Q: I operate a home-based service business, providing costume design and wardrobe services for television and movie studio projects. I now have a few jobs a month and two employees. How would I benefit from retaining professional consulting services? How much does this cost?
A: The benefits you would get from a consultant really depend on why you are thinking about hiring one. Before you hire, interview several candidates, ask for referrals and listen to your instincts. Trust and personal chemistry are at the top of the list of credentials in this line of work.
Typically, consultants are hired to address specific business problems and are retained for a finite amount of time. The consultant studies the problem, submits observations, answers and recommendations, and then it's up to the client to implement those recommendations.
Consultants usually charge an hourly fee that may range from $50 to $350 or more. A good consultant should be able to give you an advance estimate. The best way to find a consultant is to get a referral from someone in the industry you are in. Another good place to start is through a local chapter of a professional networking organization. If you are looking for an expert who will form more of an ongoing partnership with you and your business, you may want to look for a business "coach," who works with a client to study a problem objectively and plan a strategy to overcome it. The client implements the strategy, but the coach sticks around for accountability reasons to keep the client focused, on target and on schedule, as well as to provide ongoing counsel and encouragement.
A coach usually charges between $150 and $500 a month for up to four one-hour sessions. You can find a professional business coach through the Internet at http://www.coachreferral.com or http://www.coachfederation.org. Both sites list hundreds of coaches by location, specialty and other criteria.
--John P. Delmatoff,
Pathfinder Coaching, Diamond Bar
Q: We have published Southern California-area bicycle touring books for 13 years and we've always dealt with a couple of regional distributors. Now we are publishing a book with a national scope and find we are being contacted by online booksellers who want to sell our book. What is the best source for finding book distributors? What kinds of discounts do publishers give to online booksellers?
--Don and Sharron Brundige,
A: Your best source for locating book distributors is in a reference volume called "Literary Market Place." It is updated annually and lists publishers, literary agents, book distributors, wholesalers and contact people. You should be able to find it in a public library.
I'm not surprised you've been contacted by online booksellers, because their numbers are growing every day. Of course, the largest and most well-known is Amazon.com, but the American Booksellers Assn.'s Web site (http://www.bookweb.org) lists about 600 members who offer books online. That Web site also contains a list of booksellers alphabetically and by specialty, both nationally and internationally.
As far as publishers' discounts, they vary from company to company, but legally publishers are supposed to offer the same discounts to every book distributor--online or off. The American Booksellers Assn. is now involved in litigation on behalf of our member stores to defend their rights to get the same discount as anybody else.
--Richard Scott, managing editor,
American Bookseller Magazine,
Q: I am a retired RN in my late 60s. I recently bought a photo-developing business from the real estate agent who owned it. I did not research the business because I trusted the owner. Well, I am one of those fools born every minute! I kept her on to manage the business, but recently found out that she kited some money from the company. We parted ways and I am now learning how to run a business that is service-intensive and generates very little profit. I have a new employee who thinks it would be a good idea to expand into creating Web sites and other computer jobs. I am afraid and wonder if I should try it or sell. I hope you can advise me.
A: When you buy a business, you should follow many of the same rules you'd follow if you were investing in the stock market. That means you should have a knowledge of the business or industry in which you are investing. I think that your best bet now is to continue learning about your present business while you work to increase your bottom line.
Attending trade shows, reviewing industry trade magazines and visiting similar stores in different areas will help you find new ideas for your company. Make sure you have adequate controls over the cash receipts.