Geeks

From the mailbag…Book recommendations

Just received this query from India. Wow — we have an international following!

But as I’ve noted here before, consulting is both international and location independent. Assuming others might find this useful, I’m sharing it here.

Hi,

Your website is highly informative.

I ask you a question because you have real time experience as an independent consultant.

I am a full time programmer from India . I have 15 years of software development experience. Do you recommend any book on consulting?

I want to read before implementing steps to become independent consultant.

What about Business Consulting Buzz by Michael Zipursky? You mentioned it.

Here is my reply:

Hi,

Thank you for the kind comments on my blog!

My favorite author on consulting is Howard Shenson. Here are links to two of his books that I like and recommend:

(1) Complete Guide to Consulting Success

(2) Shenson on Consulting – Success Strategies

Here is a link on JumpToConsulting regarding Shenson.

For many years, Shenson conducted short seminars on consulting. I attended one in 1978, and it started me on my consulting journey.

He published many books, so anything else by Shenson is worth reading.  Sadly, he died at a relatively young age in 1991. Otherwise I’m sure he would still be writing and teaching today.

His materials are very practical, with an emphasis on marketing (getting the business.)  Much of my materials are patterned after Shenson, so if you like my blog, you will like his books too.

I’ve also found Michael Zipursky’s website to be useful. His focus is on business (management) consulting rather than technical consulting. I’ve not read his book, but I’m sure it has useful ideas too.

With fifteen years experience, you certainly have the necessary technical experience. (When I went full time, I had nineteen years experience.)

But the technical experience alone is not enough — you must start thinking like a business person.

This is where many technical people fail when starting a consulting practice. They focus on the technology rather than running a business.

Probably the biggest business challenge is marketing/sales — attracting the business and then booking it!

All the other business issues – legal, accounting, contracts, etc. are easy and can be done in a few weeks. But the marketing never ends — you must continually dedicate some time to these efforts.

I’ve always considered marketing as just another technical challenge, with a new set of skills to master. It can be done, but it does require some work and study.  Shenson can help (as I hope my blog can too.)

Hope this has helped, and good luck as you make your own JumpToConsulting!

Thanks for writing! Drop me a line if YOU have a question. (We’ll protect your privacy if we use your question/answer as a post.)

© 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.

A Success Story – Marty Zwilling…

As promised in a recent post, here is Marty Zwilling’s “success story.” His story should be of special interest to boomers, as he started his consultancy after he retired – the first time. Geeks too – he was part of the team behind the IBM PC.

Marty specializes in helping new entrepreneurs get started. Thus, the name of his firm – StartupProfessionals.com.  Great resources – books, packages, personal mentoring, a daily blog, and more. Good advice for all entrepreneurs – consultants or otherwise.

(1) What prompted you to consider consulting? Was there an event, like a layoff, or was it just a general itch to be on your own?

I chose consulting with startups as a way to scale back from a full-time job, and be in control of my own schedule.

I had spent many years with IBM, then several years in Silicon Valley working for a couple of startups, so I thought it was time for me to share some of that experience helping people struggling to turn their dream idea into a business.

(2) How has it been going? Looks like you started some time ago, so obviously you are established in your business.

It’s working well for me. I learned to use social media through blogging, LinkedIn, and Twitter, as a source of leads, so I’ve been able to build my brand (Startup Professionals) with essentially no money spent on marketing.

I have enough work to keep me as busy as I want – I tell my wife that I only work half-time, only 40 hours per week. 🙂

(3) What do you like MOST about consulting?

I enjoy my total control over the jobs I accept, the rates I charge, and not having to manage other people.

(4) What do you like LEAST about consulting?

As a consultant, you always have to be looking ahead and thinking about getting new work, especially since most of my gigs are short-term. Back in IBM, it was nice getting that salary check without thinking about it every couple of weeks.

(5) How do you get your clients? (BTW, the number one question I get asked when someone finds out I’m a consultant.)

Naturally I have a website listing my services, with contact info, but many clients come from referrals of previous clients and related business professionals, like investors, that I meet through networking.

(6) How do you set your fees? (Second question I get asked.)

Fees are a function of your skills and expertise, and what the market will bear. I recommend that any consultant start low, and raise fees as reputation/demand goes up.

This is the inverse of what I recommend for product businesses, where you might start at the high end and lower prices to be more competitive.  In either case, you need to avoid prices that are so low that they suggest minimal value or quality.

(7) How did you decide what to consult about? (Third question I get asked.)

That’s easy. You should only consult in some functional area you love, and one that you have something of value to offer.

I’ve had a lot of experience starting small businesses, and managing larger ones, so I felt I could help new companies get started, and grow to mature companies.

I also have an degree in accounting, so I can read and build business plans as well. I do it first because I love to see new entrepreneurs succeed, and I’m really in the give-back stage of my life.

(8) Lessons learned since you started consulting?

I’ve learned a lot about dealing with people, and how to read people. Everyone has their own way of thinking and getting things done, so I quickly try to adopt and adapt to their style.

I’ve become more and more convinced that success in being an entrepreneur is mostly about the person, and not about the quality of the idea they are trying to make a business out of. I have found that entrepreneurs with the right attributes can take almost any idea and succeed, while others will run even the best idea into the ground.

(9) What next? Do you plan to do this the rest of your career? Or is this a stepping stone to other things?

I take life a day at a time, so I don’t try to predict what tomorrow will bring. I don’t have any master plan, and I see many different jobs out there that I might enjoy.

I’m one of those lucky ones who have always enjoyed the work I do, and I’ve done many things, but there is much more to learn and try. One of the reasons I like consulting is that I can change my focus in any way that I want without anyone second-guessing me.

(10) Finally, what one piece of advice would you give to those who might be thinking about consulting?

Being a consultant is all about being an entrepreneur. That means the buck stops with you, and you have to make decisions, take risk, and you can’t count on anyone else to solve problems for you.

Everyone should take a hard look in the mirror before they start down this path – if the requirements scare you, then don’t start down this path – you won’t be happy.

If you don’t like dealing with people, then consulting is not for you. There is nothing wrong with working for someone else, doing your job well, and getting that regular paycheck without worry.

Life is too short to go to work unhappy every day. Have fun!

Thank you, Marty, for sharing your story – and your encouragement!

© 2014, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Do You Want to Get Rich???

So asked the Dean of Engineering to a bunch of freshman engineering students almost fifty years ago.

The class was Intro to Engineering, an overview of what we were getting ourselves into. When he asked the question, most of the hands in the room went up.

“Well”, he replied, “if you REALLY want go get rich, drop out now. Go out to the new interstate highway, and buy land at one of the interchanges. Build a gas station, and in 25 years you’ll be rich – and independent too.”

“But,” he continued, “stick around here and we’ll show you how much fun engineering can be. And in 25 years, you may not be as rich as the gas station owner, but you will still be in good financial shape. And you will have had a lot of fun in the meantime.”

It wasn’t until many years later that I fully appreciated the dean’s advice. Yes, the classes were interesting, but often challenging. So were the engineering jobs I held in industry.

But the real payoff came after starting my own engineering consulting firm. I was finally able to combine the independence of the gas station owner with the fun of engineering. And financially, it has all turned out just fine. Maybe that was the dean’s real message.

So a message of encouragement to my fellow geeks. If you are sick and tired of the big company politics and no longer having a good time, consider consulting.

As a bonus, old consultants are usually valued (for all their experience), while old engineers (with the same experience) are often put out to pasture. Go figure.

Finally, every time I drive by all the gas stations on I-80 north of Lincoln, Nebraska, I fondly recall the dean’s advice. Thanks, Dean Blackman!

© 2014, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

A success story – Kellie Hedrick, PE

Time for another interview with another successful consulting engineer — Kellie Hedrick, PE, of Environmental Process Solutions PLLC.

Kellie is a Civil Engineer and a Registered Professional Engineer (PE), and specializes in wastewater treatment. How about that for a unique consulting niche? She has been in full time practice since 2010, and is located in Charlotte, NC.

I first connected with Kellie on a small business forum on LinkedIn, so I asked her to share her experiences and advice here.

Here is the interview:

(1) What prompted you to consider consulting? Was there an event, like a layoff, or was it just a general itch to be on your own?

Like a lot of people in 2008/2009, I was laid off. After looking for a job for about a year, I found that it seemed people needed my assistance on more of a part time basis.

After contracting a little bit, I decided it would be better to form a company and start consulting, so I officially launched my company in 2010.

(2) How has it been going? Looks like you started in 2010, so obviously you are established in your business.

Business has been reasonably good. I really enjoy working with industrial wastewater and helping my clients gain or maintain compliance with their discharge permits.

It makes me incredibly proud to solve problems my clients are facing and the fact that I can get paid to do what I love makes it the perfect situation for me.

(3) What do you like MOST about consulting?

I like working with different companies and solving different problems. I tend to get bored working on the same thing all the time, so the variety I get with my company is very nice.

(4) What do you like LEAST about consulting?

I was never fond of the typical engineering consulting format. I prefer more of the contracting type jobs where I’m providing a routine (or maybe not so routine) service over a long period of time.

The typical engineering format seems to be to get a project, design something to fix the problem, possibly oversee installation and move on. The design aspects take so long and require more office work that I really like to do.

(5) How do you get your clients? (BTW, the number one question I get asked when someone finds out I’m a consultant.)

The majority of my clients have come from referrals either from former co-workers or from vendors I work with on a routine basis. I have gotten one or two random client calls and it seems that they usually originate from them finding my Manta page.

(6) How do you set your fees? (Second question I get asked.)

I did a lot of research initially and based my starting fees on information I found on the GSA website for government contractors. From there, I have adjusted a little to try to be generally in line with firms in my local area.

(7) How did you decide what to consult about? And why? (Third question I get asked.)

I had my area of expertise and there are many consultants working in the environmental industry, so with my focus on wastewater engineering and operations, I decided I’d see if I could make it on my own.

(8) Lessons learned since you started consulting?

Networking is extremely important.  As is keeping your name out there online.

As a business owner, you start out doing all jobs and so far, I’ve found that Michael Gerber’s E-Myth Revisited book to be extremely accurate in the depiction of a person who starts on their own with a love for what they do in their business and how much of a struggle it is to expand into actually running a business rather than managing a job.

(9) What next? Do you plan to do this the rest of your career (like I did?) Or is this a stepping stone to other things?

At this point, I’m enjoying what I’m doing and where I am with growing my business, so I’m likely to stick with it for now. I haven’t made any long term plans other than the fact that I plan to work forever and never retire.

(10) Finally, what one piece of advice would you give to our fellow engineers who might be thinking about consulting?

Make sure that you learn the business side of setting up a consulting company. I’ve been at it for about 3 years now and still have a ton to learn about the business side. I love learning, so I’m still going for it.

I think I’ve been lucky to have good networking groups in Charlotte, NC where I can attend a learning session along with meeting lots of new people.

Thank you, Kellie! Perhaps your story will inspire and encourage other engineers wondering if they too could make their own JumpToConsulting. (One of the secret objectives of this blog.)

Finally, in closing – a bit of engineering humor. When I once chided my brother (a retired Civil Engineer) about his own wastewater projects, he responded “Well, it may be sewage to you, but it is MY bread and butter.”  Gotta love that engineering attitude…

© 2013, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

On Not Being A Good Corporate Rat…

Or, one reason I finally became an independent consultant… I chuckle to myself every time I’m reminded of this story.

Recently posted this as a reply at Perry Marshall’s blog. Incidentally, Perry is another engineer who broke the corporate bonds and went on to found a very successful Internet marketing business.

Thought I was in big trouble – but actually got rewarded…

Prior to starting my own engineering consulting firm in 1987, I was a Field Sales Engineer for Intel. It was a great experience with a great company, and proved very helpful when running my own  business.

But it wasn’t all peaches and cream. Like any large company, the bureaucracy was always there. Unfortunately for me, I never got along well with bureaucrats. Guess I wasn’t cut out to be a good corporate rat.

So, when a new monthly reporting form came out, I first chose to ignore it. Known as the “Disti Report”, it asked for a detailed forecast on sales through distribution for my accounts.

Since almost all my sales were direct, why waste my time filling out a report that had no meaning anyway?

But Chris, my sales support, came to my rescue. She reminded me that I had not submitted the report along with the monthly status report.

“So what?” I said. Being wiser in the ways of bureaucracies, she said, “Hey, just do it. It will only take you a minute.”

So I grabbed a form, made up some numbers, and handed it back to Chris. It took about thirty seconds.

She grinned, and attached it to my status report.

The following month we went through the same exercise. Chris asked, “Where is your Disti Report?”

I replied, “Do you have last month’s report?” After she handed it to me, I made a photocopy, handed it back, and she sent it in.

She grinned again.

The next month, she asked “Should I just make another copy of the Disti Report?” I replied, “Yes – and you don’t need to even ask me anymore.”

So for the next twelve months, she just attached copies of the unaltered Disti Report to my monthly status report. I even think she made photocopies of the photocopies, so they were starting to fade.

Then one day, our Regional Sales Manager came to town for a meeting. When he passed out an agenda, one item stood out – Disti Reports.

I winced – looked at Chris – and she winced back. I figured my impudence had caught up to me, and I was about to be severely chastised.

We finally got to the Disti Report on the agenda. The Regional Manager started out, “We have a big problem with Disti Reports, folks.”

I closed my eyes – wait for it, I thought.

Then he continued, “Nobody in this office is filling them out, and we need that information. No wait, Gerke has faithfully filled his out every month — but he doesn’t even sell anything thorough distribution!”

I snuck a look at Chris. It was all she could do to keep from bursting out laughing. Me, I just  breathed a sigh of relief. As far as I know, we were never found out.

So what was the big lesson here? If it only takes a minute or two and is not that important, just go ahead and play their silly games.

But the games did finally grind me down. Two years later, I started my own firm and last fall completed 25 years in business.

And no, we do NOT have Disti Reports…

So how about you? Are you a corporate misfit like I was? If so, running your own business may be the answer. Consulting is just one of many possibilities.

© 2013, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

A Success Story – Beningo Engineering…

Here is my first “interview” — Jacob Beningo of Beningo Engineering. It was his newsletter that provided the humor in the previous post.

Jacob speciaizes in the “development and design of  quality, robust embedded systems.” He has a degree in Electrical Engineering (another gEEk), started consulting in 2009, and has been on his own since 2011.

Here is the interview:

(1) What prompted you to consider consulting?  Was there an event, like a layoff, or was it just a general itch to be on your own?

Pretty much since I was a Junior in high school I’ve had the itch to start my own engineering/consulting company. However, I didn’t start to give it serious thought until the 2007/2008 timeframe when I was working as the lead engineer at a start-up.

That company didn’t survive the economic down turn of the time but I started working at a university and started my company as a part-time side project at the same time. I guess you could say that the collapse of the start-up helped give me the extra push to have more control over my own career.

Over the next two years my part-time company eventually got enough work to support a full-time engineer. I took the plunge and have now been doing this full-time plus for the last two years.

(2) How has it been going? See you started in 2009, so obviously you are established in your business.

Paperwork and my first client was back in 2009 mid year. I consistently had part-time work for around a year and half before going on completely on my own in 2011.

In 2011 I was actually working full-time as a W2 employee of one of my clients from the year previously. We were developing sensors for measuring blast profiles from IED’s in the defense industry and there was enough work there that I went on there full-time until the project was completed.

(3) What do you like MOST about consulting?

The best part is all of the projects and technologies I get to work with. Working for just one company you often get highly specialized or forced to live within a small box within the larger design cycle.  I don’t have those restrictions.

I get involved sometimes as early as designing the system requirements, in the heavy development or sometimes at the end just to perform system verification. I have my specialization but also still keep a good birds eye view to understand the technologies and industries and see where they are going which helps my clients immensely.

(4) What do you like LEAST about consulting?

The thing I like least is having to sell. I always feel like I’m boasting when I go through our capabilities, what we bring to the table and what we have done. The customer though wants to feel like they are getting an expert in the field even though, in my opinion, expertise is fleeting with the rate at which technology changes.

(5) How do you get your clients? (BTW, the number one question I get asked when someone finds out I’m a consultant.) What marketing techniques work best for you?

Word of mouth is one of the best techniques for me in addition to LinkedIn. I’ve found that networking with people and just getting in front of someone for 30 minutes with some example projects can go a long way.

(6) How do you set your fees? (Second question I get asked.)

I like to use the different consulting salary surveys such as the IEEE consultant survey. It gives a good idea of what other consultants are charging. The value tends to be on average $110 – $120 which is also what a typical engineering company will charge per hour as well.

Personally I like to come in below that average. I can easily reference that average figure and then show them how they are getting a deal immediately. The quality of our work for the price I think really goes a long way.

(7) How did you decide what to consult about? And why? (Third question I get asked.)

I consult about what I know. I’m an embedded systems guy with a heavy focus on embedded software.  It is what I know best so my clients get the best value by having me consult in that area.

Now that doesn’t mean that I always just do software. Embedded software is tightly coupled to electrical design and hardware. Sometimes I’ll consult just on the hardware design without any software input. Other times I’m given the entire project and design hardware and software, system tests and the whole thing.

If you are just starting out focus in on a niche and then over time open up capabilities. Starting out its tempting to go general to get any business but its better to just focus your attention on one thing.  (Easier to say than do).

(8) Lessons learned since you started consulting?

I’ve learned that I always have to be selling. Just because a big project comes along doesn’t mean that the selling can stop. That project will eventually end and if the selling stopped then there could be months before the next project comes along. Time needs to be set a side every day/week to network and work on selling your services.

(9) What next? Do you plan to do this the rest of your career (like I did?) Or is this a stepping stone to other things?

The goal right now is to do this for a long time. Hopefully with time the work load will grow to where we can hire more consultants and eventually develop our own products. We are moving that way but consulting will remain a core for a very long time. It’s fun, challenging and working with different companies and people is just too much fun.

(10) Finally, what one piece of advice would you give to our fellow engineers who might be thinking about consulting?

Focus on a single niche and go after it. Don’t generalize your service. Sell, Sell and then Sell some more. (Sorry that’s two pieces but once I start talking/writing it’s hard to stop).

Here are some of my comments to Jacob that you may find of interest: 

Thanks for the information. Although I’ve featured a few other firms, you are the first of my “interviews.” I’ll probably post that in a week or two.
 
Glad to hear it is going well. Once you get past the first year or two, you finally realize you’re going to make it. So, congratulations!
 
I certainly agree with your assessment regarding working on different projects. That has been a major appeal for me too.

Frankly, I wish more engineers would break loose so they could enjoy engineering again.  Way too many stuck in the corporate rut. It really pleases me to hear of your success.
 
Yes, selling can be a pain, but it is a fact of life when you are in business.

A little trick I play on myself is to treat the marketing and sales challenges as just another engineering challenge.  After all, we’re problem solvers, so what is another problem to work on?
 
I also consider myself a bit like a doctor — here to help clients either get well or stay well.  Put in that light, it doesn’t feel like I’m bragging when I explain what we can do for them. 
 
Finally, keep on having fun!

Would you like to be featured here? Answer the questions in an email. Can’t promise it will make you rich and famous, but it might just help inspire somebody else to make their own JumpToConsulting.

PS – You don’t need to be a geek — all are welcome to submit their consulting success story.

© 2013, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Some consulting humor…

10 Signs You Might Be A Consultant…

(1) Your largest expense is socks from never leaving the house.  (More wear and tear)

(2) Business casual is khaki shorts and a Hawaiian shirt

(3) 3 months of vacation a year just doesn’t quite feel long enough

(4) Bean counters panic when they see you

(5) Afternoon naps are an option

(6) You can open a window on a cool spring day and feel the breeze

(7) The biggest wear and tear on your vehicle is going to the grocery store and church on Sundays

(8) Family and friends always start a conversation with “so I have an invention for you ….”

(9) You are cursed with not only having to have knowledge of the bleeding cutting edge of technology but also maintain skills that are legacy by decades (Fortran anyone?)

(10) You use as much open source free software as possible but expect others to pay top dollar for your software

— From the Beningo Engineering Embedded Newsletter (June 2013) – another consulting engineer who also blogs and writes a newsletter.

© 2013, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Help Each Other…

As a consultant, you can’t know everything. Sometimes you need to bring in other experts. When you do, it is much easier if you have greased the skids ahead of time.

Here is a geek story from my college days.

Ernie was an ME (mechanical engineering) student, and a good one at that. However, he was struggling with a mandatory class, EE (electrical engineering) for MEs. It was pretty simple stuff, but he still didn’t get it.

So, he asked my roommate and me, both EEs, to help him out. We all lived in the same place, and that is what we did. Plus we all drank a lot of beer together, a common lubricant for dealing with engineering problems.

“I just can’t seem to get it,” said Ernie. “But Ernie, it’s so simple,” I replied, when I tutored him.  He still struggled, but through rote learning he was able to regurgitate enough to pass. He went on to graduate as an ME.

The following semester, I had a mandatory ME class for EEs on thermodynamics. Like Ernie, I just couldn’t seem to get it.  “But Daryl, it’s so simple,” he said when tutored me. Like Ernie, I was also able to regurgitate enough to pass, and went on to graduate as an EE.

To this day, I still don’t understand thermodynamics, nor do I have a burning desire to do so. But later, I realized the real lesson was in learning to cooperate with colleagues. Without that mutual help, both Ernie and I might not have made it to graduation.

So, help a colleague when needed, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. And establish those helping networks ahead of time.

Finally, don’t over look the benefits of beer, particularly if you are an engineer!

© 2013, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Some Engineering Humor…

This is a true story. Not even the names have been changed…

Mary (my wife) was at the beauty shop, getting her hair done. She couldn’t help hearing the conversation in the next chair. The discussion centered around the new boy friend of the customer’s niece. Here is a summary of the exchanges:

Hairdresser – “So, it sounds pretty serious with your niece and her young man at the university.”

Customer – “Yes, he seems really nice. The only problem is that he is studying engineering. You know, engineers can be kind of strange…”

Mary – (Interrupting) – “Tell me about it, I’m married to one!”

Customer – (Embarrassed) – “Oh, I didn’t mean…”

Mary – “Don’t worry, it’s true – they are different.” But then she added, “Its OK, though. We’ve been married over 40 years…”

I guess we engineers do have a reputation to uphold. Without us, there would be no Dilbert, right?

Reprinted from Kimmel Gerke Bullets, our client newsletter.

© 2013 – 2016, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

An Ode To My Engineering Colleagues…

In celebration of Engineer’s Week, February 17-23, 2013…

You could not…

Drive to work… cook a pot roast… bake bread… take a shower… watch television… make toast… brew coffee… mow the lawn… call your mother… be cool in the summer… wash you clothes… play computer games… listen to your stereo… ride your bike… videotape a wedding… vacuum the rug… recycle you garbage… play baseball at night… be warm in the winter… fly to Hawaii… flush the toilet… or use the cash machine…

Without an Engineer! (From a sign in Daryl’s office.)

Have You Hugged Your Engineer Today? (From another sign in Daryl’s office)

© 2013, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

You don’t need an MBA to consult…

I’m living proof. No MBA, and in fact, I’m an MBA dropout. But more on that later.

This post was precipitated by a recent post by Martin Zwilling at Startup Professional Musings, where Martin discusses the pros and cons of an MBA for entrepreneurs.

His advice is right in the title – Don’t Delay Your First Startup to Get an MBA. I could not agree more — don’t delay a JumpToConsulting for the same reason.

Now my personal dropout story.

I had just started a new job as a Field Sales Engineer.  My new boss, who I admired, was an EE with an MBA from a local university. When asked, he spoke highly of the program, and encouraged me to take advantage of the evening program and the tuition reimbursement.

So I enrolled. The first courses were interesting, and I learned some good stuff about finance and accounting. However, it was apparent that the MBA was designed to prepare one to move up in the corporation – not to start your own venture.

By that time in my career, I was already smitten with the entrepreneurial  itch. Unfortunately, you can’t shake it.

So I was faced with a decision — spend the next two years studying to become a corporate rat, or spend the next two years plotting and planning my eventual escape to independence through consulting. As you may have guessed, I did the latter. Damn glad I did, too!

Incidentally, this is not meant to disparage the MBA, or any other advanced degree. (My older son has an MBA, and it has helped him immensely.) If you already have one, toot your horn. After all, you worked hard for it and you earned it!

But as Martin points out, if you are itching to be an entrepreneur, more education may actually slow you down. Unfortunately, many people use getting an advanced degree as a crutch in lieu of just jumping in and starting something.

Some advice for my fellow geeks. I agree with Martin — if you have NO business background, the MBA can give you basic business knowledge. But so can a few good business books.

Or, you can do like I did, and get a job as a Sales Engineer. I learned more about business, sales, and marketing in the first year that I had in the previous ten years as a design engineer. Plus the real world sales experience was far more valuable than any theoretical MBA class could provide. Nothing quite like doing it to really learn it!

Finally, if you really want an MBA, the go for it. But just make it will take you where you want to go.

PS – If you have the entrepreneurial itch, sign for Martin Zwilling’s blog. It is a daily dose (yes, every single day) of solid business advice from a fellow Arizona Baby Boomer with a ton of experience as a successful entrepreneur.

© 2013, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Success Story – Don the Engineer…

Boomers and geeks take note! Close to retirement, and wondering about consulting? My long time friend Don shows you a way.

Fresh out of engineering school, Don and I worked together in the late 1960’s at Collins Radio. In addition to both being EEs (Electrical Engineers), we shared a common interest in amateur (ham) radio – a hobby that got both us both started in electronics.

Within two years, we went our separate ways. Don headed back to his hometown of Chicago to work for Motorola, and I headed north the Minneapolis/St. Paul to work for Sperry Univac. We both remained involved with radios — Don as a systems engineer with VHF/UHF radio systems, and me as an EMC (electromagnetic compatibility) engineer.

Due to our mutual interests, we stayed in touch. Don progressed up the ranks, eventually becoming a Staff Engineer in charge of planning and installing sophisticated communications systems, including one at the White House. He enjoyed what he was doing, and never really considered being on his own.

But a few years before retirement, his company fell on hard times. Offered a lucrative buyout, Don took it. But not ready to hang up his spurs, he wondered what to do next.

This is where Uncle Daryl enters the scene.
You see, I’d been bugging Don to consider consulting for some time. He had a wealth of experience, tons of credibility, and the right credentials — both FCC licenses and a PE (Professional Engineer) license.

But Don was still unsure. Almost forty years of corporate living can do that to you.  So, when I called to inquire how things were going, he mentioned he was taking a short class on resume writing.

What!” I exclaimed. “I thought you were hanging out your consulting shingle.” He hemmed and hawed, so I said, “You know a lot of people in this business. Geez — just make a few phone calls and see where it leads.” He agreed to give it a try.

Actually, he didn’t even get that far. A colleague had just heard he had “retired”, and called Don to inquire about his availability. A nearby county was upgrading their public safety communications system, and invited Don to manage the project — and for a rather attractive fee at that.

Thus began Don’s consulting career.
He kept busy for the next several years on a number of similar projects. Most of his leads were referrals from former customers, colleagues, and even old ham radio buddies.

Thanks to all his hard work over the years, he had a ready made network. His marketing was minimal — all he needed to do was let the network know he was available.

One of those referrals came from Yours Truly. A former client called looking for some help with some VHF/UHF radio systems. Based on their problem, I immediately thought of Don. He took the job and solved their problem, making both of us look good.

The project required a mountain top visit — not your usual consulting job. I had visited the same mountain top for a radio frequency safety survey. There were also some strange radio phenomena on the mountain that needed Don’s attention.

We both agreed these were probably some of the more interesting projects either of us had undertaken. And the views from the mountain top were priceless!

Don finally decided to fully retire (no more mountain climbing.) He enjoyed his stint as a consulting engineer, and enhanced his retirement funds at the same time. He now enjoys his free time playing with his radios at his new retirement home in Tennessee.

So, is there a lesson in all this?

Yes, of course. If you are approaching retirement (or are already retired), you have plenty of very valuable expertise — probably more than you realize.

Consulting can be a good way to leverage all your years of experience. It can keep you involved, and it can help fund a lot of fun retirement stuff too!

© 2013, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

From the mailbag…re “Are Engineers Really in Demand?”

This is a response to Jim, who commented on “Are Engineers Really in Demand.” Thought this deserved a blog post, rather than just a response from me.

Of all the things that offer consulting opportunities Engineering, with the exception of Civil, is way down on the list. With all the non disclosure agreements and req 4 security clearances its almost impossible to be a real engineering consultant. Besides Companies find engineering the most outsourced, easily replaceable ppl prod today. Companies can hire temp Engrs today by the handful. Unlike things that take that special personality to make it successful Engrs have finally become the new grunt labor seen by Mgmt as “the ppl not smart enough 4 a real business career.” Wake up its 2012 not 1962!

Thanks for the comment, and for reading my blog! In fact, you’ve given me ideas for a new post.

First, I respectfully disagree that engineering consulting is not viable. Having done this full time for 25 years (and having made a very good living at it), I’ve also met a number of other successful full time engineering consultants across multiple disciplines — electrical, mechanical, civil, and more.  Even collaborated on projects with some, when we needed to leverage our individual strengths.

I also disagree that nondisclosures and security clearances are a barrier. We regularly sign nondisclosure agreements, although we do NOT sign non-compete agreements. (If we agreed to work with only one auto company, one medical company, one computer company… we’d soon be out of business.)

Regarding security clearances, we’ve worked on classified programs without clearances. We’ve held clearances in the past, so we appreciate this concern.  Fortunately, our engineering specialty does not deal with classified data, so we work around it.

But the military/defense sector is only a small part of industry — there are a myriad of opportunities in other areas (commercial, facilities, medical, industrial controls, and much more) that do not require security clearances.

Incidentally, we decided early on NOT to focus solely on defense, and have been better off for it. (Didn’t want all our proverbial eggs in one basket.)

I do agree that engineering is being outsourced, and to I share your concerns. But is it realistic to expect that we in the US should “own” all the engineering?

After all, there is a world wide market for our products.  My experience with non-US engineers has been positive — smart, innovative, and driven with a passion for engineering. (Maybe that explains some of the outsourcing — companies seek talent where they can.)

At the same time, there are many medium and smaller companies who employ local talent. In fact, they are among my favorite clients. Many of the engineers are refugees from big companies, and are more interested in changing the world than climbing the ladder.

Ditto the management. Many are engineers themselves and appreciate the contributions of their employees — and also their consultants!

Regarding the latter, these companies are often fertile ground for consulting, particularly if you have unique talents and experience such as power electronics, analog design,  RF design, EMI/EMC (our area), etc. These smaller companies often need help, but not on a full time basis. Yes, they often “outsource” too, but to consultants.

Finally, I agree with your displeasure with unenlightened management. I spend the first half of my career in the corporate environment (big and small), and was twice suddenly out of a job due to corporate bungling and egotism.(Also two reasons why I eventually decided to hang out my own consulting shingle.)

But I also worked for several good companies with great bosses where I learned a lot. Ditto my clients — I’ve seen some great managers in both large and small companies.

So if you don’t want to be on your own, rest assured there are good managers out there — but you do need to seek them out.

I hope this helped. When I responded to the IEEE article (Are Engineers Really in Demand?), I sensed a lot of frustration, just as in your comments. That’s OK — I’ve been there too. But my goal was to show there are viable alternatives, with consulting as one of them. Good luck in 2012, and beyond!

© 2012 – 2013, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Something just didn’t look right…

Warning — Geek Story Ahead! My brother Jim is a retired civil engineer. When we get together, we often share war stories. This one has a good lesson for consultants.

It was Friday afternoon, and it was time to head into town for a cold beer and hot meal,” Jim began. He was working on a new power plant out on the North Dakota plains. It was hot and dusty, and that cold beer sounded great.

“Time for one final pass around the construction site. Hmmm — that hole they dug today for new building footings just didn’t look right.” The cold beer called, but Jim decided he better check this out. Good thing he did, too.

During his college years, Jim had worked summers with the county surveyor’s office.  As such, he was pretty handy with a transit. So he decided to confirm a few measurements.

Sure enough, the hole was in the wrong place — by about 50 feet! And the schedule called for pouring concrete that weekend. So, rather than enjoying that frosty brew, Jim shut down the project.

As he explained, “Catching this mistake more than paid my salary for my entire career with my company. Had they filled those footings with concrete, the cost to fix that mistake would have been many millions of dollars.”

The following week, the hole was “moved” to its proper location, and the project proceeded on schedule.

The lesson for consultants is this – if something doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t. As a consultant, you are paid for your professional judgment. So follow your hunches, which are often the result of years of professional experience.

The cold beer can wait!

© 2012, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Are Engineers Really In Demand?

Here is my reply to a recent IEEE article “Are Engineers Really in Demand?” The authors posed this question in response to a recent  Washington Post story that discussed unemployment among engineers. Being a geek myself,  I was intrigued.

What disturbed me, however, were the comments that followed.  Way too much griping about how the government, big business, or foreigners (H1B visas) were to blame. Whoa!  What happened to being responsible for your own career?

So here was my response:

Lot’s of complaining here. Let me offer an alternate (more positive) view.

After being laid off twice early in my career, I decided to hang out my shingle as a consulting engineer. After 30+ years (25 in full time practice,) I can say it has been great. The technical work is interesting, the pay is better, and the respect is even better yet. Not only that, as you get older, the perception is that your experience is even more valuable — rather refreshing.

The down side is that you no longer have the “security” of a company behind you. But as most of us know, that is a myth anyway. In fact, with consulting it is quite the opposite — no one client can put me out of business.

But you DO need to hustle for the business, something that frightens many engineers. I just look at getting new business as another technical challenge. After all, we’re supposed to be problem solvers, right?

Frankly, I wish more engineers would adopt the mindset of working for themselves, rather than depending on the corporate bean counters for sustenance. If doctors, lawyers, and accountants can be in practice for themselves, why not engineers?

Food for thought. Finally, if you are considering this, get your PE license. You’ll need it to open some doors. Then start hustling — you might be pleasantly surprised with the results. I’ve certainly enjoyed my way of practicing engineering. Good luck!

The results? A bit disappointing. One troll did respond with a rather bizarre comment “… You escape for now. The giant vampire squid of capital is seeking the small leaks next…”  Huh?  Missed the point, or really bitter I guess.

But I shall remain positive. If you are reading this, you are presumably not willing to depend on  “the man” to give you a job.  Creating your own can be a satisfying alternative — consulting or otherwise. You have my encouragement…

P.S. Will do a talk on consulting at the Start Your Own Business Workshop this Saturday in Chandler AZ. The workshop is sponsored by LaidOffCamp, a great program for those who have lost their jobs.

Who knows — maybe we’ll even help launch some new consultants!

© 2012 – 2013, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Consulting for Geeks…

Just gave a talk titled “Consulting for Geeks – So You Want to be a Consultant?” at DesignCon2012 in Santa Clara, CA. With over 100 attendees, it confirmed my suspicion that many of my technical colleagues are considering consulting — at least secretly anyway.

And why not?  If you are a professional (engineer, architect, accountant, lawyer, doctor, nurse, etc.) and are tired of being micro-managed (or mis-managed), consulting can be the way to go. You can gain some independence (the biggie for me), and you get to keep the profits you generate too.

You may not get filthy rich, but in the long run, you may do better that staying in the corporate world. Plus you may have a lot more fun. After 30+ years (25 years in full time practice), that is how it has worked for me. No regrets whatever for making my own JumpToConsulting. Well — maybe one — that I didn’t do it sooner!

The decision to go out on your own is not without risks. Ask your self, “What is the worst thing that could happen? ” Sure, you might have to grovel and go back to a “real” job. I did that when the first try at full-time consulting didn’t work. But like Bob Parsons of GoDaddy says in his Rule #4, “Well … if it doesn’t work, they can’t eat you.”

The biggest hurdle for many is how to get started. Hopefully, my blog can help. But for more details, I’m planning a five part webinar series on consulting later this year. Topics will include:

  • Introduction – An overview with four key questions.
  • Marketing – Defining your niches and getting the leads.
  • Sales – Collateral, contracts, and closing the deals.
  • Financial & Legal – Fee setting, advisors, professional licenses, & more.
  • Getting Started – Part time/full time, setting up your office, and commencing your marketing.

The series won’t be free (still gotta pay the JumpToConsulting project expenses), but the cost will be nominal, and the series will include group Q&A sessions to further enhance learning the “nuts and bolts” of consulting.

Watch my blog for more details on the upcoming webinars. Better yet — sign up for personal notifications (eNEWS…) or drop me an email (daryl at jumptoconsulting dot com) for more details on the webinars.

© 2012, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Consulting for Geeks…Live Presentation

You are invited to join me… at an upcoming talk at DesignCon 2012 on Consulting for Geeks. This is an update of a talk I gave at last year’s IEEE EMC Symposium.

Sixty people showed up for that presentation — as the LAST talk of the LAST session on the LAST day. Turns out a lot of my fellow geeks are seriously curious about consulting!

Here are some details:

  • What – Consulting for Geeks – So You Want to Be a Consultant?
  • When – Wednesday, February 1, 2012  – 1 – 1:45 PM
  • Where – ChipHead Theater at the Santa Clara Convention Center

DesignCon 2012 is hosted by UBM (United Business Media) , a major technical publisher serving the engineering community.  Among others, they publish EDN Magazine, Medical Device and Diagnostic Industry (MDDI), Test and Measurement World, and EE Times. We’ve happily written for all four publications over the years.

One very rewarding publishing effort was the EDN Designer’s Guide to Electromagnetic Interference, first published in 1994 and updated in 2000. When this 100 page supplement (written entirely by us) went out to EDN’s 120,000+ readers, it immediately moved us from a local firm to one with national prominence. It was a LOT of work, but worth it. (And still timely – reprints are available on the EMIGURU web site.)

We also now have an on-line column at EE Times (Planet Analog.) This grew out of the EMIGURU site blog, and has been well received. This has also been good for visibility, and is a great way to share our technical insights and experience with our fellow engineers.

So, if you are in the Santa Clara area on February 1 and can make it to DesignCon 2012, please join me! Attendance is FREE – just sign up for the FREE Expo Pass at DesignCon2012.

If you can’t make the live session, watch my blog here or watch EE-Times for some future related on-line events.

P.S.  Been a bit sparse recently with the posts. Not to worry — there have been some interesting and exciting developments that have grabbed my time and attention. All good, by the way.  This is one of them.

© 2012, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Management vs. Technical Consulting

Consultants come in all types of sizes, shapes, and specialties. However, most fall into one of two broad categories — management consultants or technical consultants. While both provide services and advice aimed at helping the client, there are some significant differences.

As a consulting engineer, I am more familiar with the technical category. Nevertheless, I’ve known and worked with a number of management consultant over the years, so I feel comfortable sharing observations on this category as well.

Technical consultants are usually problem-oriented, and typically live in a “concrete” world. Most are specialists by education (engineers, doctors, lawyers, accountants, architects, etc.) with years of advanced professional education and experience.

  • Most technical consultants focus on solving technical problems or addressing compliance issues. (Think doctors, accountants, lawyers, and most engineers.)
  • Other technical consultants, however, focus on creating new ideas, concepts, and products. (Think architects and design engineers.) They all apply hard science, logic, and even art to achieve results.
  • Technical consultants often need to be licensed by government boards before they can offer their services to the public. The licensing requirements are strict, and require in-depth examinations combined with suitable professional experience. As such, they can confer a high degree of credibility.
  • A word of caution. Non-licensed professionals can be censured or even jailed for practicing without a license. Don’t even think about practicing medicine or law without a license.

Management consultants are usually process-oriented, and typically live in an “abstract” world. Most are generalists by education (business, liberal arts) but may have extensive experience in business specialties (marketing, advertising, personnel, etc.)

  • Most management consultants focus on solving business problems or improving business processes. Profitability and ROI are major measures of success (or failure) for management consultants.
  • Management consultants are typically more “people oriented” than technical consultants, and often apply soft science (psychology or market research) and emotional appeals to achieve results.
  • Management consultants rarely require specialized legal licenses, but may still need simple business licenses.
  • In order to enhance credibility, many  management consultants pursue certifications by nonlegal entities. Depending on the client, these credentials may or may not have meaning, so choose your credentials with care.

Two different types of consultants — two different cultures. In my experience, the two types sometimes even distrust each other, but much of this is due to misunderstanding. Personally, I have great respect for both types of consultants. Hopefully this post has promoted some tolerance regarding these cultural differences.

As a final thought, consider opportunities where the two cultures collide. For example, if you have a technical background combined with marketing or finance experience, you’ll have a big advantage with high tech clients over the liberal arts major.

The same is true if you have management background combined with legal or medical experience — you’ll have much more credibility in your core community than a generic consultant. I’ve seen successful examples for both.

The bottom line — understand the differences, and then build on your own unique strengths and experiences.

© 2011 – 2012, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Integrity matters…

Roger Boisjoly, P.E.  – Truthteller

This success story is a shining example for all consultants — not just engineers. Roger is best known for trying to stop the Challenger Space Shuttle Launch in January 1986 due to his concerns about faulty O-rings in the rocket boosters. Although often referred to as a whistleblower, Roger prefers the term Truthteller.

Roger never intended to become a consultant. As a mechanical engineer, he enjoyed working in the aerospace industry for 25 years, and probably would have spent his entire career doing what he loved.

But all that changed the day Challenger exploded!

At the time, Roger worked for Morton Thiokol, the manufacturer of the solid state rocket boosters on the Space Shuttle program. In July 1985, Roger wrote a memo to his managers warning of a faulty design that could result in a catastrophe. Due to program concerns, Roger’s warning was ignored. So were subsequent warnings.

Roger’s memo was based on an investigation that revealed failures in the O-rings used to seal sections of the rocket boosters. These failures were aggravated by low temperatures. Further investigations resulted in a warning not to launch at temperatures under 53 degrees.

With overnight temperatures of  30 degrees for the Challenger launch, Roger and his engineering colleagues tried to stop the flight. They almost succeeded, but were subsequently overruled by management. As a result, seven crew members lost their lives in a fiery explosion 73 seconds after liftoff.

A presidential investigation followed the disaster, and Roger was called as a witness. His  testimony exposed the truth about senior management’s failure to heed warnings from him and his colleagues. Warnings about it not being safe to launch in freezing temperatures that would result in a disaster.

That testimony ended his career with the Space Shuttle program.
Retaliation was swift and brutal. Roger lost his position and was blackballed from the industry. He paid a stiff price for simply telling the truth.

But Roger survived, and became a consultant.
He passed his Professional Engineering (PE) exams 29 years out of college. Now licensed to practice engineering as an independent consultant, he started his own forensic business. That business gradually evolved into speaking engagements as he traveled nationally and internationally to lecture about Professionalism, Organizational Behavior and Ethics.

Roger is considered a hero in the engineering community. For his honesty and integrity, in 1988 he was awarded the Prize for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility by the American Association for the Advancement for Science.  He has received numerous other honors as well.

Roger retired from full time speaking requiring air travel in 2005, but still keeps semi-active driving to southern California several time a year to speak to selected managers about his experiences.

Integrity matters… Thank you, Roger, for yours.

Edit – It is with regret I report that Roger recently passed away.  RIP, Truth-teller.


© 2011 – 2012, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.