Questions from a reader on starting out…
Here is a recent email exchange that I though some of you might find of interest. I’ve hidden the name for confidentiality, but I’m sure S will recognize himself.
My name is S. I’m also a follower of your blog. How are you doing with that these days?
I’ve noticed you’re an engineer who had a lifestyle-enabling consulting business. Were you able to liberate yourself with the income and time required to live your ideal lifestyle?
Always love to learn what my fellow community members are up to, and the obstacles they are facing.
So far, so good. After 25 years as a full time consulting engineer, I think it might work 🙂
Seriously, it has worked well. The consulting business has been a lot of fun — probably more than had I stayed in the corporate environment. Freedom is more important to me than status or a lot of money. I prefer to be the captain of my own ship, even if it is just a little rowboat.
A couple of secrets I’ve learned. Live below your means, and sock away money for retirement and/or lean times. I draw a relatively low salary to cover living expenses, which usually leaves a bonus at year end for savings and funding a Keogh, etc. This also smoothes out the cash flow, and prevents the lifestyle from rising to the income peaks.
No great obstacles. The biggest initial challenge was bringing in the business, which required a lot of up-front marketing effort. Now that I’m established, that part is easier but it still requires some attention. Kind of like tending a garden.
I assume you are an engineer, too. I’ve found consulting a great way to practice the profession. It took me a while to make it work, but it has been worth it.
I’m not an engineer… I am however focused on using the recipe to make more free time for myself.
I enjoyed reading your answers. There is one thing that I would like to learn more from you: how did you specifically bring in the business and execute the up-front marketing initially?
Ah, the number one question I hear — how do you get the business? The short answer — peddle, peddle, peddle…
Seriously, we have used a number of methods to get business over the years. There is no simple “silver bullet”, and it takes both time and effort. Here are some things we’ve done:
- Write – articles, newsletters, books
- Speak – local meetings, national symposiums
- Network – professional organizations, trade shows
- Internet – Web site, blog, LinkedIn
- Collateral – business cards, letterhead, simple brochure
Many of these are discussed in more detail in my blog. Not all have been addressed yet.
We didn’t do all of these at once. We started with writing tutorial articles for the local business magazines and for the “second tier” technical magazines. Both can get you published in 90 days or less. We also got active in our local professional organization.
Probably more important in the very beginning, however, was identifying a couple of potential clients, and then working with them. Our first two major clients were a test lab and a training company. We subcontracted to both of them for several years.
- For the test lab, we were like substitute teachers, filling in as needed. That meant we did a lot of second and third shift work, often called at the last minute.
- For the training company, we spent a lot of time on the road the first couple of years. Neither were full time. In our “spare time”, we actively pursued other clients.
So, as you can see, at first it was a lot of work. To be blunt, if your goal is more free time, starting a business may NOT be the way to go. In the early years, you’ll likely work much harder than you ever would with a full time job, and probably make less money.
In closing, I’m fond of analogies. Starting a business is a like the old pioneers who homesteaded on the prairie (as several of my great-grandparents did out in Nebraska.)
- First, you start out in a dirt (sod) house, made after you busted the sod yourself.
- Next, you plant a garden & orchard, but you scrape by until they start to produce.
- Soon after that, you build a barn for your cow and horse, and then work from sunup to sundown to feed and tend them.
- Finally, if you are lucky (no tornadoes, droughts, or other disasters), in several years you start to get ahead.
But even then, you don’t get rich. Such is the price of freedom to do your own thing. Would I do it again? Absolutely! But it was a LOT of work, with very little free time in the beginning.
Good luck in your pursuits,
PS – It just occurred to me that my message might be a bit negative.
Yes, if you want to start a full time consulting practice, plan on a lot of work. On the other hand, if you are looking for a PART TIME practice, and don’t need to make a full time living, then consulting can be a very viable way to make more free time for yourself.
I’m kind of slipping into that mode myself, as I become “semi-retired.” The real goal, of course, is to free up time to do other stuff I want to do — such as this blog.
No worries. I’ve been emailing enough people to hear similarly toned opinions before.
I can currently live on a part-time income while spending the rest of my time on a product (i.e. front-loading my work time right now so that I’m not making decisions based on financial consequences later).
Best wishes to you too,
And good luck to all of you! Similar questions? Drop me an email at daryl (at) jumptoconsulting (dot) com, and maybe you’ll appear here too.
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