The consultant's consultant, who is Howard L. Shenson, 38, of Calabasas, Calif., held a seminar yesterday morning for 66 present or would-be consultants on how to consult. In the afternoon, for another $75 a head he held a seminar on how to hold seminars.
"I do about 40 of these a year," he said afterwards. He fingered a bulldog-model pipe he never got around to lighting. He wore a blue buttondown Polo shirt, leather-buttoned sportcoat, Bass Weejuns, ancient-madder necktie, black-metal rimmed glasses. He is the very model of a former California state college business professor, who now is earning, well, "let's say it's a comfortable living."
"He's very good," said Stuart Hume, 57, who retired after 27 years as a securities broker with Merrill Lynch. He attended Shenson's consulting consultation because "I find it difficult to live with a wife all day long, and I'm casting around for something to do."
Never mind all those nasty remarks people make about consultants. You know: they're "Beltway bandits" who "shovel smoke" for a living. They "borrow your watch to tell you what time it is, then go home with the watch."
Shenson said there are 56,540 consultants in America, with the number growing at 20 percent a year, and the average annual income at $50,112. Not bad for telling somebody how to mind his own business. About $11 billion -- that's billion -- is spent every year by the federal government on consultants, which makes Washington second only to New York for these lone cowboys riding in to make the office safe for free enterprise.
Don't laugh. Here was Shenson on getting the client to pay in advance for your wisdom: "It's eyeball to eyeball, hat brim to hat brim, toe to toe, out in the town square, high noon."
It's tough out there, making $600 a day for kibitzing. You want state, local or federal government business? Your town square is public agency meetings, Shenson said. "Two kinds of people attend these meetings: public-spirited citizens and entrepreneurs. I always try to get a seat in the front, left-hand corner. You should talk at least twice during the meeting, then position yourself outside the foyer and hold court. You're going to have a swarm of people. You have to shake off the public-spirited citizens and get to the entrepreneurs."
You need to get business or technical publications, but you don't have the money and the library doesn't stock them? "Contact the publisher and say you want to advertise in them. You'll get a package full of back issues in the next mail."
Always had a yen to write a book passing on to others your lifetime of hard-won wisdom? "Don't write a book unless it's going to be a bestseller. Write for magazines and business journals."
In fact, forget about the hard-won wisdom: "It's where you publish, not what, that gets you consulting business."
Trying to figure out how to write that ad for the business page of the newspaper? "There are two kinds of ads: Mercedes ads and hemorrhoid ads." Mercedes ads are big expensive things that aim only at enhancing the product's prestige. Shenson seems to favor the hemorrhoid ads, which appeal to a specific problem and urge the client to do something about it NOW. That is just the pitch he gives after a coffee break, flogging a tableful of his own publications and tape cassettes before he gets back to the charts and lists of information, the nitty-gritty of getting the job sold, then done.
"I just about got wiped out of them yesterday in Philadelphia, so you should buy now at this seminar where prices are lower. I have a 30-day refund policy. Just send it back, and we'll refund your money."
Consider, for instance, a year's subscription to The Professional Consultant, published by Howard L. Shenson Inc., 12 issues for $60. The April issue ran eight pages, the last of which bears a facsimile signature: HOWARD. Consider "The Successful Consultant's Guide to Fee Setting," which is 167 pages of mostly double-spaced typewriting, including three pages of "About the Author," at a price of $34.
"His prices are low," said Katherine Connors, 37, of McLean, who set herself up six months ago as a "consultant in communications training and organizational development." She added: "A morning like this with the American Management Association would be $475."
"I just want to say you're terrific," shouted a woman at the back of the room, after he told her the trick for women is to be "assertive without being shrewish."
Shenson patted his crush of wiry, gray hair as if, since he last patted it, which he did frequently, his head might have grown a couple of sizes.
Once he had the title of consultant's consultant to himself. No longer. "I was the first in the country to do this," he said afterwards, as his students came up to shake his hand. "A couple of people have knocked me off, now. There's a guy in Boston who gets hold of my schedule and precedes me into town. He wants me to buy him out."
A tough problem. Maybe he should hire a consultant's consultant's consultant?