by Mike Vogel
Updated 4 months ago
When Florida Trend last left Karen Fredricks, a decade ago in our Florida Small Business issue, she had quit her day job, tapped her savings and launched Tech Benders, a Boca Raton consulting firm specializing in customer relationship management software. She worried whether she would be able to afford next week’s dinner. But the business started strong and, as she said then, “I’m eating better than I ever was.”
Ten years later, the meals still come regularly. “It’s been absolutely wonderful,” she says. She won’t disclose the company’s revenue but now has two employees. She’s authored 13 books on using software, and her clients span the United States, Europe, Australia and South America in fields as diverse as commercial real estate, financial planning, government, employee recruiting, professional sports and utilities.
The seminal moment for her career was the publishing of her first book, “Act! 6 for Dummies,” in 2003. Earlier, while still a wage slave at an accounting firm, she set up an independent website to provide advice on CRM software, database software that allows a business to manage and utilize its customer information to build sales, retain customers and land new ones. “I felt CRM was a very emerging market. In retrospect, CRM did indeed prove to be extremely popular,” she says.
The website brought her to the attention of the Dummies publisher, which asked her to author a book. The book gave her status as an expert. A local users group she founded, in which she essentially gave away her services during monthly meetings, helped her build the business.
Fredricks’ approach to launching a consulting career dovetails with advice offered by Robert Prescott, an associate professor at the Crummer Graduate School of Business at Rollins College in Winter Park. Prescott, himself a consultant, recommends that would-be consultants first come up with a business plan and learn what consultants actually do and how they do it. They then can volunteer their services or get that first paying client to gain experience. Then, they can leverage that experience through referrals and other networking.
Fredricks was an early adopter of online meeting tech. It cuts the amount of time she spends traveling and lowers costs to clients. She recommends that anyone going into consulting find, as she did, recurring sources of revenue. In her case, the revenue sources are selling software, consulting, commissions from selling side products she recommends and book royalties.
Today, she looks to expand her offerings with an eye on the cloud, mobile access and virtual offices, noticing how many businesses, like hers, have remote employees. You have to press her to find an instance of difficulty in the last 10 years. Recession? It winnowed out competing consultants. It happens that lots of would-be consultants know their tech but don’t have people skills, don’t know how to market themselves or how to do client relations.
“I was very lucky,” Fredricks says. “Trust me, I know how lucky I was. A lot of it was the books.” Then again, she got the book deal because she had done the work to get the publisher’s notice and then paid close attention to the style the publisher wanted and the deadlines. “I worked very hard to meet the deadline, and hard work pays off,” she says.