Local Entrepreneur Spotlight: An Interview with Dave Baldwin of Baldwin Management Consultants

Baldwin Management ConsultantsCourtney recently sat down with Dave Baldwin, of Baldwin Management Consultants, in Raleigh. From his website: "Dave Baldwin is an experienced marketer and self-taught entrepreneur who first went into business for himself in 2007 after ten years in the technical field, spurred on by a desire to help introverted entrepreneurs succeed in business. Dave has worked with clients in a variety of different industries."


Courtney: I can't start without asking about "Let's Not Have Coffee". Why do you think that piece has become so popular so quickly?


Dave: From what people have told me, it struck a nerve with a number of folks. Anyone who has ever sat down and had coffee with someone and felt like they wasted time can understand that. At some time or another, we've all been there: sitting in a meeting and wondering, "Why am I here?" Also, some folks who are new to networking groups tend to copy what everyone else is doing. I often run into people who say they want to "have coffee" without giving any thought to what they want to talk about, what the purpose of the meeting is, or the expected outcome or next steps. Time is not free, but people act as if they had endless amounts of it to spend. Entrepreneurs can network their way to the poor house if they're not careful about this.


Courtney: I agree completely.  Unproductive meetings are an incredible time-suck for business owners. Moving on to what you do in your business...The word "consultant" can mean a lot of things nowadays. Can you describe what you do in 10 words or less?


Dave: I help people start businesses and grow businesses.


Courtney: Okay, and if you're allowed more than ten words?


Dave: My vision is making entrepreneurship accessible to people who classically have not had access to it for a variety of reasons. For instance, women have told me they feel they are not taken seriously by men in networking groups. Ethnic minorities have expressed frustration about how they are treated. I personally found that being an introvert worked against me back in 2007, because if you aren't talking a lot and shaking every hand in the room, people will perceive that as a lack of self-confidence.


Courtney: Business ethics and social consciousness come up a lot in your talks and writings. Is there any particular life experience that drives that?


Dave: If there's any experience that really ties this all together, it was the experience of going through my early life feeling like a second-class citizen. Starting from going to school as a child, through my adult career life, feeling like I was passed over for promotions because I didn't know how to ask for what I wanted. I didn't know how to use effective body language, how to project the right tone of voice, or how to communicate effectively. I found that people who knew how to say the right thing in the right way to the right person at the right time were more likely to move ahead, even if they were the least qualified for the actual job. I wanted to create tools to help the quiet people with rich undiscovered talent, which is what led me down this path.


Courtney: Do your customers face those same "pain points"?


Dave: There are two types of businesses I like to work with.


I love to work with established businesses in growth mode with a small handful of employees, when they're expanding the size of their teams. Any business that's hiring has the same pain points. They have trouble retaining employees because there's not an effective system in place. They don't delegate effectively and they rely on verbal instructions instead of writing. The business owner forgets what they told an employee to do, or the employee doesn't understand what they are supposed to do. Business owners tend to overestimate their employees' ability to self-manage. Sometimes it may be a matter of weeks or months until the disconnect is identified and the business owner realizes that things are not getting done. By that point, the situation is usually well out of hand.


In a start-up business, the biggest problem I see is confusion resulting from not knowing how to start or run a business. What tends to happen (especially with someone just leaving a 9-5), they are used to having the structure laid out for them and being told what to do each day. The tendency is to lose focus and say yes to too many things instead of focusing on revenue-generating activies. Startup entrepreneurs often don't know how to build a foundation for success, and so they set themselves up for failure. It is highly rewarding to help people put the right systems in place from the outset and avoid the hard and expensive path filled with unnecessary struggles.


What can affect both groups equally is health problems. When someone gets sick, they realize how much of the business depends solely on the efforts of one person. Many businesses go out of business or take an unrecoverable hit when the owner is knocked out of commission. Many business owners can't take a real vacation, because they have to stay glued to their phones and laptops the whole time. A good system is one that allows the owner to unplug without any disruption of revenue streams. A system also makes succession planning and exit planning much more manageable.


Courtney: What can you, as a consultant, offer that other consultants can't?


Dave: I think the most unique thing I bring to the table is my mix of professional skills. I spent my first ten years as an electronics technician and computer programmer, and my next ten years in the consulting arena, and the lion's share of my work was initially in marketing copywriting. This gives me a unique perspective for pulling apart business problems and developing solutions that other people might not think of.


When you write computer code, it forces your brain to rewire itself and think in terms of one simple instruction at a time. Computers are dumb machines. They will do exactly what you tell them to do, for better or for worse. As a programmer, I had to learn to break problems down into small pieces and write out the solutions as algorithms, one simple instruction at a time. I use that same basic approach when setting up processes and procedures for small businesses. I develop an algorithm for solving each business problem.


My other skill set is marketing copywriting, which is mostly a matter of speaking the customer's language. That's not easy, but I've developed some simple methods for uncovering what's important to customers. It starts with asking the right questions, and I've been told I have a gift for that. Being a consultant is not about telling someone what to do. It's about helping a client create a solution that they feel good about. Most people already have most of the knowledge they need to solve their own problems, but they just haven't looked at their situation from the right vantage point. A good marketing message should help them see things in a new way.


In addition to being an established local entrepreneur, Dave is one of the breakout speakers at the upcoming Triangle Small Business Summit, sponsored by Affordable Promos and The Bookkeeper. Dave will be speaking on Using Technology and Automation to Grow Your Small Business.