March Madness

Gulch_HeaderMarch is one of my favorite months.  There are several reasons for this, but the primary one is that it contains my favorite holiday.  No, it is not St. Patrick’s Day.  That prize goes to the Ides of March. I recognize that the Ides of March is not really an official holiday.  I can tell this because the US postal workers do not get the day off (unless of course March 15 happens to fall on a weekend). The banking industry – seemingly incapable of any original thinking – slavishly follows suit.  The most significant indicator that the Ides of March has not made it into the pantheon of holidays is that Hallmark has not yet capitalized on the significance of the day.  Nevertheless, I celebrate it religiously and each year when it rolls around I know that I am destined for a day of prosperity and good fun.

I suppose I should mention that my wife warned me not to write this article, much less post it to the Forum on my website.  She is a woman of temperate habits, cheerful disposition, and sound judgment and I follow her advice implicitly.  To date, she has been universally supportive of my publishing efforts.  To have her suddenly withdraw that encouragement filled me – at least initially – with more than a little foreboding.  Nevertheless, John insists that this is an important next step for Parnassus Analytics and he being the expert, I really must defer to his advice.  “Who is John?” you ask.  John is a BI industry colleague and the President of JGCG, Inc.  He is also presently a business mentor for my firm.

I met John during a breakout session at a BI conference some years back. This was my first time at an industry convention in spite of the fact that I had been consulting for many years.  John is a regular at these forums and has attracted a large following.  Consequently, a significant number of his industry colleagues – many of them very well known in that arena – were in the room that day.  I remember that Mark Brutus was there, as was Trebon from IUS Associates.  Cymber Casca from Metellus Consulting sat in as well, and I recall that Lee Garius from the Cassius Group attended that year.  Everyone seemed to know each other personally, but most of the participants deferred to John.  That was not without cause, of course, because he is extremely personable, one might almost say charismatic.   I was the newcomer to the circle and John put me instantly at ease.  In no time I was a contributing member of that august gathering.

It was the beginning of a long professional relationship.  We have stayed in touch over the years and I would like to think that I have become part of his select following.  He has been a veritable font of advice and encouragement for me personally, and I have been gratified as our friendship flourished to watch his firm prosper over the years.  I think it was in 2010 that Mark made his brief move to JGCG.  I know for certain that the merger with Metellus Consulting occurred in 2011, although Cymber disappeared from the industry soon afterward.  Therefore, it seemed only natural that I should reach out to John when I struck out on my own in 2012 and hung up my shingle as Parnassus Analytics.

Actually, John seemed to be aware of my decision almost before the ink was dry on the incorporation papers.  He called me the next day to congratulate me and offer some advice for the independent practitioner.  I must confess that he was none too keen on my choice of name.

“It’s just too flowery, Steve, too poetic or something,” he said.  “Hell, nobody’s going to know what a Parnassus even is.”

“They could Google it, couldn’t they?” I asked meekly.

“Steve, nobody has time – let alone the inclination – to look up unfamiliar words, especially if they aren’t business words.  My advice is to pick random letters.  They don’t even have to stand for anything.  For instance, XIT Analytics or The ZDR Group sound professional and they have crackle.  People won’t care that they don’t know what the initials stand for because nobody can ever remember them anyway.  See?”

“Yeah, I guess that makes sense.  I wish I had thought of that sooner.  Unfortunately, I have already filed the paperwork and ordered business cards.  I can’t afford to go back and do it all again.”

“Well, suit yourself, Steve.  There’s no point in crying over spilled milk, I suppose.  Still, it seems like a perfectly witless way for a bright fellow like you to be starting out.”

After such an initial blunder, I made it a point to seek advice from John before making key business decisions.  I was astonished at how naïve my business instincts were and how flawed my logic. For months I seemed incapable of managing even the simplest situation and I despaired of ever exhibiting even marginally sound judgment.  It was providential to have such an experienced counselor in my corner.  That was no more apparent than on the day we had the conversation about billing rates.  The incredulity in his voice belied his natural charm.

“You are charging what?” he shouted. “You are a top flight consultant and you are charging that?  Steve, your rate should be three times that.  These are contractor rates.  For goodness sake get the pudding out of your head.”

“But John, my firm is still relatively unknown.  The brand has no recognition yet.  When starting out in a highly competitive market, conventional wisdom suggests that I may have to win a few clients on price until I establish a reputation.”

“Poppycock!  Conventional wisdom is wrong and I am beginning to wonder if there isn’t a village somewhere that’s missing its idiot.  If you want people to value your time, they need to see from your rate that your time has value.  Not only that, they need to realize that you can deliver more value in five minutes than the average schmoe can in an hour.  The rate is your way to accomplish that.  Low five’s, Steve.  Low five’s.”

This was a difficult lesson for me, and it didn’t merely slow down the rate at which I was signing new clients; it brought business development to a lifeless standstill. Business was so dead that I double-checked to be certain that the company tag line did not read “Inspired Leprosy.” But if there is one thing that I had learned from John it was the need for patience.  Well, the need for patience and insurance.

“Of course I have insurance, John.  I have an umbrella policy. It was the first thing I did.”

“No, no, no.  I don’t mean liability insurance.  Of course you have that.  I’m talking about a life insurance policy with the company as beneficiary.”

“Why would Parnassus Analytics need a policy on my life?”

“Because Parnassus Analytics is you, Steve.  You are the brand.  Your clients come to Parnassus Analytics because of you.”

“Well, not lately…” I began.

“If anything should happen to you, it would take a great deal for the firm to recover”

“If anything were to happen to me, why would it matter in the slightest to the firm at that point?”

“Because it would matter to your clients.”

“What clients?”

John ignored my observation.  “It’s just good business, Steve.  Protect your firm so that your firm can protect your clients.  Seven million dollars is the lowest it should be.”

I admit that my ego approved of his logic despite my simple-minded inclination not to buy into it.  And I still had some lingering doubts about the soundness of John’s advice later on.  The monthly premium was a challenge, particularly given the paucity of clients after I raised my rates.  Still, I knew that my patience would be rewarded if I stayed the course and looked to the advice of a seasoned business Sensei like John.

Staying the course was difficult and I faltered once by taking a client at a significantly reduced rate.  Not only that, I declined to recommend a specific BI platform for the client.  Instead, I led them through an impartial selection process that addressed their specific requirements.  My client was delighted with the results, but John sounded distinctly disappointed in me.

“Don’t you understand what you just did, Steve?”

“Yes, John, I do.  I thrilled my client.”

“Of course they’re thrilled.  They received your services practically for free.  Who wouldn’t be thrilled?  In the first place, you could have made substantially more money by recommending the platform right off the bat and then taken the commission from the vendor.  Instead, you threw away the commission (along with the vendor relationship) and still sold yourself to the client like a common street trollop.”

“Gosh, John.  I’m sorry.  I see what you mean, though.  The client might have been just as satisfied had I done it the other way.”

“Exactly.  In addition, they would probably have purchased additional bells and whistles (think bigger commission) instead of confining themselves to just their requirements.  Clients like things that go ding and tweet if you don’t teach them otherwise, and you can bill for the time.”

I have to say this for John.  He has stuck right there with me.  In fact, he has been there for me all the way right up to the end.  The end is at midnight tomorrow morning, March 15.  At that time, Parnassus Analytics will officially become part of JGCG, Inc.  The paperwork is signed and the transfer will occur automatically.

I never did have another client after the software selection debacle.  The insurance premiums have continued to drain the remaining resources, leaving the company with a negative P&L for the third straight quarter.  Still, John promises to keep the Parnassus Analytics brand alive, at least for a while.  JGCG will assume the modest debt, which amounts to only a few hundred dollars.  Of course, they will retain all of the assets including the considerable library of intellectual property. I don’t know what will happen to this blog site. I know John has disapproved of it from the beginning, but maybe he will find another home for the articles.  Who knows?  In the end, though, he has encouraged me to make this final post in these pages.  It is a shame that he won’t have an opportunity to review it before I publish.

So there it is.  I begin work as a Principal Consultant at JGCG, Inc. on Monday morning.  But in the meantime, John has come out to Sequim for the weekend to show that there are no hard feelings.  We will meet for breakfast in the morning and then disappear up into the Olympic Mountains for a day of hiking.  With all the snow, it should be most exhilarating.  John mentioned something about a particular gulch he wanted us to visit.  Inexplicably, my wife has entreated me to stay close to home tomorrow.   I can tell that she is definitely worried about something. I shall have to ask her what is on her mind when I get back.  In the meantime, you may wish to check out my new firm. You can learn everything you need to know at J Galt Consulting Group.

2 thoughts on “March Madness

  1. Jill Dyche says:

    Wow, I’d never even heard of JGCG before…my former consulting firm never ran up against them in competitive situations. Now I know why. Great post, Steve. (And your wife is a wise woman.)

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