Find the Cash to Start Your Business
Going Public? Think Twice
How A Small Start-up Can Land a Big Client
Mix Up Your Marketing Message
Coping with Online
You Can Get Past the New Gatekeepers
Close Your Technology Deal
Corrections or additions?
These articles were prepared for the January 5, edition of U.S. 1
Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Best of the Best: Career Advice from 2004
Top Of PageFind the Cash to Start Your Business
Since the first copper coin was minted with the image of King Tut, people have complained that money was unusually tight. Investment capital was hard to come by because the pharaoh was liberal; because the pharaoh was conservative; because the Nile flooded too early. We’re still singing the same song. Money is tight because investment bankers have been burned; because the IPO window is not yet fully open; because bankers rely on computer scoring rather than personal relationships.
New reasons, the same complaint.
The fact is there is money available for those with the skills to find it. Professional arbitrator, entrepreneur, and CPA Kenneth Horowitz outlines methods for getting the funds flowing – both at start-ups and at more established companies.
A man walks into a bank. He goes to a loan officer and says "I need some money." The loan officer says "How much?" The man replies "I don’t know." Sound like a bad joke? Maybe, but it happens all the time, says Horowitz.
A native of Newark, Horowitz graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson in 1969 with a B.A. in accounting. Earning his CPA led to a succession of CFO jobs with mid-size firms around the state. At one point he worked for Arthur Anderson. For the last six years Horowitz has shifted into teaching and arbitrating commercial disputes.
Money is not tight, insists Horowitz. He dismisses the popular myth, and points out that with interest rates so low, there has been a build up of capital in the coffers of all types of lenders. Many lenders are actually facing the problem of finding good places in which to invest their money. The time is ripe. How do you take advantage?
Where to search. Conventional wisdom assures us that less established businesses must deal with less established lenders. Banks invariably laugh the new entrepreneur out of their marble halls. "Bunk," responds Horowitz. "Banks, venture capitalists, or commercial investment groups are all much more interested in getting their individual criteria met than in the age of your firm. The loan applicant must be aware of these differing needs and tailor his presentation toward them."
Banks and traditional lenders are primarily interested in how they are getting paid back. They require proof of potential cash flow. The question of collateral and current assets is secondary because they truly want no direct involvement in your business. Banks see their recipient businesses as works in progress that will go on long term, continually borrowing and repaying.
The venture capital or private investment group, as Horowitz puts it, "seeks the big hit." They want to invest one lump of cash at the start, get the business launched, and then reap a huge reward by selling it to some other firm. To ensure that the company will be attractive to outside buyers, the investors often want to exert managerial control. They want people on the board and veto rights, and may even take a hand in day-to-day operations.
Loan avenues. Typically, lenders specialize in one type of loan and don’t cross the line. Capital leases, which can involve borrowing $1 million for a piece of equipment that will last 10 years, tend to be the purview of commercial lenders. Such firms probably will not fund your corporate expansion.
Start-up capital for the entrepreneur operating out of his basement often comes from venture capital and private groups. However Horowitz urges all start-up firms to at least approach traditional lenders initially because of their lower rates.
Working capital loans, which cover the delay between potential income stream and actual cash stream during a new sales expansion effort, are the meat of traditional lenders’ business. Banks are happiest financing the operating cycle as you turn inventory into profit and repay them promptly.
This said, it should be noted that for the past decade traditional lenders have been involving themselves in asset-based lending. In such loans, consideration shifts to the value of accounts receivable and other easily collectible collateral over current ability to repay. The lender carefully scrutinizes the security behind the loan.
Making the pitch. "You are not a beggar, you are a customer," declares Horowitz. "Keep reminding yourself of the obvious truth that lenders need to make loans, not turn them down." Lovely colored charts, expensive displays, and a grand – if nebulous – vision were the tools of the 1990s. Today, lenders seek applicants who have a solid business story, backed up an insightful plan and ample numbers to justify it all.
Selling your expertise, both personally and on paper is a prime factor in securing funding. Lenders want to know that you have a good idea, and the brains and horsepower to make it a reality. Your product or service may be wonderful, but can you convince a lender that it will make money in this market?
Have you got the brainpower on your staff and board? This goes beyond production to include accounting, management, distribution, and all aspects of business.
Lenders tend to be much more receptive if they believe your business will last at least the life of the loan. This obvious need often goes unaddressed by applicants.
Facing failure. Once a lender has turned you down, you have an opportunity. Ask him why and where else you might go to seek funding. Most likely, your application was rejected for one of two reasons: Your story wasn’t good enough or your business wasn’t good enough.
"If it is a poor business," says Horowitz, "the lender has just done you a great favor." Sometimes it just takes a third party to see the flaws in your plan. Or perhaps you were asking for too much money. Most experienced lenders will freely dispense valuable assessments. They also know other players and frequently can direct you past the doors of institutions, and into an individual’s office.
Every lender has traditional ideas about what kind of loans he wants to make to what kind of businesses. But the marketplace is dynamic. The keg is full, and new lending sources arise all the time. Armed with tenacity and information, you can tap your share.
Top Of PageGoing Public? Think Twice
You’ve made it! Despite a venture capital drought and cut throat competition, your firm is ascending. It has found a profitable niche and is running with it. You are actually thinking of – gulp – going public. The door to the public markets has been all but nailed shut for the better part of three years, but you think you see an opening.
Dan Conley, founder of entrepreneurial resource firms NJ Angels.net and Silicon Garden.net, provides some advice on making the leap. A native of Belmont, Massachusetts, Conley went west at age 18, spent four years "doing Radar O’Riley type things in the Marines." He then enrolled in the University of Massachusetts, where he earned a B.A. in information systems.
Today he is – in his own terms – "a virtual corporation" and finds financing for start up firms, most of them in the area of high tech. Conley is not necessarily a fan of growing a company by taking it public. A public offering, in his view, should never be seen as a natural step or a status sign. He says, however, that any company contemplating this move should look at the full range of consequences, and should consider which of several methods of going public is the best choice.
Conley unfurls a list of disadvantages to all entrepreneurs eager to go public. First is the problem of total disclosure. Do not think that just because you have acted honorably and kept proper books that you are home free here. In addition to the work involved in preparing voluminous disclosure documents, you face the danger inherent in releasing very valuable materials – on everything from technical data to market share – to your competitors. You may be literally enticing a competitor to bring out his new line against yours.
Secondly, Conley points out that the costs to file and to continually update materials are invariably beyond estimation. Even in a small operation it will take a few people working full time to organize the various requirements.
"Most entrepreneurs are mavericks who got here by thinking out of the box," says Conley. "Now they have to cram back into that box. They surrender major responsibility to a phalanx of executives who really know how to fly a desk, but just don’t understand the entrepreneur."
Despite the disadvantages, going public may be the best option when a company needs to pull in substantial cash. The move may be reassuring to early investors, who may be willing to put in more money if they know they will most likely be able to pull their money out at any time.
Describing three methods of going public, Conley says, any of them could prevent the stock issue from becoming a volleyball for the major investment bankers and their cronies:
Direct offering. This was the option chosen by the Boston Celtics in an attempt to increase investment capital on several levels. The team owners basically offered each season ticket holder the opportunity of becoming a stockholder. It proved to be a clever choice. Fans were encouraged to become more fanatical. Seasons tickets in effect became shares, passed on to family members. And while this is not a wholly public offering, the chances of stock manipulation are kept low.
The Auction. This is the method Google used, and while the method raised more than a few Wall Street eyebrows, the offering surpassed expectations, and the company’s stock has continued to climb dramatically.
Conley was a fan of the stock auction even before Google used it to zoom out of the gate. "This is the purest, and in many ways best, form of public offering," he says. "The market alone will set the price. The investment bankers are unable to buy up large chunks of the initial stock, and then, in a flourish of publicity, boost the issue’s price as everyone is convinced to jump on board this high flyer."
The reverse merger An opportunity has come out of the collapse of all those high flying dot.com companies. It is possible to go into the wreckage of the corporate shells that have washed up on the harsh shores of Chapter 11 and from them pluck legal access to a stock exchange.
The defunct companies have no product, but they do have all the paperwork and infrastructure for issuing stock on a public exchange. This was the route taken by ChemBio.com, one of Conley’s clients, now trading as TSUN on the OTC bulletin board.
Top Of PageHow A Small Start-up Can Land a Big Client
Linda Hammond and her husband, David Hammond, sell first aid kits through their company, Red Bank-based DLH Inc. As a small start-up their biggest challenge was finding buyers. Rather than go after consumers or small companies, the new venture decided their best course, and first priority, was to go after the largest companies.
A graduate of Nazareth College in Rochester, New York, Hammond began her career as an inner-city school teacher. After a move to California with her former husband, she spent time raising children before pursuing a passion for interior design. She took courses in the subject on the West Coast, and landed a job with J.C. Penney as a decorator. From there she progressed to management jobs with the company’s custom decorating division, and came to New Jersey as the manager of that division.
Here she met David Hammond, a former Navy Corpsman who had tended to wounded combatants on the battlefield in Vietnam. After leaving the service, he joined a company that contracted to the government, and wrote injury training programs for soldiers in war zones.
He then formed DLH Inc., which combines first aid supplies with first aid training. He found some of his first clients among companies operating in the most unforgiving areas, including off-shore oil rigs. The Hammonds married 11 years ago, and Linda left J.C. Penney in 1997 to work in her husband’s company full time.
A very big break came when the company, then consisting of just the two of them, landed a $10 million, 10-year contract to supply first aid kits to 55,000 postal service facilities and offices and 250,000 post office trucks.
"The order was huge," says Linda Hammond. It meant tremendous growth for the home-based company, which has hired more employees, plans more hiring, and, since U.S. 1 first spoke with Hammond last spring, has moved to larger offices in Red Bank.
The order was also the result of the same methodical, one-step-at-a-time approach to industrial clients that the company has employed from the start. Relationships have been key throughout, and, as Hammond talks, it becomes evident that relationships come in any number of forms:
The inside ally. Most of the industrial corporations Hammond targets already have contracts with one of a handful of companies whose business it is to mount large metal first aid boxes on walls, and to keep them stocked.
Hammond says the product she and her husband have developed is better. Their first aid kits are a series of packages, each one targeting a specific injury – bleeding, breathing, bites and stings, and so on. Each contains supplies along with an instruction card giving simple, easy-to-follow instructions, in picture form whenever possible, explaining what to do in a specific emergency.
The kits may be superior, but, says Hammond, her company gets only so far by singing its own praises. Far better to win a champion within the company, someone, in effect, to do the singing for them.
Identifying this individual is not easy.
"A lot of big companies don’t even know whether first aid is handled by medical or by safety," she says. But, she has found that if her company can get just one corporate trainer or one safety officer excited about their kits, a sale may well follow.
The special-category workforce. DLH’s kits are assembled by developmentally disabled individuals at a workshop in Missouri. This arrangement has a number of advantages. For one thing, when a big order, like the one recently received from the post office, comes in, the relationship with the workshop leads to a whole web of relationships.
Hammond’s contact in Missouri has contacts with a large number of other sheltered workshops, which are able to take on extra work.
She is now building a relationship with the ARC of Monmouth County to use workers in its Work Opportunity Center. With that organization, too, she says, there is a web of relationships able to take on overflow work.
An additional advantage to employers who use disabled workers, Hammond has found, is that this arrangement opens up unique financing opportunities with banks.
The government resources. In preparing its kits, DLH worked "from day one," says Hammond, with the CDC and the National Safety Council. This gave the company an inside track on meeting needs in the field of first aid. The company is now keeping track of the developing needs of the new Department of Homeland Security.
The tech organizations. "Everyone loves our story," says Hammond, "but it’s expensive to get it out." She has sat with PR firms and talked about options, but all have been too pricy for the start-up’s budget. Undaunted, she hit upon the idea of entering every contest held by a technology group in the greater New Jersey/New York area.
In time DLH began to win, and with the wins, says Hammond, came press coverage. Free press coverage. Contacts with reporters also brought the possibility of further story placement.
The clients. Winning big clients is not something that happens all at once. These relationships need more care than any others. DLH generally starts out by placing its products with one division, offering over-the-top customer service, and then selling other divisions. That is the way the company won a contract from Hertz.
"First they gave us Hertz Rental Equipment," says Hammond. "Then car sales, then rental." Eventually DLH first aid kits became the only first aid kits used throughout the company.
The focus. Coming through for people in all of the relationships it has formed takes focus. Contacts must be maintained. Promises must be kept. Needs must be anticipated.
To do this, DLH tries not to be pulled in too many directions. Hammond says the consumer side of the business is an ever-present temptation. This is especially true as the government urges preparedness, but only 5 percent of American homes contain first aid kits.
The company now sells consumer kits on its website, and is planning more. There will soon be kits for babysitters, for hikers and bikers off in the wild, and eventually even for pets, says Hammond as she tends to her cat, fresh home from the vet’s office after getting pinned by a falling tree.
Still, it is extraordinarily expensive to reach the consumer market, and the young company does not want to expend too many of its resources there just yet.
Keeping her focus and nurturing existing relationships, Hammond suggests that other start-ups do the same. "You can’t just all of a sudden decide that you want to get to the next level," she says. "You have to start building the relationships that will take you there from day one."
Top Of PageMix Up Your Marketing Message
Shelly Deneroff-Thompson, founder of SDT Media in Pennington, urges small businesses to explore the large – and growing – number of affordable channels for getting their message out – and pulling business in.
A New York City native, Thompson holds a B.A. in communications from Queens College. While earning her M.B.A from CUNY’s Bernard Baruch College, she began working for a series of major Manhattan ad firms. The Big Apple was proving an ideal career town – until her first child arrived. Needing "more elbow room," along with some green grass and trees, Thompson brought her family to Pennington. She founded STD Media in 2002, and her client roster includes ETS. A mother of three, she maintains her Big Apple ties by teaching advertising at Pace University.
Thompson has spent years watching managers and owners realize that "’I’ve got to get the word out there,’" and then go about it in a haphazard way, dropping an ad here, then there. When customers do ring the bell, business owners tend to assume that they came in response to the most recent ad. "Not so," insists Thompson. "Advertising is a cumulative process that builds momentum over time."
Recently, the Philadelphia Flower Show surveyed attendants, asking "How did you hear of this show?" This is an example of a misdirecting marketing survey. The show is a tradition. It is like asking people how they heard of Christmas. Yet some number-happy marketer will use responses to this question to redirect the show’s advertising budget. Surveying is an important tool, but it is better to interview a small group thoroughly than to shoot out a huge number of quick answer questionnaires. Discover your customer’s whole process of discovery before investing your ad dollars.
Searching out how customers came to your door and what image they brought with them may prove a most valuable learning experience and a means of survival for your firm.
Assess hidden persuaders. Unless you are a startup that hasn’t left the garage, you probably have been advertising, but may not have considered less direct ways of increasing your customer base. Does your store face Route 130 and announce its product presence with a big sign? Maybe your advertising budget would be better spent lobbying the township for a cut connecting both sides of the highway in front of your shop. If most of your customers come via your church, chamber of commerce, and trade organization, maybe you have saturated your networking capabilities and need to turn more toward general media.
Market position. "Discern your special individual place in your market," says Thompson, "and from there all advertising strategies flow." This standard step in media planning is seldom as simple as it sounds. Your niche is not necessarily what management thinks it is. Your image, that is, the perception of your product, lies ultimately in the hands of the customer. You must survey your customers to learn how they see you.
Creating the ads. Dunlop tires hired several young crazies to shave their heads in tire tread patterns, wear Dunlop shirts, and circulate in bars and nightclubs talking about the experience. Michelin tires bought time on major television stations showing a delicate baby resting in perfect comfort in one of their tires. Which ad created business?
They both did. Dunlop markets itself as a high performance, high speed tire for the generation X crowd. Generation X hates ads. They love fun and eye candy. The campaign caught their attention in a very personal way. Michelin, on the other hand, has long prided itself on being the Volvo of tires: safe and dependable. Its ad campaign assured an older generation of buyers that Michelin tires would keep their children safe.
Once you have determined what service and product you are delivering to precisely which audience, the creative juices will flow.
Dialing into radio. Thompson has one attorney client who specializes in serving the Latino community. She contacted a local Latino station and purchased a series of 60-second ads for $27 to $33 each. Later, by mutual agreement, the station arranged for the attorney to give two 30-minute interviews discussing legal issues of interest to many in the Latino community. A radio investment like this one may range in cost from $5,000 to $10,000, and can easily yield the advertiser 10 times that amount in client fees.
Tuning into cable television. "Cable shows are quickly approaching major network coverage, with a much greater targeting ability and lower costs," says Thompson. On many cable channels, companies can get identifier ads for as low as $10 and 30-second ads for $50 to $60. The large number of specialized shows makes targeting more precise. Your nursery finds an ideal niche on the garden show; your catering service is at home on the cooking channel.
Roll out some print. Magazines and newspapers are real, tangible products that readers follow regularly. The trick here is to make your ad a fixture – an expected part of the consumer’s regular reading. Place it in the same place, and always use the same border and the same logo. The reader will look for it, and recognize it instantly. Then, regularly change some part of the central message to keep his attention. It can be fun, or merely informative – perhaps a sale notification.
Log on for dollars. "Most media target only demographics, such as age or occupation," says Thompson, "but the web allows the seller to target product interest." Despite this advantage, it can be prohibitively costly for the small business to get a top search listing. Top placement on many search engines goes to the highest bidder. If you are selling off-road bicycles, you will not be able to outbid Trek and Cannondale for those search words.
A little cyber creativity is demanded of the smaller business. Perhaps the words "Rough Trails" or "Pine Barren Trails" are within your bidding budget. Also, website links provide affordable net access even for startups. Find the main off road bicycling areas: Vermont, Colorado, Tierra del Fuego, Nepal, and contact their tourist association websites. Many sites will often provide a free link for which they take a cut every time you get a hit. A little restraint is advised here. Plunging in with a hundred links may net you thousands of hits, but not enough actual sales to cover the expense of website placement.
Top Of PageCoping with Online
There is big news for small business.
"You can afford a website," says web designer and E-consultant Suzanne Engels. New technology has translated into prices for design and hosting that are a small fraction of what they were just a few years ago. This is especially good news because, while prices have dropped, so has tolerance for companies that do not have a good looking, well-designed website.
Engels, a Mid-Westerner, studied fine arts at the University of Illinois (Class of 1976), and then taught art and math in junior high school. A realization that she needed to make more money brought her to AT&T’s Bell Labs. She has since worked for a number of companies, including Lucent Technologies, from which she feels lucky to be downsized, because her buy-out package allowed her to start her own business.
Her tether cut, she started her business, which is based in East Brunswick and is called WebArtNTech (www.webartntech.com). Each company in each industry is different, and she makes sure that she understands it before she starts work on a website. But the basic requirements for a professional, effective website cut across all industries. They include:
Site design. Whether a business is selling financial advice or patio furniture, some basics apply. "There is a usability standard," says Engels. At a minimum, every website must let users know who you are and what you do. There has to be a product page – or pages – often with pictures. There has to be a "contact us" section with full information, and an "about us" section. "About us" is the company’s chance to strut its stuff. "This is where you make the viewer comfortable with who you are and where you differentiate yourself," says Engels.
This basic business website will include about four to six pages. The cost? Engels can create it for $400 to $600. This is perhaps 10 percent of the figure being quoted by professionals five years ago. She says that if the same site is designed by a full-fledged web design firm, "which I am not," the cost would rise to at least $2,500. This is so, she says, because such a firm, which typically offers hosting, which she does not, needs to keep a full staff on its payroll.
Hosting. Obtaining a domain name and web hosting can often be done through the same firm. Engels says "there are thousands of them." The cost for that basic, four to six page site would be about $120. "Four or five years back it was at least $4,000 or $5,000," she says.
Installation and testing. This is a step many small business people do not know about, and therefore do not factor into their costs. But, one way or another, it has to be reckoned with. What often happens to neophytes, says Engels, is that they have a site designed, and expect that it will automatically put itself onto the Internet. When that proves not to be the case, many ask the website designer to put it up.
"It ends up costing an exorbitant amount," says Engels. This is so because many designers do not have the technical ability to do the job efficiently. An alternative for the business owner is the do-it-yourself route. While not impossible, this can be a mightily frustrating process. People think that getting a website from a computer to the Internet should be a snap, but it rarely is. "There are bugs," says Engels. "There are always bugs."
A person with technical expertise can get the job done for that basic four to six page website in two to three hours at a rate of $50 an hour. A more complicated website, at say 20 pages and including a shopping cart, could take more like eight hours over two days.
Maintenance and marketing. Marketing a website involves terra firma as well as cyberspace. To succeed in the former sphere, business owners have to make sure that the logos, tag lines, colors, and designs that they use on their stationery, trucks, storefronts, and brochures are replicated on their website. Success in the more ethereal space involves making sure that the website is picked up by search engines. The latter concern, however, should not be overdone.
"If your customers are in New Jersey, putting marketing money into coming up in the first 10 search engine results is a waste," says Engels. You need to be on the search engines, but you don’t need every web surfer in New Orleans and New Delhi clicking on you.
As for maintenance, Engels says that websites need to be updated three to four times a year. While new information is being added, the site should also be evaluated. Where are visitors coming from? Which search engine sent them over? What keywords did they use? When Engels performs maintenance, for a cost of about $400, she checks all of this out, and makes adjustments accordingly.
Top Of PageE-Commerce
E-commerce, so recently ridiculed as an over-hyped flop, has returned to the business scene as a major, effective tool. Yet many who ply their trade online are still making ancient mistakes. Nat Bender, the state’s Small Business Development Center’s director of E-business services, talks about how to avoid the mistakes that brought down Pets.com and its ilk in the the first Internet Age.
Bender earned a degree in journalism and a master’s in communication at Rutgers. As a business writer, Bender watched a host of companies take their first steps online, and saw what succeeded and what failed.
As head E-business guru for the New Jersey Small Business Development Center, Bender has kept one eye on the technical chase and the other on the trends of trade. "I think E-commerce is building back steadily," says Bender, "primarily because individuals see it as less of an abstraction and more as part of a viable business plan." However a lot of myth and misunderstanding remains.
Marketing by blindfold. One of the truly wondrous things about the early days of the Internet was that never before could so much be advertised so cheaply to so many who didn’t give a hoot. Sending out reams of online ads, E-mail solicitations, and website links under the more-the-merrier theory has proved particularly unprofitable and foolish. In fact, a flourish of annoying E-mail ads can even prejudice people against a product or service they might very well want.
Bender suggests coordinating a multi-outreach approach using retail, print, and radio. Once the site begins getting visitors, study the statistics. Is this the same customer base as you are seeing in the retail shop? Perhaps you need to re-emphasize certain products for your online trade. Also, check for visitors’ movement patterns through the site. If every potential buyer gets to the shopping cart and then goes elsewhere, perhaps you have some mistakes in design.
The E-commerce playing field is not as level as it once was. Major companies make a splash, laying out upwards of $1,000 a month to obtain top spots and keyword linkings on search engines. You probably can’t beat these corporations, so Bender suggests you join them. Get your own site established as a dealer link on a major company’s website. Such links are often available at one-quarter the cost of going it alone, and can help you scale the search engine ladder.
Failing to adequately plan for sales. You cannot fax an anvil to St. Louis. At some point, you’ve got to push the keyboard away and fulfill all those promises E-mailed back and forth. This experience is invariably less traumatic for the forward-thinking dealer who has stepped up his supply chain capability in advance. If you are adding a new, stronger online program to your other marketing plans, you’ve got to believe it is going to work. So get ready before the hits arrive.
Bender advises that company owners ensure that they can keep their promises by becoming sensitive to time issues. Simple things like being aware of time zones and more complex issues like shipped goods sitting on docks because of increased security checks all come into play. "Many are the owners who have guaranteed free shipping only to discover that by delivering goods from abroad, they have lost money on the sale," says Bender.
Getting carried away with tech tricks. Go ahead. Create that massive, artistic, splashy web page. Follow it up with an immensely clever labyrinth of connecting links that show off your technical prowess. Then let only your top experts design and test it. Doubtless Techie Today Magazine will award you great kudos for the cleverest site on the ‘Net – just before your firm goes under.
It should be old news by now, but many still have to learn that technology is a tool, not an end in itself. If a novice can’t easily navigate your site, he won’t buy.
Top Of PageYou Can Get Past the New Gatekeepers
The iron-corsetted gatekeeper whose most important job was to keep her boss free from all human contact is facing extinction. Smugly she sat on guard, denying access to her superior. Now blind electronic monsters are in place to bar entry to the decision maker’s office – and no amount of flattery or chocolate will move them. Voice mail, E-mail, and caller ID now reject unknown names automatically.
Kim Rowe, founder of Agentive, a sales and marketing training firm in Belle Mead, lays out promising pathways. She has spent her career on both sides of that closed door, both fending off supplicants and seeking entrance. Born in the West Virginia, she earned a degree in horticulture from the University of West Virginia. Quickly abandoning plants as a career choice, she joined C.R. Bard, a supplier to the medical community, and became director of telemarketing.
She later took a job with Bristol-Myers Squibb for which she launched several new products. Ten years ago, she stepped out from behind a corporate desk and founded Agentive.
"Now it’s a turnabout and I am the seller, trying to gain access to strangers every day," she says. Rowe, a Montgomery resident, also brings her marketing skills to bear in her free time, donating her time as a board member for her town’s Friends of Open Space, for which she has helped to launch a farmers cooperative market.
Persistence is necessary. Persistence is commendable. But it is like chopping with a dull axe if you use the wrong techniques. "Look at what your dealing with," says Rowe. "Most corporate people that you want to see are receiving 40 voice messages and over 200 E-mails a day. They simply have to delete those whom they don’t know." To counter this, Rowe suggests that you begin a protracted and well organized campaign of familiarity that will lead to a personal contact.
Lay out strategy. To help strike the balance between persistence and pestering, Rowe suggests that you set up a plan and keep an active calendar or journal. First draw up a long list of every person you want to contact. Take that list of 300 dream clients and distill it to 5 or 10. These are the ones you really need to concentrate on.
Then schedule a two-month plan to contact these very important strangers (VIS). "Remember," says Rowe, "if you are making two contacts a week to 10 people, that’s four contacts daily. Make it manageable for your own workday." With strategy and journal in place, look for short cuts.
Research your contacts. Whom do you know who might know them? If you find from an Internet biography that your VIS, for example, sits on the board of Montgomery’s Friends of Open Space, you can attend a meeting, or perhaps find a mutual acquaintance to introduce you. Even if you don’t find direct contact, this research will become an invaluable ice breaker when you finally do shake hands. Nothing so impresses a person as knowing that he has been studied from afar.
Prepare an intro letter. Almost all of us delete E-mails by the score, jettison printed junk mail by the ton, and dismiss all phone solicitations. But find a real letter in the mail box – one hand-addressed to us personally – and we rip it open before we even make it inside. So, to make contact with the terminally elusive, get out a pen, and resort to a vanishing form of communication.
In a clear, brief letter, tell your VIS who you are, explain why you want to meet him, and respectfully state that you will be contacting him soon. And keep it simple. "Do not spit up all over the client," warns Rowe. She finds that too many people gush over a person they have never met before.
In Rowe’s experience, the odds are very slim that your first letter will receive any answer. But you have made the first breach in the wall and your name has become familiar to your VIS. That non-threatening, low-key familiarity is the key that can open doors.
Rotate your media. Over the next two months you will be attempting to contact your core group of VIS’s approximately twice a week. Seven phone messages in a row, saying nearly the same thing, may win you a harassment suit, but probably not an interview. Rotate your media, advises Rowe. You’ve started with a letter, now move to a phone message, then switch to E-mail. It is a matter of opinion as to whether injecting the occasional fax into this missive mix might be seen as too invasive.
All the while, remember that the message is as important as the media. Before you begin to pen your second letter, outline an information pathway to follow with each successive note. No need to make it mysterious, simply concentrate on some new benefit your company can provide and mention it in each of the following contacts.
Take it down a notch. "Never retire a contact entirely," says Rowe, "merely rotate him to a less intense schedule." An intense bi-weekly blitz should, for both your sake and his, only last so long. Gradually reduce your sought-after individual to once a month, then once a quarter. Or perhaps the still-uncornered quarry could be filed under "vice presidents of sales," and brought out again when you want to meet all such VPs.
Winning a first appointment will probably take at least seven attempts, if it comes at all. But don’t get discouraged. Think of Stephen King when you’re tempted to despair. The King of horror stories wrote five unpublished novels and flogged his wares for eight years before becoming "an overnight success."
But taking the rejection personally is a death knell. You are busy, your VIS is busy, that’s why they call it business. But if you polish your pen, plan your contact campaign, and keep on trying, you too may achieve the best sellers list, whether you are trying to place a novel, a shipment of night sticks, or a north-facing condo complex with views of a recycling plant.
Top Of PageClose Your Technology Deal
Clients are gun shy about entering into deals with high technology providers. They have been burned before by empty promises, bad contracts, and support that evaporates faster than the ink on the contract. This leaves smaller high tech firms facing a real problem, and trying to winch their reputations out of the mud.
David Leit, an intellectual property specialist with Lowenstein Sandler, provides advice to young tech firms on getting clients to sign on the dotted line. Born and raised in Livingston, he earned a B.A. at Stanford University, where he studied religion and mathematics. Swinging back east, he earned his J.D. at Columbia and practiced in Manhattan. He then returned to his hometown and began litigating and handling IP contracts for Lowenstein Sandler.
"Smaller firms are not putting themselves in their clients’ moccasins, and trying to learn what they want from you in the first place," says Leit. In his experience, the main reason for choosing outsource over in-house is less a question of capability than risk. The large company is seeking to remove itself from all the bugs that can plague high technology products. That being the case, he makes the following suggestions for structuring any agreement.
Know when to call the lawyers. "You do not need a lawyer for every contract," says Leit. However, he does recommend legal counsel on issues of intellectual property rights, warranty, liability, and indemnification. Indemnifying against damage can be tricky, he says, because it can carry through to new clients. For example, if you purchase a piece of intellectual property and get sued, you – and all ensuing vendors – can be held responsible.
Avoid Frankenstein contracts. Too many owners have gone to the web and cobbled together a contract from parts lifted from a number of forms that appeared to address various contingencies. While thrifty, the effect can be monstrous. The contract may state that 95 percent of all customer problems will be "addressed" within 24 hours. But does "addressed" mean resolved? And what about the other five percent of the questions?
Boilerplate contracts can be a great cost saver. Yet to make them work, the business owner must be completely familiar with the intent of each clause so he can adjust them for each individual contract.
Plain English please. "Write your contract so a judge can easily understand it," pleads Leit. This is not the place to impress a prospective buyer with your mastery of jargon. All documents passing between you and clients or vendors should be simply worded, even redundant, if you want them to be easily understood.
Step up and take risk. Leit states it simply: No risk, no sale. If your potential client is presented with a term sheet or a contract riddled with disclaimers, he sees you dumping back in his lap the very risk he was hoping to hedge by outsourcing. The very act of listing and addressing the possible problems indicates to a client that yours is a realistic, solid firm that is both aware and responsible.
Leit warns company owners that risk costs, and should be added into each bid. Establish an exacting warranty that you can live with and make it inclusive in the final price. The business-specific warranty frequently can prove to be a real clincher.
Show your greatness. Examine your client before approaching him. Discern his complete capabilities and develop a solid list of things you can do better. Your business will doubtless have certain strengths that remain absolute, regardless of client. These are best displayed in your basic brochure and website. But in addition each client must be given a prospective that shows where you service fills his company’s voids.
Hit the right nail. Determine which department in your target company is most likely to benefit from what it is that you are selling. It is natural for a purveyor of technology to head for the chief technical officer. But if a comparison of your product and their need shows a great cost saving, you might consider an end run around the technology department. Maybe you should go straight for the CFO.
The small business trying to land a contract with a larger corporation faces innumerable obstacles. The small player cannot hide his limited financial resources. Both sides are aware that he has little surplus time, cash reserve, or staff. Compensate by presenting yourself as a business equal in expertise, responsibility, and awareness of its needs, and the bigger player is much more likely to sign on the dotted line.
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