Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to consultants everywhere.  New years give us the chance to turn over a new leaf.  2010 was absolutely fantastic for me.  I'm grateful for all the gifts of friendship and creative outlet that I was afforded, but I'm looking forward to starting anew in 2011.  I can say "I'm ready."  Are you?  Hopefully you have been able to (and will still be able to) think about your consulting a little broader than normal during the holiday lull.  I hope to see many of you in 2011. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What’s Wrong with Work?

I had a conversation with a client recently and we were talking about holidays and vacations. We talked about what the company granted in terms of holidays, sick days and vacation days (btw, did you know that companies are not required to give 2 weeks of vacation? They give it to compete in the work marketplace.)

She asked about what I, as a consultant, take. I was about to say I take “a lot” of vacation when, after doing some mental math realized that, by most people’s use of the language, I had negative vacation this year. I was thinking vacation meant contentment and fulfillment, not the usual definition of hours spent working. It seems when I have squeezed out unproductive hours from work somewhere, I immediately apply those hours back to work somewhere else. For a moment, I felt a self-imposed, obligatory fatigue setting in.

But why should it be so? If you enjoy what you do, it is not work in some sense of the word. Smart hard work is generally rewarded and work can be a prime area of life where you can make a difference, have varied experiences and generally feel useful. So, similar to my last post, I’m suggesting today, when many people are taking a break from work, to head into 2011 mindfully about work, however you do your consulting, and the value that it brings.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Count (von Count) through the needed tasks

If you’re on Facebook, you may have noticed a rash of profile pictures changing over to old cartoon images. The origin is a campaign to raise awareness about Worldwide Violence Against Children and Child Abuse. My choice was The Count, or more formally Count von Count. I know he’s not a legitimate cartoon, but he’ll do. He got so much enjoyment from counting things and hey, that guy could count to 20!

I still count, but I’m not counting things as much as counting the time away occasionally when I find myself doing that which falls into the category of “need to do, can’t avoid, but it will pay off.” Usually I don’t even know what I’m counting to. If I need to be “present”, this is not preferred. It’s just a mental distraction while the task completes so I can get to those fun and rewarding tasks.

Here are some counting situations for me:

1. Changing the litter box

2. Twisted into a painful yoga position

3. Get dressed

OK, get it? The bigger picture here is how you spend your time. Are you doing it consciously? The litter must be changed and the body must be exercised and clothed, but if it doesn’t earn and it’s not truly fun or needed, you should make plans to count those tasks out for 2011.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Limiting Options to Increase Satisfaction

I have a friend who is building a house. At first, he was heavily into the relatively small decisions that need to be made such as light fixtures, how many outlets in each room, toilet features, doorknobs, etc. There seem to be dozens or even hundreds of possibilities for each decision. A month into that level of detailed decision making and the choices now are being made much quicker and based on principle. Some high-level color schemes, preferred vendors and price/performance preferences have emerged from the dozens of decisions already made and those are allowed to bear heavily on the ongoing decisions. If he didn’t recognize the need for patterns, the build would take five times what it now should.

Sometimes, choice is good. However, many of us have too many choices and can tend to be overwhelmed. When you perceive 10 choices instead of 2, it is difficult to ultimately be satisfied by your decision, regardless of which decision is made. You can just feel like you left too much on the table.

This is why it’s important to plan as a consultant. When you make plans, you decide what choices and options will really belong to you as decisions come up. It’s easier then to make the decisions – and feel good about them.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Interview on Conversations LIVE!

This podcast is a 30 minute conversation with Cyrus Webb.  I talked about my background, the book, finding your path, producing return on investment, keys to success, referals and the applying the consulting business model to a domain of expetise.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Chapter 1: What is Consulting? available free of charge

Curious about consulting?  Read what I have to say about what consulting is, the difference between a consultant and a contractor, consutling in hard times and adding real value to clients in Chapter 1 of my book.

I've made "Chapter 1: What is Consulting?" available free of charge at

Get the rest of the book at Amazon here.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

McKnight Mentor Program

Now William brings consulting to the consultant.

My six-month retainer-based Mentor Program offers access to help the individual or organization create total business transformation. With my focus on your success, I provide you full, end-to-end solutions leveraging where the practice is and where it needs to be.

Designed to support independent consultants, consultants employed at consulting firms, those who operate as consultants but without the title and entire firms, practices and project teams, this program allows you to gain insight, advice, mentoring and knowledge transfer. Be ready for business transformation.

Topics covered during the program include any of the following, with a focus on your issues:

• Client management
• Staffing decisions and issues
• Marketing challenges
• Client engagement
• Engagement execution
• Reputation building
• Publicity ideas and outlets
• Social media and internet strategy
• Business instantiation
• Long-term planning
• Fee strategies
• Service planning
• Exit strategies
• Life balance
• Goal-setting and achievement
• Image makeover
• Collateral review
• Critical business decisions
• Managing capital

There are two options.

Option 1 is access via scheduled phone calls and guaranteed-response email as needed.

Option 2 is less client-directed. With Option 2, I will create a program of consulting mastery for you, based on your situation. The program will consist of milestone-based structure and review towards those specific goals. It is designed for complete and intense acceleration of your concept.

I propose a conservative approach to business spending in my book, but I can see no better place to invest for consulting success than in the McKnight Mentor Program I’ve designed.

Given the personal nature of the Mentor Program, space is limited. Contact me today to discuss the option that is right for you.

"I wanted to thank you for the mentoring that you have given me over the past few years and helping me mature as an entrepreneur. In my opinion, the program will improve the quality of consultants and ultimately benefit the clients better.

William has been Mercury's go to person for shifting the perception of our value and empowering us with the tactics needed for success. He offers an unbiased opinion and cuts a lot of the noise.

Mercury in turn passes on this valuable advice to our clients uses it to build the organization to support the industry trends, ultimately helping us grow stronger."

Vinay Balasubramanian
Mercury Software Consulting,Inc.

“My consulting business, Netra Technologies, Inc., has benefitted tremendously from William’s advice on a variety of topics including adoption of a better business model, improved profitability, business expansion, etc. It was really nice to get mentoring from someone who has been there and done it like, William McKnight. The value we received has far exceeded our costs and we look forward to continuing the mentoring service for the foreseeable future.”

Madhur Limdi
Managing Principal
Netra Technologies, Inc.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The benefits of working at a System Integrator/Consulting

The following question came into me some years ago at one of the forums I blog at in my industry.  It contains some industry jargon, but I thought the main points would be interesting to anyone in consulting.

The Question:

I am currently a principal data architect with a System Integrator (SI). I feel that being with a SI limits our involvement in client organizations' data architecture decisions. In turn, this limits our exposure to broader areas of data management, and subsequently the career path.

We are more driven by the client architecture team's decisions. I feel that if I been in the client organization, I probably would have had much more exposure and potential for growth in the data management field.

I feel beyond a certain role. Should I move out of the SI companies and shift to being part of the business organization's data management function?

The Answer:
Hello, and thanks for your question about data architect careers. System integrators do a variety of things for their clients -- from strategy through implementation and production. I certainly believe that there is no better position than a strategy consultant for contributing to important data architecture decisions at client organizations. You are probably part of implementation teams and yes, by then, many broader decisions have been made. You should always feel free to contribute your ideas for change and progress to your project leaders and clients. More importantly, with a System Integrator, you should be getting exposure to and understanding how and why decisions are made in a variety of environments, which is the best experience for enhancing your credibility, which will enable you to contribute to client decisions. In my experience, credibility is the number one factor that will enable you to contribute to decisions, not your organization or title. Be sure to work that end of the spectrum.

So, in general, looking at SI organizations versus client organizations, I disagree that being with a client organization is better for your goals.

Chapter 8: The Role of the Consultant available free of charge

I've made "Chapter 8: The Role of the Consultant" available free of charge at

Friday, July 9, 2010

Keep that card in your pocket, ref

I had a soccer game last night. We were winning 4-3 late in the game and I had been having a pretty good game. I had 2 goals and 2 assists and was feeling pretty good.

An opposing defender who had been called twice previously for pushing me in the back had just pushed again – and was called for it again. He had been talking to the referee the whole game about my pushing, but I had not been called for anything. Frustrated at this perceived inequity and yet another foul, he decided to talk to me. I foolishly talked back, the referee heard me and pulled out a card on me. I was off to the sideline for the remainder of the game. That’s where I got to watch the other team score their tying goal.

What are the lessons in this?

1. Don’t let your emotions get the best of you. ‘Nuff said.
2. You can’t ride on your past success. Just because I usually keep my mouth shut during games does not mean that the time I do open it that I should not get a card pulled on me.
3. It’s a slippery slope you can go down. I will remember the penalty and what ‘may have been’ from that game, more than the 4 points I logged.
4. Ignorance is not bliss. Even if I knew the referee was intently listening, I would not have believed he would pull a card for some non-curse words. Wrong! The words I spoke were not helpful to any aspect of our team objective. They did no good. There was only downside.

The answer is knowledge (which I now have), experience (which I now have), reflection (which I did) and commitment (I’ll post again if I ever get a card for my words). If sport is a microcosm of life, there are definite parallels to consulting. Face the reality of your situation, deliver frequent huge results for clients, keep your game on in tough times, learn your ropes and don’t make the same mistakes twice.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Interview on Technology Today

This podcast is a 15 minute interview in which I was asked about my background, the book, staying current in your field, the consulting market, where I make my income, and the difference between a consultant and a contractor.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Gartner: Thought Leadership is Key to Marketing Consulting Services

Here's a link to an article that references a column of mine and refers to thought leadership as a key to marketing consulting services. "Gartner: Thought Leadership is Key to Marketing Consulting Services; Consulting service expertise is reflected in client marketing but needs to be an organized discipline".

Information Management Online, February 1, 2010

Monday, April 26, 2010

Party with the Cowboy

I’m watching a television commercial where the mother is all set for a pirate themed birthday party for the kids. Well, almost all set. Here comes the cowboy mascot and the insinuation is that the party is doomed. In the idyllic commercial, this was no problem. She is able to call in a real pirate (a real fake one that is) and the party is saved. The solution fits into the 30 seconds.

Maybe I’m just being too practical or like to pick my battles. First, I think it would have been fun to have a cowboy at an otherwise pirate-themed party. Second, if you make it out to be fun and no big deal, the kids would go for it. But finally, and most of all, the chances of getting that changed at the last minute and having the pirate make it to party with the kids with any time at all left in the party is slim and none. I would make the call and try, but when you see the writing on the wall, you might as well party with the cowboy.

How many of us are being sidetracked spending time working on enhancements to projects that ultimately will not materialize into productive work effort towards the project goals and deadlines? Many projects I review are immensely burdened by such activity. Instead of partying with the cowboy (reality), we keeping calling for the pirate (impractical wishisms) while the kids (clients, internal customers) get increasingly annoyed at not having a mascot (project deliverables).

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Looking forward, not backward

I was reading a piece of advice in Men’s Fitness magazine. It went something like ‘get rid of those stored phone numbers of your ex-girlfriends and move on’. That’s great advice I suppose, but I couldn’t help but think of its parallel to consulting. We consultants can tend to drag around a long list of hopeful clients and projects. When they fail to materialize “on time”, as many are prone to do, of course, we keep in touch with the client to see if/when the timing may be better. However, after a while, and especially after long periods of silence, it may be time to mentally and physically remove that project from the realm of real possibilities by scratching it off your list.

“Long” in this context will be defined by various factors including how much your list is growing with new activity, what a normal sales cycle has been like for you, as well as the effects on your temperament of looking at that client name on your list and just knowing nothing is going to come of it. That can be demoralizing. However, if you’re filling the pipeline, you’re not concerned with these ex-prospects.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Forming – Storming – Norming – Performing

For those of you with teams on the ground at client sites, permit me to share some group development-think that has inspired me and given me a basis for effectively moving my teams to higher levels of maturity and performance. I first learned about the Bruce Tuckman Forming – Storming – Norming – Performing model in MBA school, but as with many things we learned in school, it is easy to forget or believe there is no applicability to it.

However, I recently used the model as a touchstone for a team’s development and, at the least, it helped to assure me that some of the early-stage team “forming” actions involving feelings, insecurities and other such controversies are NORMAL. The model also helped me see where the team can go, if things are handled properly. I recalled all the teams I’ve brought together over the years for client work and, by placing our team development against the model, it proved to be a roadmap we’ve followed, even if unconsciously.

So why not follow it consciously? I’m going to keep it handy. Moving onward into the mature stage of performing takes mutual trust, respect, lots of communication and having all members treat team decisions AS THEIR OWN. So, whether you’re forming, storming or norming, pretty soon you can be PERFORMING.

As the model says, and my experience bears out, each team MUST go through each stage. No skipping! So be patient and guide your teams to solid foundations at each stage, all the way to Performing.

Here is the Wikipedia entry for “Forming – Storming – Norming – Performing.”

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

In Business

I had to gently remind someone last week that I am in business. Many consultants face a quandary about giving away free consulting. I’m actually not talking about that. I’m pretty bad about that actually – call me and, when I become available, we’re talking. I enjoy my discipline and helping others too much sometimes, especially when I’m learning back.

But I’m not talking about that kind of free consulting. I’m talking about matchmaking consultants to projects. It’s a part of my business. So, when a colleague calls to see if I ‘have anybody’ or ‘know anybody’ who fits a profile, I want to be sure some things are understood early before we get too far into the process. I will ask many questions. If I happen to ‘know someone’ who may be a fit, that knowing is borne of many years of relationship building, industry study and record-keeping. It’s a developed asset. Most understand this. Since I place consultants, I take the paper, the risks, etc., and a fee.

Unfortunately, it’s not always understood and somebody was offended when we started talking rate and it was apparent my firm would factor into that equation in some small way. Fortunately, I made this clear early in the process before I spent too much time on it. And so should you.

Whenever the fee for what you think is a ‘service’ is questioned, you have to question whether you have truly differentiated that service. And placing consultants alone is hard to differentiate. My differentiator there, again, is my years of relationship building and industry knowledge. I know who does good work in all the nooks and crannies of my space and I know how to take a job order and make sure people are a fit, technically and otherwise. Some will still see this as ‘easy’ or a naked ‘contribution’ I make to their cause.

The experience also reminds me of a time when a company owed me a payment and tried to escape the responsibility by appealing to that fact that ‘I have savings’ or some such thing. To which I replied “Whether I need the payment to keep from starvation or not tomorrow may be evident, but my charities need it more than either one of us.” I don’t know how clever it was, but that’s what came out.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Rich Dad Education

I attended one of the Rich Dad Education “teaser” “seminars” in Dallas this week. My perspective in going was perhaps unique among the attendees. I give seminars and was interested in experiencing a small part of the RDE business model. I had no intention of buying anything beyond. I knew there would be selling involved, but this was old school 1980s hard sell, not unlike something you would find at a MLM seminar.

I can’t add much to what others have said about what happens at these seminars, except maybe from the perspective of the business model. I counted the people there and noted about how many signed up for the $500 training. Then, there’s the other training. It’s a good business model, if you choose to do business this way.

First of all, it was deceptive advertising that got the attendees out. The advertising did not say anything about real estate. It said they’d be teaching you “what the rich dads tell their children that the poor dads do not.” In looking around, and talking to my seated neighbors a bit, it was evident to me that these people were looking for a short cut in life. They were expecting a “rich man” to share his “secrets” with them tonight.

They probably would not come out to hear one of us who own one or a few measly properties. They fall for the over-the-top personality and star power of the mega-rich celebrity - even if one does say so themselves – people who would never have a cup of coffee with them.

Speaking of personality, this was a carefully crafted seminar, from the announcement of “we’re starting late due to traffic” (nothing unusual about the traffic that night) to herding us into the front seats (to establish their ability to control us) to the embarrassing “I’m learning to be rich” or some such message on our stickers. Nothing spontaneous about it. No questions allowed since “there’s so much information to share.” No audio or video allowed since “we’re giving away so much valuable intellectual property.” The speaker was Jessie Connors, whose claim to fame is she was on season one of The Apprentice. That, plus her attractive looks, were all that was needed to pull rank on most of the attendees and set up the intimidation from the start.
She showed pictures of her with celebrities – all byproducts of being on the show – and certainly intimidating to some. I can see Robert K. sitting at home watching The Apprentice and seeing his next “trainer.”

She slipped in many “offhand” comments that were clearly part of the act – that she didn’t attend college, spends time in Florida, Europe, wherever, that “you don’t want to look back and kick yourself”, “I started like this”, etc. Then, there was the repeated insincere flattery: “but you all know about that.”

Her favorite thing to do was to say something and then say “do you guys want an example?”. Then, act dumbfounded when someone chirped from row 3 “yes”. She acted like the whole audience just shouted “YES!” all at once. And then she proceeded to give the example she was going to give all along.

Now, people that get on The Apprentice are not simple. Her folksy act meant she was acting less smart than she is in order to have the people relate to her.

She even slipped in a reference to a Warren Buffet book. The believers in this audience will never be reading a Warren Buffet book so all she had to do was reference it and people would believe her message was similar to Warren’s. Nice!

Some people were buying the whole thing, believing she is super-smart in real estate. Folks, she was only throwing around some terms. If you have some charisma and spent 1 day with the head of education at RDE coaching you, you could GIVE that seminar. Remember, there were no questions she had to answer! She was just the speaker here.

But that is the problem, now isn’t it. These people going back to “buy now before the cost goes up” because we “usually do this just in blah, blah, blah, but we’re holding a special workshop in Dallas on ___” do not want to do what it really takes and are all too happy to turn over their dreams to anyone who says they will help them. They don’t want to READ. They don’t want to work. They don’t even want to research the internet before they plunk down $500 (the “cost of a TV” Jessie reminded us a few times.). And they don’t want to crawl (i.e., get 1 property) before they run (be ultra-rich).

Jessie said she had a lot of income property and gave some examples. This is just a hunch, but she could get away with NOT actually owning those properties. Now, I’m not saying there’s no property out there in her name, but if there is, there’s no proof she did it using the RD approach or that RDE didn’t deed it over to her to cover that base so she could do the seminars without lying too bad. Who knows?

No, I cannot say I took the $500 3-days of training (which, in reading posts on the internet seems like a waste) and you can say therefore I don’t know if it’s valuable, but I could say back that you also did not try this-or-that class to see if it is valuable also. I wouldn’t be looking for a tidbit or 2 of value, while sorting through the selling messages for 3 days, for my $500 and my 3 days of time.

I would advise:

1. Get past the idea that there’s a magic formula you haven’t tapped into and get mentally prepared to provide value to your fellow human beings for your return
2. Find out which, of the many ways there are to make it, will work best for YOU
3. Learn about money and ROI (by reading and self-study)
4. Assuming you’re looking into real estate, learn about real estate (by reading and self-study)
a. Whatever you’re looking into, find books, and people doing it who will help you, who are not into manipulation techniques (my book and advice for example if you're doing consulting)
5. Target 1 transaction that’s profitable
6. Repeat

Monday, January 4, 2010

Should I stay or should I grow now?

One of the major decisions an independent consultant entertains is whether to stick with a single, fulltime, lone-ranger client situation or focus on multi-person projects only. You can pursue both strategies at once if you have a flexible anchor client and are willing to work hard, but let’s face it, some leadership positions during intense project activity times require fulltime effort. So do some clients who may not have that level of need, but are only comfortable with that manner of working. So, should you take it/stay or go to pursue something bigger for your consultancy?

Some of the factors that should induce you to stay:

1. It is your business model – nothing wrong with that!
2. The client is local and you prefer your own bed
3. The technology to be used is an entry point to a career-enhancing opportunity
4. The prospect is an entry point into a career-enhancing industry.
5. The technology to be used is an entry point into a career-enhancing technology.
6. The client location is highly desirable, either from a personal standpoint or from a career-enhancing standpoint.
7. The application is an entry point into a career-enhancing application.
8. You see that the personal service you are providing can lead to multi-consultant services from your firm following this service.
9. The work is for a charity or a small firm doing good for society that you want to support.
10. Despite your best efforts following the direction of my book, you’ve been on the bench for longer than your comfort level

These are similar to the factors I present in chapter 7 of the book where I talk about when you would reduce your rate. This is no surprise since, for many, taking the lone-ranger situation is tantamount to reducing your (overall) rate by limiting your ability to grow multi-person projects.