When we look at a how most businesses operate we learn there is a consistent and heavy reliance on external parties to help the organization operate effectively. The larger the business the more reliance they typically have on external people and or companies to help them achieve their goals.
For start up businesses it’s common to see them rely on external service companies and consultants which provide support in areas such as finance, accounting, HR, logistics, even sales. If you’re a product based company your supply chain inevitably includes people or companies which provide product support such as design, prototyping, packaging, raw materials/ components, etc.
Many of us rely on our suppliers to help us run our business efficiently, but are we truly maximizing these partnerships?
Lot’s of small company’s use ADP to process their payroll. ADP is considered the gold standard in payroll processing as they offer their service across a broad range of business sizes and industries, provide a thorough and well-crafted service which is customizable and affordable. For many small businesses it’s a no brainer to use ADP for payroll processing because ADP does it far more effective and at a cheaper cost than most small businesses could do on their own.
Here’s the catch – did you know ADP also offers support in talent acquisition tools, benefits administration, HR services (including outsourcing/ PEO), employee system integrations and even marketplace apps?
I didn’t! I always thought of ADP as a payroll provider, little did I know that ADP also offers at least five other major services, all of which carry the same ADP quality of service and support.
This is where we fall short in utilizing our suppliers to maximize the impact on our business. If we don’t know all of the services or areas of support our suppliers offer we can’t align those services with our business needs.
Last year a start up medical device client of ours came to us with a problem. They needed to do some concept feasibility research on a particular product idea they had which if it made it to market it would significantly aide them in completing against their two closest competitors. They contacted our company not to help them with the project, but to help them with a referral to a local Orange County, CA based company that specialized in designing and testing early stage concepts.
That was a hard pill to swallow. My company, through yours truly, had been working with this start-up for several years and this client, who we had a good relationship with, didn’t know all of the services we could and do provide.
That was an invaluable learning lesson. I had assumed all along that our client knew we also provided concept design and small stage prototype testing. I was wrong. As the old saying goes “when we assume we make an ass out of you and me.” That saying should be re-written to say “when we assume we make an ass out of me and me only.”
After I listened to our customers situation and the support they were looking for it was apparent we would be a great option for them. The conversation thereafter was rather amusing and equally humbling as our customer told us “oh really, I had no idea you also offered that service. We would love to work with you all on the project, you already know our system, product lines and the people running the project. How do we get started?”
I remember hanging up the phone and laughing to myself thinking, “how many other customers do we have that think of us in one way yet have no idea about the other services we provide.” The next several months after this realization I spent all my efforts educating our current customer base on our full suite of services, not just the one area of support our customers had grown to rely on us for. It would prove to be a valuable learning lesson on my end needless to say.
Seven months later we finished the concept feasibility project, three weeks ahead of schedule, for the customer I had mentioned earlier. At the completion of the project I asked our customers VP R&D for his feedback on the project, our involvement, our work output and of course “would he use us again for other development needs they had?”
His response, “you all did a great job. We honestly had no idea you did concept work. We would rather give the work to an existing supplier, like you, we trust than go out and start a new relationship with someone we have no history with. Interestingly enough, after we learned that about your firm and the other services you offer which we didn’t know about we went back to several other key suppliers and ask them for information on other services they offered. In one instance we ended up saving almost 19% on our annualized material costs because we shifted the majority of our material purchasing needs over to another existing supplier. We love working with them and their prices were very competitive, we just had no idea they offered other materials outside of what we were already purchasing from them.”
Here in lies the ‘Ah-Ha’ moment and perhaps the reason you’re reading this article in the first place.
Inevitably you are working with suppliers at present which you only have a narrow view of how they can help your business. Take a moment to reach out to those suppliers of yours and learn about their full suite of services and or capabilities. You may just find out there’s a handsome cost or time savings for you just around the corner.
Key Take Away:
Don’t assume you know everything about your supply base. Most likely you’re working with suppliers you don’t have a full understanding of their capabilities. Take the time to learn more about your supply base and how those existing relationships can further maximize the impact they’re making on your business.
Reach out to your best or favorite top 5 suppliers for the sole purpose of learning about their full suite of services and capabilities. Identify where you are presently working with them and the areas you aren’t. Does this supplier offer additional services that you could benefit from? Better yet, do they offer a service which you presently have contracted with another company you aren’t thrilled with? This is a great time to begin reviewing your supply chain to see if there are areas of your business that would be positively impacted by working with the suppliers you like working with? When you begin to ‘bundle’ more projects and opportunities with your supply base you stand to greatly reduce your time and cost associated with your supply chain.
The side hustle always sounds enticing.
Enticing because it’s fun, give us an opportunity to make extra dough on the side while doing new and hopefully cool work. Sound familiar?
I hear this all the time when talking with colleagues. “I’m going to start consulting. You can make some really good money on the side.”
The idea of consulting sounds fun because in our heads it is. Making money on the side doing what we love, of course that’s fun, yet we’re overlooking an important aspect of the ‘side hustle’ which often we don’t figure out until it’s too late.
Working outside of your 8-5 job is in fact a means to make more money. It can also be a means to do other work and expand your skills, but before you you jump in you’ll need to think about one thing:
How am I going to make money doing this?
It happens all the time. We come up with a great idea, get excited and off we go chasing our idea as quickly as possible to bring it to life. Along the way we’re thinking about all the fun aspects of our new idea or venture except the most important – how am I going to make money doing this?
Most people get into consulting (the side hustle, freelancing, moonlighting, gigging – it’s all the same) because we have a particular skill set and someone takes interest in it. For example, if I’m an electrical engineer and I’m really good at PCB (printed circuit board) design I can easily do this work for other people or companies on the side, often times without breaching any of my current employer policies.
We jump into the side hustle with an immediate project. It almost seems easy. The work is just coming to us and all we’ve got to do is uphold our end of the bargain and finish the task to get paid.
Inevitably we begin making the rounds to our other connections, picking up more projects that keep us going for a while. If we’re really lucky, we get busier than we could have imagined and as a result we take the leap into consulting full-time, leaving behind our 8-5 behind. We’re elated, encouraged and empowered all at once.
Until reality sets in – what do we do once we’ve exhausted all our networks and connections and there’s no more work?
Panic sets in and suddenly consulting begins to lose its enticing ways. It’s not fun anymore, this is a real job with a lot more responsibility than the 8-5 I was trying to get away from.
Whether you’re doing the side hustle or you’re full-time in consulting it can be really frustrating, and potentially scary, when all the projects dry up leaving you to scrounge up the next job to stay afloat, while keeping the green backs coming in.
Here in lies the key lesson with consulting and why it’s important we always think about how we’re going to get paid as consultants:
Consultants work themselves out of jobs – it’s a natural part of the process!
“Do this job”, “fix this thing”, “get us up and running here” our clients tell us, then once the work is done so are you as their consultant.
Therefore, one of the most crucial aspects of being a long-term successful consultant, which often times gets overlooked, is how important it is for you to continuously sell yourself. When we are constantly in sales mode our project opportunities flow in more consistently rather than a rollercoaster where the work is plentiful at times (the rollercoaster high of consulting) or work is scarce and you’re eating Top Ramen three times a day (the rollercoaster lower – really low).
For this reason it’s paramount we always keep top of mind ‘How will I make money as a consultant?’. The answer is ‘sales’!
If you’re considering stepping into consulting, freelance or full-time, make sure you consider how you think and feel about doing sales. How do you feel about selling yourself and your capabilities? Reaching out to people you don’t know to sell them on the fact ‘you’re the person for the job’. Going to networking events in the evenings. Pitching people in senior leadership positions. Overcoming objections, etc. This is the foundation for sales.
Sales isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s a grind and it’s all about the numbers. The more you do it and the more consistent you are the better off you’ll be in the long run, with opportunities aplenty.
This doesn’t mean we need to forgo getting into consulting. It may just mean we need to slow down our excitement and think more strategically about what we’re about to go into and how we’re going to whether the storm should things get slow for a period of time.
The answers to those two questions will provide valuable insight as to whether or not consulting is the right career path for you.
Key Take Away:
Before you start consulting, regardless if you are freelancing for full-time consulting, you should spent time thinking about these two questions:
1.How am I going to make money doing this?
2.Can I sell myself and do so consistently?
If you’re on the fence about how you feel with your abilities and interest with sales, go do a test run. Go to a networking event and go alone. At this event your sole purpose is to sell yourself. Go prepared with an idea of the ideal person you want to meet – the customer you would do work for. Find those people and start off with your introduction, your elevator pitch. Follow this up with an explanation of your specialty and how you help solve people’s business problems. (if you need more direction here go read the cliff notes version of the book ‘Spin Selling’ by Neil Rackham) While you’re in these conversations at the networking event try getting wildly curious with your questions to better understand the challenges and work the person you’re speaking with has in front of them and how potentially you could be the solution to their problem, aka pain points. Smart sales is less about selling yourself and more about listening and discovering areas you can help people. Note – this takes time to master and won’t happen overnight however while you’re at the event testing out your sales skills you will at least get an idea for how you feel about your interactions and the actual activity of selling. From here you can digest whether this is something you want to do further. Lastly, be realistic. More often than not you aren’t going to land a sale or consulting project off the first discussion with someone. Yes, it does happen from time to time however the more realistic outcome is it will take you anywhere from 5-7 interactions with a person or business before you land an opportunity.
Interested in earning additional income? Looking to leave your full-time job to go it on your own? Maybe you just want to take on exciting, new work outside of your 8-5 job!
Join the Square-1 Engineering team for our morning coffee meet-ups to discuss the business of technical consulting, how to become a consultant and do so successfully on your own.
Recently I had an opportunity to get caught up with a friend of mine, and former customer, who I hadn’t seen in years. As we got reacquainted and talked about old times, corporate war stories and the like the conversation began to take a turn in an unexpected direction.
Here’s how the conversation unfolded:
Friend (F): “I’m working in IT now.”
Me (M): As I blinked with disbelief asking ‘Wait, did you say IT? What do you know about IT, you’re a purchasing manager – and a good one at that.” (we’re old chums, I can get away with crass comments like that)
F: Right. I started with this company and was turning around their purchasing department when out of nowhere they transferred me. We’re a small company and a vacancy came up in IT doing project management so my boss asked me to slide over for the year.”
M: “Slide over? Bet you enjoyed that nonchalant way of your boss saying “hey, the company needs help and we have no other options but you”.”
F: “That’s pretty much how it went down.”
M: “So how’s it been so far being in IT?”
F: “Awful. I feel like every day is Monday. I dread coming to work cause I don’t really know what I’m doing and haven’t received a lot of direction. It’s been a lot of fake it till I make it type thing.”
M: “Have you asked for help?”
F: “I have, multiple times but the problem is there isn’t anyone else to provide me with formal direction because others above me are trying to figure things out at the same time. I’m on Google all day trying to learn about IT project management, the lingo and work. Honestly, I’m not sure how much more I can take of this. I’m five months in and while I’m trying to be a good sport about it because I know the company needs the help this isn’t what I’m trained to do. Or want to do for that matter.”
The conversation continued with the two of us going back and forth on his situation, each time the picture of his job becoming gloomier by the minute. Two weeks after our conversation I found out my friend put in his resignation. Shocker!
So what happened here?
An employee was hired to do a job, things happened and the company asked said person to help them out by moving into a new role. Pretty straight forward, right? Wrong.
Unfortunately, this type of unproductive resource alignment happens all the time. Steve Jobs is quoted as saying “it doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” Hiring someone who is an expert in one discipline to then transition them into another that is polar opposites of their skills is in my opinion a poor management choice, one that most often will lead to disenfranchised employees and of course employee attrition.
Let’s be fair here. There’s a measure of truth in that it’s important we challenge ourselves over the course of our career to learn new things, take on new roles, expand our capabilities. This is how we become a better, more well-rounded professional. With that in mind, it’s a delicate balance between expanding someone’s capabilities and forcing them into a situation because it’s what’s best for the company, not necessarily the employee.
If you’re in a situation where you need someone to be a good sport and pitch in to help the company out it’s advisable you approach them with the situation in tandem with a strategy to get them in and get them out. The must be a clear exit strategy to get that employee back into the job you hired them for. Transitioning someone into a role they don’t want, you didn’t hire them for and is a mismatch with their skill set is a recipe for disaster. Perhaps my friend could have been more flexible, or perhaps his employer should have realized the band-aid approach they used with my friend should have only been for a short time and not a long-term solution.
Back to our story.
I called my friend a week after I had learned about his resignation to ask him what happened. He then told me when he resigned his employer asked him in the exit interview why he was leaving. He responded saying “I’m not an IT person. It’s not my passion and I’m not being given any indication this situation is changing any time soon. I also have little support in my new role. I was hired to get our company’s procurement function online and effectively operating yet for the past five months I’m doing IT project management work that I have no experience in, or interest for that matter. I found a job with another company doing what I’m good at and what I love [procurement].”
It’s one thing to ask employees to be team players and have a company first mentality. It’s quite another to remove them from the job which was the reason you hired them in the first place to patch up a problem area that they aren’t qualified to handle. In this, we are setting up our employees to fail.
Key Take Away:
If possible, try not to position your employees in situation where they are doing the company a solid at the expense of their happiness or capabilities. If you must ask an employee to take on a task or job outside of their scope be prepared to have a strategic exit plan in place to get them back to the work you originally hired them for. The work they are best qualified to do.
You have no choice, you have to transition an employee into a role outside their capabilities and comfort zone. Sit down with the employee and explain to them the situation and why you are asking for their help. Explain to them it is a short term situation then lay out your plans to help them get up and running in the role or task, who they can go to for support and how you will work with them to ensure their success. Also outline their exit strategy to get them back into their original job so they know there is an end insight. Lastly, I would strongly suggest offering the employee a bonus or form of recognition as a result of their willingness to help out. This last piece should never be overlooked, otherwise you may find yourself without the employee in the near future.
Are your employees misaligned, doing work that isn’t their specialty? Contact Square-1 Engineering at www.square1engineering.com to learn how we can help solve your biggest engineering and technical business challenges while helping to get your employees back to the work they love doing.
It’s inescapable. Inevitably many of us have or are at present spending time on work or projects which can be classified as busy work. We don’t like it, but we’ve convinced ourselves, or better yet someone tried convincing us, that the work or task needs to be done and done by us. Much to our chagrin.
Welcome to the trap of a nasty little productivity killer called non-value add work. Also known as mundane, tedious and even boring work.
Non-value add work takes on many forms and shapes depending on the business you’re in and your respective your role within the company.
If you’re an engineer tedious, non-value add work could include drafting, documentation and report writing. Your passion is designing next generation products but you’re inundated with a slew of tasks which are anything but new and exciting. Perhaps you’re in a leadership role and as such find yourself scheduling meetings, setting up company events, or ordering lunch for your team, etc.
While none of these tasks are of absolutely zero value, when you take into consideration the person doing them they all of a sudden fall into the category of non-value add work. An executive spending time ordering lunch for their team is a poor use of their skills, compensation and time. That doesn’t mean it’s below the person to do so, it means it’s a terrible measure from a productivity standpoint.
For example, if you’re a senior engineer making $125k annual salary and you find yourself doing documentation work periodically throughout the week in essence your company is now paying someone 2 or 2.5 times more to do the work than the person who should really be facilitating it. This of course only looks at the financial side of the equation, it’s also important to take into consideration how the employee feels doing work that is tedious or of non-value in comparison to their skill level.
The biggest fallout of employees being inundated with non-value add work is it takes times away from them focusing on core mission critical work that directly impacts the company’s bottom line and or has the biggest return on investment.
Most employees have an instinctive ability to know when they’re in situations of doing work that isn’t aligned with their skill set, it’s their managers that have a hard time recognizing it and therefore taking corrective actions to improve work flows and employees performance.
For all you managers who struggle with identifying when your employees are stuck with non-value add work, this one’s for you. Symptoms include:
1.Work or tasks they’re doing can be done by someone else at a significantly reduced cost
2.Your employee spends 80% of their time on 20% of their work responsibilities (Pareto Principle)
3.They become increasingly negative and withdrawn, displaying a cynical attitude and uncooperative team mentality
4.Your employee ‘mails it in’, meaning they do just enough to get by but their heart isn’t in it and as a result the quality of the output suffers
When your employees are happy they in turn will do their best work; much can be said for when they are unhappy or burdened with work they deem a poor use of their skills or time the output will often be poor. This doesn’t mean you have a bad employee or one that is incapable, it may just mean you have someone who’s heart isn’t in the work they’re doing. As a manager it’s ultimately your responsibility to identify this and do something about out.
So what’s the bottom line here?
Non-value add work leads to poor performance and unhappy employees. These two items lead to employee attrition which is a huge cost towards the company.
As managers, how do we go about combating situations where employees are burdened with work that isn’t in alignment with their skills and or isn’t a value add to the organization?
The two best answers to solve this problem are remarkably simple:
1.Shift the work to another employee who’s skill set is better aligned with the task at hand (ie – have a Drafter or junior engineer do drawing revisions, not a senior engineer)
2.Consider outsourcing work such as drafting, design, technical writing and document control to a reliable supplier
Both of these solutions can help you get to the promise land where your boring, tedious, non-value add work is done well and your employees can go back to being the happy go lucky people they’ve always been. When your employees are able to focus their efforts on the mission critical work you hired them for the company as a whole benefits.
Key Take Away:
Recognizing your employees are being burdened with non-value add work before it becomes a problem is key to keep your employees happy, working diligently and employed within your organization. No one likes to do work that isn’t of interest to them, at least for significant periods of time.
Read up on the Pareto Principle. Begin aligning your employees with the tasks that represent the highest and most valuable output to the company and in line with their skill set. Following the Pareto Principle, these tasks often represent 20% of the employees work responsibilities, yet attribute to 80% of their successful work performance and therefore company performance. When you identify tasks which are distractions for your employees and remove them from their workload you will see in short time your teams effectiveness soars in parallel with your employees general demeanor and happiness at work.
Are your employees burdened with tedious, non-value add work? Contact Square-1 Engineering at www.square1engineering.com to learn how we can help solve your biggest engineering and technical business challenges.
When was the last time your team, or company for that matter, delivered a project or product on time?
Sounds like an easy and obvious question to answer however the reality would surprise you.
Failure to deliver the goods, on time and to expectation, happens much more than most of us realize. In fact, we’ve become accustom to our expectations not being met, so much so that we barely even notice it anymore.
UPS and FedEx are heralded as two of the best shipping and freight companies globally. The two combined do more than 24 million daily shipments on average. That’s a lot of Amazon orders. Did you know that a combined 19% of those packages don’t make it to their designation on time, or at all? That’s 4.5 million packages miss the mark, EVERY DAY!
You may be thinking, “Why should I care about what happens at FedEx, after all I don’t work there.”
Missing deadlines, or delivering the proverbial goods late, is more than just a shipping issue, it’s a global business issue and frankly it’s very bad for business.
When we miss deadlines, or customer expectations for that matter, we experience all sorts of negative exposure, including:
When UPS or FedEx misses a delivery or puts a package back in que which should have already been delivered the ripple effect created for that driver and route can impact an entire days’ worth of work, or more.
Same thing can be said for our customers. We got a call two weeks ago from a customer asking for help on a project of theirs which had already missed its deadline. Our customer, was two weeks past due on their product delivery date for their respective customer. Needless to say their customer was less then enthused. In fact, every day they fell behind in shipping their product they lost 11k USD in billable revenue.
With costs surmounting quickly eating into their profit margin their customer also became wary of their ability to execute as they had hoped and expected. Phone calls between the two companies became increasingly frequent with the client becoming increasingly upset. Threats of the white-collar kind became a start to each call.
Not a good position to be in. [thanks Captain Obvious]
Our customer asked us to bring a team in and offload some of their work, mostly protocol and process related, so they could focus all their efforts in satisfying the commitment they made to their customer. Our team was to alleviate the bottleneck of work they were experiencing so other internal projects wouldn’t keep backing up as they had already begun to do. Once the bottleneck begins its incredibly challenging to get out of that rhythm and back on track without extra help.
These types of moments are highly intense and stressful. One of the things our customer did with their end customer, which I found to be of high integrity and good professionalism, is they painstakingly told their customer what had happened to make them fall behind, apologized and took ownership for the failure to deliver and immediately shared with the customer their course of action to solve the problem. While their customer was rather upset along the way they did acknowledge the apology and things seemed to get underway shortly thereafter.
The product ultimately was delivered 3 ½ weeks late of schedule costing our customer close to quarter of a million dollars in missed revenue. Tough lesson to learn on the importance of hitting deadlines and meeting expectations.
Key Take Away:
A wise person once said, “sh** happens”. A profound statement to say the least yet certainly true. Sometimes things do happen that are out of our control, taking ownership of the situation and asking for help can be the best two decisions we can make in these moments.
Don’t decide to ask for help when you’re already in hot water. If you’re watching your project timelines begin to slip immediately put in a plan of attack to lean on your suppliers for help. If your relationship with your customer is on good footing still you can try to proactively ask for an extension on the delivery date with the hopes that will provide some cushion to get work done on time. Note – don’t get in the habit of asking for deadline extensions. Once is fine, but to ask that of a customer often signals your company is unorganized and lacks leadership to meet it’s obligations.
In need of someone to help you climb out of your project bottlenecks? Contact Square-1 Engineering at www.square1engineering.com to learn how we can help your solve your biggest engineering and technical business challenges.
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.