A few years ago, I came up with this great idea. Build a product that I could sell, so that I wouldn’t have to do traveling consulting every week. The idea behind it was simple. Build something one time, and sell it to a lot of companies. Then all I’d have to do is sit back and collect the profits, and then start making something new. Little did I know what I was getting myself into. I’ll talk about the creation process some other time, but right now, I’ll focus on current events. I completed my product about 1 year ago, and I thought the hard work was over. However, what I didn’t take into account is just how much work (and potentially cash) it takes to get a product launched. Right now, all of my free time is spent coming up with ways to drum up some interest in Paper Street Enterprises. I thought it would be a no brainer, I’ve been doing SAP for going on 14 years, I’m really good at what I do, how could people not want to work with me. Well, it’s pretty easy, they don’t know me. I’ve spent all of my time designing the product, and very little of that time showing I’m an expert. Sure I can fall back on the companies I’ve consulted for, but as it turns out, most of them are no longer interested in the product I thought everyone would want. So… my take away from this, before you spend days, weeks, months or even years designing and developing something, make sure you have someone that wants to buy it from you. I thought Rapier would be the sort of thing that everyone would want, and they still might, but the fact is, no one asked for it. I made the make of assuming they wanted it or needed it. Going forward, I’m focusing on known items that people want. I start simple. Every time I hear a client say, “I wish SAP did this”, or “I can’t believe SAP doesn’t provide that”, I quickly add it to my list of development ideas, and move it to the top of the list. Why? because I know that at least one company is interested in using it (maybe not buying it, but you need to start somewhere). So learn from my mistake… make sure you have a market before you build a product. Good luck.
Well, I’ve talked a lot about my history, I guess it’s time to start talking about where I want to go. While I am still consulting, my real focus has been launching SAP applications that I can sell. In this past year, I’ve got Rapier SAP certified, but I’m still struggling with the marketing aspect. Sales hasn’t been my strong point, so things are moving slower than I’d prefer. There are so many things to do in order to start sales & marketing for a product. First and foremost, is finding potential customers. For that I’ve taken multiple approaches. The first step I took was to actually purchase a list of contacts that use SAP. This isn’t as easy as it would seem. First, there aren’t a ton of companies out there selling contact information like that. Second, who knows how accurate it even is. Third, the contact names you get… well, let’s just say I’ve learned to be a lot more specific in what I request for the future.
The company I used was called SAP User List. I ended up buying almost 1600 contacts, and it was roughly $.55/name. What I didn’t know is that I was getting a lot of names from the same company, and many of the companies weren’t in industries that would use my product. The biggest take away from buying the list was to be very specific. I originally said I wanted everyone in the NC/SC, and all companies less than $100 million. What I needed to focus on was the position/job title. I really needed to find all of the service managers and IT managers out there. On the plus side, I was able to determine a lot of companies that use SAP. The next step, is to test the list that I received and see what kind of response I receive. Next time, I’ll talk about how I organized the list I received, as well as how I’m growing it to mine for other opportunities
After spending a couple of years working for consulting companies and working with other independents, I realized that the only way to freedom was becoming an independent consultant. Several of my friends were independent, and they managed to show me just how easy it really is (see some of my previous posts for more explanation). So I went online, started my own company, and found my first contract. it was my first step to getting me to where I am now.
My time spent doing implementations and then production support taught me a very important lesson. I have ADD when it comes to my career. I need constant change and constant challenge. So I decided to try consulting. I went to work for Deloitte for a year, and then SAP for a year as a consultant. During my time I quickly learned that flexibility was the key to be a good consultant. Being willing to jump in and debug an error, or help troubleshoot something in another area made me a better consultant every day. I found my passion in consulting, at least at that time.
I have a cool Japanese painting that I keep in my office. It translates to “Reinvent yourself, time and time again”. Best advice ever. Here’s one of my first reinventions. After spending nearly 7 years with the same company doing SAP variant configuration, I inevitably moved on. I started with a small company that was late in the stages of implementing SAP. I was quickly thrown into the mix and become responsible for SD, SM, and development. Well, needless to say, SM was something brand new for me, and development up to this time was more of a hobby. I quickly learned how to deal with Smartforms, SAPScript, ALV reports, and of course user exits. More importantly, I learned how SAP handles the service world. Trial by fire quickly showed me that I liked service more than SD just because of the large amount of interaction in the system. It’s was also proof to myself that being flexible is invaluable in any career, and you never know what you’re going to enjoy doing. To this day, I spend the majority of my time consulting SM and VC, and my new SAP applications revolve around those 2 modules. Word of advise, stay flexible, you never know where it will take you.
Inevitably, everyone always asks, how did you end up in SAP? Well, the short answer is that no one grows up wanting to be an SAP consultant. My introduction came at my first real job. I was an intern working for a telecommunications manufacturing company. They had several configure to order products and their own homegrown system to handle it. I was an engineering student that just happened to like programming. So I got a job there. Shortly after, the company decided to implement SAP (Y2K issues). I was quickly drafted onto the project and become in charge of learning SAP Variant configuration. Next thing you know several years had gone by, and become the go to guy for this stuff. Turned out that SAP problem solving was a lot more interesting than writing engineering change requests to alter a dimension on a drawing (what I would’ve been doing as an engineer). This become my reinvention of myself, and my beginning of my SAP career.
Becoming an SAP partner. This was by far the toughest thing I needed to do in the process of getting my software business under way. The overall process wasn’t too bad, but dishing out the cash was the tough part. Initially, I talked to the first round of people at SAP and started to learn the process. The first step you had to do fill out a rather long application and then to classify exactly what is that my software did. After a lot of reading, I determined that my project was an ABAP Add on. This is a fancy way of saying that my entire project was written in ABAP, and didn’t use any other 3rd party integration. Now, the number one requirement that I had to fulfill was to get an SAP developer’s license. With a developer’s license, that gives me the right to code my own software and legally sell it. What I discovered was that there were 2 ways of getting that license. I could buy (3) licenses outright. These were selling for roughly 3400 Euros each. The other way is to buy a certification package, which comes with one license. The price tag for this was around 15000 Euros. Next came the pros and cons. If I bought the certification it meant I’d get the fancy SAP marketing, I could say that SAP has certified my product, and I get (1) license. A great deal, but a lot of cash. However, if I went the cheaper route, I could start selling, and even give myself room for growth. I ultimately chose the certification package. This required lots of forms, paperwork, and of course a big check (that had to be in Euro’s) sent to Germany. Now, all the fun pieces. I’ll save those for another post.
I apologize, this is way overdue. The next thing I recommend is getting yourself a website. Now depending on your skill sets, and your time available to work on the site, you have a lot of options. Personally, I’m no web developer. So I went down the path of a fully hosted site. I wanted a site that already had email accounts ready for me to set up, and a drag and drop website creator to get started. I went with FatCow. They were reasonable and had what I needed. Now that I’m looking to expand my business from straight consulting, I’m realizing that I probably need a better website, and the drag and drop style is limited. it was a great place to start, but eventually you’ll outgrow it. Now, if you either do website design, or have a friend that is willing to do it for you and help you figure out the hosting aspect, I highly recommend it. You’ll get exactly what you want, have more control and pay less.
Finally, the last professional you should consider finding is a lawyer. Depending on your business model, you may be dealing with a lot of contracts, agreements, perhaps copyright agreements, etc. Unless you are very familiar with reading legalese, I recommend getting someone that explain the ins and out very carefully. In the consulting world, everything is about a contract for a period of time. Those contracts pretty define what you can and can’t for the length of the contract, as well as possibly for a period of time after the contract. I’ll have a separate post later on explaining some of the things to watch out for in contracts. A lawyer can look these over pretty quickly and let you know what you should consider revising or not accepting in any contract. I’ve found that every organization is different that I’ve worked for, and so is there wording in the contract. Also, if you’re planning on producing or selling any type of products, a lawyer will be able to advise you on exactly what you need to file to protect yourself. It could a terms and conditions of any sale, it could be a disclosure about the product you’re selling and what you are liable for, or it could be just to protect yourself if you do end up being sued for anything. I haven’t used my lawyer a whole lot, but it in nice to know he’s there when I need him.
Next up, have a financial investment person you trust. You may already have one, but if you don’t, go find one. Then sit down and talk to them for an hour and explain everything you’re planning on doing with your company. Explain what you plan to do, based on your accountant’s recommendations how much you plan to be putting into savings for the business, how much into a 401K, etc. The next thing that your financial person can do for you is to set up all your business accounts. Depending on what you choose to do, you may need to set up a 401K program for you business, and this isn’t as easy as it sounds. It turns out that there are quite a few options available to set up a 401K for your company. The type you choose will have a lot to do with how much growth and how many employees you expect to employ. If you plan to just be a 1 or 2 person operation, you can probably use a Solo-K, but if you plan to have a full staff that you will be providing the 401K benefits to, you’ll need to look at other options. You’ll also want to figure out exactly how you’ll plan to invest your money. If you’ll primarily be investing all your earnings into yourself, or back into the company, your options are pretty easy, but if you’re a consultant like me, you’ll need to keep some money put away for any periods when you are without a contract. You can also think about investing that savings into CD’s or bonds or something else you can keep relatively liquid. These are all of the different things you should sit down with your financial professional to talk about. They may have a lot of suggestions for you and a lot of things you never thought about.
You’re next member of your team is an insurance person. This could be your financial person if they also deal in insurance, but often you’ll need someone separate. It’s easiest to find an insurance broker, just because there are so many different types of insurance, and they can find you the best coverage for the best price, since they are not locked into a single company. Some of the insurance coverages you’ll need to consider include, business auto policy, business liability, professional liability, errors and omissions coverage, unemployment insurance, disability insurance, life insurance, workman’s comp, etc. I had no idea that there were so many insurances policies that I would need. Every one of my contracts has had different insurance requirements. If you do consulting, often you’ll only need a policy for the length of a contract, and then your next contract won’t require it. So be sure that you can cancel a policy at any time (and often you can even get a refund for the unused portion if you pre-paid.