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The 'Glamourous' World of Consulting?

July 31, 2020
Stick with what you're good at.

Before starting the Service Roundtable, I worked as a consultant.  Bob knew this and it might be why he called me last week.  His experience is similar to many other contractors, which is why I’m sharing it. 

“Hey, Matt,” said Bob when I answered the phone.  “How are you surviving the panicdemic?”

I laughed, “Hanging in there.  Well, actually I’m probably working harder.  What’s up?” 

“I sold my company,” Bob declared. 

“Really?  Tell me about it.  Did you use a broker or an investment bank?” 

“Nah, a guy just called up and I thought it sounded like a lot of money, so I sold it.  I never imagined anyone would pay me that much for my company.” 

“Who bought it?” 

“Some guy who had a few investors behind him.  He was looking for a company to buy and run.” 

“Sounds like search equity.” 

“Yeah, that’s what he called it.  He had me hang around for a few months, but now he’s taken over.” 

“That’s awesome, Bob.  So, what are you going to do now?  Play golf?  Fish?” 

“Well, I hope to, but I think I need to work.” 

“Need to, or want to?” 

“Well, I just talked with my investment advisor and after all of the taxes come out and everything, it seems like I don’t have quite as much as I thought.”

“Did you sign a non-compete?” I asked. 

“Three years.”

“So, let me guess.  You want to be a consultant.” 

“Hey, how did you guess?” 

“Because every contractor who sells his business thinks he wants to join the glamourous world of consulting.  Trust me, there’s nothing glamourous about it.  It’s a tough way to make a living and not too many do it well enough to make a lot of money.” 

Bob sounded hurt when he said, “Well, it doesn’t seem all that hard to me.  You did it, didn’t you?  I think I’ve got a lot of knowledge and I can really help some guys.”

“No doubt, but you are dealing with contractors.  No offense, but it’s hard to get them to pay a lot.  When I did consulting, my clients tended to be Fortune 500 companies and I had the backing of an established firm with more than 100 people.  You would have you.”

You can’t hear someone scowl, but I swear I could hear Bob scowl over the phone.  I continued, “Look, part of the problem with consulting is you eat what you kill.  You work your butt off prospecting and when you finally land work, you stop prospecting while you’re helping your client.  It will be hard for you to get a contractor larger than you, to use you and the guys your size or smaller are not likely to pay much.  What’s the most you paid for a consultant?”

Part of the problem with consulting is you eat what you kill. You work your butt off prospecting and when you finally land work, you stop prospecting while you’re helping your client.

“Okay, okay.  I get your point, but I still think I could do it.” 

“Yeah?  How will you handle it when you tell someone what to do, it’s obvious he should do it, and he still doesn’t?” 

“I’ll fire him!” 

“No, you won’t.  He’s paying you money and when you’re a consultant you put up with a lot if someone’s paying you.  You won’t just put up with someone not doing stuff, you’ll put up with things that drive you insane.  This isn’t like an air conditioning customer where your interaction is a couple of tune-ups a year and maybe, a demand service call.  It is more involved.” 

I was getting wound up.  I continued, “And what about the travel?  It’s kind of hard to travel right now, but consulting involves a lot of it.  You’ll spend more time on the road than home.  Is that what you want to do?”

“Well, not really,” Bob replied.  “But what about training.  Some of those guys rake it in.”

I sighed.  “Do you know how many sales trainers are in the industry?  And, they’re all really good, have all been doing it for a long time, have developed curriculums, have followings, and still, all of them need distributors or manufacturers to support them.  Even with all of that, you still travel.  A lot.” 

Bob was silent, so I went on.  “Look, Bob, you do a day of training or consulting, where you’re ‘on’ all day and you’re wiped at the end.  Someone may want to go out to eat with you, in which case you’re going to get drinks as well, when all you want to do is go to bed.  If no one goes out to eat with you, you’re eating alone in a restaurant or just getting take out and eating alone in your hotel room.  It kind of sucks.”

I asked Bob, “Do you know Charlie Greer?”

“Sure, everyone knows Charlie.”

“Well, Charlie’s got a great letter he wrote for people who approach him about becoming a consultant or trainer.  Ask him for a copy.  If you still want to do this after reading Charlie’s letter, go for it.  Just trust me, making it as a consultant or a traveling trainer is not easy, or glamourous, or even that much fun.”

“So what do you think I should do?”

“Honestly?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, you built one company up and sold it.  Move to a different city where your non-compete doesn’t apply and do it again. Maybe you can consult a little on the side, but you’re good at contracting. Stick with what you’re good at. And next time you sell, use an investment banker or broker. You’ll get more money in the long run.”  

Be sure to register for the Service World Expo.  It has gone virtual, so the $349 cost to attend is waived.  This is a virtual show unlike any other in the industry.  It features virtual reality, augmented reality, ways to network with other plumbers.  It’s like a trade show in a video game.  Register for free at www.ServiceWorldExpo.com.

About the Author

Matt Michel | Chief Executive Officer

Matt Michel was a co-founder and CEO of the Service Roundtable (ServiceRoundtable.com). The Service Roundtable is an organization founded to help contractors improve their sales, marketing, operations, and profitability. The Service Nation Alliance is a part of this overall organization. Matt was inducted into the Contracting Business HVAC Hall of Fame in 2015. He is now an author and rancher.