CONSULTANTS NETWORK WORKSHOP at DeVry POMONA SUCCESSFUL
|April 19, 2014||Posted by COMauthor under CN, COMSOC, CS, EDCAS, EmpNet, General, MTT/APS, PES||
Report On AICN Consultants Network Workshop April 12, 2014
A number of our IEEE Los Angeles / Foothill/ Orange County Consultants Network member spent several months arranging the sign up and organization for this workshop. These were the advertised topics and glance at the presentations that was released prior to this meeting.
> $$$ Do you need more revenue and clients? Who doesn’t? Meet IEEE-USA President, Dr. Gary Blank, PhD; who will be presenting on how to find clients and get more business as a consultant. He will be there all day, including the lunch session, and would like to hear from IEEE members about what is important to them.
> Hear from Kip Haggerty, PhD, P.E. (Los Angeles Senior Member/Consultant/Officer), discuss his “consultant’s checklist” for what actions you need to take in order to set up your personal consulting practice. You will receive a copy to follow.
> You will be amazed to hear Will Kassenbaum, P.E., tell his story and tips for Entrepreneurship. He has personally created several start-up companies and will help you avoid the pitfalls as you move forward with your consulting practice. Will’s current start-up is in Indiana and he is an IEEE USA Officer.
> Are you worried about Intellectual Property rights and getting embroiled in legal issues as a consultant? Ray Roberts, Esq., local Patent Attorney and IEEE Foothill Section PACE Co-Chair, will discuss the legal considerations that a consultant needs to be aware of; and specific actions you should take.
> Are you good at Networking to build relationships and find new clients? Learn firsthand in a hands-on exercise in the Workshop from Bob Krause, IEEE Central Texas Senior Member & Consultant Network Committee Member.
> And if by chance we didn’t discuss your hot button item, a distinguished panel of experienced consultants will take specific questions from the attendees and give you the benefit of their personal approach in addressing your issue.
If there was any doubt that many IEEE Consultants Network members and many other IEEE engineers would not be interested in becoming consultants or better consultants, it was rapidly dispelled on Saturday morning April 12, 2014 at Devry University Pomona. Some 65 engineers were assembled for a day-long series of lively sessions. Dr Gary Blank, the current IEE-USA President gave a kick–off talk on “How to Start and Expand a Successful Consulting Practice.” In Dr Blank’s mind, every IEEE engineer’s consulting practice is a successful one.
This was the right tone to set off the day’s activities. It was noticeable that this idea of “success” was on everyone’s mind throughout the program.
Don’t think that the day’s talks were a straightforward motivational pitch for the uninitiated. The amount of technical and professional experience in the DeVry University building was impressive. All wanted to hear about the real situation in consulting. All the speakers from the Alliance of IEEE Consultants Networks (AICN) have a wealth of information, learnt through experience, to share. Many thoughtful questions brought excellent responses from our speakers.
Dr Kip Haggerty gave a thorough review of the situations he has faced in his over 15 year efforts in independent consulting. Several in the audience may have detected an overall negative prognosis about the future in consulting at the end of his remarks. However it was better that he brought up certain issues that are potential stumbling blocks to a robust consulting practice at this time. Let us note that Dr Haggerty has reported several years of very successful practice and significant income. Yes, there is a down spell at this time. (Shouldn’t consultants anticipate such variability in their practice? Every other profession does.) There are major differences between being an independent consultant and a job shop contractor, even though you may be working on related technical problems. (Would one attempt a stint in a job-shop if an independent consultant’s task isn’t opening after a period of time as a stop-gap?)There was an excellent discussion of fee setting (estimate 25 working hours per week, 48 weeks of activity per year). He discussed the tradeoff between general liability insurance versus professional liability insurance (and how to get this insurance expeditiously in California). In many aerospace consulting efforts, a security clearance is needed. Dr Haggerty described how one can keep his / her clearances active.
There are two business areas that are looming stumbling blocks to his continuing in consulting, as Dr Haggerty noted so carefully. One is the rising cost of health insurance, while the other relates to the IRS definitions for an independent contractor. The Affordable Care Act has either eliminated or greatly restructured most prior health insurance coverage, and driven up a consultant’s costs to unaffordable and unsustainable levels. In addition, since 2009 the IRS has developed new criteria, as listed on Form SS 8, that seek detailed explanations of the work situation, in terms of behavioral control, financial control, and type of relationship. Are you an independent contractor who receives pay with a 1099 form, or an employee paid with a W2 form? (Isn’t it wonderful to live and thrive in the USA of 2014, the Land of Rules and Regulations, and an ever growing Federal Register of New Rules and Regulations?) Maybe the best suggestion is to bring all these “problem” topics to our regular Consultants Network meetings and open the floor to discussion and ideas. These issues, and other new or ongoing issues, are solvable. They have different degrees of difficulty, depending on the individual IEEE consultant’s situation. However, they should not stand in the way of a successful consultant’s practice. It was important to this meeting that Dr Haggerty brought these issues forward, and spoke in a frank manner.
Ray Roberts shared some of his patent lawyer experience, made relevant by his past industrial machinery engineering experience as an EE. Some of his thoughts on Intellectual Property were provocative. We in the USA expect that the Law is the Law; but this is not the common expectation in much of the rest of the world. In our current post Smith-Leahy Patent Law enactment era, and the question of “first to invent” versus “first to file” is an important new issue, we may have too much faith in Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDA) when you talk to potential investors. These NDA may not be worthwhile, so an engineer looking at his Intellectual Property may need to be cautious with someone that is not verifiable to him to be trustworthy. Say that you have developed some valuable and innovative software. How could you obtain a record of its existence, while protecting it from disclosure? Should you consider filing a patent, or should you keep your Intellectual Property private as a trade secret? Should you use a copyright for your documents, or just use as a trademark? Perhaps the best summary for Ray Robert’s talk is his suggest that you locate a good patent lawyer in your IEEE Section when some Intellectual Property issues arise in your consulting or start-up practice, and plan to talk to him/ her.
And now, we as a group moved onwards to the “How TO” of setting up a start-up company. This was the topic that Will Kasselbaum presented. Will has now acquired several years of experience in the growth cycle of his company Algeron. This Start-Up grows algae for human and animal uses. Not quite at the profitable stage, but close. Many excellent ideas were covered, but this reviewer is restricting his reporting here just to those items that are more resonant in the independent consultant’s world. That there would be overlap between the concepts and practices of successful consultancies and successful start-up businesses should be no surprise. (That there are a host of additional technical, managerial, and financial issues in the start-up world is expected.)
One significant concept that Will Kasselbaum stated is the recommendation to find three advisors. One would be an older seasoned executive type with entrepreneurial mindset and skills. A second would be someone of your similar age or say 5 years older. This would be a person who could relate to your personal trials as a consultant; one who could see 100 yards down the road. A third would be one with a different business skill set, say CPA or JD or whatever. Meet and buy them lunch from time to time so that you can graciously ask them to be sounding boards for your questions. This is something for every IEEE consultant should think about. No one is a long wolf, especially when looking for work clients. A sounding board for your consultancy work is a good idea. Yes, the advisors you would be looking for a Start-Up may be somewhat different than for a consultancy practice. (Note that this looking for clients was discussed at more thoroughly earlier in the day by Bob Krause in his presentation on Networking.)
The concept that Will Kasselbaum presented as the difference between a S-Business (or service business) and a B-Business (a money-making business) is one that every IEEE consultant needs to understand. Grasping this insight in depth is probably the most significant factor in how successful your consultancy will be over time.
There are several other topics that he covered that are directly applicable to all consulting engineering situations. One is to maintain integrity in your financial reporting, whether in billable hours, work expenses incurred, etc. If you are fortunate to have the opportunity to hear Will Kasselbaum give a similar presentation in the future at an AICN Forum, there is one question you should ask definitely him. He described building a team for his start-up from the beginning that would have and should have identified some “Generals” who will be the leaders. Consider the situation where a few IEEE consultants wish to work together on a larger technical project, bringing different sets of technical expertise together. Can you identify a “General “on your team? So, please get ready to ask Will Kasselbaum how he finds his “Generals”.
Now we were fortunate to have Gary Blank return center stage and plunge into the topic of “How do you Find your Clients” in detail. Not surprisingly, for 65% of the time these are found from other engineers that you are in contact with, through IEEE meetings, IEEE volunteer activities, or other engineering meeting and trade shows that you attend. Dr Blank talked about the time when he taught an evening UCLA engineering extension class. Essentially this job produced by itself zero net income. However, after about the sixth class, a person in the room approached, stated from his class observations that Dr Blank was very familiar with this technical topic (control systems), and asked if he would be able to consult on a problem in that area at his company right now. A client was found. So, the direct message is to go to arenas where you are likely to find other engineers. How to you get the needed visibility in these arenas? (Go back to what Dr Blank just said.) A non-directed broad area search tends to be non-productive, and expensive to boot. He gave us numerous examples that did not produce any leads to clients.
Dr Blank also covered the online IEEE Consultants site, and showed how to navigate through it. The claim is made by him that 25% of consultant’s jobs are found through it. Assessments of other on-line sources (say the Linked-In variety) were not available.
Many other topics were discussed that we can just skim through here. Several very valid questions from the audience were directed to the IEEE Consultants survey. Specifically, were they weighted too heavily towards consultants at very large companies? A panel discussion addressed the question of home offices, and where to meet and to deal with clients. Here we came close to unanimity.
Dr Gary Blank set the theme for IEEE consultants at the beginning of the day as “success”. At the end of the day, we the attendees all had a better grasp of what avenues we will pursue for “success”.
Our “Thanks!” to all members of the AICN panel, including Herman Amaya from the IEEE St Petersburg / Tampa area, Wes Masenten and Bob Gauger from IEEE Orange County, and Bill Grist, Raja Singh, Cash Sutton III, and others from our IEEE Foothill Section We covered much more than that outlined in the meeting prospectus.
Please encourage all your IEEE member-friends in the Austin TX area to attend the next presentation of this IEEE Consultants Network Workshop later this year. In the meanwhile, keep directing your Consultant’s practice towards success, and attend your local IEEE Consultants Network meeting.