Monthly Archives: June 2008

These Are Only Bad Times If You Say So

I was sitting at the pool earlier today when a thunderous roar broke out somewhere behind me. I figured it was another flight of the jet fighters at the air show in Quonset, about ten miles south, a fixture every July at this time.

It wasn’t a fighter. Looming over me in the next few seconds was a giant B-52 bomber, at perhaps five thousand feet, making a landing approach to the military field. It’s unusual to see one in flight if you don’t live near a military base or aren’t being bombed by one of them. The last of the Cold War huge bombers, it first flew in 1952, and has been continually on active service (being rebuilt continually) for over half a century. It was used in both Afghanistan and Iraq. They haven’t build a new one in perhaps 30 years.

No one expected the longevity of this thing to span two generations or more, but there you have it. Some things, services, ideas, approaches, just work well, and do so amidst economic, societal, technological, and a myriad of other changes.

We’re currently experiencing a partial market meltdown; sagging housing prices; the virtual dissolution of GM (“What’s good for GM is good for the country”—let’s hope not, it’s been dreadfully led.); high oil prices; and various other uncertainties. You can crawl under the bed, put your hands over your ears, and start babbling, or you can realize that your talent and your value really ought to prevail.

There are companies, professions, and industries which need your help. The best organizations are also those—no irony here—that understand the need for external resources. Smart people are buying depressed stocks right now. Others are taking advantage of housing bargains. Still others are pursuing vacations that were once untouchable. And many businesses are investing in their own future.

The self-help market, also, is vibrant and fertile. (I’m just finishing updating “Value Based Fees” and “Getting Started in Consulting” and we’re discussing a fourth edition of “Million Dollar Consulting.”) Alternative travel to the airlines and to high oil prices is very popular. Amtrak can’t find enough railroad cars to put on its northeastern corridor, and pubic transportation is experiencing record volume. Pet supplies and care are strong. Try to get a good hotel room in New York. In Providence, the best restaurants are filled to the gills on weekends. Europeans, Canadians, and Asians are reveling in the purchasing and travel that accompanies a cheap dollar.

This is not a time to pull back in the consulting business. Nor do you have to spend money you don’t have to be aggressive in the marketplace:

• Start calling and writing everyone you know, remind them of your value and ask if you can be of help to them and/or to anyone they know. Create a triage system, and personally call those whom you’ve helped in the past.
• Create new services based on your expertise, so that you can coach, consult, facilitate, speak, train, and sell products. Stop worrying about your title and what you call yourself—just focus on your ability to improve the client’s condition.
• Offer your opinions and insights to others through third parties: newspaper op ed sections, letters to the editor, online publications, trade association publications, interviews, your web site, newsletters, and so forth.
• Speak for free at association meetings, service clubs, chambers of commerce, educational offerings such as The Learning Annex, and civic events.
• Target key buyers in organizations which: are doing well; have a history of hiring consultants; need your kinds of value; are geographically proximate. Then find someone who knows someone who can introduce you to that buyer. (Cold calling is still a poor investment of time.)
• Volunteer for pro bono work where you’ll be rubbing elbows with potential buyers and superb resources while working on common passions.

Not one vacuum tube manufacturer went into transistors because the former saw themselves as the manufacturers of a single product that, of course, eventually became obsolete. IBM would have disappeared if it saw itself as a punch card processor. I have counseled high level people who were distraught because they identified with their former job titles instead of the output of their talents.

That B-52 roused the two eagles who live just over the tree line to the south, and they began circling, figuring, I guess, that the noise would drive some rodents out into the open, and they might as well capitalize on the unexpected racket.

Those eagles are in a lineage must older than that bomber. And I’ll remind you that my favorite creature, the Tyrannosaurus rex, was part of a group that lived for about 140 million years, eliminated only by a rare, galactic event.

The current times, too, will pass, and in the near future the stock market will rebound, housing will climb back, and oil prices will retreat. Then, all of that will become threatening once again! Get used to it.

The only person who can create stability for yourself is you. Take a stand. Promote your value. There are 6 billion people on earth, many of them in need of what you can provide. Start circling.

© Alan Weiss 2008. All rights reserved.

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On Writing

Most people write the way they change lanes on the expressway: They forget to signal which way they’re going.

For most content being written today, the Cliff’s Notes versions would be a tome.

A self-published book is like a home-cooked meal. The creator thinks its nirvana, but no one is mistaking you for a first-rate restaurant.

Most writing is as obvious as a ham sandwich, but not nearly as nourishing.

To write well, you must be able to think well. And therein lies the problem….

Writers create coherent themes, be they fictional or non-fictional. It’s hard to do that in an 800-word piece about your cat compiled in an inspirational “Tuna Fish for the Pancreas.”

Words are the tools of our craft, but experience is the lifeblood. Most writers are malnourished and lack utensils.

Less is more, unless you’re writing a “how to get rich” book. Then even less is too much.

When you begin reading a paragraph and, before you know it, you’ve finished an article or a chapter, you’ve met a writer.

Proust took months to write one sentence, and he’s unreadable. Joyce didn’t use punctuation, and he’s unreadable. Don’t kid yourself. You can be unreadable a lot easier than that.

© Alan Weiss 2008. All rights reserved.

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The Blambush

I’m introducing a new concept for the age: Blambush.

A blambush is an ambush in the blogosphere. Let me elaborate.

I never realized that people were so desperate to be noticed. When they have nothing to say, they have to create pseudo-news. Why else go to one of a kijillion mindless sites?

So what some of them do is this: They write to someone who is far ahead of them on the success track and with a far higher public profile and brand, and challenge them about something. Then they take the ensuing email and print it on their blog as if to say, “See, I’m debating with this guy, so I’m at his level, and look how I’m getting the best of him!” (This last “advantage” is achieved by only selectively publishing the exchanges!)

I walked out of a speech once, to an ovation, having already told the group I had a very tight window to catch my plane and I had to rush off. I had encouraged questions during my talk. On the way out, some guy who makes his living helping people to create blogs, told me he didn’t agree with my stand on blogs and wanted to discuss it. I told him that I had no time, my car was waiting at the curb. He seemed oddly contented with that answer.

Of course he was, because Google Alerts informed me two days after that my name was mentioned on his blog and, guess what, he wrote that I “refused” to debate him! Ah, it’s great to have that old Edward R. Murrow ethic on the Internet! (This guy would probably have to Google “Murrow” to understand that reference.)

Let me tell you when I’ve found blogs are most worthwhile:
1. They offer intellectual capital not found elsewhere.
2. They are written well, apply the language intelligently, and communicate effectively.
3. They are formatted coherently (I can’t tell who is writing most blogs, how to contact them, or what the blazes they are talking about—I especially love the long, mixed, James Joyce kind of block text).
4. They are diverse, and not harping about a single agenda.
5. The author is credible. That is, they are knowledgeable, have done what they espouse, and walk the talk. (A great many consulting blogs are written by people who are not at all successful in consulting, and merely attempt to sell things to other consultants.)

In the meanwhile, I still try to gracefully answer all email within the day, even if some of the writers are blambushers. After all, they need some excitement in their lives.

© Alan Weiss 2008. All rights reserved.

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Educating the Toughest Student

Find out who is the toughest student and how to educate her continually. Alan discusses 12 improvement tools. And finally, do grades count in life?

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© Alan Weiss 2008. All rights reserved.

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Women in Consulting Compensation Survey

Women in Consulting, with which SAC® has an alliance, recently released a survey which they have kindly allowed me to share with readers here. You can contact WIC at: http://womeninconsulting.com/

WIC 2008 Compensation & Best Practices Survey
Key Findings & Conclusions
Seventh Annual Survey

Total Sample: 178 respondents; 65% from WIC community
Key Learning:
Business trends remain positive; the economy is not hurting consultants.
Consultants are making their businesses more profitable.
Consultants see a big shift in their revenue levels, profitability and sophistication
of their businesses between 3-6 years after they start doing business.
The data gathered on business practices has been very consistent over the
history of the survey.
Overall Key Trends:
Social networking is becoming more prevalent and important.
Technology is impacting the way we work with our clients – both positively and
negatively.
Virtual consulting teams are becoming more common.
Clients are increasingly concerned with containing costs, but are willing to make
the investment when they understand the value they will receive.
In consulting, experience counts more than being young and hip.
There are more consultants to compete with, some of whom are not very
qualified or experienced.
Clients are increasingly concerned with risks and security.
Revenue/Rate Trends:
Average revenue continues to go up each year—currently at $203K.
70% of consultants increased their revenues last year and 60% expect to do the
same in the next 12 months.
Average hourly rates, project fees, and monthly retainer fees all increased this
year.

Top 20% Consultants – Best Practices:
The top 20% of respondents in terms of revenue earned provide a view of best
practices that could benefit all consultants:
o They base project fees on value to the client vs. target hourly rates
o They’re able to maintain stable profits even when revenue declines
o They’re more likely to charge monthly retainer fees than the group as a
whole
o They’re more likely to set fees based on ROI and/or value to the client
o They’re also more likely to use subcontractors and to mark up their fees
Over half use 5+ subcontractors
o They’re much more likely to charge some percentage of their fee upfront
o They spend more time on marketing than the group as a whole
Demographics of the Sample:
Respondents were 91% female, 9% male.
84% of respondents are located in the Bay Area, 5% in other parts of CA, 12%
outside CA.
Virtually all respondents have at least a Bachelor’s degree; more than half have a
Master’s degree, PhD or professional certification.
65% of the sample has over 7 years experience in consulting; 34% have more
than 10 years.
Respondents are in all stages of the consulting lifecycle: 42% are maintaining
their business at the current level; 32% are developing their business; 9% are
just launching or getting started, 7% are managing a mature practice.
62% are sole proprietors; 20% are incorporated; 18% are LLCs or partnerships.

© Women in Consulting 2008. Reprinted with permission.

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In Search of the Gnu

It’s a Saturday morning and the dogs and I emerge before 7 to take care of some yard and pool work, then take the truck to get coffee and dog biscuits.

The first order of business is to fill the bird feeders, including the one I have ceded to the squirrels. Our unspoken, interspecies pact is that they will confine themselves to the feeder nearest the house, a beautiful, three-tube affair, and leave my other four, mounted on a branched pole, alone. (The latter is protected by squirrel baffles, two remote drones, and a small missile system I purchased on Ebay, but I’ve seen the defenses breeched on occasion by the rodents.)

However, the Sciurus carolinensis members in the yard understand that I am not responsible for, nor do I include the actions of, Koufax, the Wonder Dog, in the agreement. He has nabbed at least seven of their kind, amidst 14 confirmed, successful chases (the latest of which was a possum bigger than Buddy Beagle a few days ago, necessitating another visit to the animal emergency center, but that’s another story).

The squirrels appreciate Koufax’s cunning, having seen him in action all too many times—he runs between the prey and the trees, for example, not directly after the other animal. But they consistently fail to appreciate the equivalent of Shepherd torque. German Shepherd Dogs have been known to hit 30 miles per hour, and I estimate that Koufax gets to about 20 MPH in under three seconds. My Bentley is zero-to-sixty in 4.4 seconds, and that’s with a dual-turbo-charged 552 horsepower. Koufax is accessing a single dog power.

All this got me to thinking.

A cheetah can do 70 miles per hour and accelerates at a ferocious clip from a standing start. How else could it catch a wildebeest or an impala? It’s not just speed, it’s acceleration.

That’s what a great many consultants lack, blindingly rapid starts. They take too long to get moving, searching for perfection, questioning their worth, over-complicating the situation. The goal should be to rapidly reach the opportunity and exploit it in the easiest manner possible. Occam’s Razor.

A woman explained to me the other day that she wanted to sell a complex, computerized methodology, which a professor friend had developed, to determine how many key people were supporting a project, and who was tepid or resistant. “In a matter of days,” she enthusiastically explained,” you can have visual indications of who’s really on board and who is not, with 85% accuracy.”

“What if I told you,” I said, “that I can determine the same thing merely by asking certain questions and observing behavior with 100% accuracy in a couple of hours, with no costs associated whatsoever?” I replied.

You get the picture. The cheetah can’t catch the gnu without making a commitment to run like crazy toward the objective. Koufax runs for all he’s worth, and if he misses his prey, it’s not for having held anything back. I’m working on five different books right now, and two major, new development projects for consultants, and I’m spending time every day at the pool. I hunt fast, not long.

Stop being tentative. We’re here to make waves, not to stick our toes in the water. When you decide to pursue something, burn rubber, leave a trail of dust, push the pedal to the floor. Otherwise, the gnu is gone.

And even if you’re not successful, the sheer ecstasy of the speed and the hunt will pump you up for the next sprint. How fast do you get out of the blocks?

© Alan Weiss 2008. All rights reserved.

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The Customer Ain’t Always Right

Lousy prospects make terrible clients. Alan discusses examples of bad customers’ behaviors and ideas on how to deal with them. And finally, what about family as customers? Listen to find out.

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© Alan Weiss 2008. All rights reserved.

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Rewarding Behaviors, Not Merely “Victories”

One of the most important aspects of leadership is to foster the right behaviors. You do this by serving as an avatar, of course, but you also do so by rewarding those behaviors whether or not they are immediately successful. That may sound counterintuitive, but it’s vital.

When I was consulting with Calgon, the president and I agreed that to change the behavior of the sales force from product “feature and benefit selling” to more of a consultative, solution orientation, we would have to allow them the freedom to experiment and fail. We knew that the first “victories” might take a while.

So, we inaugurated an award at the annual sales dinner for “The Best Idea That Didn’t Work.” Everyone would applaud as the recipient took the stage, received a loving cup, and explained what the attempt had been. It was clear to everyone that the president wanted people to try new approaches, and that failure was not fatal.

If you only reward victories, people will be highly conservative, trying to seek safe “wins.” That becomes increasingly egregious if the alternative, non-victory, results in someone getting “whacked.” Sooner or later, we expect people will win more than they will lose in most pursuits, but to get there it’s important to reinforce the correct behaviors along the way.

This is a somewhat melioristic view of the workplace, but a well-founded one. When the “wins” are the sole important variable, the result is winning at any cost, and you develop a company of arrivistes. Jack Welch was famous at GE for insisting that goals be met, but that they be met consistent with company values and belief systems—in other words, ethically. (Think of the GE debacles in the artificial gas tank explosion of a Ford vehicle on NBC, the Israeli defense bribes, etc. A lot of people were trying to “win” no matter what rules were broken.)

Behaviors, unlike skills, are not all that easy to learn and adopt, though they can be modified or superceded with other behaviors. That’s why hiring for “enthusiasm” is more important than hiring for “content.” You can teach someone the particulars of your company in anything other than highly specialized fields (law, medicine, etc.), but you can’t “teach” them enthusiasm.

I interviewed a candidate for marketing director job at a non-profit the other day, and she sucked all the oxygen out of the room. She had no enthusiasm, no passion, no presence. I don’t care what her credentials or pedigree may be, I’m not going to put that person in regular contact with me or our donors.

Leaders identify, modify, and reinforce the key behaviors needed to leverage their own talents and accelerate growth toward their goals. And that’s a behavior that separates the best from the rest.

Don’t show me all those initials after your name or the piles of testimonials. Show me something right here, right now, that says you can encourage, influence, and interest others. That’s the behavior that will gain my attention.

© 2008 Alan Weiss. All rights reserved.

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The Remy Martin “I can do anything shot”: Alan banks the eight ball the hard way.

At the recent (April 2008) Million Dollar Consulting® College Grad School in Naples Florida, the four of us (Alan Weiss, Maria Weiss, Chad Barr and Kim Wilkerson) engaged in an intense pool game after an intense day of learning. While Chad was asking “Which one is the 8 ball” Alan turns around and pulls this shot. (Commentary by Libby Wagner):

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The Dog Star: A Leader’s Lesson

(The Dog Star is a symbol of power, will, and steadfastness of purpose, and exemplifies the One who has succeeded in bridging the lower and higher consciousness. – Astrological Definition)

I walked over to a neighbor’s this morning to discuss some property issues, and decided to walk Koufax the quarter mile or so. We tricked Buddy Beagle (with whom walking is akin to jumping on a pogo stick while balancing stacks of dishes) into going into the back yard, and Koufax ran to the front door as soon as he saw his leash.

On the way home, back on our property, I removed his lead and he headed over the bridge at a gallop. The driveway takes what amounts to a 90-degree turn, with bushes and trees densely bordering it, so it’s easy to lose site of the Shepherd. But he does an interesting thing: He charges ahead, stops, looks to his left and right with head and ears raised, then turns back and watches to make sure I’m following. Once convinced, he races on again.

This is more than clever, this reaches astute. And it’s a lot more astute than many leaders I’ve seen.

I’ve worked with absolute visionaries who have ultimately been let go because their vision exceeded their pragmatism. That is, they never looked left or right to see what was on the periphery (better opportunities, looming threats, someone racing ahead), nor did they look back to see if the rest of the organization was able to keep up. They didn’t have the sense of a German Shepherd.

Innovation, alacrity, agility, resourcefulness—these are all admirable traits. But any trait taken to an excess in isolation of the environment can lead to disaster. If you’re going to lead, you’d better be sure it isn’t in a tunnel. If you’re going to gallop, it can’t be like a horse with blinders, artificially focused solely on what’s ahead. You had better be looking around with your head up in awareness.

And as an organizational leader or a consultant, pausing to look back and ensure that others are willing to follow, have followed, and are following the correct path isn’t dilatory, it’s merely prudent. You have to get there “firstest with the mostest,” to quote Nathan Beford Forrest, not “firstest and all alone.”

Admonish your clients to lead boldly but to be cognizant of the movement of others. Visionaries are fine, but dreamers aren’t. Koufax is smart enough to look around him. His speed is tempered by being in the moment.

And, therefore, I trust him enough to always let him off his leash.

© Alan Weiss 2008. All rights reserved.

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