Dean Barber

A Mercenary’s Manifesto

In Uncategorized on February 12, 2012 at 7:41 am

The late New York columnist, Murray Kempton, described editorial writers “as partisan fighters who come down from the hills after the battle and shoot the wounded.”

I first heard that appropriate description many years ago when I was the business editor and a columnist for The Birmingham News. The point is that it is so easy, too easy, to criticize and find fault in the work and efforts of others.

That was a former life. Afterward, I would go from one vaunted craft to another – economic development.

Now, I hold myself out as a consultant.  That takes a degree of hutzpah, not just for the entrepreneurial aspect of starting a business – there is always blind courage involved here – but for the fact that I might actually have something to offer to people who might be willing to pay for it.

Still, I cannot help but recall a quote from Groucho Marx: “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”

I Am What I Am

A consultant, you see, must get past or submerge any nagging self doubts. You must be humble (you often don’t know what you don’t know) and yet you truly must believe that you can bring true value and solutions to a client organization that hires you temporarily to fulfill a certain mission or task.

To that end, make no mistake about it, I am a hireling, a contract worker. Based on my experience and expertise, I am to do the bidding, the analysis and legwork for a company considering a best location or locations for future operations. That is my site selection consulting business in a nutshell.

As anyone who has been to my website knows, I will also assist, aid and counsel economic development organization that may need help in honing it what it does. This is also a business enterprise, another facet of what I do to earn a living. Both the corporate side and the economic development side are very fun and satisfying, especially when you know you have made a difference and brought true value to the client.

I have found that corporate clients instinctively understand my profit motives – my business model – more clearly than some (and I underscore some) economic development organizations. Other consultants have confided in me the same thing.

Companies seem to get it – they understand that I am in business, that I am, in fact, there for them to fulfill a specific mission or task. Site selection, if done right, takes a degree of expertise that is typically not found in house. This is where I can step in and provide the “secret sauce,” as one knowledgeable consultant who I met last week so aptly put it.

You Get What You Pay For

But curiously, some economic development organizations, a small minority to be sure, will ask that I provide services and any parting knowledge at no cost. And I have on occasion complied when it hasn’t cost me too much in time and money. I have traveled without reimbursement to communities at the bequest of the local economic developer for a brief tour. I have spoken to groups for no charge, but this is the exception rather than the rule.

Most of the time, I am constrained from doing that. So it pains me to some degree to have to explain that I would like to help, that I believe, in fact, that I could help, but that I am a fee-for-service kinda guy, and that Barber Business Advisors, LLC, is a for-profit business.

So when communities a thousand miles from my home invite me to a “fam tour” but will not cover travel expenses, my response is, “Thank you for the invitation, but this is just not a practical thing for me to do. I simply cannot spend my money in this manner to learn about your community. I’m sorry.”

Now, if during the course of a site selection project, I were to find myself in a community, well, that’s all very well and good. But keep in mind, that I am paid to be there and for an exact purpose.

He Talks, He Writes, He Charges

By the same token, I cannot offer presentations for free. By virtue of the fact that I am being asked to speak would indicate there must be some value on what I might have to say. But do you really expect me to travel to your community and share my ideas at no cost? Again, not practical, much less profitable.

I came to learn these things as an economic developer when I was repeatedly being turned down by consulants to come to my community and essentially give me their time  and knowledge for free. It took me awhile, because I can be slow, to figure out that I had to make it worth their while for them to come to me.

I remember one very accomplished site selection consultant that we paid to come to our region. He gave an excellent Powerpoint presentation about his philosophy and methods concerning site selection to a group of assembled economic developers. But afterward, he refused to provide us with a copy of his presentation. I understand that now more than I did then. I do not fault him.

Now as a consultant, I have come to realize that I am in the information and ideas business. It’s what I do. It’s what I am paid to do. The loss-leader concept doesn’t play well here. In short, I cannot give away the store even if I wanted to.

Certain website publishers and business magazine editors have asked that I write for them for free. They either want to republish my blog, which I spend considerable time on, for free or they want me to write an article for them at no cost. (Note to editors: This blog is for sale.)

“You’ll get so much more publicity,” they say.

Right. I think I’m going to try that with a local chef and see how it works. You come to my house, cook me and my wife a wonderful meal, at no cost, of course, and I will publicize the fact that your restaurant offers great food. Yea, that’s the ticket.

Please Look Me Up

Being that I am in Dallas, which is a hub of sorts for site selection consultants, I am continually being visited by economic developers from all over the country. This coming week, I will be meeting with a group from Florida. I truly enjoy these meetings and learning about their respective regions and communities and what they are doing.

I like and want to establish new relationships and rekindle old ones. If you have a trip planned to Dallas, please let me know.  I would like to meet you and learn more about what you are doing. And despite the fact that I am a bit restricted on what I can offer, we can nonetheless have a productive and friendly conversation. In fact, I would welcome that.

Beyond the Contract

Providing real, in-depth strategic value to a client is what I am about. The term “mercenary” rightly so has negative connotations. It might imply that a consultant is only in it for the money and does not care about the client or the quality of the services provided but is merely going through the motions to accomplish a certain task or contract. That’s not me.

We want to get it done right so that you might turn to me in the future for another project. So it goes well beyond the contract. This goes to the matter of trust. And this is an area where some consultants get in trouble.

It’s true, the money is important. The money is what sustains the business, but the business must be grounded in trust by providing great value. That is my manifesto. That is what I stand for.

If a client says afterward, “well done,” and if the job has proved to be profitable, then I have met my goal. I am serving my client and serving myself, so that I can continue in business to serve others and possibly that same client again.

I hope my words do not sound too harsh. I merely want to educate some that what is sometimes being asked for cannot be provided. I do like economic developers. Heck, I was one for many years. Corporate clients, well, I tend to like them even more. (That was a joke.)

Why Am I Here?

But I think it is probably important that every consultant come to terms with why they are in business, why they are doing what they are doing. That might sound on the face of it rather ridiculous, but I believe it’s true. It is the foundation to having any sort of business plan. Why am I here?

And while I do not speak for all consultants, nor would ever attempt to, my mercenary manifesto may hit home with some. If it does, well, I’m glad. If it doesn’t ring true, well, come up with your own.

And for all my prospective clients out there, well, you now know that this consultancy of mine is a business proposition with a profit motive. (Come on, you knew that all along.) But I hope you also understand that I hold certain core beliefs about providing true value.

It’s an absolute fact. I am a contract worker, a hireling, a mercenary, but I still want to do good. I still want to do the right thing. Or I am out of business.

Need a partner in results-oriented site selection? Contact Dean Barber at 972-890-3733 or at dbarber@barberadvisors.com Barber Business Advisors, LLC, is a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas. Please visit our website at www.barberadvisors.com

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