General Consulting

Do you need a public office???

It depends… If your clients come to your office, it probably makes sense… If you go to your clients, it probably just wastes money.

In the first case, a public office adds a level of professionalism, and keeps you out of trouble with home owners associations or zoning boards. But don’t get carried away – a modest space will do just fine for the solo practitioner.

In the second case, a spare bedroom works fine. You should, however, set aside a dedicated space for your office. Working on the dining room table gets old very fast. It can also be disruptive to family life.

Some people, however, simply need a separate place to work – regardless of client contact. And some need the outside human contact that an office brings. This is often true for those migrating from the larger corporate environment.

The most important thing when starting out is to conserve resources. You don’t need fancy digs with a prestige address — you just need a safe quiet place to work with adequate resources (desk, computer, telephone, file cabinets, etc.) You are selling your capabilities, not fancy brick and mortar.

Here are some examples I’ve seen over the years:

(1) Kimmel Gerke Associates (yours truly) – Since we almost never had clients visit us, my business partner and I set up separate offices in spare bedrooms.

While we once considered sharing an office, we were both traveling so much it didn’t make sense. Besides, the telephone and the Internet worked fine to stay in contact. And we both liked our twenty foot commutes.

Our “office managers” were our wives, so we truly ran a “mom and pop” operation. Not for everyone, but it worked very well for us.

(2) Advertising A one person agency, this consultant leased about 100 square feet of space from a print shop. I used her services with good success many years ago after a misfire with a fancy downtown agency. Hire the person, not the office.

That was all the space she needed, plus the shop provided a phone line with a receptionist. It was mutually beneficial, as the print shop now could offer additional services. Besides, she did all her printing with her landlord.

(3) Sales consultant – Another one person firm, this friend leased space in a restaurant, which I found quite clever.

His office had a separate entrance on a lower walk out level. The rent was very attractive, as this was bonus income for the restaurant, and parking was never a problem. And he always had a place to take clients for lunch.

(4) Attorney – My estate attorney is located in building with other small professional firms.

He has about 300 square feet, divided into two rooms. The back room is his legal office, with the appropriate lawyer’s desk, credenza, and meeting table. The front room is the reception area with the requisite legal library, with a desk for his office manager (his wife.)

The office is nicely appointed, but not pretentious. His fees reflect the lower overhead too. I discovered him after being gouged by a large law firm with fancy digs and high overhead.

(5) Web design My web designer is also located in a building with other small firms.

He has about 200 square feet with a couple of desks for he and his office manager (once again, his wife.) He has a back office in Nepal (where he grew up) so this space is modest but more than adequate. He recently became a US citizen, and is doing very well – the classic immigrant success story.

He started out working from home, but with the birth of two children, he got “kicked out” of his office. He is still close to home, but is not distracted by family activities.

(5) Consulting engineer – Now, a not so successful example story from many years ago.

When we started out as consulting engineers, this refugee from a large government agency told us we MUST get an office. After all, HIS office was located downtown with a prestigious address. He even chided us for working out of our homes.

Within the next year, he went bankrupt.

So, as you consider YOUR JumpToConsulting, do YOU need a public office? Weigh the decision carefully. Unless you are seeing outside clients (or you simply need the private space,) I generally advise against it. But if you do decide on a public office, I’ve shared some clever (and inexpensive) solutions.

Conserve those resources — you can always move to a public office later. Unless you are like me, and just love that twenty foot commute!

P.S. – I once asked a fellow consultant sitting next to me on a cross country flight where he had his office. He looked out the window, grinned, and replied, “Well, today it is about 30,000 feet over Denver…”

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Pursue the Fortune 500…

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

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

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

Here is my reply:

Hi Bob,

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Be approachable…

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

PRIVACY POLICY  AT OUR CAMPS:  NO VISITORS, NO DROP-INS, NO PHOTOS,  NO EXCEPTIONS.  THANK YOU.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Five Things to Consider for a New Practice…

Here are five questions to ask yourself when starting a consulting practice — or any small business. This post was inspired by an answer to a business post on franchising vs independence.  Good advice for new consultants too.

(1) Is it interesting and motivating? There are consulting opportunities everywhere, but you will do much better and be more productive if you enjoy what you are doing. Done right, it won’t even seem like work – at least most of the time 🙂

(2) Is the market big enough? I’ve emphasized identifying your niches, but make sure the niches are not too narrow. Can you identify multiple potential clients, not just one or two? On the other hand, are there too many players in your niches? You don’t want to get lost in the crowds. (We started with two part-time contract clients, and ramped up from there.)

(3) What make you different and unique? Even if you are in a generic area like accounting, what is special and unique about your practice?  What sets you apart from the competition, and why should clients choose YOU? (Think about those niches...)

(4) Will the need/market endure? You don’t want to jump in just as the bubble is about to burst. Ask where the market going, but be prepared for changes. Watch for changes, and adapt as needed. (My consulting practice today is very different from 30+ years ago.)

 (5) Last, but not least, can you make money? Maybe this should be first, since if you can’t make money, why do it? This is true for non-profits too, where you still have expenses that need to be met. (Consulting is a business, not a charity.)

Five simple questions, but worthy of serous consideration. Unlike the inspiration post, franchising is not an option. If you are making a JumpToConsulting, you are almost always starting from the ground up. But if successful, it is worth it!

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

How much is enough?

How much IS enough? The question still haunts me…

Here are three stories. All three affected my thinking. Perhaps they will affect yours.

Story 1…

The question of enough was posed by a fellow consultant several  years ago. His wife had just been diagnosed with cancer, and we were talking after a professional society meeting. He was doing some serious introspection, and as a friend and colleague I lent an ear.

“How much is enough?” he mused. He had worked hard, was successful, and had enough in the bank. His immediate priority was enjoying whatever time his wife might have.

So he backed off on the business, and they went on some cruises. She responded well to treatment, and happily, she is fine today. But it did reset his priorities on what was enough.

Story 2…

My first encounter with enough goes back 45 years. My new boss hosted a Christmas party at his new house on a lake. It was a beautiful place in a beautiful setting. Being recently married, I thought how nice it might be to someday have similar digs.

Later, I thanked him for the party and complimented him on his new house. He smiled, and then offered some fatherly advice.

“Thank you,” he said. “It is nice. It makes my wife happy too. But there is a downside. We put all our money in the house, and as a result, we can’t do anything else.” He continued, “You are just starting out. Be careful about committing to a big fancy house.”

I decided that our modest house was enough. Each time we moved we stuck with enough. And today we have still have enough. 

Story 3…

My next encounter with enough came 12 years later. I was working for a successful entrepreneur, who net worth somewhere around $50 million.

An old German who had escaped Hitler, he came to America and worked as an engineer. Following a dream, he started a business in a garage. A combination of working hard and being in the right place at the right time with the right product led to phenomenal success.

But he was still  an old engineer at heart. One evening at a trade show, he hosted a bunch of us for dinner. After a few beers (after all, he was an old German), the subject of how much was enough came up.

He said, “You know, a couple of million is probably enough for most of us. How can you spend it all? After that, you are only keeping score.”

Sadly, he and his wife divorced on his way to his riches. Was it worth it? Not in my book.

Finally, how much is enough for you? Thanks to starting my own consulting practice combined with prudent living, today I can say I have enough.

© 2015 – 2017, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Join the CBM Club…

I was first introduced to the CBM Club in 2012. What a novel concept!

In August 2011, we bought a small motorhome from Born Free in Humboldt, IA.

At a rally in 2012, I met John Dodgen, the 85 years old founder of Born Free back in the 1960s. What a delightful man, with a continual twinkle in his eye. Over the years, John and his family built the company into a small but highly regarded RV manufacturer.

At one point, I had the chance to talk with John over hamburgers. Always curious about small businesses, I asked him how he got started.

He smiled, and told me his story that went something like this:

After my brothers and I returned to Iowa after World War II, we realized that we could not all share the family farm. Liking the area, I decided to start a small company to manufacturer farm machinery.

One of our most successful products was a special trailer for feeding livestock. A niche product, we we eventually saturated the market. Furthermore, we made them so durable they didn’t wear out.

So I went to my board. I told them I wanted to take the company in a new direction. After much deliberation, I wanted to join the CBM Club.

At this point, John waited for my puzzled response. OK, so what is the CBM Club???

Corn, Beans, and Miami. You see, I’d noticed many farmers buying our machinery grew corn and beans, and then they headed to Miami for the winter. I wanted to do that too.

So I suggested making an RV. A highly durable RV, using the knowledge and experience gained making farm machinery. The first model was a slide in on a pickup truck. It was pretty heavy, so we added a tag axle for support. That was unique to the industry.

Not long after, we added roll bars. This was based on hearing of a fatal RV accident. I directed my design team to figure out how to add this important safety feature.

A few years later, we started building motorhomes. We focused on small truck based units (Class C), and built them with very high quality. Including the roll bars – never been a fatal accident in a Born Free, of which I am proud.

So what lessons can we glean from this for consulting?
Pick a niche. Don’t try to be everything to everybody
Be flexible. Be ready to change direction, but try to leverage on past experience.
Deliver high quality. The market may be smaller, but your customers will love you.
Don’t compromise. On safety, ethics, or anything else. Your reputation is key.
Have fun. I will always treasure the story of the CBM Club.

John recently passed away, and will be missed by all — his family, his company, and his customers. What better legacy to leave behind. Our condolences – RIP John.

P.S. –Yes, we love our little Born Free “Built for Two!”  Heading back in it from Minnesota (where there are some grandkids) to Arizona (where this is no snow.)

Our version of the CBM Club –joined as a consultant.   

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Consulting lessons from Pope Francis…

Like many others, I was enchanted by the Pope’s recent visit.  And I even gleaned some consulting lessons. To wit:

(1) Be likeable — Pope Francis radiates likeability. Nobody wants to listen to a jerk.

As consultants, this means being genuinely interested in your clients. It means really liking them, and not being mean, snarky, or vindictive.

(2) Be approachable –-Pope Francis rode in simple vehicles, rather than fancy limos.

Remember the auto CEOs and their jets? Many are angered by power when it is abused.

As consultants, we must be careful not to intimidate or annoy. Early on, we realized that as older engineers we might intimidate younger engineers. So we made it a formal business policy to be approachable. It works.

(3) Be honest — Pope Francis spoke truth to power — to Congress — and to the United Nations. Some people didn’t like it, but he let the chips fall where they may.

As consultants, that is what we are paid to do. To speak the truth. To identify and fix problems, not to praise or to suck up.

(4) Be flexible — Pope Francis made changes, even in the face of resistance. He didn’t just talk about it – he did it.

Change is often hard – particularly cultural change. Lot’s of inertia, not to mention politics. Those who enjoy advantages (fair or otherwise) don’t want to give them up.

As consultants, we are often called to be the agents of change.

(5) Be forgiving —  As Pope Francis would tell you, nobody’s perfect. Those genuinely seeking forgiveness will be forever grateful.

As consultants, accept those imperfections (including your own), forgive, and move on. You will be a better person for it.

(6) Be humble — Probably the Pope’s the most important lesson. Stories are that he was not always so humble, but worked to learn humility. That speaks volumes about this man.

As consultants, keep your ego in check – you are not the center of the universe. I’ve seen too many cases where a felllow consultant’s ego killed the relationship.

No, I’m not Catholic, but I sincerely respect this man.  He is a breath of fresh air. I think he’d be one fine consultant. But maybe he already is!

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Buy Lunch for a Vendor…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I planned to buy lunch.

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

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

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

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

© 2015 – 2017, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Small town living – a path to financial independence?

Here is a reply I left recently at my favorite financial blog, Mr. Money Mustache.  Pete, a fellow engineer, spent the last several years challenging and cajoling people to become financially independent.

He “retired” at age 30, and now does what he wants with no financial worries. Lives a nice lifestyle in nice digs, too.

His formula is simple — cut consumption and increase savings. When your income from investments equals your expenses — viola — you are now financially independent. He did it in seven years, and you can too.

So what does this have to do with consulting? You don’t need to be fully financially independent to make your JumpToConsulting, but you DO need some reserves. Assume at least six months with no income.

So if you are overconsuming and living pay check to pay check. you can’t make a JumpToConsulting, or any other jump. You first need to cut your expenses and change your mindset and your lifestyle!

One way to do this is to move to a small town. That is what my older son (the inspiration for this blog) did this year. Here is his story:

Don’t overlook small towns – particularly those about 100-150 miles from a major city.

After living in the city, my older son recently moved to a small town in Minnesota – population 5000. About 100 miles from Minneapolis, it is beyond commuting distance so it is no longer a suburb. But it still close enough for city resources (hospitals etc.) or a big city “fix” if needed.

They bought a nice house for 1/2 the cost in the city. The grade school and a park are across the street, and the high school is a few blocks away. The kids love it – they can bike all over town with their new friends. His commute is under ten minutes of country driving. His wife works in the high school as a teacher’s aide, and loves it.

They were concerned about leaving the city, but have been pleasantly surprised. Small town festivals –wineries — microbreweries — parks with uncrowded campgrounds. It may be rural, but there is still plenty to do. And the big city is still only two hours away.

Looking for a job change, he stumbled – almost by accident – on an executive opportunity with a small medical manufacturer. The company was delighted to get someone with his talent and experience, and they pay him accordingly. The school was delighted to hire his wife too. Big city wages with small town cost of living — how great is that? Plus the quality of life.

These opportunities abound, but you must seek them out. So if you are not yet financially independent, consider this as one way to speed things up — and enjoy the journey immediately. My son admits he never dreamed they would live like this.

A few more details on my son. After taking a company through a complex acquisition, he no longer had a job. Small thanks for helping grow the firm by 10x in a couple of years as their financial guru.

So he took his MBA in finance, his experience, and his proceeds and hung out his shingle as a consultant. The early discussions with him were the catalyst for this blog.

Although he was building the business, it was going slower than hoped. When one of his clients make him an offer he couldn’t refuse as the VP of Finance for a start-up, he jumped at it. Besides, like his dad, he has a love of small business.

But after a couple of years, it became obvious the start-up was stalling. Furthermore, there was friction with the founder, who was unwilling or unable to make necessary changes. (Been there myself.) So rather than wait for the axe to fall, he started a job search.

One interesting opportunity was with a medical device manufacturer in a rural community. As both he and his wife grew up in the city, there was some reluctance to purse it. Still, the job sounded interesting, so they decided to go in a new direction. So far, so good.

I’m proud of my son for taking that chance, and for working hard, like a good consultant, to make a positive impact on the world.

I’m also proud of his brother. A financial attorney in a large Manhattan firm, he recently took a chance and initiated a special project on alternate currencies. As their “Bitcoin-guru”, he too is working very hard to make a positive impact on the world.

Well done, both of you!

P.S. Thanks to the Internet and Fed-X, one can easily consult from small towns. And depending on your niche, you may even find plenty of clients right in you own backyard. 

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Thought Leadership – Is is really necessary?

The short answer — NO! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Should you take equity in lieu of cash?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Solo or not? Food for thought…

This post was inspired by Alan Weiss’s Monday Morning Memo (R), to which I have subscribed for many years. He succinctly addresses some pros and cons of going solo.

Dr. Weiss is a leading advisor to consultants. While his focus is on management consulting, much of his advice also applies to technical consulting. *

One of the major differences I’ve seen in people’s choices of careers, often unconscious and unspoken, is affiliation needs. If you don’t need people around you, a solo career suits you fine.

But if you do, it can be enervating to work alone. I can work with people but I certainly don’t require it, and I’d see employees as just so many “baby chicks” to be fed constantly. However, some people derive ideas and strength from working amidst others, and don’t mind investing in a staff that can help grow the business.

I’ve seen too many entrepreneurs dragged under by the weight on nonproductive staff. Pay a salary to those who grow your business, not those who nest in your business. You’re running a company, not an employment agency.

— Monday Morning Memo 7/20/2015

I’ve seen the same myself. Should I go solo, find a partner, or grow the firm?

In my case, I started with a business partner. Most of the time, I advise against partnerships, as I have seen too many go bad. But when they work, the can be great — just like a good marriage. (47 years here…)

But even then, we acted semi-solo. We maintained separate companies for ourselves (payroll, invoicing, retirement funding) and shared a common company for common expenses and income. The goal was to be able to act independently if needed. And while not intended, it certainly simplified things when Bill recently passed away.

We did consider growth once, but only briefly. Business was booming, and we were subcontracting excess work. Not wishing to market or sell themselves, some of those subcontractors inquired about becoming employees.

But we quickly decided against it. Like Dr.Weiss, we were concerned with the need to feed the “baby chicks.” Besides, we figured they would get to do the fun stuff, while we’d be left with all the management tasks and headaches.

So we kept it semi-solo, and I’m glad we did. Perhaps we could have made more money — or perhaps lost it. It doesn’t matter, as we made enough and had a good time doing so.

But either way is fine – you need to decide what is best for you – even if it means climbing back into a corporate job. Saw that happen several years ago with an engineering colleague and friend who started a technical marketing consulting practice.

Thanks to his own creative marketing efforts, he soon developed a thriving practice. But then he abandoned it after about a year. He missed the camaraderie of working with other creative colleagues.

So he rejoined corporate America, and is happy with his decision. But he also now knows that if he ever wants or needs to go solo again, he can do it.

As for me, I’m now completely solo, and plan to stay that way!

* Click here for more info on Dr. Alan Weiss. Books, workshops, newsletters, and more.

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Some comments on fees…

Here is my reply to a post at Consulting Success regarding fees. Good info on this site — but with an emphasis on business/management consulting rather than on technical consulting.

As consulting engineers, we’ve used “project fees” for years. When quoting, we provide a budget and a general estimate for time. We use an internal hourly rate for estimates, but don’t include that in our quotes.

To me, hourly rates are useless. For example, if I’m getting a kitchen remodel, I don’t care what the contractor’s hourly rate is — I just want to know how much the project will cost. BTW, I’ve used that analogy on procurement people when asked about hourly rates.

Finally, we don’t bid “fixed fee.” Rather, we include a statement that “we will not exceed the budgetary estimate without client approval.” This gives us some room for contingencies or small changes. Clients and procurement people seem to like it too.

Hope this helps. I always appreciate Michael Zipursky’s insights.

Do you have questions of fees?  Ask away…

P.S. Been a crazy week here, as Mary broke her arm. On the mend after surgery…

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Don’t Hoard Your Experience… Share it…

Learned this lesson early in my consulting career. Fortunately, somebody else made the mistake, and I was able to benefit from their goof-up.

We’ve always had a policy of full and open disclosure for our clients. Retain us, and we will share everything we know about our specialty, with the exception, of course, of proprietary client information.

Worried abut overloading a new client, I quipped,

“We don’t hold back. You can tell me when to shut up, when you’ve had more than enough details and information…”

He replied,

“No, I really appreciate your being open. The last consultant we had (on a different problem) didn’t want to share anything. Seems he was afraid if he disclosed all he knew, we wouldn’t need him anymore.

My engineers were frustrated, and we all decided as soon as we have everything we needed, we’re done.  Which is a shame, as if he were more forthcoming, we’ve have him back again and again.”

Wow, I thought, I’m glad we didn’t follow that approach. Based on this incident, we made it a formal policy to ALWAYS share what we knew.  Even if it means they don’t need us again, because we’re pretty sure they will recommend us to others.

P.S. As a consultant, your goal should be to work yourself out of a job. Your client should always be in a better state after working with you. They will thank you for it by their referrals and recommendations — and by inviting you back for new problems.

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Are You an Economic Slave???

Ninety percent of Americans have virtually no savings… so says the latest issue of Money magazine. If you are in the ninety percent, consulting may offer a way out.

The problem with most jobs is that the income is fixed. Unless you are in sales (commissions) or an executive (bonuses), you have little opportunity for upside. But a consulting side-hustle can change that, and may even lead to full financial freedom.

Of course, making more money alone won’t do it. You need to cut your expenses too. Fellow engineer Pete (Mr. Money Mustache) saved his way to freedom in seven years, by cutting his expenses by 75%. Yes, it can be done purely by aggressive savings.

But you’ll get there faster, and with less pain, if you combine frugality with some extra income. I’m a strong advocate of combining both approaches — make more/spend less.

There are lots of ways to make more money. Unfortunately, many are scams or borderline scams. You know what I mean – multilevel marketing, on-line schemes, too many franchises, etc. Most of the money is made by the promoters — not the producers.

But consulting, even part-time, allows you to control your own destiny. The start-up costs are low, and you get to keep the profits of your labor. Other than the IRS, you don’t need to share those profits with those further up the food chain.

This is not meant to disparage other small businesses, such as restaurants, shops, specialty manufacturing, etc. But most of those require capital, commercial space, and employees. Not a problem if that is the way you want to go – or have already gone. 🙂

Since you are reading my blog, however, I assume you have at least a passing interest in consulting –which I define as marketing/selling/delivering professional advice, with the goal of  improving your client’s situation.

No, you are not selling products or get-rich schemes – just your time and advice. You are joining the ranks of other professionals – doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers, architects, business advisers, and more.

Doing so part time is a good way to start. That is what I did. For several years, my business partner and I moonlighted on engineering projects. Eventually, the itch got so bad we went full time. But is was much easier making the transition from part-time to full-time, than from ground zero.

Two final pieces of advice:

  • First, avoid conflicts of interest. You don’t want to lose you day job, and you don’t want to affect your reputation. Integrity matters.
  • Second, keep a low profile.  You don’t want to inflame petty office jealousies. The voice of experience speaking.

My challenge to you — As the new year begins, give some thought to your own economic freedom. Remember, Uncle Daryl wants YOU — to be FREE. Happy New Year!

P.S. Back in the game… My goal is one post per week each Monday, with additional ones as the mood strikes. So join us Mondays, or sign up for our feed and newsletter.

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

2014 Annual Review…

Well, another year gone by, and time to reflect.

Got this idea from Chris Gullibeau of The Art of Nonconformity. He does this each year, and each year challenges others to do the same. Great idea!

So once again, I’ll review three categories:

But first, a quick overview…

The Jump-to-Consulting project is now FOUR years old.
The catalysts were questions by my older son, questions by other colleagues, and a fat file for a prospective book. With today’s economy, many people are considering options such as consulting.

I was also intrigued by blogging, and simply wanted to learn more about this Internet phenomena. What better way that to just start a blog. Incidentally, that was the same attitude that got me into consulting. Curiosity, and a desire to learn.

The EMI-GURU project began 35+ years ago, and led to full time consulting in 1987. It has been great fun, and quite successful. I’ve traveled the world, and made a lot of friends along the way.

It made me both location independent and financially independent. Best of all, it allowed me to practice my profession as an Electrical Engineer in a ways I didn’t even imagine as a student or young engineer.

EMI-GURU also provides the grist for JumpToConsulting. Much of what is discussed here is based EMI-GURU experiences. The stuff I talk about is not theory — rather, this is real world and is based on 35+ years experience in the consulting business!

HIGH-LIGHTS in 2014…

Jump-to-Consulting – The blog is up to 150 posts. Had hoped for a few more, but still proved to myself that I can keep a blog going. Slowed down a bit midyear, but no plans to stop.

Not many readers (it is a pretty tight niche), but it has helped several make their own personal JumpToConsulting. (Way to go!) So don’t be bashful — your questions and feedback mean a lot, and they do inspire me to keep going here.

EMI-GURU – Not much new to report here. Continue to ramp down the one-on-one consulting, but still involved with the technical classes. Teaching (and sharing what I’ve learned) is a primary passion.

Personal – Dropped a few more pounds, which means I’ve kept the weight off for a year. Went into maintenance mode with Uncle Daryl’s SEC (Stop Eating Crap) diet, and it worked. But time to get more serious about this lifestyle change.

After 30 dogless years, we “adopted” a pooch in August. She has been great fun, and also an incentive to walk a couple of miles every day. I call her my “personal trainer.”

Spent about eight weeks in our RV. The longest trip was 4700 miles in the fall, visiting grandkids in CT followed by a ride through the mountains of the east coast. Beautiful fall scenery! Also visited several Civil War sites to temporarily satiate my interest in history.

LOW-LIGHTS in 2013…

Jump-to-Consulting – Slowed down in the second half of the year. Not burnout, but time for some reflection, precipitated by the passing of two friends a few weeks apart. So I simply decided to take some time off.

EMI-GURU – Business is slow, but at this stage in my life, I’m content. Leaves more time to goof off. No desire to return to the 30-40 trips per year of a few years back.

Personal – No low lights other than losing a couple of friends to cancer. That, and the closing of a favorite local funky restaurant, the Chino Bandido (Chinese-Mexican.) But life goes on…

LOOKING FORWARD to 2015…

Jump-to-Consulting – Ready to get back into the groove. Keep on blogging, with at least one post per week. Also considering an E-book, on-line classes, monthly newsletter, and a FREE monthly roundtable. Watch my blog for more details. Better yet, sign up for the newsletter!

EMI-GURU – Continue teaching technical classes, which I really enjoy. As an old codger, there is nothing like seeing a younger engineer (and even an old timer) suddenly “get it.”

Also continue to pass consulting jobs to my business partner, who is still very much involved in both consulting and training. I’ll back up as needed, but rest assured, EMI-GURU is ALIVE and WELL!

Personal – Spend time with the grandchildren, along with reading, writing, and more travel in our little RV. Restart the weight loss program from maintenance mode. A goal is to eventually lose another 60 pounds so I can join the centennial weight loss club.

May move back to our house, due to disappointments with the patio home “experiment.” Lesson learned – beware of dysfunctional HOAs (home owner’s associations.)

Wishing you all the best in 2015! And THANK YOU for reading my blog.

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Seven Steps in Selling…

The lead generation worked… the phone rings… now what?

Let the sales process begin… This is where the rubber meets the road — or where the consultant finally meets the client. Many people see sales as mysterious at best, and manipulative at worst. Neither are true for selling consulting services.

Consulting is a helping profession…

You’re not peddling products, or trying to meet a quota. You’re not manipulating, or being sleazy. Rather, you are simply trying to help your clients.

Like a doctor, you are solving problems. Or like an architect, you are turning dreams into reality. Either way, your helping improve your client’s life!

Looking at it this way makes it worthwhile, right?

Sales is a process…

If you’ve never been in sales, it may seem mysterious – even scary at times. But you can learn to sell– just as you can learn to paint, play a musical instrument, or write software.

Once you understand the process and the underlying principles, it all starts to make sense. It’s simply not a big deal. So don’t let the fear of learning a new skill stop you. And once learned, you may even start to enjoy the process. I certainly do.

But I’m an introvert, you say – not some back slapping extrovert. So what? Most consultants and professionals are at least somewhat introverted. After all, we live in a world of dreaming, pondering, diagnosing, creating, and reflecting. We’re thinkers!

As an aside, some of the most successful sales people I’ve known are introverted – some even highly introverted. They are also highly professional, with a passion for helping their customers. Just like good consultants.

Selling consulting is different…

–First, you’re not selling a tangible product — you’re selling an intangible service. As such, you typically need to develop a higher degree of trust with potential clients.

Your goal is not to sell another car this month and move on — rather, your goal is to be a trusted adviser, and hopefully for the long haul.

–Second, you need to deliver what your client bought. Remember — nobody likes to be sold — but we all like to buy — so make it pleasant!

And unlike product sales, the sales process does not stop when you get the order. You still need to deliver, and your long term business success depends on how well you execute this part of the process.

My seven steps in selling…

Hundreds of books have been written about selling, and most include a simple multi-step process. I’ve read dozens myself, plus I’ve been subjected to numerous sales training classes as a former sales engineer.

Some books and classes were better than others, but all helped form my ideas.

One drawback of many of these books and classes is their focus on products. (An exception is Rainmaking Conversations, reviewed here.) Most have four or five steps, and most assume the sales process is over once the order is received.

So I decided to expand things. I’ve used the popular AIDA model (Attention- Interest – Desire – Action) and added three additional steps – Delivery, Follow-up, & Referrals.

(1) Attention (Establish Rapport) This is the initial contact phase, and the time to build rapport. It is also the time to address any client concerns or fears. These are particularly important if the client has not or does not use consultants on a regular basis.

I usually begin by asking about the problem, followed by asking how they heard about us. The latter gives me some insight into the trust level.

If it is a referral, the trust is already high. If they’ve found us on a web search, it may be lower, so some reassurance may be needed.

(2) Interest (Qualify)The next step is to determine if you can help, and can they buy. In the former, don’t be afraid to turn business away if you don’t feel comfortable with it.

If the fit looks good, ask about schedule. If asked, you can also provide a budgetary estimate (go on the high side), subject to change pending more details.

(3) Desire (Diagnose & Prescribe) – At this stage, you may be able to offer preliminary diagnosis and recommendations. If not, ask more questions.

For example, I may say, “Based on what we’ve discussed, I suspect XXX, which we’ve seen before. We can handle this several ways… ”

(4) Action (Quote/propose) – The next step is to ask for the order! This is where many consultants fall down, due to fear of rejection. This is also known in the sales world as closing.

For simple projects, I usually just ask if they would like a quote or proposal. If they agree, I quickly review the tasks and schedule for consensus, and then provide a one-two page quote. Often, a purchase order will be issued based on the quote.

For more complex projects, we may decide on an additional meeting for further explorations. This may also mean detailed contracts, which we’ll discuss later.

(5) – DeliverTime to provide what you promised. If working on-site, show up as scheduled and suitably attired. The latter depends on your client, but business casual is usually safe. If unsure, ask ahead of time. Be professional!

Check with client as you progress – don’t wait until the end of the project to find out you were going down the wrong path. Keep the appropriate management in the loop.

An important part of delivery is getting paid. For simple projects, we accept purchase orders, For more complex projects, we may request progress payments or retainers.

(6 )- Follow up – Assuming a successful consultation, ask if there are other things you might help with.  Specific projects? General training? Don’t assume the client is aware of your other services.

As any experienced sales person will tell you, subsequent sales are always easier than the first.  Assuming you’ve done a good job, you’re now a preferred vendor/adviser.

As a minimum, get permission to add you client to your mail list for periodic follow-up. Newsletters work great for keeping in touch.

(7) – Referrals
– Ask for permission to share their name with future prospects. To protect confidentiality, we do not list clients on our brochure, but we do list past projects. If a personal reference is needed, we still call to confirm as a courtesy. (Our business can be sensitive.) Never been turned down.

Depending on your business, written testimonials are great marketing tools — particularly on your web site. And don’t hesitate to ask if there are others who might benefit from your expertise.

So now you have Uncle Daryl’s Seven Steps in Selling. We’ll examine each of these in more depth in future blog posts.

Please comment or write if you have specific questions! Happy selling…

© 2014 – 2017, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Setting up shop… some questions…

From the mailbag: Just last week an engineering colleague (and reader of this blog) announced he was making his own JumpToConsulting. Way to go, Glen!

His announcement e-mail also had several specific questions. After addressing them, I decided to share my comments here.

(1) Quotations & Proposals

We use a two page format. The first page defines the project and tasks, and the second contains “boiler plate” such as terms, rates, etc. That makes it easy to respond – just fill in the blanks on page 1.

Here is a sample, which we send on a letterhead:

****** Quotation ******

Client: XYZ Corp.
1234 Main Street
Somewhere, AZ XXXXX
ATTN: John Smith

Purpose: The client designs and manufacturers military doodads, and is failing MIL-STD-461 radiated emissions tests.

Tasks: The consultant, an electrical engineer specializing in EMI/EMC design and troubleshooting, will assist XYZ as follows:
— On site troubleshooting and reviews at XYZ facility in Somewhere, AZ
— Optional summary report (4-8 pages typical)

Schedule: By mutual agreement (or actual date if scheduled)

Budget: $XXXXX, based on 5 days (4 days on site plus 1 day travel time) plus estimated travel expenses of $2,500. Add $XXXX for optional report.

Please note this is a budgetary estimate. Actual time and expenses will be invoiced. Quotation will not be exceeded without prior client approval.

Terms: Net 30 upon invoice. Purchase order and advance travel retainer of $2500 prior to travel. Quotation valid for 60 days.

Daryl Gerke, PE                                                              April 3, 2014
Kimmel Gerke Associates, Ltd.
EMC Consulting Engineers

I don’t believe in lengthy contracts (keep it simple.) But if you are doing a longer term project, more detail might be needed such as progress payments, etc.

Some companies will have their own consulting agreements. Don’t hesitate to change them if there is something you don’t like.

For example, we remove any limitations on working for others. There is nothing proprietary about what we do. If we limited ourselves to one computer company/one medical company/etc. we’d be out of business in a year.

We do sign standard NDAs (Non-Disclosure Agreements) as long as they do not contain any non-compete restrictions.

(2) Business Insurance

You will probably need a General Liability insurance policy, which most companies now require. We got ours through an insurance broker – about $800/year for two of us. Your accountant or attorney can recommend a broker.

You may or may not need Errors and Omissions insurance. Also known as malpractice insurance, it depends on your area of expertise. Although we are engineers, we don’t carry O&E as our area has little risk of litigation. If we were civil engineers or architects, however, we’d carry it.

(3) Business Bank Account

You also need to set up a separate business bank account. You may need to wait until you have incorporated depending on the bank.

Incidentally, I recommend having an attorney handle an incorporation. Don’t do it yourself to save a few bucks. The attorney will recommend the best legal structure for you – LLC, Sub-Chapter S, C Corporation, etc. The attorney can also handle filings, registrations, and tax documents and IDs.

Finally, these administrative details are pretty simple. The big issue is the marketing – getting the business. But for smooth operations, now is the time to get these details in place.

P.S. Got a question? Drop me a line through the ASK DARYL page.

© 2014, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Hi tech shifts to independent workforce…

So says a recent article in Computerworld — Your next job, next year, may be self employment.

According to Emergent Research (a firm focused on small businesses trends) approximately one million IT (Information Technology) workers today are self-employed. This represents about 18% of the IT workforce.

Not only that, the independent IT workforce is growing at about 7% per year (versus 5.5% for all independent workers – which is still not too shabby.)

According to Steve King, a partner at Emergent, this growth is driven by companies that want to stay ahead of the game. “In today’s world, change is happening so quickly that everyone is trying to figure out how to be more flexible and agile, cut fixed costs and move to variable costs,” said King.

These statistics bode well is you have the itch to hang out your shingle – particularly for my fellow high tech colleagues. All this sounds like fertile ground for new consultants!

King goes on, “For people with skills… there is there is a lot more opportunity to find part-time employment and set up your own shop and work as a consultant and contractor than there has been in the past.”

This last comment suggests a side hustle strategy, particularly if you are not ready to go full time.That is how we made our JumpToConsulting. It is also a good insurance policy -and certainly better than depending on luck.

Personally, I’d rather my income and financial well being depend on my own skills/experience/contacts rather than on some impersonal bureaucracy. But being laid off twice in my pre-consulting career has no doubt affected my perspective.

So stick around here and I’ll share my ideas and encouragement -geek or not- on how to make your own JumpToConsulting.

© 2014, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

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