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.

Resource Review – Body of Work, by Pamela Slim

Pamela Slim’s second book nicely complements her first book (Escape From Cubicle Nation), and it greatly enhances her own personal Body of Work.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you already know I’m already big fan of Pam – blogger, career coach, and fellow Arizona desert dweller. Plus her husband is Darryl – how could you NOT like somebody married to another Daryl? :-)

Her first book focused on making the jump to small business. But unlike most business books, she also addressed the emotional side of starting a business – the fear, uncertainty, and even how to tell your spouse and/or family what you really want to do.

Her second book examines at a much wider range of career options - as entrepreneurs, corporate employees, non-profits, and more. The focus here is on finding your own way and creating your own story.

As Guy Kawsaksi says, “”Pam Slim shows you how to thrive by building a body of work out of your experiences, knowledge, and accomplishments… (leading to) fulfillment, joy, and inner peace.”

But it is more than philosophy and touching success stories. The book also includes work sheets and exercises to help you figure out how to develop your own personal body of work. (Nicely complements the classic What Color Is Your Parachute?Good nuts and bolts stuff from an accomplished author and career coach!

Body of Work, by Pamela Slim
Potfolio/Penguin – 2013 – ISBN 978-1591846192
www.escapefromcubiclenation.com

P.S. After reading Pam’s new book, I reflected on my own Body of Work. Or more precisely, Bodies of Work.

Body of Work I represents my engineering career - at least the past 30+ years as a consulting engineer. It includes writing three technical books and over 200 technical articles (co-authored with my business partner), training over 10,000 engineers, and solving/preventing hundreds of engineering problems.

All aimed at improving electronic products and systems across a wide range of industries. As I look back on my consulting career, it is very satisfying.

Body of Work II represents the JumpToConsulting project - still very much a work in progress. The blog continues to grow, and plans are in place to share more information/ideas in more ways with those interested in starting/building/managing a professional consulting practice.

I’ve already been privileged to help several aspiring consultants begin their journey into the wacky world of consulting. That too is very satisfying-and thanks for riding along!

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

Coffee with Marty@StartupProfessionals.com

Had coffee today with Marty Zwilling, of StartupProfessionals.com. It was a great time meeting with a fellow “boomer-geek-blogger-entrepreneur” from Arizona.

As the name suggests, Marty specializes in helping new entrepreneurs get started. This includes advice on business plans, funding, angel investors, patents, incorporations, and more. He also writes a daily blog, and has written two (about to be three) books.

His primacy focus is on nurturing and building small businesses that want to grow. But his site is a great resource for prospective consultants, too.

The catalyst for today’s meeting was a recent blog post - One of These Days You May Not Be An Entrepreneur. Marty listed eight reasons why many never make the jump to starting their own business. The same reasons prevent many from making their own JumpToConsulting.

Incidentally, Marty has impressive credentials. With a background in accounting, he worked in high-tech most of his career. His first taste of entrepreneurial success was at IBM, when he part of the “skunk works” project that spawned the IBM PC.

From then on, he was hooked on small high tech businesses. Even after retiring, he couldn’t give it up. (See Two Cures…). First he volunteered at the Arizona State University business school, and subsequently started his blog and consultancy.

Did I mention he has over 700,000 Twitter followers? A great marketing story by itself. Considered a thought leader for startups, he also writes for Forbes and others.

We spent an hour together as we pondered and commiserated about why so many “wannabees” can’t or don’t make the transition.
Many are refugees from larger businesses, with the requisite  experience and knowledge to succeed.

So what is holding them up? Two major issues seem to be fear and perfection.

–Fear - Some people fear failure, while others actually fear success. Both stem from a fear of the unknown. As for failures, I consider them great learning opportunities. And I never trust anyone who claims that they never failed.  Either they are lying, or they were good at blaming others. (Once had a boss like that – in a startup no less.)

The secret is to face it and even embrace it. Don’t be foolhardy, but don’t let it paralyze you either. Ask “What is the worst possible thing that can happen?” Have a backup plan, but then move ahead.

–Perfection – This is a big problem with my fellow engineers. But a product doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to good enough. Same thing with a consulting service – you don’t need to outrun the bear – just the other guy.

In either case, you can always tweak the product/service later. Furthermore, the market will guide you in making those improvements.

Finally, overcoming the two hurdles of fear and perfectionism is not enough. But they are the necessary first steps in making a jump to any small business – consulting or otherwise!

P.S. - In a future post, we’ll cover Marty’s “success story.”

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

Do you worry what people think of you?

Here is a recent comment I left at the Art of Non-Conformity, a favorite blog by Chris Gullibeau – author, entrepreneur, and world traveler (he visited EVERY country in the world by age 35.)  If you haven’t discovered him, now is a good time to do so!

The topic was The Virtue of Insecurity, where Chris ponders the question, “Do you worry about what people think of you?”

So here is my two cents worth (and worth every penny you paid…)

As an old codger, here is one of my favorite sayings:

–When I was 20, I worried about what others thought…
–When I was 40, I no longer cared…
–When I was 60, I finally realized that nobody else gave a damn in the first place.

So, go live life on your terms. That’s what I’ve done. Mistakes? Yes. Regrets? No.

One of the few advantages of getting older is that you start top put things in perspective. Those perspectives, by the way, can make you valuable as a consultant!

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

It’s a great day for Arizona…

And also for America, as comedian Craig Ferguson says… thanks to the DEFEAT of Arizona’s anti-gay legislation known as SB1062.

While I normally avoid political controversy here, couldn’t pass on this one. Besides, there are several good consulting lessons to be shared.

First, a little background. SB1062 was ostensibly meant to protect religious freedom by picking on the GLBT (gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender) community. In reality, it was pandering to certain religious conservatives.

Been here eighteen years now. Arizona is a beautiful place with strange politics. Sadly, this is not the first instance of discrimination we’ve seen here. But with this veto, maybe Arizona (just over 100 years old) is finally starting to grow up. I hope so.

As a good consultant, I was very annoyed by what Dr. Alan Weiss (Million Dollar Consulting and more) refers to as DASM – Dumb Ass Stupid Management. Or in this case – DASP – Dumb Ass Stupid Politics.

But what to do? Write to my legislators? Never been very successful in the past. But something needed to be done, so I decided to write anyway.

Sent e-mails to my state senator and my two state representatives. At first, only the senator replied, but the results were eventually worth it.

Here is my first e-mail. I focused on the effects on high-tech business – my area of expertise – and a pet concern of our governor. Didn’t rant, but tried to keep it polite and professional.

As a constituent, can you please explain WHY you voted for SB1062?

As a long time Arizona HIGH-TECH business owner, trying to understand what you were thinking from a business perspective.

Getting a bit weary of trying to explain to my well educated HIGH-TECH clients across the US just what is going on in Arizona.

Finally, if you really want to attract HIGH-TECH business in Arizona, you need to start practicing HIGH-TOLERANCE. (See “The Rise of the Creative Class” and more by Dr. Richard Florida.)

I await your response…

And here is the reply from my state Senator:

Thank you for caring enough to contact me about this bill. First, let me say that I do not condone discrimination in any form. In my view, SB 1062 merely clarified what is currently in statute. That is why I voted for it.

It is obvious that many others disagree with my point of view – and are reacting accordingly.

The bill has now been transmitted to the Governor. I am confident that she will review all sides and decide what is best for the State of Arizona.

As his response was polite but noncommittal, I decided to bore down a bit. Laid out some specific details and examples of WHY this bill was so bad for high technology. Cited some research, and made some suggestions.

Thank you for your response, and I appreciate your courtesy.

Like you, I do not tolerate discrimination. Unfortunately, I fear this bill sends the WRONG message to the WRONG people that discrimination is OK in Arizona.

Another unintended consequence is the black eye this has given Arizona. Not only may this affect tourism, it also affects our ability to attract high-technology firms.

As Dr. Richard Florida’s research (The Rise of the Creative Class” and others) has shown, high tech professionals are attracted to cities with high civic tolerance (often indicated a large gay community.)

Thus, cities such as Austin, Portland, Boston, San Francisco, and Minneapolis continue to be high-tech magnets, while Phoenix struggles. (I’ve seen this as a consulting engineer serving a nationwide clientele.)

When I moved here 18 years ago, Motorola was the largest employer — now it is WalMart. Not good…

Finally, here are two suggestions:

(1) Think about the adverse consequences the next time an issue like this is advanced. First SB1070 (the “show me your papers” anti-immigrant bill), now SB1062.

(2) Join your colleagues who voted for this who are now urging Governor Brewer to VETO this bill. Do what is BEST for Arizona.

It is not too late to fix this. Thanks again for listening.

The pleasant surprise was this response:

I appreciate your thoughtful response. Your points are well taken. The bill, if signed, will hurt our state.

My plans are to meet with the Governor on Wednesday and request that she not sign the bill.

Wow – I may have actually helped changed some thinking! But this is the essence of consulting – changing minds and making things better.

I realize it was much more than my input that changed things. There was a ground swell of support from many other businesses. But every little bit helps.

So what consulting lessons can be gleaned from this political fiasco?

  • Lesson 1 – Address REAL problems – not imaginary ones. As the Governor stated in her veto message, this legislation did not address any real problems – past or present. Good advice for consultants too. Don’t be the Music Man touting non-problems in River City.
  • Lesson 2 – Don’t obfuscate or pander. This legislation was cloaked as a religious issue, designed to garner votes from a narrow political base. As a consultant, your job is to solve problems – not to score political points or to win a popularity contest.
  • Lesson 3 – Change things for the better. Yes, some people resist change, but change is part of life. Often a  consultant is there to facilitate change, particularly when badly needed.
  • Lesson 4 – You CAN make a difference. If you see something that is wrong, speak up, regardless of consequences. And discrimination is WRONG – period. Don’t stew about it — take action!

Hmmm… pretty good advice for our elected officials too…

Finally heard from one of my two state representatives. Also polite, and expressing his regret for originally supporting this legislation. So maybe a couple of minds have been changed for the better. I sincerely hope so.

Never did hear from the other guy. Oh well, you can’t win them all. But it does make you wonder about his sincerity in being a “representative.”

And now, back to our regular programming…

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

The country doctor approach…

When troubleshooting, common sense and experience go a long way.

Here is a story of my great-uncle, a country doctor in Nebraska.  I often think of him when trying to diagnose and fix a client problem.

This story appeared in my first book, written twenty years ago. While it was aimed at my engineering colleagues, it applies to all types of consulting.

I had a relative who was a country doctor the first half of the 20th century. I once saw the tools of his trade and was touched by their simplicity.

The old black bag didn’t hold a lot (a stethoscope, a thermometer, some simple surgical tools, and a few medicines), but when these tools were combined with  medical knowledge and experience, they saved lives.

It didn’t take CAT scans or MRIs to make a diagnosis and solve a lot of problems. Sure, the latest technology is great, but you don’t need it for every situation.

Remember that old country doctor when troubleshooting problems.  Using a few simple tools, you don’t need a million dollars of test equipment or reams of test data to solve many problems. Like the doctor, you can rely on your own experience, knowledge, and common sense.

Hope you enjoyed the story. Rest in peace, Dr. Metheny.

P.S. Just finished teaching our Troubleshooting Workshop to a group of engineers in San Diego, based on the medical concepts of differential diagnosis (to be covered in a future post.) Always a good time – and the weather was great too!

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

Quick advice for a newbie…

At LinkedIn (Succeed), Dave Wacker posed this question:

Any thoughts on starting a small consulting company?

Here is my reply:

Hi Dave,

Started my consulting engineering firm 30+ years ago. Part time for nine years, then went full time in 1987 – the day the market crashed. (The first day in business was the worst day in business — all the rest have been much better!)

Here are some quick thoughts:

* Identify your specialty -clients want specialists not generalists.

* Define two niches - demographic (ideal clients) and geographic (local, national, or ??)

* Based on those niches, develop three or four simple marketing strategies (write, speak, network) -you want to create credibility and visibility, and your goal is to have clients call you (think like a doctor.)

* Keep the above simple and focused – you can’t be everything to everybody, particularly when starting out.

For more ideas, visit my blog (http://www.jumptoconsulting.com) where I have just about finished a series on 20 Ways to Attract Clients. All methods we’ve used in our practice. Over 120 posts with lot’s of other free “nuts and bolts” stuff too.

Good luck, and welcome to the wacky world of consulting!

To date, 35 others have also left comments. Lot’s of good ideas being shared…

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.

Top 10 Reasons NOT to Become an Independent Consultant…

Still time for New Year’s Resolutions. In case your resolutions include consulting, here are 10 reasons NOT to go there. Not being negative – just being honest.

1. You dislike risk – Starting any business involves risk. To be blunt, some people simply do not like risk. Nothing wrong with that, but if risk makes you uncomfortable, you’re better off not starting a consulting practice – or any small business.

2. You don’t like to market or sell - The first piece of advice I give anyone considering consulting is to be prepared to peddle your butt off. With rare exceptions, the world will NOT beat a path to your door, no matter how smart you are.

3. You lack practical experience - Just because you just got your MBA doesn’t make you an independent business consultant. Most clients are looking for experience. So if you are a newly minted anything with the urge to consult, I recommend spending a few years with an existing firm before going out on your own.

4. You don’t know WHAT to consult about - As a variation, you may have experience but don’t know what to specialize in. Remember, most consultants are specialists, not generalists. And it better be fun – no sense pursuing something you don’t like or enjoy.

5. You don’t know WHO to consult for - You need to identify your niches, both demographic and geographic. You can always change or expand, but you better have some specific targets in mind before you start.

6. You just got laid off -
Don’t know how many calls I’ve had over the years from colleagues who just lost their jobs. NO, do NOT do this… unless you have enough money to keep you going for at least six moths without any revenues (a year might be better.) See my story.

7. Your finances are not in order - See the comment above. If you don’t have money in the bank, or someone who can support you, stick with you regular job. Then start saving – aggressively – so that you can break free later. See Mr.  Money Mustache for ideas – he “retired” in his 30s and now does his own thing with no financial worries.

8. You aren’t ready to make sacrifices - In time, money, and relationships. Like to watch lots of sports? Forget it. Like to buy toys? Forget it. Like to dine out regularly? Forget it. You need to focus your resources on starting you business. And make sure any significant other agrees with you, so that does not end up as a sacrifice.

9. You have little kids - In my opinion, not a good time to start any business, unless you have no other choice. When little, they need your love, attention, and guidance. And your spouse needs your help. Besides, they grow up way too fast. You can always start a business later, but you can never get this time back.

10. You think its cool - One of the worst reasons to start a consulting practice, or any business for that matter. In today’s culture, being an entrepreneur is often seen as cool. But it is really a lot of hard work. You better have the passion (along with the ability) to help your clients solve their problems and/or improve their situations.

Some candid advice from Uncle Daryl. Consider it a counter balance to my earlier post – Top 10 Reasons to Become an Independent Consultant.

Finally, if you still want to consult, come on in — the water’s fine. For me, it has been a 30+ year blast. Best Wishes in 2014!

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