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SMALL-BUSINESS MAKEOVER

Keeping an ear to the ground by networking

January 31, 2008|Cyndia Zwahlen | Special to The Times

After wrapping up a major project at his Tustin recording studio, AudioVision Production Services, Bill Trousdale feels out of touch with his old network of business contacts and the latest industry developments. He wants new clients but isn't sure where to advertise and dreads the idea of cold-calling, formal networking and the hard sell.

The key to his success is simply to do what he loves best -- talking about how his business can deliver top audio for clients -- says industry veteran Robert A. Slutske, vice president of business development at National TeleConsultants Inc. in Glendale.

"You can buy a gadget every 15 minutes but the truth is, it's the ears, it's the ability to handle people," Slutske says. "When you finally realize that's your strength, then when you talk to people it's about 'How can my expertise help you get this done?' "

Here are excerpts from Slutske's conversation with Trousdale. Many of his points also apply to other small-business owners looking to recharge their firms.

Slutske: The question we want to come back around and look at is how you've trapped business before and how you can resurrect some of that.

Trousdale: I'm not a big schmoozer. Networking, meet-and-greet -- I run from. As soon as my phone rings or somebody walks in the door, you can't shut me up. But for me to go and knock on their doors is a very difficult thing.

Slutske: Yes, I think the worst thing in the world is to try to cold call. What I think you are looking for is to touch in on the extended audio business, the fellow travelers: companies that rent equipment, companies you've worked for, you've competed against. Get out your Rolodex.

Trousdale: A few months ago I went to all of my current producers and clients and asked for material to put on my new demo reel for my website. Even though it was really marketing, it was disguised as something else.

Slutske: No, it was not disguised. The word is networking. You have to separate the idea that networking is marketing. Because really, networking is what you should be doing when you are successful and very busy, and when you are slow and not doing anything. It's hard to do sometimes but in truth, when you look back at how you get jobs, it very much is you and some individuals finding each other.

Trousdale: What I have seen happen is the clients I used to see all the time doing corporate communication pieces are just not doing that kind of work. The typical corporate video has fallen away to either a quickie PowerPoint presentation that marketing whips together in five minutes, or they've got a little camcorder and take the microphone that's on that and they consider that the production.

Slutske: Yep, it's very true wherever you are in business, here come a lot of inexpensive products that look like they do what you do, but they don't. So finding a way to get into the mind of a potential client with that issue is really what you are about. It's key to unlocking that next round of business.

Trousdale: I'm thinking, where can I refocus on an industry or group that says, 'Yes, we understand what a studio does and we understand the importance of having a good microphone and a quiet room.'?

Slutske: Then, the things I think would be most useful would be to niche a problem or area you see is not being done well, which really lacks what you can do for it and shape that for a response. How did the Bible project come to you?

Trousdale: I knew Paul Crouch Jr. [son of Trinity Broadcasting Network founder Paul Crouch]; we had mutual clients. He gave [the publisher] my name. While I was talking to the producer, he mentioned he was trying to track down the original masters to the Bible they did 20 years ago. . . . I said 'You've got to be kidding me. I did that Bible.'

Slutske: Well, there you've got already three or four people you need to go back and contact, finding out how things are going, what happened to the work. It's an effort on your part to keep your finger in the pie.

Trousdale: I have spoken with my client contact. If anything's going to happen in SoCal, he'd make sure I was at least included in the discussion.

Slutske: That's great.

Trousdale: I have not spoken to Paul Crouch Jr. in many years.

Slutske: That might be put back together.

Trousdale: I'm not needing to find income in the religious market, particularly.

Slutske: No, but you have a contact, and those skills are transferable. There are a number of people taking transcripts and putting them on CDs, on Web files. See if you can move into the audio publishing side. I live by books on tape.

Trousdale: Interesting.

Slutske: And if they want to do 5.1 surround sound, that's not a problem because you and I both know you can sub-rent that equipment. It's not what you want to do, but you can factor that into a contract.

Trousdale: I've worried about that.

Slutske: You may also uncover a project that you don't have all the bells and whistles to do, but you can bring it to somebody who does and mix the sound. Any kind of trade group that relates to your competition is something you should be a part of, to get back in the swim of things. Because you need that feeling in your gut that, 'Yes, I know how this is done.' I don't think it will take you long.

cyndia.zwahlen@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Meet the Expert: Robert A. Slutske

Slutske is vice president of business development at National TeleConsultants Inc. in Glendale, where he has provided planning services to clients such as USA Broadcasting, Warner Bros., Universal Television, Walt Disney Co. and the USC Annenberg School for Communication.

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