Monday Consulting Questions: The Kick-Off

Although I don’t tend to refer to my company as a consulting business, other people do. And in truth a lot of what we do IS consulting. But I, being a software developer, always tend to think of Cogeian Systems primarily as a custom dev shop (I am working hard to turn us into a product shop; more on that another day).

Labels aside, the day-to-day business of running a small dev shop/consultancy can be very tricky. I get a lot of eMailed questions asking me how I do this, what I think about that, what I would do in situation X, and so on. I usually answer these eMails right away, but it occurred to me that by restricting the Q&A to eMail, a lot of people are missing out on what could be useful information. So, I’ve decided to do a weekly Q&A post. Every Monday I’ll post up three questions that have been posed to me at some point, and answer them. Here we go. . .

Q. What the hell does your company name mean, and how is it pronounced?
A. The fact that this question comes up so often is proof positive that I completely botched the naming of my company. I’ve got to be frank here, naming is important and I fear I’ve screwed up in this regard. I literally hear this question every day.

Although it sounds like one of those meaningless word names that are so popular today, my company name actually has a basis in a real word. The name Cogeian is derived from the word “cogent”, which means an intellectually compelling or powerful argument. So, with the “-ian” suffix attached to it, I imagine that it means “one who makes compelling points”. I pronounce it “ko-jee-ehn”.

I have to admit I was being an SAT-word-nerd when I came up with the name, but I’ve had it long enough that I’m not sure if I should change it or not. Are we losing business because people try to find the URL but can’t spell it? I don’t know. Are we losing out on business because people who might want to call are put off by the idea of mispronouncing the name and feeling embarrassed? I don’t know. If there are any naming consultants out there who want to talk to me about it, feel free to drop a line.

Q. How do you find clients?
A.This is probably the #2 question I get asked. It seems that client acquisition continues to be a problem for solo and small consultancies. I notice that my own client acquisition experiences tend to fall into three more-or-less equal categories. About a third of my new clients some from keeping my eyes open to random opportunity – things that pop up in a conversation with a stranger on a plane, a message board, a chance encounter in the library or at a barbecue. You have to be open to new people and situations in order for opportunities to present themselves. Another third of new clients come as the organic result of making friends with people in the business community and eventually working together on a project. And the final third of my new clients come from word-of-mouth referrals.

To be honest, I’m making a very good living and keeping my dev team busy with very little marketing effort. 100% of Cogeian’s clients give us repeat business, which is a big help. And when taking on a new client, I try to vet them carefully myself, to make sure they’re not one of the 11 bad types that we don’t want.

Q. If you had to start your business over, what would you do different?
A. Not sure with regard to the little, highly-granular things. But I can think of a few broad-stroke things that I’d do differently if I could. Not being able to plan my business launch was a big problem – I launched Cogeian Systems during the bust, when nobody was hiring devs. So, allow me to reframe the question as “what would you have done if you could have had everything your way?”. Ah, that’s a much easier question to answer:

  1. I’d have started saving money a year ahead of time.
  2. I’d have started networking more aggressively about 6 months out.
  3. I’d have started freelancing as a side venture, but on a very limited basis. Not enough to impact my day job, but just enough to aid me in 1 and 2, above.
  4. I’d have gotten counseling from marketing professionals before launch.
  5. I’d have gotten counseling from a lawyer before launch.
  6. I’d have consulted an accountant before launch.

The #1 complaint I have about the way I’ve operated my business is that I’ve learned everything about running a business late and in-process. Now, given the circumstances of Cogeian Systems’ birth, this is understandable and I don’t beat myself up about it too much. Still, it bothers me, and in some ways the business is still feeling the ripple effect of the rough launch.

I’ve often been told that it is impressive that I’ve managed to build up my firm to its current level given my less-than-decent launch circumstances. I don’t think I’ve done anythign differently than all the other smart, motivated developers who suddenly found themselves out of work and needing to survive. Still, I choose to take it as a compliment. I just hope it’s not a way of saying that nobody expected much from me. 😉

More Q&A next Monday.

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