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Consultants Need to Create a Strong First Impression

The October, 1987, stock market crash was a disaster for many New Yorkers, but for two entrepreneurs, Black Monday spawned an unusual small business.

At the time, Roslyn Brandt was overseeing the design of a new corporate headquarters building for the Salomon Bros. investment banking firm. When the market collapsed, so did Brandt’s massive project.

Instead of bemoaning her fate, Brandt met with Diane Barnes, director of marketing for a prestigious New York architecture firm, and they decided to form Barnes & Brandt Inc.

By capitalizing on their professional contacts, the pair provide advice to the design and architectural community. In recent months they have recruited 10 architects for a Sydney, Australia, skyscraper project and coordinated a management retreat for a troubled architectural firm. They are also under contract to advise England’s largest commercial furniture company on how to please American tastes.

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At first, Brandt said, they worried that “if a company like ours didn’t exist, there had to be a reason.”

But, as soon as they decided to take the risk, the response was, “Why hasn’t someone done this before?”

Barnes said many consultants who set themselves up in business fail because they don’t make a strong first impression. Because consultants deal directly with top decision makers, it is critical to have a professional-looking brochure, a snappy logo and a passion for selling your services.

“One thing that is particularly crucial for a small business is to establish your own identity,” said Barnes, who hired several graphic artists before settling on a logo that she liked. Once you find the right logo she suggests carrying the concept through by putting it on everything from letterheads to T-shirts.

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She also advises small-business owners that they have to spend money to make money, especially in the beginning.

“People are hesitant to take a $300 plane trip that could bring in a contract for $30,000,” Barnes said. “If your business doesn’t get a good strong start, it will always be coming from behind.”

A perfect example of this was when a potential client and his partner flew to New York to meet with Barnes and Brandt. The women had just started their business, and money was very tight.

“Dinner for four cost $300 in a top restaurant in New York,” recalled Barnes. “I signed the check and I thought, ‘Oh my God, how will we pay for this?’ But ultimately those two became some of our best clients.”

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Another way to impress clients is to find out what charities your clients support or what sports they enjoy. “A lot of people support people who support them,” said Barnes. “Why not help a client with their favorite charity or jointly sponsor a sports event?”

Industry leaders said no one is serving the design community in quite the same way as Barnes and Brandt.

“They are uniquely positioned with a high level of contact,” said Martin Yardley, a principal in STUDIOS, a San Francisco architecture firm and a client. “They are equally valuable to the six or seven people involved in a major construction project.”

Consultants Need Some Advice, Too

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Most people think that consultants are too busy helping others to need help themselves, but Howard Shenson has built a small business around counseling consultants since 1971.

Through books, seminars and lectures, Shenson of Woodland Hills helps consultants build their practices while coping with the changing business climate. Here are a few of his “101 Proven Strategies for Building a Successful Practice.” The copyrighted booklet is available by mail for $3 plus tax by writing to Shenson at 20750 Ventura Blvd., Suite 206, Woodland Hills, CA. 91364. Information on his Nov. 1 seminar is also available by mail.

Write a separate brochure for each target market you serve. Concentrate on the benefits that you provide to each type of client.

Never use a resume to promote your services. You may have to develop a resume to satisfy the files of an existing client, but it is a disastrous first marketing piece.

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Do not promote your services to the personnel department. Always promote your services to the executive or manager.

Devote about 15% to 25% of your working hours--each and every week--to marketing and selling. The time to market is not when you have run out of clients.

Don’t bad mouth your competition. Explain why your services are better and the unique advantages you offer. If you are really better than the competition, it will be obvious to your clients and prospects.

Dress the way your client or prospect dresses, within reason. Don’t be overly formal or informal.

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Don’t look upon having to write a proposal as unnecessary drudgery for getting the business. Research clearly shows that those who write proposals (even when they don’t have to) wind up getting bigger and better assignments.

When writing letters, increase impact with a handwritten P.S. It will result in your letter being read first and it will instantly grab the reader’s attention.

Be listed in all trade and professional directories that reach your target market. More than half of all directories will allow you to be listed free of charge.

Charge for travel expenses on a per-diem basis rather than a direct reimbursement basis. Most clients prefer the simplicity of per diems, and it avoids any criticism of how you spend expense dollars.

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Hot Line for Women Business Owners

The American Women’s Economic Development Corp. and Citibank are sponsoring a telephone hot line for the nation’s 4.1 million women business owners. Business owners can receive up to 10 minutes of help from a professional consultant for $10. Sessions lasting up to 90 minutes can also be scheduled in advance for $35. Both services, which can be charged to a major credit card, are available by calling (800) 222-AWED. Callers in Alaska and Hawaii can reach the counselors at (212) 692-9100. Citibank/Citicorp pledged $120,000 to underwrite the counseling program for two years, according to a bank spokeswoman.

Unity Retreat for Small Businesses

Small-business owners and others interested in establishing a national agenda for small-business interests are invited to attend a National Small Business United leadership and federal issues retreat in February.

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“The issues retreat is a very unique and special event that each year draws together small-business leaders from all over the country to learn about economic projections, political developments and legislative proposals which affect the survival and success of small companies,” said Betty Jo Toccoli, president of the organization.

The retreat is scheduled Feb. 2-4 at the Radisson Palm Springs Resort in Palm Springs. For information contact Rosa Wright at (202) 293-8830.


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