Engineers—thinking about becoming a consultants—but uncertain just where to start? You now have expert assistance readily available.
IEEE Senior Life Member Daryl Gerke, who jointly started and operated a successful consulting engineering practice for almost 40 years, has written an authoritative and information-packed e-book almost certain to help any engineers aspiring to be their own bosses. For that matter, consultants already in business—who feel they could use some guidance—will also benefit from Gerke’s experience and no-nonsense tips.
In IEEE-USA’s newest e-book, Gerke offers his perspectives based on his longtime consulting career in Consulting for Geeks. Topics range from basic matters, such as the difference between management and technical consulting, to practical concerns—including legally consulting on the side, while still drawing a paycheck from an employer.
For the engineer just embarking on a career in consulting, or considering it, the author devotes several pages to discussing exactly what a consultant is—and is not. He points out that as a small firm; it is very difficult to be everything to everyone. To hone in on what really matters when considering establishing oneself as a consultant, he suggests considering the answers to two simple questions:
- What special skills and experience can I sell?
- Who might pay for those skills and experience?
“It’s okay to have more than one niche to serve more than one market,” he writes. “But when you are small, you can’t be everything to everyone. It’s important to focus, so you can concentrate your marketing efforts.”
Gerke notes that the word, “consultant,” has been corrupted over the years. For example, sales people often call themselves consultants, when they are actually pitching products or services—not offering unbiased advice. In a chapter on “The Four “Cs”: Consultants vs. Coaches vs. Counselors vs. Contractors,” Gerke carefully (and importantly) highlights the differences between each of them. But he adds that the distinct difference between consultants and the other three “Cs” is that most consultants focus on identifying, preventing and solving problems—or improving the future.
What’s the common thread in all four categories? “All are in business for themselves,” he writes. “As such, all need to attract clients, set suitable fees, and run the business in a profitable way.”
In an especially useful chapter titled “Four Key Questions,” Gerke considers the main concerns of virtually every aspiring consultant: how to get clients; how to decide what to charge; how to determine what to consult about; and how a person can get started.
“You don’t need to do it all at once,” the author advises. “As a field sales engineer, I developed and promoted product-focused seminars to bring in leads; later, I started customer newsletters to keep in touch and alert clients to new products. To enhance my credibility, I started writing business and technical articles for industry publications.”
Another important chapter in Consulting for Geeks offers 20 strategies for attracting clients. Gerke writes that while there is no one magic bullet for finding consulting clients, it’s usually a combination of methods that keeps leads coming in.
He offers that with multiple lead sources, there is often a multiplying effect. “For example, if you get a referral and your prospect has already seen an article you wrote, or has heard you speak, your success rate can increase drastically,” he says.
Other chapters in this helpful e-book discuss how to successfully market to potential clients, and considerations for a new practice. In one chapter, he provides an easy-to-follow formula for setting a fee that covers salary, overhead and profit. Also, there’s a realistic discussion about what to do if a consulting business fails. (The author points out even unsuccessful consultants will become aware of many more opportunities, than if they stayed where they were.)
Gerke, who describes himself as “a corporate misfit,” started and operated Kimmel Gerke Associates in 1977, with Bill Kimmel, his late business partner. After a decade of working together part time, the two went into business full time, focusing on electromagnetic interference and compatibility (EMI/EMC) design issues. In 2010, Gerke launched Jump to Consulting, a web site designed to provide engineers and other ambitious professionals with information on starting, building and operating small consulting practices. Gerke is an IEEE Life Senior Member, as well as a registered professional engineer.
Consulting for Geeks is available in the IEEE-USA shop for $2.99 for members and $4.99 for non-members.
Helen Horwitz is an award-winning freelance writer, who lives in Albuquerque, N.M. She was with IEEE from 1991 through 2011, the first nine as Staff Director, IEEE Corporate Communications.