Consulting, Badly

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that I’m hoping to be the founder of a start-up. And start-ups, by definition, are designed to grow very quickly; otherwise, they’re small business, not start-ups. On the other hand, consulting businesses, by their very nature, tend not to grow very quickly. It takes a lot of time to develop client relationships, bring on respected consultants, and develop a recognized brand. So, why did I recently form Doon Consulting Group?

When I let Mentor Graphics know that I planned to move on, my manager asked if I would be willing to make myself available to help out occasionally as a consultant. I’m very grateful for my time at Mentor Graphics and for all I learned there.  I value the relationships I have with my former colleagues at Mentor Graphics and if I can help the business and the people, I’m more than happy to do so.

Furthermore, consulting seems like a great way to develop and maintain relationships with senior executives and to keep abreast of developments in the world of high-technology.  And, finally, while I’m not trying to maximize near-term income, I certainly have no objection to making money.

I’m concerned, though, that I could spend a lot of time consulting — at the expense of building a start-up.  If you’re a start-up founder you shouldn’t be working to close consulting deals, or flying off to visit a consulting customer; you should be developing products, hiring people, building a sales channel, driving marketing, and raising capital!

A Devilish Consultant

Fortunately, in building CodeSourcery, I learned a lot about how to run a good consulting business. Consultants should focus where they have unique expertise. Marketing that expertise (with a web site, through white papers, conference presentations, and other public forums) is a good way to develop new business. It’s important to be flexible when it comes to business models and legal terms; customers strongly prefer consultants with whom it is “easy to do business.” Having enough bandwidth to tackle large projects and to start quickly is a key differentiator. Consultants should prefer long-term projects to short-term projects; there’s a lot to be said for steady income and you can always layer higher-margin business on top.

I plan to apply all of these lessons … in reverse.

Here’s what you can expect from Doon Consulting Group:

  • Questionable expertise. I’m interested in helping you with potential acquisitions, market analysis, or other strategic decisions. I just don’t know a whole lot about those things. I hope to learn a lot from working with you. (I do know a lot about open-source development tools, but I’m just going to refer you to Mentor Graphics if you ask me about that.)
  • No marketing. You’re unlikely to see the name Doon Consulting Group appear on a paper, article, conference registration, or T-shirt. (I did make a 1-page web-site with Google Sites, just to get a sense of the tool. I’m sure someone skilled could build something nice, but I did the absolute bare minimum.)
  • Limited availability. I may not be able to help you as soon as you’d like. I don’t plan on hiring any staff, so there will be no one to back me up. (Doon Consulting Group is not actually a group, see; it’s just me, but with a fancy-sounding name.) And I won’t commit to providing you with more than a few days of service; when inspiration strikes, I’ll be off working on a start-up.
  • Inflexible terms. If you want to work with me, I’ll send you an engagement letter. You can sign it or you can decline it, but I won’t negotiate it. I don’t want your business badly enough to invest time and money in squabbling over intellectual property rights, choice of law, or indemnification.
  • Exorbitant fees. My billing rates are designed to force you to ask yourself whether I’m worth it. I’m probably not, but, hey, reasonable people can disagree. Who am I to judge?

It should go without saying, however, that if we work together, I will help you to the best of my ability. I’ll try very hard to keep any promises I make. I very much hope that at the end of the engagement you’ll conclude that I’m a good consultant — with a bad consulting business.

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