.

A professional printer can be a big help here. They can advise on technical issues like paper stock, font, graphics, and more.  (Except for the paper, this advice applies to digital versions, too.)  They may even save you money by making your white paper fit a standard format to eliminate printing waste. We’ve worked with a professional printer for years, and consider them “part of the family.”

A professional copywriter can help, too. If you are not comfortable writing, consider hiring a “white paper specialist” .  On the other hand, if you are comfortable, you might even consider writing white papers as a potential service. We’ve done several white papers for our technical clients over the years.

If you do decide to use outside help, pick a topic or two and make a preliminary outline. Do your homework — don’t just hire someone to “write a white paper.”  That is like hiring an architect to “build a house” without any idea what you want in the first place.

Length – It depends, but 6-12 pages is typical. Longer than a newsletter, but shorter than a booklet. Think of an essay or in-depth magazine article, but without the editorial constraints (article length, number of words,  number of figures, ad space, etc.)

As such, you can add as much detail as is needed to make your point. Just don’t overdo it. You are not trying answer every question imaginable. 

Given the right circumstances, white papers are worth the effort. But always remember — the goals are to educate, enlighten, and establish credibility — not to sell. You are trying to begin a conversation, not to close the deal.

Questions or comments?  Please send me a message via the contact page.

© 2011, All rights reserved.

Niche Marketing

Niches are a great strategy for small firms — particularly if you are just starting out. For consultants, the old business bromide “Find a need and fill it” could easily be replaced with “Find a niche and serve it.”

So what is a niche, anyway?  It is simply a narrow market segment. As a small business, you need to target your efforts. This is very important, particularly if you are moving from a larger company or firm. Unlike the big guys, you can’t be everything to everybody.

Niches can be defined several ways, such as specialty, industry, geography, or type of customer. In fact, I like using multidimensional niches to further segment the potential markets. The more you subdivide, the better you can focus your marketing efforts. We’ll look at these subdivisions in more detail in future posts.

Multiple niches are OK – just don’t pick too many starting out. Like using a magnifying glass to start a fire, niches let you concentrate your marketing energy on well defined targets. As the old saying goes, “Do a little — do it well — you’ve done a lot.” You can add or broaden the niches as your business develops.

Here is a personal example from my own engineering consulting business, from when my business partner and I went full time in 1987.

  • The specialty niche we chose was EMI (electromagnetic interference) product design and troubleshooting. We had a lot of experience in this area, and we had determined the demand was there.
  • We targeted two industry niches — military (where we had a lot of experience) and computers (the PC market was exploding then.)
  • Our geographical niche was primarily local.
  • Our customer niche was B2B (business to business.)  We did not pursue B2G (business to government) or B2C (business to consumer.)

We focused our initial marketing efforts where these four niches overlapped. We collaborated with a well respected local test laboratory, and we started a local mini-trade show. We became active in our local professional organization, and we wrote articles for the local trade press. This soon established us as local experts in our specialty niche.

The next step was to expand the niches a bit. We did not stray from our specialty niche, but we  broadened our geographical niche by writing articles for national trade magazines. At the same time, we collaborated with a training organization with a national reach. We also added the medical market, as our local area was rich with medical device manufacturers.

We eventually ended up with a portfolio of niches.

  • For the specialty niche, we still focus on EMI design issues, but in addition to electronic products, the scope now ranges from integrated circuits to systems and facilities.  We added training – aimed at preventing problems, rather than just solving them.
  • The industry niches now include computers, medical, military, industrial, vehicles, facilities, telecomm, and more.
  • The geographical niches now include all of  North America, with occasional projects overseas.
  • The customer niche remains B2B, serving high tech companies.

By maintaining a focus on our niches, we were able to concentrate our marketing efforts without going off in too many directions. We did accept business outside these areas, but only if it made sense. All this did not happen right away, but over the years we have been able to add to our experiences and grow our business.

Niches keep you focused, and let you leverage your marketing. You can quickly become the big fish in the little pond. And after conquering one pond, there is nothing to stop you from going after other ponds.

What niches should YOU consider?

© 2011 – 2013, All rights reserved.

Lead Generator #1 – Write Articles

Writing articles can be a very effective lead generator. Not only do they provide visibility, but they also enhance your credibility. Having written or co-written over 200 technical articles, I’ve found this method to be fast, effective, and even fun. Besides, nothing quite like seeing your name in print to give you a little buzz while impressing potential clients with your expertise.

Incidentally, these ideas apply to both written and electronic magazines. The actual media is secondary. In fact, many magazines now publish in both modes.

Here are three good reasons for considering magazine articles:

(1) Enhances credibility and visibility. In the eyes of potential clients, being published makes you a subject expert. The perception is that you know what you are talking about, and that you have been vetted by the publication. And in the consulting business, perception is reality.

(2) You can start doing this right away. You don’t need to wait until you hang out your shingle — you can even start today when employed. Furthermore, your employer may well be impressed with your initiative and your capabilities.

(3) Builds your collateral. Having even a small library of printed articles is useful when submitting proposals or responding to inquiries. You can simply include a reprint of a relevant article.

As an alternate, make the articles available for download on your web site. You should retain the copyright by giving the magazine publisher first publication rights only,  and retaining the rest for yourself.

Here are ten quick hints for writing magazine articles:

(1) Pick a focus topic. You are not writing the great American novel. Since most magazine articles are between 2000 and 4000 words, you need to pick one topic and focus on it.

Lead off with a short introductory paragraph, and end with a short summary paragraph. Use a conversational tone. If discussing problems, be sure to include some simple solutions.

(2) Start with the trade journals. You have identified a market niche or two, right? So, what do your niche members read? There are thousands of small niche magazines, and all are hungry for well written articles.

Put together a short list of ideas, and call the editor. No, you don’t need fancy query letters for these publications. With luck, you can be in print in 90 days.

(3) Avoid the professional journals. Most of these are platforms for academics seeking tenure — the old “publish or perish” game.

That is not to say they don’t contain useful information, but unless they are being read by your potential clients, don’t waste your time. Besides, it can take a year or more (often along with rewrites) to get published.

(4) Shoot for a series or even a column. Rather than one long article, thinks about three to six articles spread out over a year’s time. A regular column is even better. Both keep your name in front of your potential clients on a regular basis. You can even start to develop a following.

(5) If you make a commitment — KEEP IT! I can not overemphasize this point. Magazine editors are  under the constant pressure of both deadline and space. Being a day late with your material is a disaster, and will earn you the eternal disdain of the editor.

Once you commit, get it done and deliver it early!

(6) Keep it simple and tutorial. Remember, you are not writing to impress your peers, you are writing to attract clients. Keep your ego in check. Assume your reader knows little about your subject but would like to learn a bit more.

Doesn’t that sound like an ideal client?

(7) Report on research results. Done any research or conducted a survey? As long as the material is not proprietary, this can be great fodder for a magazine article. If appropriate, you can spice this up by analyzing trends or making predictions.

(8) Be controversial or contrarian. As the journalists say, “Dog bite man, so what?  Man bites dog, put it on page 1.” Don’t be afraid to break with convention and offer an alternate view. This can be particularly good for business  consultants, where clients are often seeking original thinking and new ideas.

(9) Avoid advertising and self-aggrandizement. If your article sounds like an ad or ego trip, rewrite it. I’ve always applied this acid test — Even if you never do business, will the typical reader think the article was helpful and worthwhile?

(10) Finally, have some fun with it. Think of your readers not as clients, but as friends with whom you would like to share your ideas. I hope you’ve enjoyed my sharing — and it was truly fun to write this little piece.

Here is a partial list of articles done over the years.  This has been one of our most successful marketing methods. 

© 2011 – 2016, All rights reserved.

20 Ways to Attract Clients

Fishing for business…

OK, let’s get started with the question that has most of you chomping at the bit. How do I get clients/customers, anyway?

In simple terms, you need to find customers, and then sell to them.  And if you are just starting out, nobody else is going to do it for you.

Oops! I used the dreaded “S” word — sell. I know, you don’t want to become a peddler — rather, you just want to solve client problems (for a hefty fee, of course.) But if you are going to succeed, you first need customers. As we say in our business, “If you don’t have customers, you don’t have a business.

To use a simple analogy, finding customers is a lot like fishing. First, you need to figure out where the fish are, and what kind of kind of bait to use to attract them. Once you get a fish on the line, you need to figure out how to get it in the boat. And remember, you don’t get to eat the ones that got away!

Attracting the fish can be considered marketing, and getting the fish into the boat can be considered sales. Both are necessary, but as the late Peter Drucker once observed, “The better the marketing, the easier the sales.

For that reason, I always emphasize marketing when discussing consulting practices. The good news is that your marketing efforts need not be expensive or complicated. A few simple, well executed plans can keep your net full.

To continue the fishing analogy, you typically need more than one line in the water. Over the years, we have found there is no magic bullet for finding consulting clients. Rather, a combination of methods is usually needed to keep the leads coming in.

In fact, with multiple lead sources, there is often a multiplying effect. For example, if you get a referral and your prospect has already seen an article you wrote or heard you speak, your success rate can increase drastically.

It all starts with leads! Here are 20 lead generation ideas we have used at one time or another over the years. Unlike “big company” approaches, most require little money but do require time and effort. I suspect we’ll add a few more, so it will likely be 20+ ideas.

Some methods are better suited to starting out (or even before starting), while others are better suited to later stages in your business.  Some focus on writing, while others focus on personal contact.

To start, choose methods with which you are most comfortable — that way, you’ll stick with them. My recommendation is to try several (but not too many), and then refine your approach with time.

We’ll discuss each of these ideas individually in future posts, and we’ll explore how to best apply them under different conditions and for different markets.  I hope these 20 ideas help you start thinking about how to fish for YOUR business.

Got your own lead generators??  Share them here… and please let me know how these work for you!

© 2011 – 2014, All rights reserved.

SIGN UP here and get FREE copy of "So You Want To Be A Consultant?"

*Required Fields

FREE Webinar
Coming Soon…
  • FREE Monthly Teleconference