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  • 22-Apr-2013 1:40 PM | Steve Royal (Administrator)
    by Chris Swingle

    Beth Sears had spent almost 30 years with General Motors as a facilitator and trainer before earning a doctorate in communication from State University of New York at Buffalo. She knew she could help people and organizations improve performance through good communication.

    What she didn't know was how to start a business. She followed advice from Alan Weiss, author of Getting Started in Consulting and Million Dollar Consulting: "He told me to network," says Sears, who's based in Scottsville. "He said to get out and present everywhere."

    She jokes that if she had found three people on a corner, she probably would have pulled a chart stand out of her car and started talking.

    Now president of Workplace Communication, Sears helps business leaders develop trusting cultures where employees can communicate openly and honestly. That leads to better business relationships, which increases productivity, reduces stress and builds effective teams. She found audiences and opportunities to meet more people through the Rochester Professional Consultants Network (RPCN). She became a member of the network in 2008 and began marketing her business in 2009. She also has benefited from RPCN talks and forums, where she learned how to get her business going.

    "I didn't join to look for work," says Sears. "I joined to look for knowledge. The learning was exceptional."

    She learned strategies to launch and build a business, including marketing. Among the useful steps that RPCN prompted Sears to take was joining an accountability group, in which consultants met regularly to help each other stay on track toward their goals.

    The helpful professionals she's met through RPCN are why she's stayed in the group.

    RPCN has given her multiple opportunities to give presentations on topics such as impression management, the deadly sins of interpersonal communication and the importance of mindset. Your attitude is critical to your business success, she says: "If you think you can, or you think you can't, you're right."

    Her advice to new consultants is to attend RPCN meetings and speak up. "Ask the questions you need answers to," says Sears. "Every person in the room has had to find the answers at one time or another."

    She tries to help others by recommending Weiss' books and offering to meet RPCN newcomers at their first meeting to make them more comfortable about being there. She spreads the word about RPCN when she gives talks to people thinking of starting their own businesses, such as at RochesterWorks' meetings about the state/federal Self Employment Assistance Program. Sears also has passed along job opportunities to RPCN members, pulled a member in on a project and given business to other members.

    Her clients typically find her through word of mouth. "Things have just really gone well," says Sears, who also now blogs about communication for the Democrat and Chronicle.

    Among her favorite tips to share is to never assume. "Every single day of your life, you make a false assumption," she says. She recently was concerned that someone who hadn't replied to her email was upset. It turned out that the person hadn't seen the message. The way to avoid such mishaps, she says, is better communication - and follow-up.
    Here is a video interview with Beth Sears.

    Chris Swingle,, is a freelance writer based in Rochester.

  • 24-Mar-2013 2:26 PM | Deleted user
    By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, freelance writer/editor,

    Launching a consulting business was a logical – and carefully considered – move for Rochester Professional Consultants Network (RPCN) member David Powe, partner and lead consultant in AIOPX Management Consulting.

    A corporate background

    Powe came to Rochester from New Jersey, as director of manufacturing for Arch Chemicals. The company’s operations headquarters were in Atlanta, where he did all his interviewing. “They never told me the job was in Rochester, so I was shocked – I thought I’d be going back to the south, where I was from, but my friends in New Jersey all said I’d love Rochester, that it was a great family place and, if they had an opportunity to go back there, they would.” That has been the case, he said: “I can’t tell you how great it has been!”

    Eventually, a larger company bought Arch and released all of its corporate employees. Powe spent about six months “going through a process of elimination for where I wanted to go in my life,” he recalled. “I decided I had three options to consider: find another job in corporate America, buy a franchise business or go into consulting. Another corporate job would have involved relocating or a complicated commute; I had a son in school and didn’t want to miss his life. The in-home nursing service franchise I considered was a non-starter for New York state – you couldn’t get licensed in time for the business to show a profit for at least two years. Consulting came to the forefront as best meeting my career aspirations and personal needs.”

    Powe has an MBA from the Freeman School of Business at Tulane University and a BSCHe in Chemical Engineering from Tulane. He built his professional skill sets in some of the biggest companies in industry, including Tyco Adhesives, Shell Chemicals, GE and Arch. He is a GE Master Black Belt and an Aji Network Certified Business Professional. He has helped a variety of organizations and business functions “achieve extraordinary results” on domestic and international levels. And he was prepared for consulting – in his last two years with Arch, he functioned as an internal consultant. “I went to all the other company locations to help them start up, develop a structure and use operations excellence,” he said. “I had a home office.”

    Powe’s company uses the operations skills he developed and applied in industry. “The business is based on a combination of factors from my career, leaning heavily on Six Sigma, Lean and Total Quality,” he said. “We help businesses improve their profits and cash flow by creating uncommon solutions and extraordinary results through operations excellence.”

    A typical solution that Powe implemented for a client was applying several OpEx tools – Value Chain Mapping, 5S, Cycle Counts and more – to the client’s inventory control processes. “In less than a year, we were able to raise their inventory accuracy from a very low level to nearly 100 percent,” he said. “This accuracy has allowed us to help the client reduce cost and increase inventory turnovers, and set the stage for future cost- and cash-reduction projects.”

    Powe wanted something other than his own name as a company identification. He came up with the AIOPX name using a technique he learned when working with General Electric. “They had a methodology for naming products that used five letters that don’t spell a word,” he recalled. (Think Xerox and Kodak!) “I wanted my business name to start with an A and include a reference to operations excellence.” The A and I stand for Ajabu Imani, Swahili words meaning great faith. “I knew that, to start a business after 30 years in the corporate world, I had to have faith, and I am a man of faith,” he said. In addition, he had seen that Swahili was one of the few languages that could be used to communicate across numerous diverse groups.

    Powe launched his business officially in February 2012. His wife is his colleague on the business side and he may bring in associates further down the line.

    Lessons to date

    Powe considers his consulting business to still be in launch mode, although he has found success and fulfillment in his first year as a consultant, and has learned a few valuable lessons along the way. “You have to get used to knowing that you have to constantly produce new clients as part of doing business. It’s a different feeling from a regular job, with the security of a check every week. It’s invigorating and challenging – if you don’t do something, it doesn’t get done. And you have to network!”

    If he were starting now, “I would pay more attention to the business end of my business – structure, tracking expenses, handling taxes and getting more help from professionals in other areas,” he said.

    Networking results

    Powe has found benefits for his business in networking through the RPCN and other groups. RPCN has been “powerful in helping me apply my skill set to consulting,” he said. “There are incredibly giving people in the RPCN. Through the business and tech forums, I have received help on business structure, hardware and software choices, initial pricing of my service, how to write proposals and close deals.”

    The RPCN Boot Camp gave Powe insights into many of the critical concerns of starting a consulting practice, including some of those topics and “live practice with my sales pitch, building an effective image in the business community, success stories from established consultants and building a marketing plan. Networking through RPCN has added dozens of new relationships with mentors, potential colleagues on future projects, and talented people who are willing to help me and my business. A great example is one of the new marketing consultants in RPCN helped me design my initial marketing materials.”

    In return, Powe is active in the RPCN Marketing Committee and outreach efforts to enhance RPCN’s reputation in the area.

    He also is active in Vistage, which facilitates networking among CEOs; he joined while at Arch and was invited to remain involved once he started his own business. He also belongs to the August Group and Webster Chamber of Commerce.

    Powe is involved in networking for the same reason he started his consulting business: his primary ethic. “My approach to business and life is to give as much as I can,” he said. “One reason consulting seemed like the way to go is that I have more control over that – if I want to help out, I can.”
  • 22-Feb-2013 2:20 PM | Deleted user
    by Chris Swingle

    Volunteering with Rochester Professional Consultants Network (RPCN) has helped Bob Lurz get to know other members, showcase his own skills and stretch himself in new directions. What he's learned has prompted him to change the focus of his own consulting business, from strategic planning to helping individuals launch and develop a consulting practice.

    Over 20 years as an RPCN member, Lurz has served as vice president, president, strategy leader and alliances leader. "A valuable insight I gained is that volunteer organizations must be motivated in different ways from 'managerial authority' organizations," says Lurz, of Irondequoit, who loves facilitating groups. "Volunteers must 'want to' do something for the organization, and a leader must somehow tap into that source of motivation. This RPCN experience helped me as I facilitated strategy sessions for client volunteer organizations, including Rotary, Coach University and Greater Rochester Quality Council."

    Lurz founded the RPCN Business Forum in 1994, and those monthly question-answer sessions are still going strong. Moderating discussions among the diverse attendees, and hearing the answers shared, has kept his own skills and knowledge sharp.

    A major contribution to the organization and to his own career path was a five-session Consulting Bootcamp that Lurz created and ran in early 2012. The workshops netted more than $2,000 for RPCN and brought in 13 new members. Speakers addressed defining your services and value, marketing, planning, pricing, insurance, and legal aspects of a successful consulting business. Participants prepared and presented a client proposal to the class and got suggestions from each other and from a panel of professionals. Feedback about the Bootcamp from the 24 attendees was very positive.

    Lurz - whose background includes engineering management, human resources development, business planning and product development at Eastman Kodak Co. - says the Bootcamp work challenged and pushed him in many positive ways. By interviewing local business incubator leaders, he made influential contacts and gained insight into their training and mentoring work. The success of the Bootcamp enhanced his reputation, which prompted people at High Tech Rochester and The Entrepreneurs Network (TEN) to encourage him to start a business teaching consultants how to start up and succeed.

    He has since launched that business, Consultants Accelerator, which focuses on learning, mentoring and accountability. In his new business, he faces the same challenges as his clients, including figuring out how to best price his services. He has taken his own advice, arranging for mentoring of his own work at High Tech Rochester as an Entrepreneur Affiliate.

    Designing the Consulting Bootcamp developed Lurz's reputation as "the consultants' consultant" in his network outside RPCN, which has been great for him and for the group. "People seeking consultants contact me and ask if I know anyone in RPCN who could satisfy their needs," he says.

    Click here for a video interview with Bob Lurz.

    Chris Swingle,, is a freelance writer and member of RPCN's Communications Committee.
  • 28-Jan-2013 2:56 PM | Deleted user
    by Chris Swingle

    The Rochester Professional Consultants Network (RPCN) monthly question-answer forums on business and technical issues helped Charlie Hancock successfully switch from a corporate job to a one-man firm in 1996 – and have kept him coming. At each forum, attendees can pose questions and get answers from the other professionals in the room, or just listen.

    "I may not have a question going in, but I'll learn something," says Hancock of Fairport, an expert on medical device sterilization. "I do look forward to Friday mornings for that reason." Hancock has also benefited from using RPCN members' expertise in research, computer problems and copy editing to help him do his work better and more efficiently. He's also found consultants in the group to recommend to his clients.
    His business, Charles O. Hancock Associates, serves makers of toothbrushes and of implanted cardiac devices, but the bulk of his clients are manufacturers of orthopedic surgical instruments. Hancock helps them develop the instructions to properly sterilize their products between patients. He is board-certified in regulatory affairs by the Regulatory Affairs Professional Society (RAPS) and has served on the committees that oversee codes and standards in various countries.

    Hancock attended his first RPCN forum 16 years ago after his corporate job was eliminated. He decided to try consulting; although he knew some former colleagues had abandoned solo work after struggling to find enough business. By contrast, in Hancock’s first year as a consultant, he more than doubled his take-home income.

    "RPCN was a very substantial reason for my being successful," says Hancock.

    When he was an engineer and manager in large companies, there was built-in support from personnel, marketing, accounting, legal and information technology departments. When you’re on your own, you have to figure all of those things out. A resource like RPCN can be the key to replacing that built-in support system.

    At the group's forums, Hancock stays current by hearing about new software, apps and approaches such as cloud computing, which uses remote data, software and computation over a network. When a client directed him to use the company’s cloud, he was able to respond knowledgeably because of what he had learned through RPCN. "If I had been starting from zero, it would have been a real challenge," he says.

    At times, he shares his knowledge about topics such as insurance. He points out that whether consultants need errors-and-omissions insurance depends on their business and their certifications. He also shares his experience that a consultant can challenge a contract that requires more insurance than is appropriate.

    Hancock is an officer in organizations in his field, but he appreciates hearing various perspectives at RPCN from people of diverse backgrounds and experiences. "That's really valuable, and you can't get it anywhere else," he says.
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