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Staging Seminars Useful for Establishing Consulting Firm

March 04, 1997|KAREN E. KLEIN

Q: I am interested in doing management consulting in the area of manufacturing management and financial planning. I have more than 20 years' experience working with manufacturing organizations. It was suggested to me that I start conducting seminars in manufacturing management to build a client list. Please give me a suggestion about the best approach to getting started.

--Ray Shah, Anaheim Hills

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A: I think it's often useful to put together a conference or seminar. You should consider bringing in additional speakers with expertise that complements your own. A group of bright, knowledgeable speakers and an attractive event will bring people out, and wonderful things can happen--networking, good contacts and open doors for everyone. Try to affiliate the event with a large, well-known, reputable entity, such as a school or trade association.

Another way to gain some credibility is to write articles on cutting-edge issues for industry trade publications. Also, try to find a network of other consultants that you can brainstorm with. Good peer relationships with capable competitors can help you a lot. I often find that the biggest difference between those who succeed and those who don't is how much contact they have with people they can share with and get feedback from. You can find other consultants through trade associations or consulting organizations.

As you get started in consulting, make sure that you initially over-deliver. Make sure your first few clients believe that you are a terrific value. That will establish a backbone for your business, give you referrals and enable you to go on to the next level.

Be aware that in consulting, things invariably take longer than you expect. It's better to build in a buffer as far as client expectations go and realize that some clients will have unrealistic expectations. Most of the time, clients portray something one way and bring you in to solve it. But you will find that they don't often know what the real, underlying problem is. You will need to clarify with them what the project is.

--Peter Cowen

Consultant and president

of StratePlan, Westwood

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Q: I opened a purified drinking-water store three months ago in a very good location. We have more than 400 customers right now, but there are 8,500 households nearby. How can I get these people to know us and buy water from us? I have an ad in a local Spanish-language paper, but it does not seem to work. I would appreciate some advice.

--Emma Rubi

Aguadulce Falls, Panorama City

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A: The best way to blanket a specific area is to send out a direct-mail piece. If you believe that most of your neighbors are Spanish-speaking, it should be at least partly in Spanish.

Find a mailing-list broker who has the expertise to walk you through the process. A good list broker can help you put your ad together and customize a direct mailer that will reach all 8,500 households in your area. Remember, though, even if you get a good list, the response rate may be as low as 1% or 2%.

You can find a direct-mail expert through the Yellow Pages, your local chamber of commerce or the Direct Marketing Club of Southern California at (310) 374-7499.

Another possibility is participating in a coupon mailer with several other local companies. A salesperson at a company like ValuePak should be able to work with you to design a coupon or mail piece that will be specific to your neighborhood.

Buying water is not something everyone wants to do--after all, water comes out of the tap! You will have to include some kind of offer in your mailer that will tempt them to come into your store. Give them a discount, a free bottle of water, or some other reason to try your product. If you want to get them into your store (rather than have them sign up for delivery), plan an event for a specific date and time, and make sure your location is attractive. Again, if many of your potential customers are Spanish-speaking, make sure someone in the store speaks Spanish so they will be comfortable when they come in.

--Sylvia Rose

Marketing communications

consultant, Client/Member

Services, Santa Monica

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A: In answer to the question posed recently by E.W. Erwin, it was suggested that he hire an attorney to do a patent search. I wanted to let him know that patent agents are as qualified as patent attorneys in patent matters, except litigation, and are perfectly able to conduct searches, prepare patent applications and prosecute them in the U.S. Patent Office.

Patent agents also usually charge much less for their services than attorneys, which is no small consideration.

--Monty Koslover

U.S. patent agent, Reg. No. 30,765

If you have a question about how to start or operate a small business, please mail it to Karen E. Klein in care of the Los Angeles Times, 1333 S. Mayflower Ave., Suite 100, Monrovia CA 91016, or e-mail it to business@latimes.com. Include your name and address. The column is designed to answer questions of general interest. It should not be construed as legal advice.

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