Sometimes the most successful businesses stem from life experiences, and no one knows this better than Paul A. Dillon. When this management consultant and Vietnam veteran founded Dillon Consulting Services LLC in 2006, Paul’s original vision was actually business consulting for the service industry! A few professional pivots later, and Dillon Consulting Services LLC is now one of the leading agencies for aspiring veteran entrepreneurs. Read on to find out how Paul’s military & consulting background prepared him for this business venture, the advantages of being a “solopreneur,” and what we can expect next from Dillon Consulting Services LLC.
Why were you inspired to start Dillon Consulting Services?
I retired as a consultant from the Chicago office of the McGladrey accounting firm in 2006. Upon my retirement from McGladrey, I reinvented myself by starting my own firm in Chicago, which is now devoted to helping veterans who want to start their own business. I am a former U.S. Army Reserve 1st Lieutenant, who fought in the Vietnam War. I was the creator of the concept for an incubator in Chicago for veterans who want to start their own businesses, called The Bunker, which has been recently rebranded as Bunker Labs. See my op-ed that started the whole thing in Chicago.
How did your business get started? From the good, bad and ugly, what was your startup process like?
My business didn’t start out with the idea of helping veterans. I started out thinking that I was going to provide project management and business development services to companies in the service industry. That was where I believed that I had marketable experience. Due to the onset of the recession, however, that venture did not pan out. So, I ended up using my business knowledge doing research for a regional business publication, as well as helping them run events. I have since built a successful enterprise working with veterans starting their own businesses. I have come to realize that my background has prepared me to help aspiring veteran entrepreneurs.
What niche or hole in the market are you filling with Dillon Consulting Services?
Dillon Consulting Services LLC helps to support the 25% of younger veterans returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, who indicate that they want to start their own businesses. After World War II, nearly one-half of all returning veterans started their own businesses—but, by 2012, that rate had dropped to less than 6%. Even more important, just over 7% of all current veteran-owned businesses are started by veterans under 35 years of age. The rest are started by older vets. But, it is the lack of younger veterans who are choosing entrepreneurship as a viable career path that is the critical issue in veteran entrepreneurship today. I hope to help alleviate that situation by providing support for those younger veterans who want to start their own companies.
How much has your business changed from day one until now?
As I previously noted, my business didn’t start out with the idea of helping veterans. I started out thinking that I was going to provide project management and business development services to companies in the service industry. But, that didn’t work out. I had to “pivot” several times before I found a niche that worked.
What are your biggest challenges in marketing Dillon Consulting Services?
Dillon Consulting Services LLC is basically a traditional “low tech” business. That is because helping veterans is a highly personal “one-on-one” endeavor. There are some things that you can do electronically to market a business like this; but, mostly, you have to interact with the veteran, and the resources that they need, on a one-on-one level. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to scale a business like this. There is no “cookie-cutter” approach to helping aspiring veteran entrepreneurs…there is no formula. It’s an art, not a science-–much like making a patchwork quilt or a handcrafted vase. Those probably aren’t great analogies…but, you get the idea.
What types of marketing are most effective for your business?
I have used a number of different marketing strategies that have worked very well to promote this business. One is simply meeting with people who have an interest in helping younger veterans who want to start their own businesses, seeking their input, and informing them of what I do at Dillon Consulting Services LLC. Another is writing articles and speaking at conferences on the subject of veteran entrepreneurship. What my company provides is a professional service. I spoke on the marketing of professional services at the Midwest Conference of the Sales Association in November 2013. Here is the outline of my presentation.
What is the #1 lesson you learned since starting Dillon Consulting Services?
Be flexible! And, find an area or industry that is underserved where you can add value…then go for it! Don’t take no for an answer. If you meet with rejection, get up, brush yourself off, and try again. There is always more than one way to skin the proverbial cat.
If you won $50,000, how would you invest it in your business?
I wouldn’t invest it in my business. I enjoy being a sole practitioner. There are advantages to being a “solopreneur”. Bigger isn’t necessarily better. As I said, what I offer is a highly personal, one-on-one service. If I tried to grow this business, I’m afraid that I would lose that personal connection. Indeed, I think that too many entrepreneurs try to grow their businesses too fast and too soon. You have to “nail it before you scale it”, as the saying goes. If I won $50,000, I would find very creative ways to use it for charitable purposes.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own business?
It can’t be just about the money. There has to be something more. If it’s just about the money, you will most likely fail. You won’t be able to get people to work along with you to accomplish your goals for the business, even if they share in the money. People want to know that there’s a larger vision than merely profit at work with your company. What are your goals? What are your values? What is your attitude toward serving the needs of your customers or clients with honesty and integrity? Young people, in particular, want to work for a company that is committed to improving the commonweal of their fellow citizenry, at the same time that it is making a profit. Your employees want to do good, while they are doing well. They need to know that those aren’t mutually exclusive concepts. Those are tough tasks to accomplish. But, the successful companies of the future will be those that can pull it off.
What can we expect from Dillon Consulting Services in the next year?
More articles….more speaking engagements…and, continued involvement representing veterans on the Kennedy Forum. Here is an article that describes my involvement with that organization.
There are many more activities and projects planned. But, you’ll just have to keep checking back with my LinkedIn profile to discover what they are.
To learn more about Dillon Consulting Services LLC, please visit dillonconsult.com.
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