Network reader-to-reader advice.
Building the Business
Joan Davis wanted to increase the client base of her market-research firm to avoid "the peaks and valleys" in the work load (Searching for Clients, November 1989, [Article link]). Davis has sent out mailers and joined trade associations, but has had little luck finding new customers. She asked Network readers for advice.
Despite all her experience in market research, Ms. Davis has learned very little about marketing. She has used a variety of marketing media, trying to increase business and smooth out sales volume. But with that kind of shotgun attack, she might as well try billboards or skywriting. If you don't know who your customers are, it doesn't matter how you don't reach them!
Ms. Davis should analyze her marketing environment, her competitors, and what she does best, then focus her efforts on the most promising market segments. She must define strategic objectives -- and then, when she positions her company, make sure the message she sends matches that strategy.
Gary T. Ward
Salt Lake City
Ms. Davis's scheduling problems are similar to those at our public accounting firm: peak loads during tax season followed by a frantic push to fill off-season gaps. She's had little success with a market-oriented solution -- increasing her client base -- so perhaps she should try an operational approach instead. My company has developed a network of employees willing to work flextime schedules.
Three circumstances have worked in our favor. Many young women CPAs want to spend more time at home with their children, but also wish to further their careers. They work full-time four months, then part-time the rest of the year. There is a multitude of retired people who want to work only part-time, and who are qualified and extremely loyal. And small-business owners and professors at the local university are eager to work on a special-project basis.
We still have the number of employees we need at peak times, but we've reduced overall salary costs.
Steven R. Williams
Director of Management
Cheatham & Landsford CPA
Ms. Davis might want to become active in the community, helping the local symphony or the Red Cross, for example. The unapproachable prospective client becomes suddenly more relaxed and open to new ideas when the two of you are working together on a common goal. In many cases I have found my best clients through such activity.
Nancy Edwards's husband is an executive at a large computer company that recently laid off thousands of employees. If his job goes next, he may look for work with a smaller company in another part of the country (Living Through the Layoff, November 1989, [Article link]). Edwards asked how she could support her husband, and how networking could help his job search.
My company experienced layoffs this year, and I learned that ex-employees go through the same phases as a patient facing a terminal illness: denial, anger, and despair, followed by an attempt to bargain their way out of it. Finally, they come to acceptance, and they move on. Supporting someone who has been laid off means listening -- to the venting of emotions, to financial fears, to every bad thing that person thought about their company.
You also have to keep that person busy and focused on finding a new job. Keep your ears open for tips. Stay in touch with all the other people laid off; if some have found positions, perhaps there are other opportunities at their companies. Help send out résumés, type, and file; if your spouse is a high-level executive, he or she may be used to a secretary. And try to face financial facts early on. Have a contingency plan in case bills can't be met. It will prepare you for the worst, and you won't sit up late nights wondering "what if."
Finally, remind your spouse that any layoff is a business decision, not a personal one. He may feel that his company is getting rid of him because he's done something wrong, but his layoff is a comment on the company's health, not on his worth. If he can remember this, he can take advantage of the break to reassess his career path and move forward.
CompuServe Data Technologies
Like most people, Ms. Edwards misunderstands networking. Strategic networking is a process of seeking out people with whom you have good chemistry, developing a rapport, and helping to empower them. Then they reciprocate. But you can't harvest on the same day you plant. Here are some tips -- basic, but often ignored:
* Socialize; join groups that interest you. Start by listening.
* Set goals for yourself. What is your purpose in attending?
* Trade information, exploring what you have in common.
* Hold off on discussing business. Get contacts now, and schedule a meeting. Talk business then.
* Remember: the more you give, the more you get.
Norman J. Stoehr
The Entrepreneur's Network
By the Book
Mark Schneiderman was planning to redesign his retail sporting-goods store. Before he began, he wanted to know if Network readers could recommend any resource material (Directing Traffic, November 1989, [Article link]).
The National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA) publishes a book by John Chipman titled The Store Planning Workbook for Sporting Goods Retailers. One of the most popular books in the NSGA Learning Center, it is designed to guide the merchant in planning the best, most efficient and suitable facility without spending a fortune.
The book shows the retailer how to make the right decisions regarding fixtures, lighting, ceilings, floors, and walls. It discusses use of floor space, tax credits, building codes, and contractors. The information is presented in workbook form, so Mr. Schneiderman can tailor it to his needs. The book costs $45 for NSGA members or $75 for nonmembers, and can be purchased from the NSGA by phone: (708) 439-4000; or fax: (708) 439-0111.
Manager of Education
Mount Prospect, Ill.