Archive for the ‘Geeks’ Category

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.

Copyright © 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!

Copyright © 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!

Copyright © 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…

Copyright © 2014, 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.

Copyright © 2014, 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.

Copyright © 2014, 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.

Copyright © 2014, 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!

Copyright © 2014, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Some Engineering Humor…

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

Daryl’s wife (Mary) 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.

Copyright © 2014, 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)

Copyright © 2014, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

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