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From Southern California Entrepreneurs

A Nurse Answers Call

Her Counseling Skills Opened Door to Business

June 10, 1998|KAREN E, KLEIN | KAREN E. KLEIN is a freelance writer

Sharon Rochford had been a surgical nurse for 17 years when she had surgery herself and realized how unprepared she was. She began counseling patients informally about surgical preparation and then opened a business coaching patients and their families through medical procedures. Listening to her clients' needs and tailoring her marketing materials to meet them has gotten Rochford's firm off to a strong start. She was interviewed by freelance writer Karen E. Klein.

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I had cosmetic surgery and, when I looked in the mirror immediately afterward, it was devastating. My face was severely swollen and red for two weeks. I was frightened that something had gone wrong, and I wasn't sure what to do. Even as a nurse, I wasn't prepared, and I went back to work way too soon.

These days, many surgeries are being done on an outpatient basis--and they're not all minor. Even with major surgeries, patients are sent home just days later. Although they get discharge instructions from their doctors, many of them are unprepared for their recoveries.

I decided to start my business after friends, patients and surgeons started referring people to me for consulting. The doctors told me that the patients did so much better after I helped them plan their recoveries.

I spent four months in the Beverly Hills library, researching medical planning and primary care and writing a business plan.

When I first started out, I began by telling people all the unquestionable benefits I was offering them instead of asking what they wanted and listening to what they needed from me. I started with a diatribe about my medical background--my nursing work, personal experiences, medical experiences. People just kind of looked at me and said, "Uh-huh."

This was happening with my printed material as well. I wrote up a brochure that spoke to what I was offering, instead of focusing on what the clients wanted. When I had a lack of response to the brochure, I revamped it to focus on the clients' needs and found the response was huge.

I changed the heading on the brochure from "Rochford Surgical Consultants" to "Your Upcoming Surgery--How You Can Make It Come Out the Way You Want It To." It's a message that clients get instantly now--what they want and need will be addressed. I also included quotes from some of the wonderful letters I've gotten thanking me. There has been an enormous difference in the effectiveness of that brochure.

I learned that in business, I had to listen to everything clients said--the verbal, the nonverbal, their responsiveness and unresponsiveness--just as intently as I do during medical work. Because my business plan included a certain flexibility built in, my business has been able to flow in the direction that meets my clients' needs as I discover them, even when I didn't foresee all of them.

For instance, I projected that my largest percentage of clients would be plastic-surgery patients, but it has turned out that they are equally divided among major surgeries of every kind. I've been surprised that many of my clients have been newly diagnosed with cancer and need help choosing what form of treatment they are going to have.

As a nurse, I would watch patients get discharged and never see them again. What I do now is so much more rewarding.

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If your business can provide a lesson to other entrepreneurs, contact Karen E. Klein at the Los Angeles Times, 1333 S. Mayflower Ave., Suite 100, Monrovia 91016 or send e-mail to Kklein6349@aol.com. Include your name, address and telephone number.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

At a Glance

Company: Rochford Surgical Consultants

Owner: Sharon Rochford

Nature of business: Surgical planning and health-care consulting

Location: 9730 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 215, Beverly Hills

Founded: 1997

Employees: 1

Projected annual revenue: $55,000

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