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Learning How to Succeed

To Get Clients, Firm Must Focus

September 10, 1997|DIANE SEO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Christopher Meyer got the bug in high school while learning about China's Opium Wars.

After studying the two 19th century trading wars in which Western nations gained commercial privileges in China, Meyer felt the calling of the Far East.

He studied Mandarin in college, majored in East Asian studies, lived briefly with a Chinese family in Taiwan and tailored his work experience to gain expertise in what he considers the most dynamic region of the world.

Last year, Meyer fulfilled a longtime goal by launching his own consulting business to help U.S. companies accomplish their exporting missions in Asia. His company, Wide Fountains International, is named after the building in Canton that housed the U.S. trading companies during the first Opium War.

"I feel this is my fate," said Meyer, 35, whose business is located in San Marino. "Many U.S. companies have not taken the initiative to build as much international business as they can. So I see it as a large market."

Wide Fountains International is a company built from the heart, but it has yet to build a lasting foundation. Meyer is struggling to reach his target clientele: mid-size U.S. companies that want to develop markets or boost sales in Asia.

He needs two clients at a time to pay him retainers, usually between $3,500 and $5,000 each a month, to remain stable. But so far, he's landed only one long-term client. The other companies he's worked with have had only short-term needs.

"The easy part is building business partners in Asia," Meyer said. But finding export-ready companies willing to hire an outside consultant is like searching for "a needle in a haystack," he said.

"When you're working on a project for four or five weeks, all the marketing drops off," he said. "It's the classic problem with any small consulting firm. How to conduct your work, which is your bread and butter, and effectively market."

Meyer hopes the marketing part of his business can run by itself while he's working on projects or traveling on business trips. He believes new clients may come to him once they learn of his special services.

But Robert H. Breunig, director of the counseling staff at the U.S. Export Assistance Center in Long Beach, said Meyer needs to fundamentally adjust his views on marketing.

"Marketing and delivering a product are the same thing," Breunig said. "Essentially, if you're an unsuccessful marketer, you have no business. You have to find out what buyers want, then build your product around that. The two are not separate."

Because many executives aren't familiar with Meyer's type of work, he needs to explain his services fully and be flexible to adjust to his clients' needs, said Breunig, whose center provides business advice to about 300 companies a year.

"They're only as interested in you as you are in their particular problem," he told Meyer.

About 80% of Meyer's marketing efforts have been through mailings and follow-up telephone calls to companies with annual sales between $10 million and $50 million. He estimates he's written to 300 companies over the last year and followed each letter with a phone call.

His efforts have gone largely unrewarded. Although his mailings resulted in eight meetings with company owners or sales and marketing directors, it did not produce paid work. The six clients he did land came from leads from friends and former business associates.

After subsequently seeking advice from a private consultant, Meyer was able to arrange eight additional meetings with company heads. He is waiting to see whether his efforts will lead to paid work.

Meyer must identify export-ready clients who already are seeking services such as his, Breunig said. Sending out mailings to a large number of companies, including those with no immediate exporting plans, is a waste of time, he said.

"You tried to attack it with a broad brush, but the only success you've had has been through personal relationships," Breunig told Meyer. "I'm not surprised. If you send mailings and wait for the telephone to ring, it's wasting time. You have to focus, focus, focus."

Breunig said direct mailings won't work for Meyer because he's offering a high-level, sophisticated product.

"You don't buy this high-level stuff from strangers," he said. "You need to get into circles and build friendships and relationships with people you can contact on a regular basis. That's where you get the great leads."

Since Meyer already has exhausted his personal contacts, he needs to start networking, Breunig said. He should attend exporting conferences and join organizations such as the World Trade Center Assn. Los Angeles-Long Beach, the area's leading international trade association, with 900 members. In addition to hosting conferences and seminars, the local group is connected to 320 world trade center associations in 97 countries, which have a total membership of 500,000.

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