Hiring Associates

Hiring Associates

Leaders I Like to Work With blog entry

Early on my business, I realized that the only thing holding me back from making more money and taking on bigger projects was myself – I could only work so many hours in a day and was good at some things but not everything. The opportunities that I was seeing in the marketplace needed more than what I alone could deliver, and yet I did not want to build a traditional consulting company with multiple partners, employees, or bricks-and-mortar overhead.

As a result, I decided to create a simplified business model in which I as the owner/principal consultant would have 5-7 strategic alignments with other established consultants in areas in which I had less expertise, and I would act as the account manager and project manager, as well as the primary consultant. I would get the business, put together the team, and manage the consulting engagement, which typically lasted from 6-18 months. These team members were my associates, although in legal terms, I was the prime contractor and they were subcontractors working under my company’s name.

What I learned, much to my horror, was that not every other consultant had the same business values as I did! (Looking back on it, why I assumed otherwise is beyond me.) Some canceled at the last minute if they got a better gig. Some charged for in-town travel time and mileage to visit clients, where I saw that as just the cost of doing business. Some wanted to charge for every minute they talked to me or my client, much like a lawyer or accountant (which does not work well with fixed price contracts.) Some wanted to retain all rights to whatever they produced (which was in opposition to many of client contracts.) Some competed with me for my own clients once they got in the door! (Very painful when that happens.)

After about a year of skirmishing and realizing that my company’s name, brand, and profits were at risk, I decided to start all over again. I let all of my early associates go and decided to become more structured in my approach. This time I started by writing a “Code of Honor” – a set of business values – that I would ask every associate who works under my company’s name to commit to, as well as a legal document defining our relationship.

This business model has worked well for me over the years. I have been able to survive two recessions and one market bust (the tech bubble) sometimes with thin margins, but still there. I have also been able to ramp up quickly when needed and provide a full-service approach without the overhead typically charged by a larger firm.

RESOURCES: For more on my approach to hiring associates, check out my 6-page article Beyond the Handshake which I presented in the past. 

Cathy Perme is the co-owner of Perme & Peterson Associates, LLC.

Fizz by Cathy Perme

Buy Fizz! on Amazon

Buy FIZZ on Amazon Audio

Fizz! How to Succeed as an Independent Consultant author Cathy Perme also wrote Confucius in My Cubicle: Practical Wisdom for the Leader in All of Us, released by Wisdom Editions in 2017.

Building Your Own Brand

Building Your Own Brand

Building Your Own Brand

As a consultant, your name ultimately becomes your brand. People experience you and form opinions about you and your work. Those opinions will determine whether or not to hire you again or refer you. So who are the best people to help you define and build your brand as a consultant? The people you serve!  My clients have not only helped me define my brand, they have honed my brand.

In a prior post I talked about knowing your “fizz” – what your unique DNA and passion drive you to do so well that if needed, you could do it with your eyes closed and one hand tied behind your back. This is the start of thinking about your brand. The next step is to find out what impact you have on others, what results they have gotten from your work together, and how they would characterize what you do. Before I started my business I interviewed colleagues with whom I had worked with in the past, and asked them bluntly to tell me what value I brought to our work together. I then asked if it was something for which they would pay. Their feedback helped confirm my “fizzy” and “flat” parts, and gave me ideas and words to consider.

I then tried to fashion “elevator speeches” although truthfully, I am not sure about their value because they sound so canned. I prefer to use my 30 seconds with a potential client to ask a question, and then key off their response. I believe that if you are clear about your own “fizz” you can demonstrate your brand versus talk about it.

Today I use customer feedback to check and hone my company’s brand. I conduct regular customer satisfaction surveys, in which I ask, “What value did we provide?” and “What could have been different?” The first question provides information to check our brand. The second provides the feedback needed to improve it. Now when people hire me or my company, I know they are looking to get focused, get organized, and get actionable results. 95% of my business comes from repeat customers or referrals.

My challenge today is to sustain my brand in a world in which information, news and posts flash by at speeds of light. While I am just wading into this realm, I still know that it is the relationship and experience that someone has of you that really counts.

Cathy Perme is the co-owner of Perme & Peterson Associates, LLC.

Fizz by Cathy Perme

Buy Fizz! on Amazon

Buy FIZZ on Amazon Audio

Fizz! How to Succeed as an Independent Consultant author Cathy Perme also wrote Confucius in My Cubicle: Practical Wisdom for the Leader in All of Us, released by Wisdom Editions in 2017.

Success on Your Terms

Success on Your Terms

success-on-your-terms

Do you want to make a lot of money? You might be able to do that. Do you want to be famous? You could sure give it a try. That being said, most consultants I know are in it for reasons that have nothing to do with money or fame. Here are the real perks of being in business for yourself, that makes the hard work of “start-up” worth it.

Flexibility – being able to define when, where, and how you work

  • Other than when I have meetings with clients, I am master of my own schedule. I love being able to work when my creative energy is at its peak (often late at night and into the wee hours of the morning) and then take time off later in the day.

Focus and Enjoyment – being able to do work that you enjoy, that supports your passion

  • I love being able to choose what I work on, versus having my workload handed to me with “other duties as assigned.” In any project there is always some amount of drudge work but if it is something I have actively chosen I don’t mind it.

Work-life Balance – being able to decide how much to work and how to organize it to meet your needs

  • For me this is the biggest perk, especially for a working mom. Starting my own business was the best way to balance career and family. When my daughter was very young I worked a schedule that included 3 days in the office each week and evening hours after she went to bed. When she was in school, I scheduled many meetings through mid-afternoon and did the balance of my work later in my home office. When she was in 3rd grade, I decided to take a year’s sabbatical and reshaped my business in the process.

Success is about much more than money. It is about having an impact on people’s lives, helping organizations achieve their goals, or contributing to a larger cause — and doing it in a way that lets you enjoy your work and support yourself at the same time.

That said, my definition of success is ever-evolving. At the beginning it was to establish my business, then grow it. Mid-point it was to redefine it. At this point? I am in the process of figuring that out right now.  What about you? What does success mean to you today?

Cathy Perme is the co-owner of Perme & Peterson Associates, LLC.

Fizz by Cathy Perme

Buy Fizz! on Amazon

Buy FIZZ on Amazon Audio

Fizz! How to Succeed as an Independent Consultant author Cathy Perme also wrote Confucius in My Cubicle: Practical Wisdom for the Leader in All of Us, released by Wisdom Editions in 2017.

Knowing Your “Fizz”

Knowing Your “Fizz”

Knowing Your "Fizz"

One of the tell-tale signs of a new consultant is that they will say they are good at almost everything. Anything you need, they can do it! No project is too big or too small, no challenge is beyond their experience. That’s often called “survival” in the early days of being a consultant – and being hungry is one approach to building a business.

Perhaps I starved longer than I needed to, because I never did that. In fact, consultants who profess to be good at everything are immediately suspicious to me. That’s because I subscribe to a self-coined “Coke” Philosophy of Consulting, as I am a die-hard fan of “Coke Zero.” With apologies to the Coca-Cola Company for what is no-doubt too simple an analogy, here it is.

There are three ingredients to making a coke – syrup, water, and fizz. You can make a flat coke with just the syrup and water but it is disappointing. It takes “fizz” to make it good. Same with consultants – anyone can make a flat coke by learning and applying a skill. But it is one’s passion for that topic and innate talents that will make it “pop” and be good!

For example, I know how to conduct process improvement projects and thoroughly enjoy facilitating complex group dynamics and decision-making. I also know how to research and create elaborate process maps, but I find it boring – I don’t enjoy the detail attention it takes to do it well and I am sure a client can sense that lack of energy. Flat coke! Better to find someone who LOVES process mapping and gets a kick out of the myriad details at play, and partner with them on this. That way I can do the “fun” parts (to me) and they can do the “fun” parts (to them.) Fizzy coke!

The best consultants I know are very clear on where they are good, and where they are flat. I don’t see it as weakness to admit that. I see it as self-awareness, which is key to being successful both in consulting and in life. If a consultant cannot admit to me what they are not very good at, I will not work with them, because at some point that lack of awareness will cause problems.

The best part of knowing your own “fizz?” It forms the basis of your personal brand, and the root of your company brand.

Cathy Perme is the co-owner of Perme & Peterson Associates, LLC.

Fizz by Cathy Perme

Buy Fizz! on Amazon

Buy FIZZ on Amazon Audio

Fizz! How to Succeed as an Independent Consultant author Cathy Perme also wrote Confucius in My Cubicle: Practical Wisdom for the Leader in All of Us, released by Wisdom Editions in 2017.

Dangers of the Job

Dangers of the Job

Dangers of the Job

In my office I have a picture of a woman with her head to the ground, looking up cautiously at the foot of an elephant, which she is gingerly “holding” with one hand just inches from her head.  Under its foot is an object that was obviously causing the elephant some discomfort. She knows the elephant might decide at any minute to shift its position and she could be crushed. This is often what it feels like to be a consultant — dangerous!

Many times people hire me because they are in some kind of pain.  And “naming” the elephant is just one of my duties — helping it to heal it is the other. Which is why this work is so dangerous. It is only with the consent of the” elephant” that I can do my work; any power or control is purely an illusion, something I remind myself about all the time.

My life as a consultant usually starts with a call to assist in some initiative, project, or planning endeavor. The client is usually very judicious in describing what the issue is and what they want to see happen. Over time I have learned that the presenting issue is rarely the real issue, which may be buried under layers of bureaucracy, process, culture, or dysfunctional relationships. Thus, I have learned to dig for the real issues, getting as much info as possible before agreeing to a contract, although still I might not uncover it until well into the work.

Here is where it gets most dangerous. I see patterns very quickly and can name an elephant in the room faster than you can say “boo.” This is not always welcome. Often the elephant has something to do with people in power — the very ones that have hired me. How do I point it out, clearly yet nicely, to those in charge?   I have not always done a good job of this — sometimes I have been incredibly clumsy and hurtful.  When that happens I can be (and have been) out of a job, or at least, never hired again.

Over the years I have come to believe two things about leaders, which helps me to address the elephant politely yet firmly:

  1. I believe that leaders are trying to do the best job they can — I have rarely found intentional malice.
  2. My experience has taught me that leaders are often really nice people with some really bad habits, to which impact they are often blind.

If my contract does not include taming the elephant, I feel it is at least my duty to give feedback, and to do so in a way that makes it possible for leaders and the system itself  to see themselves as part of a larger whole in which they can (and often do) have great impact.  Even then, it is still scary, and doesn’t always work out.

So, I have come to see consulting as a dangerous job, because we are only as good as our names and the customer’s last experience of us, and yet we need to be true to our values and code of ethics as well.   Thus, we trust the elephant not to crush us while keeping a wary eye out for any shifting movement as we get down to work.

Cathy Perme is the co-owner of Perme & Peterson Associates, LLC.

Fizz by Cathy Perme

Buy Fizz! on Amazon

Buy FIZZ on Amazon Audio

Fizz! How to Succeed as an Independent Consultant author Cathy Perme also wrote Confucius in My Cubicle: Practical Wisdom for the Leader in All of Us, released by Wisdom Editions in 2017.