Two Fridays ago, I left the world of corporate consulting and started my own company – Martin Thermal Engineering. Presidential politics aside, becoming “Joe the Plumber” has so far been a source of great satisfaction and pride for me and my family.

What
For readers who are not familiar with my consulting practice, allow me to provide a brief synopsis. Martin Thermal Engineering was founded to provide technical consultation to manufacturers, insurers and attorneys who are in need of answers about combustion processes or heating/cooling equipment. In many cases, such consultation is needed when a failure occurs and property damage or personal injury results. Over the years, I have investigated hundreds of fires, explosions, burn injuries and thermal-equipment failures, many of which have been the subject of litigation.

Finding the defect or error that caused a particular incident is one part of the challenge, and communicating those findings in an adversarial setting is the other part. The investigator must rely on his ability to observe the accident scene, interpret eyewitness statements, assess the applicability of regulations and standards, apply the laws of physics, and integrate this collection of facts into a set of logical conclusions. By maintaining an extensive knowledge base of thermal failures, the consultant can also bring value to businesses seeking to improve their safety programs proactively through audits and code-compliance inspections.

Why
One of the biggest factors that drove me to launch my business at this time was having the freedom to define “corporate culture” in my workplace. Another factor that both I and my clients have found to be quite positive is my lower overhead. Although I can’t match the horsepower and facilities of a large consulting firm, I can certainly match other benefits and services such as insurance, retirement, purchasing, marketing and bookkeeping – and do so at considerably lower cost. This cost advantage creates a surplus that can be distributed in part to the client (via lower billing rates) and in part back to the consultant (as a reward for his enhanced efficiency).

When
By far the biggest factor opposing a new business launch is fear of bad timing. “Will the economy recover?” “Will clients call?” “Do I have enough reserves?” “Am I really ready to take on this risk?” While each of these comments may represent a valid concern, they cannot be allowed to cause paralysis. By establishing a realistic game plan that overcomes these concerns, hard work and courage can triumph over fear of the unknown.

Another negative factor can be the posture of a former employer toward competitors. Although most states prohibit “non-compete clauses” in employment contracts because they can severely inhibit the departing employee’s right to earn a living, the employee must respect the former employer’s confidential data and clients. Professional ethics rules generally prohibit one practitioner from directly soliciting the client(s) of another, but as long as the departing employee and former employer both place the client’s interests ahead of their own, conflicts can be avoided.

Who
Perhaps the greatest gloom for many solo consultants is the absence of daily fellowship with a group of like-minded colleagues. One good way to overcome this loss of peer networking is to reach out to other small businesses (and/or clients) and establish new connections.

As I venture forth into the brave new world of solo consulting, I continue to be grateful to Industrial Heating magazine for hosting my column and blog. And while I sincerely hope to meet many new readers this year, I must express my equivalent hope that such meetings will not occur as a result of some calamity that has befallen your business.

And like Joe the Plumber, I hope to speak out with clarity and courage on issues of importance to our nation and this industry and to provide my clients with excellent professional services. As I’m sure most IH readers can attest, choosing the road less traveled can make all the difference.