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  • 24-Feb-2015 11:21 AM | Steve Royal (Administrator)

    Interview by David Powe, write-up by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

    John FooteCharter RPCN member John Foote recalls the organization's early days with affection. "In forming RPCN, we did meet in homes, and I happened to be at the one where the first set of officers was being worked out," he said. "I think some of the early people all wanted to be president, and the decision of who would be on the first slate became very contentious. My recollection is that most of the 'chief wanna-be's' who didn't get to be officers dropped out early thereafter." 

    According to Foote, Roger Vickery, who eventually served as president, "worked extremely hard on behalf of the organization. Our early speakers included leaders from many local businesses, government units and educational organizations. Roger was a class act."
     
    Nowadays, Foote works as an Enrolled Agent, preparing taxes and representing clients before state and federal tax agencies. His consulting business, Expert Tax Group and Accounting Specialist, stopped accepting new clients a few years ago.
     
    In Foote's eyes, RPCN served two primary functions: giving businesses access to skilled consultants and giving consultants a resource for growth and information. "RPCN provided bright, knowledgeable, competent professionals who could serve as a support group. It was a place to grow while not working as an employee," he said.

    One of his own presentations was a great example of how the organization focused on helping its members while giving them visibility for their own skills and services. "At the time, I had just begun to prepare taxes, and the organization asked me to give a tax update early in 1990, at one of our first meetings. That talk became the Annual Tax Update Seminar. Our goal with this annual talk has been to have every member who has knowledge in the tax arena be part of the panel giving the seminar."
     
    Foote appreciates the fact that participating in the organization gave his consulting business access to clients within RPCN. "Over the years, several members have become clients - and these professionals have served as a solid base for the business," he said. "RPCN is owed a huge 'thank you' for this."
     
    Foote offers advice to colleagues based on his view of how businesses and society as a whole work together. "Society uses business to provide goods and services that are improvements over the past or at a lower price; both, if possible," he explained - a successful consultant will keep that in mind. "Professionally, plan for working on what you enjoy doing; treat everyone with the same respect you would like to receive; become an expert and embrace technology. In my years of tax preparation, it has become that evident computer knowledge is increasing and will be taking over more and more routine decisions, so plan your career around this."
     
    Looking back at the early days of RPCN, "It is difficult to believe 25 years have gone by so fast," said Foote.



  • 28-Jan-2015 2:01 PM | Steve Royal (Administrator)

    Interview by David Powe, write-up by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

    RPCN charter member Dan Hedberg celebrated a milestone - turning "75 years old or young" - on the day he responded to a request for his recollections of the founding of the organization 25 years ago.

    Dan Hedberg"Five to seven of us, mostly early retirees from Kodak, Xerox and Bausch and Lomb, met at an event at the Industrial Management Council (IMC) and got to talking about the number of early retirements that were occurring and what would be happening over the next few years," Hedberg recalled. "Most of us were looking to make connections and look into other kind of work or service. We also suspected that many more would be in this same boat as we were - wondering what the next chapter was."

    For the RPCN founders, the question was whether there was "life after the 'big box factory' and what would it be - another job or starting a business or consulting or something else," Hedberg said. "None of us was quite ready for the rocking chair, so we decided to meet on a regular basis, at different people's houses, to discuss this opportunity. We all felt strongly that we ought to form some sort of group that could help people primarily coming out of the Big 3 to make the transition into their next chapter." RPCN was the result.

    Deciding to find a place that was bigger than a home and could accommodate a large number of people, the group "eventually ended up at Brighton Town Hall for regular monthly meetings," he said. "We did some strategic planning and put together some information about ourselves - a brochure to explain what the group was all about - and each of us started to apply our expertise to the newly formed organization called the Rochester Professional Consultants Network (RPCN)."

    Having worked as an organizational development consultant at Kodak, Hedberg focused on training packages to help those who wanted to go into consulting work. He was very active in the early days. As his business picked up, he slowly phased out of RPCN.

    Hedberg has had a lengthy, successful career as a consultant. "Over the past 25 years, I formed, launched and operated my consulting business as Monad Associates and worked as a leadership consultant in the Rochester area," he said. "Leadership is my passion. I've worked with many businesses, educational institutions, health care institutions and government agencies throughout the Greater Rochester region. For a number of years, I was a facilitator for some training programs at IMC and now with the Rochester Business Alliance (RBA) and currently Leadership Greece." 

    Nowadays, Hedberg is slowly phasing out of the consulting business, not that he's slowing down much. "I'm playing more and more golf, traveling to different places and spending time with family and friends," he said. "I've been a Greece Rotarian for 13 years; a board member with Camp Haccamo, in connection with the Sunshine Campus - working with kids and young adults having special needs; and heavily involved in many projects with my church (Our Mother of Sorrows)."

    Asked about the key to success for colleagues, Hedberg emphasized "networking and making connections," something where his RPCN involvement was a huge factor. "These are key in growing a business, especially a consulting business," he said. He sums up what he learned from his RPCN and business experiences as: "Be positive, patient and persistent with your work and always be proactive while being focused."

    Hedberg's advice to colleagues who are still in the consulting role is to "continue honing your expertise, whatever it is. Learn as much as you can about the 5 Ws and H of consulting: What, Why, Who, When, Where and How. Develop a List of Masters for yourself - connections to the five to seven gurus in your field of expertise whom you continue to learn from." His gurus for the leadership niche would be Peter Block, W. Edwards Deming, Peter Senge, Stephen Covey, John Bennet, John Kotter, James Kouzes and Barry Posner.

    Hedberg recommends Flawless Consulting by Peter Block as a valuable resource for those still building their consulting businesses. He still has some training packages on consulting that he would be happy to share, along with more than 250 summaries of management and leadership books that he would be willing to share with anyone who might be interested. Contact him at monadassoc@aol.com or (585) 865-1453.

  • 23-Dec-2014 1:11 PM | Steve Royal (Administrator)

    Interview by David Powe, write-up by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

    Bob Boser, one of the founding RPCN members, recalls that "RPCN grew out of a Kodak reduction in force. Several professionals left together with the idea of building a business with their professional skills. They realized that they did not have all of the requisite skills and decided to work together to build those skills. The intent was to learn together, network and provide a supportive environment for each other."

    Bob BoserNo longer a consultant, Boser is currently director of Business Excellence at Janssen Supply Group, LLC (part of Johnson & Johnson) in the Greater Philadelphia Area. His background includes more than 30 years experience in business improvement, including deployment of Lean, Six Sigma and Design Excellence methodologies. He is a Certified Master Black Belt (Johnson & Johnson) with a MS in Applied Statistics; Engineering Fellow (J&J); Certified Program Leader in Kepner-Tregoe Problem Solving and Decision Making; and Certified Quality Engineer (American Society for Quality). He has taught and mentored hundreds of Green Belts, Black Belts and Master Black Belts in use of Process Excellence methodologies, resulting in millions of dollars in savings.

    Boser is a PE Deployment Leader in medical device, pharma and biopharma businesses. His experience includes three years  in the United Kingdom and European Union.

    Boser was a quality improvement consultant from 1989-1992, with a business called QualityWorks through which he managed and delivered consulting and training services to help clients plan and implement their total quality management programs. He provided technical assistance to help improve and control client processes, and designed and delivered customized training to all organizational levels. His consulting clients included Austro Mold, Bausch and Lomb Inc., Eastman Kodak Co., Garlock Inc., IEC, Labelon Corp., Mobil Chemical Co., and Xerox Corp.
    Being involved with RPCN helped Boser in his career in a number of ways. "It taught me simple communication skills for business," he said. "In the early days of email, with no websites or social media, I learned collaboration and RPCN provided a support network. It taught me about business structure."

    Asked about the advice he would offer to today's RPCN members, Boser said, "Maximize your opportunity in RPCN to develop the necessary skills of business and consulting, especially meeting client needs, networking and understanding how to run a business. Develop, learn and grow professionally.

  • 25-Nov-2014 11:46 AM | Steve Royal (Administrator)

    Interview by David Powe; editing by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

    As RPCN prepares to celebrate 25 years in 2015, RPCN board member David Powe talked with charter - and first female - member Chris Leavitt about her recollections of how the organization began, what makes a good consultant and more. Here are highlights of the conversation.

    Q: What do you remember about how the organization came into being?

    A: I would not be surprised if Dave Young got the thing going, but it was composed of seven Kodak guys initially. Ted Fraser recruited me on a plane where we were both going to consulting gigs. I think John Foote joined at just about the same time. Other founding or early members I can remember were Roger Vickery, a computer guy and a marketing guy, and I think Dave Young.
     
    Chris LeavittWe met in homes and sat in a circle talking about how the consulting game worked. No one had a realistic idea - they thought all consultants worked like Kodak consultants and all logistics were worked like those at Kodak. Discussions were often very unrealistic. As each mirrored the other, there was no telling them anything for a long time. I almost dropped out, but I really liked John and Roger, so I stuck it out with them.

    Basically, it started with Roger Vickery's excellent leadership skills as the second president.
     
    I could hardly ever get a word in edgewise, not being as loud nor as persistent as a room full of guy "experts," so I stayed quiet except with Roger and John.
     
    After we got a "constitution," we began to get organized and John and Roger pretty much put the squeeze on me to run for VP, which was also the Program chair. I was pretty scared, but did it anyway, and it proved to be a wonderful experience (I was guaranteed that I would not have to be president). I learned how to work in a room full of men, all of whom saw themselves as experts in their field, which back then was almost all quality.
     
    I found the Brighton Town Hall as a possible meeting place, and Dave Young had a contact there. Most of the guys felt it was beneath their high level to meet there, but when they found out that other choices would cost money, they soon changed their minds. It worked out just fine at Brighton Town Hall.
     
    Our meetings soon grew from the seven or nine original members to 20, 25 and 40 members, and then more and more. We had swell meetings with really neat speakers and gained lots of information. We had a lot of fun.
     
    After serving that one year, it was time for me to take care of my business. Soon I was not able to attend meetings, as I was often working on those days. Eventually I attended again and realized RPCN was a swell way to meet working consultants who I could subcontract with to work gigs for me. I would be working on Thursday and someone was somewhere else in the state, working for me. I split their fee 60/40. Since they were charging $800-$1,000, I was earning a nice amount while also earning 100% on my own. Those were golden days.
     
    Along the way, I made hundreds of new friends. I always tried to network with and help them, including introducing them to RPCN. RPCN was frequently full of recently outplaced groups of Kodak employees, but there were always working consultants quietly lurking about. It was wise to be professional all the way round, as those working consultants were there scouting for people to hire also.
     
    I always regarded RPCN highly.
     
    What are you doing now?

    I am more than happily retired.

    How did the RPCN help you in your career?

    Mostly by helping me find good people to hire. I also developed leadership skills and lots of self-confidence by working with lots of guys in suits with loud voices. The real consultants always wore suits. They were quiet and never the "expert voice"; just sitting and quietly listening.

    What advice do you have for our members today (new consultants or experienced consultants)?

    Always stay professional - people are observing you and possibly thinking of hiring you. Once you make up your mind to consult, it is imperative that you not take a "real" job. That will end your career as a consultant forever. People want to know that their consultant is going to remain a consultant. Make up your mind that you are a consultant or you are not. Consulting is not a place to sit temporarily while looking for a permanent job with a company.
     
    Once you accept a gig, you must finish it - never accept a better-paying gig until you have served the first request. First is first, period. I have known consultants to turn down a $1,000 gig to fulfill a $120 commitment. That was how it always worked.
     
    Model yourself after the person you most admire - notice their great traits and copy them.
     
    Don't lie, don't be greedy and - most of all - listen.

  • 31-Oct-2014 11:16 AM | Steve Royal (Administrator)

    By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter , RPCN Communication Committee

    The RPCN's current president could be said to have a patent on being an entrepreneur - his consulting business helps people patent their inventions.

    Dave Bassett, president of Bassett IP Strategies and Bassett Business Strategies in Macedon, NY (operating under the umbrella of Bassett Statistical Company LLC), worked as a chemical engineer for about 16 years in a wide range of areas - environmental design and compliance (air and wastewater), mixing, blow molding, screen printing, process control, and plant utilities - before starting his own business. He also has developed software for petroleum exploration and has a background in biomedical, reactions and semiconductors.

    Bassett's business, he said, helps inventors "in several areas but is primarily focused on patent application development and patent prosecution. BBS helps companies with business plans and strategic planning." He launched the business in 2005.

    Here is a video interview with Bassett. Find out how the RPCN has been beneficial for his business and his own professional development.
    Dave Bassett Interview

    Looking for a change from engineering, "I obtained an MBA in 2004 - I finished first in Simon's EDP program - and several of my classmates asked me to help them with projects at their companies," he recalled. "I started out focusing on business strategy and shifted to a focus on patenting." He had some experience in that activity: "I'd taken the patent bar exam in 2003 and had done some work for a local attorney as well." Originally, 75 percent of his business involved strategy; now, patenting makes up about 80 percent.
       
    "I specialize in working with small businesses and individual inventors - the sorts of clients that really can use assistance but often don't have the resources to work with the 'big boys,'" Bassett explained. "My company has very low overhead and that, combined with my being a patent agent rather than a patent attorney, can really help keep project costs down. For matters between an inventor and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (such as developing and submitting a patent application and prosecuting it to issue), an agent is equivalent to an attorney. Agents don't get involved in third-party matters; for example, we don't draft contracts for licensing agreements."
       
    Bassett retains a love of learning, and his consulting business makes it possible to indulge that. "If given my druthers, were I to hit the lottery, I would probably become a professional student," he said. "The nice thing about my job is that, in a way, I already am. A large part of my job is to have an inventor describe his or her invention to me and for me to learn about it well enough to describe it on paper to a patent examiner."
        
    Bassett would be glad to hear from anyone in the RPCN with an inventive streak. "If you think you may have a patentable idea or would simply like to know more about the patenting process, I'd be happy to meet and discuss it," he said. "Due to my background as a chemical engineer and having worked in many areas of the field, I have a broad range of projects with which I can help clients."
       
    Like many RPCN members, Bassett works from a home office and is the sole member of his company, although "I do work with other small business owners when projects exceed my expertise and/or bandwidth," he said. "How that work gets divided will depend upon the project."
       
    Also like many colleagues, Bassett finds clients, and clients find him, primarily through word of mouth - through associates and client referrals. "I do get some from the Internet," he said. "I typically present two to three times a year at seminars, which also helps. I expect that I will upgrade my website and marketing efforts when my current term as RPCN president is completed."
       
    Bassett joined the RPCN in 2007 or 2008, and has found it to be beneficial for his business and his own professional development. "I've gotten to know many people across a wide range of professions," he said. "I have worked on projects with several RPCN members; I have also used the RPCN as a sounding board to help solve issues that come up in my business. The RPCN has been a source (both direct and via referral) of new clients for me. I've also had several opportunities to give presentations, which have helped hone my speaking skills."

    Becoming president of the RPCN didn't happen overnight for Bassett. He's been active in the organization since he first joined. That's part of his makeup, in fact. "I'm not really sure how or why, but since I've been in Rochester (19 years and counting!), I've always gotten involved in the organizations I belong to," he said. "I've been secretary and treasurer of the Rochester section of the AIChE (chemical engineering society); I'm going into my seventh year as treasurer for a campground I belong to; I've coached youth hockey for over a decade; and I was treasurer of the RPCN for four years before becoming Michael Van der Gaag's VP. I've been helping out these groups for so long, it tends to feel very strange not to be helping out."
     
    It might seem as if running a business and being so involved in the RPCN would be enough for Bassett, but he also is involved with a small group of local entrepreneurs - the Independent Entrepreneur's Council - is a member of the National Association of Patent Practitioners and recently rejoined the Wayne County Business Council.
       
    Being so involved in the RPCN has had plenty of rewards for Bassett. "I've met a lot of interesting and accomplished people that I wouldn't have met without being a part of RPCN. I believe in the mission of RPCN and it feels good to help it accomplish the goals that support it," he said.
       
    The organization helps its members in a myriad of ways. "The most readily visible are our tech and business forums," he said. "They are de facto think tanks, and members (and guests) get a lot of good insight from them. Our morning speaker programs provide relevant current information that people need to run their businesses. Our TrendTalks give people opportunities to meet community leaders in various important sectors. We have educational events such as the Consultants Boot Camp and full-day conferences; the next ones are scheduled for this spring.
       
    "We also provide members access to other members who have complementary skills that might be necessary to land a client or complete a project. Our website gives members the opportunity to post opportunities for members. We have alliances with other organizations and are working to expand those alliances to give members more exposure and a greater network of people to help our members meet their own professional goals. And that's just off the top of my head."
       
    The RPCN also recognizes that consultants can feel cut off from the social aspects of the business world, Bassett noted. In response, "we provide people who have lost that 'water cooler' that is found in a big company the opportunity to network and socialize, both at our regular meetings and at events like the Surprise Thursdays and picnics and other primarily social events."

    In short, Bassett said, "with RPCN, you get a tremendous amount of value for your $95 annual membership fee. The more involved you get with RPCN, the greater value you will get back - your personal network will broaden and you'll demonstrate how talented you are to our 100 or so members. If you'd like to become more involved, let us know; we'd love to have your help."

    To see how to get more involved, check out Bassett's column in this issue of the RPCN newsletter.


    Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is a freelance writer, editor, proofreader and speaker whose motto is "I can write about anything!"™ She is also the owner of Communication Central (www.communication-central.com), which hosts a conference for communications entrepreneurs in the fall.



  • 30-Sep-2014 11:18 AM | Steve Royal (Administrator)

    By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, RPCN Communication Committee

    Sandra "Sandy" Glanton is a relative newcomer to consulting, but a seasoned RPCN member who is finding the consultant's lifestyle to be satisfying and promising. Glanton's business is Projects Accomplished! She uses the title Managing Consultant for herself.

    Here is a video interview with Glanton in which you wil find out how RPCN helped her to start her consulting business.


    Sandy Glanton


    Through her business, she said, "I help my clients identify and articulate their project requirements; guide clients through requirements analysis and project planning to decide how to proceed; and provide project management scheduling and other project support services, such as financial management, resource planning, etc., to individual business owners or small to large companies," Glanton said. "I also help my clients identify and articulate their technical documentation and training requirements; guide clients through requirements analysis and planning to decide how to proceed with the technical documentation and/or training development; and provide technical documentation development and delivery to individual business owners or small to large companies."

    Glanton filed her DBA in May 2014. She works from her home in Walworth, NY. So far, she has been doing all the work herself.

    In starting and maintaining her consulting business, Glanton can draw on substantial experience in the corporate sector, as well as volunteer work in the community. "I had been a professional in corporate America for many years, starting directly out of college," she said. "When I was let go due to downsizing, I embarked on some volunteer projects with The August Group (TAG) and the Pancreatic Cancer Association of Western NY (PCAWNY) while I networked and looked for work. I began contract work for a colleague/friend as a technical writer earlier this year." From that came her consulting business.

    Becoming a consultant was not a surprising move for Glanton - she had considered consulting on her own for many years and had acted in a version of the consulting capacity even while working in-house. It helped that "I was an internal consultant in several of my corporate positions," she said. "Starting to provide some of these services as a volunteer for TAG and RPCN, and as a service provider for my current client, convinced me that I should start my own consulting business." Attending an RPCN Entrepreneur's Boot Camp and joining RPCN also came in handy: "I joined RPCN in early 2012 when I signed up for the first Boot Camp Class that Bob Lurz conducted at High Tech Rochester," she recalled.

    Even before officially launching her business, Glanton got involved in RPCN on more than a "checkbook" level. "A friend and colleague whom I knew through TAG and RPCN asked me if I would be interested in filling the newly vacated position of secretary on the RPCN board," she said. That was in August 2013. "I said I would attend the next board meeting, which was in September 2013, and give it a try. I could then decide if I was interested and the board could make a decision after I wrote up the September 2013 board minutes. The rest is history."

    Her volunteer activities have paid off not only in the satisfaction of providing a service, but in drawing business to her business: Glanton's current client found her through her involvement with TAG Career Fairs as project manager and Career Fair Planning Team chair, and as board secretary of RPCN.

    Even early in the life of her consultancy, Glanton is adjusting and fine-tuning the focus of her consulting business. "If you had asked me a year or two ago about what my business offerings would be, I would have said that the services would all center around project management," she explained. "Because my first job for my current client was focused on my technical writing and technical training development skills, though, I decided to expand my offerings to include those skills as well."

    RPCN is not Glanton's only organizational involvement. She has remained active in PCAWNY, currently serving as Fundraising chair on the PCAWNY executive board. "This is a grassroots organization whose mission is near and dear to my heart, since my cousin passed away from pancreatic cancer five years ago at the age of 57," she said. "PCAWNY has contributed approximately $230,000 to the Wilmot Cancer Center to fund pancreatic cancer research in the last four years."

    She is also a member of the Project Management Institute (PMI) at the international and local level and has been a member for the last three years.

    Being more involved with RPCN this past year has exposed Glanton to a lot more of the help and skills of various members, she said.

    Among the RPCN resources that Glanton finds more useful is the website. "The RPCN website helps members in a variety of ways," she said. "It supplies information on upcoming RPCN events and informational talks; board meetings and subsequent minutes and actions; various business topics and opportunities posted by other members; and about, and profiles of, other RPCN members. It gives potential clients a method of finding you and your potential services via the Member Directory."

    The greatest benefit of RPCN, though, is its members, according to Glanton. "There is a great amount of knowledge and camaraderie within RPCN. The benefits of being a member are learning about other members as individuals, sharing technical and business advice, and learning who may be of help to you and your business in its inception and maintenance phases," she said.


    Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is a freelance writer, editor, proofreader and speaker whose motto is "I can write about anything!"™ She is also the owner of Communication Central (www.communication-central.com), which hosts a conference for communications entrepreneurs in the fall.

  • 30-Jul-2014 5:49 PM | Steve Royal (Administrator)

    By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Communication Committee

    Like so many RPCN members, Steve Royal is a former Kodaker, but his story is a little different from that of people were laid off or dismissed as Rochester's former employment giant cut back so drastically in recent years. The chemist-by-training had evolved into an internal training and business expert in his years with Kodak and was able to translate that angle into a consulting business - something he attributes to his RPCN membership.

    "I started my consulting business in 1992, about a year after a buyout from Kodak," Royal said. "I was only 49 when I left Kodak, but the deal was so good that I couldn't bring myself to stay." He had several job interviews, but all were for about half what he had been making, with no benefits and extensive traveling, which did not appeal to him. He had been spending "a lot of time" at the Career Resource Center on Culver Road when someone from the RPCN came there to discuss consulting. Royal went to an RPCN meeting and "kept going every week. I decided that, with the help of RPCN, I could become a consultant." He's been at it ever since.

    Here is a video in which Steve describes how his involvement in RPCN has helped him.

    Steve Royal

    His business, Royal Associates, is based in Irondequoit and helps clients solve major business problems that often arise "mainly because companies use teams, but no one knows what to do and there are no effective leaders of those teams." He has developed a process that is designed to focus people's thinking: "I make sure everyone is thinking about the same thing at the same time," he said. While his is essentially a one-person venture, using "Associates" in the business name means Royal can bring in other people as needed for specific reasons or moral support.

    When he started his consulting business, Royal said, "I had a decision to make - I had to choose one area of service to offer. I had done a lot of what I called mistake-proofing at Kodak, but found this was only a subset of problem-solving - that is, the general versus the specific - so I switched gears and created a new process." He now outlines that process in an e-book available from his website and helps clients adopt it for their needs.

    As consultants often find, coming into a company as an outside observer means "I can do things supervisors can't," Royal noted. Not being a subject-matter expert also works in his favor. "It's better if you're not a subject-matter expert, because then you're unbiased," he explained.

    Over the years, Royal's business has shifted focus somewhat. Originally, he did most of his consulting work onsite at clients' businesses. Nowadays, "I'm winding down" and more inclined to work from home. Thanks to current technology, such as Skype, Google Hangouts and other aspects of the online world, that doesn't hamper his ability to serve his clients.

    Royal's name should be familiar to many RPCN members, because he has made a point of giving back to the organization ever since joining. "I've found that, throughout my life, if there's a group I like, I feel good about making it better," he said. In his second year of membership, the president asked Royal to be the RPCN liaison to the Democrat and Chronicle, which he preferred not to do, so he offered to run for secretary instead. He served in that role from 1993-2009; "that position didn't take too much of my time, but it meant I had a voice in the organization," he said.

    Another one of Steve's favorite contributions to RPCN has been to be the facilitator for the monthly Technical Forum since it started over 20 years ago.

    Royal also has been the RPCN webmaster "almost since the first day we had a site" and continues to serve as content manager, with other volunteers handling more of the new technical aspects. He takes pleasure in promoting events and helping members use the site to build their businesses. "There's a lot of information at our site to help with launching and running a business, and finding a skill or a person," he said.

    Being involved with the RPCN has been invaluable to Royal on several levels. "I get a fair amount of work through RPCN from introducing myself (to other members)," he said. He also finds new clients, or clients find him, as a subscriber to business newsletters and participating in forums. The biggest contributor to his business - an area that includes his RPCN involvement - is networking.

    Most important to Royal is the sense of belonging he has gained from the RPCN. While he joined to get business, as many people do, he found that that really isn't the role or true value of the RPCN. "Aside from learning things, especially the importance of marketing and sales, one of the major benefits of RPCN membership has been the feeling of support and camaraderie," he said. "It can be very lonely to have your own business, especially if you don't know what you're doing. I encourage people to get active. I know newcomers are often scared, but go to our meetings. The RPCN is a very friendly organization. You won't get shot down for offering to get involved."

    As part of his networking activities, Royal used to go to events of other organizations such as the Rochester chapters of the American Society for Quality and the American Society for Training and Development. These days, he focuses on the RPCN. "My goal now is to help the organization as much as I can," he said.


    Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is a freelance writer, editor, proofreader and speaker whose motto is "I can write about anything!"™ She is also the owner of Communication Central (www.communication-central), which hosts a conference for communications entrepreneurs in the fall.


  • 25-Jun-2014 11:40 AM | Steve Royal (Administrator)

    By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, RPCN Communication Committee

    RPCN librarian and long-time member Ruth G. Balkin has been a consultant almost from the very beginning of her work life. She did work briefly as a secretary in a law firm and spent a year-and-a-half with the Job Information Center at Rochester's Rundell Library, but she says that being a consultant comes naturally. "I've been tutoring French for money since I was a child," Balkin said. "When I was a kid, I didn't play house - I played school or office. I was destined to be an entrepreneur."

    Here is a video interview with Balkin in which she will tell you about her special offer for RPCN members.
    Ruth Balkin Member Story

    Balkin is the founder and CEO of Balkin Information Services in Irondequoit. The business is formally a partnership; her partner is her sister, who lives in Pennsylvania. The company provides "mainly research - document retrieval in anything from business, marketing, competitive intelligence and due diligence to medical," she said. They use the Internet and other sources to find documents and perform different types of research.

    Balkin formally established the company in late 1978 when she was working at a law firm while pursuing a master's degree in French and earning her New York state teacher certification. Firm members encouraged her to look for freelance work and she was asked to do something with the firm's library, which helped launch her consulting business. As "things were changing in the industry - publishers were moving to CD-ROM products - we started offering training," Balkin said. That was one area where Balkin found that "education is never a waste"; her coursework in teaching was invaluable in developing training. As "things were changing in the industry - publishers were moving to CD-ROM products - we started offering training," Balkin said. That was one area where Balkin found that "education is never a waste"; her coursework in teaching was invaluable in developing training.

    The variety of projects is wide-ranging. In the medical area, they look for articles on specific topics and find patients for follow-up studies. For estate and real estate attorneys, they find missing heirs and have tracked down an ex-spouse whose name was still on a property deed. "I love doing that!" she said. A litigation attorney once asked Balkin Information Services to find out what happened to a company that had gone out of business. One project involved going back more than 100 years to verify that names to be used in a TV production were not real people or ones who had died; Balkin's knowledge of the legal and university systems in France, as well as her fluency in French, was invaluable.

    The company can handle "just about any type of research," Balkin said. "If we don't have the expertise or access to a database we need, we can call on colleagues in the Association of Independent Information Professionals (AIIP), which is like RPCN on steroids, with members around the world. And AIIP members come to me if they need help with something, especially anything in French."

    Balkin earned her master's degree in French, and permanent New York state teaching certification, in 1977, but consulting "seemed like a better idea than teaching in a high school."

    Balkin's business has evolved over the years in response to new trends and technology. She created the partnership around 1985 or '86. They added research when a client needed census data for marketing purposes, and the company grew from there. At a conference of the American Association of Law Librarians (AALL), she met a medical librarian who did online research that she and her sister needed. "We could see which way things were going - that technology was changing." She works from home, although she sometimes will go to a client's office. The company uses subcontractors on occasion.

    Balkin finds clients through networking - in addition to the RPCN, she is active in AIIP and AALL and also belongs to the Special Libraries Association. Clients also find her through her participation in several e-mail discussion lists and on LinkedIn.

    Balkin joined the RPCN around 1992 and has benefited from her membership in many ways - even beyond business success. "RPCN meetings are a shot in the arm every week - a boost. I go to a meeting and I've done business with a quarter to a third of everyone in the room," she said. On a personal level, "RPCN has kept me going over the years through thick and thin. It's literally gotten me back on my feet. When I broke my ankle, Mary Ann Shew organized everything for me. It was amazing. People brought food, people took me to doctors' appointments."

    These days, her company also provides virtual assistant services, mainly to RPCN members. "I like doing virtual assistant work for RPCN members because I know them; I know what they do," she said.

    RPCN has also helped Balkin expand her business in another way - she has a joint venture with fellow RPCN member Dick Blazey. They work together on First Look, which provides due diligence reports; Market Sonar, which does a combination of research and cold-calling; and Trade Show Follow-up.

    Like many RPCN members, Balkin sees involvement as key to getting value from belonging to the organization. "Don't just be a member," she said. "The more active you are, the more you get known, the more business you get, the more satisfaction you get from your membership."

    One way that Balkin is active and gives back is by managing the RPCN library. Although she doesn't have a library degree, her extensive experience in and with libraries made her the ideal person for that role. "One of our members moved and had a lot of books he wanted to donate," she recalled. "That became the foundation of our library." She appreciates "anything coming in about consulting and entrepreneurship."

    While her consulting business is her official life's work, French is Balkin's passion. In addition to that tutoring activity going back to her early years, she belongs to a French conversation club and has New York state teacher certification. As a gift to RPCN, she invites members to come to her French classes over the summer for free - she teaches from 6-7 PM on Thursday evenings and 11 AM-12:30 PM on Sundays. To take advantage of this generous offer, contact Balkin at rbalkin@balkininfo.com. Bonne chance!

    Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is a freelance writer, editor, proofreader and speaker whose motto is "I can write about anything!"™ She is also the owner of Communication Central (www.communication-central.com), which hosts a conference for communications entrepreneurs in the fall.

  • 29-Apr-2014 10:56 AM | Steve Royal (Administrator)
    by Janice Hanson
    A Rochester native and proud alum of Brighton High School, Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is an award-winning freelance writer ("I can write about anything!"®), editor, proofreader and speaker. She also owns Communication Central, which hosts a conference for freelancers every fall.

    Following studies in comparative literature at Indiana University-Bloomington and French at University of Missouri-St. Louis, she worked as a staff reporter for a St. Louis weekly newspaper  and spent a year as Ford Fellow in University of Missouri-Columbia's graduate program in journalism.

    Thaler-Carter has been a full-time freelance writer and editor since 1985, working on a wide variety of projects for local, national and international clients. After spending time in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, she moved back to Rochester 14 years ago because, as she says, "I married a nut who wanted to retire here!"

    Here is a video interview with Ruth Thaler-Carter:
    Ruth Thaler-Carter 

    What follows is an edited conversation about her consulting business.

    Q: What does your consulting/freelance business do?

    A: I write articles, web content, annual reports and more for businesses, organizations and publications, and I help my clients look good in print and on the web by providing editing and proofreading services. You might be amazed at the client errors I keep from seeing the light of day!

    Why did you start your business?

    Because I discovered that my maximum time before burnout for a full-time, in-house job is two years, and then everything just starts getting to be too familiar, too routine. I had been working for a trade association in Washington, D.C. - the American National Metric Council - which was fascinating. It was very involved with the business world and international trade. But month in and month out of putting together an eight-page newsletter, writing press releases, compiling newspaper clippings and so forth always on the same topic … eventually I get bored. What I have discovered is I can work on the same project or topic with the same client for many years, as long as it isn't the only thing I'm doing.

    How did you prepare to go out on your own?

    When I got ready to freelance full time, I had already done some projects on the side through a regional writers group I belonged to. I convinced the people at the metric council to convert the full-time job to a consulting gig - I still worked on the same projects, but I could do 90% of it at home and I could do other things at the same time.

    One of the things about being in business is you have to understand your strengths and your limits. For me, as long as it's one of several things, I can keep going on a project probably forever. If it's the only thing I'm doing, then two years and I'm bored. I don't like being bored. That's one of the advantages to me of a consulting or freelance business: I'm never bored.

    What do you enjoy most about consulting?

    The variety of people, topics and projects. I'm very much a generalist. I have a theory that specialists may be able to charge more for what they do, while generalists probably get more jobs, so I think the financial side of that equation pretty much works out even. I know people who only do consulting in one topic or area. To me, that would not be worth the bother - might as well be in-house.

    How has your business changed over time?

    Mostly through the electronic and digital aspect of our world today. I've been doing publications work long enough to have worked with actual typesetting and hand-assembling of pages before they go on the press, and then making the transition from that into desktop and electronic publishing. The biggest difference for me has been going from the typewriter to the computer. I never thought I would be good at working on the computer because I'm not a technical person - I used to say that the most technological I wanted to get was a self-correcting IBM Selectronic typewriter. But I've discovered that I've very good at many aspects of writing and publishing electronically. I get a lot of pleasure out of assembling things on the screen, using PageMaker or InDesign, for publishing online or sending to a printing service.

    Another thing is that, several years ago, I started a business called Communication Central that hosts an annual conference for freelancers, usually in Rochester. That's been fascinating because it has shown me that I also have abilities in event management that I never knew I had. Plus, it's a lot of fun!

    I know you're a member of almost a dozen professional groups - how have your various memberships helped you be a better consultant?

    By helping me stay up-to-date on trends and changes in everything from language to technology to skills, and by giving me more opportunities for projects because of meeting people and showing people what I can do for their businesses or companies. When you're out there in these organizations, you're more than an electronic presence, email address or photo on a website; you're a real human being and, ideally, when some of these other human beings think of things they need done, then they think of me for a project I can work on. It's also been a way of meeting people and making new friends. When I was in D.C., I was considered the queen of networking. Now that I'm back in Rochester, I still have a lot of old friends here, but this has been a good way to widen my scope.

    How has the RPCN helped you as a consultant?

    I joined because I was looking for local connections with like-minded people who were also doing consulting work. I love being involved with the newsletter because I like getting to know the people I'm writing about, and I've made a couple of very good friends in the group. I'm not as visible in person as I'd like to be, because I tend not to be functional at 8 a.m. on a Friday - one of the joys of freelancing is not having to get up at 7 a.m. - but I've gotten a few projects through being a member.

    What advice would you give to someone looking to become a freelancer or consultant?

    Remember that you're in business and position yourself accordingly in everything you do. Everywhere you go is a business opportunity. Be aware of the potential for new clients and new projects even if you're just going to the grocery store. You never know whom you might meet that could turn into a consulting project.

    Editor's note: For more advice on getting into freelance communications work, you can purchase a copy of Thaler-Carter's booklet Freelancing 101: Launching Your Editorial Business via the Editorial Freelancers Association website, or her self-published booklet, Get Paid to Write! Getting Started as a Freelance Writer, via her website (www.writerruth.com).

    On Monday, May 5, Thaler-Carter presents a workshop on The Basics of Editing and Proofreading at Writers & Books in Rochester.

    Janice Hanson, JK Hanson Wordcraft, helps you communicate effectively and offers services in copy editing, proofreading and marketing. She is chair of the RPCN Communication Committee.
  • 31-Mar-2014 11:06 AM | Steve Royal (Administrator)
    By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

    For most RPCN members, consulting is a new venture growing out of a traditional career that ended either voluntarily - on retirement or through burnout - or more forcibly, through layoffs, downsizing and other corporate events beyond our control. For outgoing RPCN president Michael Van der Gaag, principal consultant at Beyond the Interface, consulting has always been his form of work, even when working for others. Of Beyond the Interface, Van der Gaag says that "this is my second incarnation. My first consulting business was User Interface Consultants, from about 1983 to '99."

    Here is a video interview with Michael Van der Gaag:
    Mike Van der Gaag

    The New Jersey native came to Rochester when he was looking to broaden his scope after working in an internal consulting role at Bell Labs. He found an opportunity here with Essex Corporation in 1980 and spent three years on a contract with Xerox for Essex until "I got caught up in their layoffs." He started thinking about his own business and pitched his services to Savin Corp., only to be hired full-time as manager of industrial design and human factors and usability. After a year-and-a-half there, that consulting urge kicked back in. "I first created a DBA, 'User Interface Consultants,' and then called a friend at Xerox who kept me busy with projects for several years," he said.

    By the end of the '90s, though, "being a sole proprietor wasn't working for me," Van der Gaag recalled. "I floated my résumé online and ended up as a consultant at IBM for 10 years. I worked everywhere!"

    The urge to be on his own eventually resurfaced, and "RPCN helped me decide" what to do and how to do it. "I started going to RPCN meetings in 2010, joined in 2011, took the Bootcamp in 2012," he said. "The Bootcamp helped me focus myself. I'm still working on strategizing, but for the first time, I feel very confident. Not many people did what I did the way I did it. I'm flexible, which our clients appreciate, and I can make my methodology fit the client. I'm about coming up with new ways of doing things."

    Through his current business, Van der Gaag provides "research capabilities to help clients understand who their users are and how to make their products easy to use," he said. "We also provide an understanding of value and quality; what motivates people to use or avoid our clients' products; and what they can do to their products, software or services to meet the needs of their customers and attract new ones." In the future, Beyond the Interface could extend into providing mentoring and skills training services as well.

    Van der Gaag's ability to be flexible has worked in his favor as his consulting business has changed in some ways from his original vision for it. "My first contract was with Lexis-Nexis," he said. "While providing user testing support of their online services, I took some training in product discovery. After another contract at USAA in a similar area of research, Kodak Alaris's business called me about that methodology - I had not anticipated becoming 'the product discovery guy,' but I went with the flow." One option for the future might be to provide User Discovery training and take that on the road.

    Clients find Van der Gaag through his networking activities and "talking to old friends. I don't do cold-calling." He is also active in the Product Development Management Association and has alliances with the IEEE, High Tech Rochester (HTR) and RIT's version of HTR.

    Like most RPCN members, Van der Gaag works from home, but "I have three or four offices in the city - including the Panera's in Penfield, the 1872 Café and Joe Bean." Using such locations for meetings helps offset any sense of isolation from being a one-person, home-based business.

    Van der Gaag has used subcontractors on occasion and has no expectation of having employees, but "it's possible, depending on the direction the business takes." His daughter helps him with marketing and built the website for his consulting business, and fellow RPCN member Sandy Glanton has provided project management and tech writing support.

    For Van der Gaag, RPCN has been "a great place to meet people with capabilities beyond mine," he said. "I can use RPCN to vet potential colleagues and clients, and get to know them as people (rather than just names in a LinkedIn profile)." He was involved in the organization even before joining - he volunteered to help with strategic planning as a non-member. When asked to run for president, he accepted in part because "I thought of things I wanted to do to bring the group into the new century."

    As Van der Gaag's term as president draws to a close, he is most proud of having been open to new ideas and projects suggested by members. "As with my clients, I believe in helping people create an organization that helps them achieve their goals," he said. Before he leaves office, though, "I want us to do at least one webinar and make that a habit!"

    As past president, Van der Gaag plans to "continue to stimulate the board in three areas: conferences, helping with the Bootcamp, and adding a focus not just on how to create a business but also sustaining and growing a business through marketing and the practice of the consulting skill itself. I'd like to see us become less insular and look beyond business basics to fit more into the community."

    Ruth E. Thaler-Carter  is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader and speaker. She also owns Communication Central, which hosts a conference for freelancers every fall.

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