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Transformation from corporate communicator to entrepreneur.

Driven by the hard realities of change in corporate America, employees are leaving the corporate world and transforming themselves into entrepreneurs.

As painful as change can be, it can have a positive impact on your future. Is it possible to transform your corporate experiences and ensure small business success during a recession? At a recent full-day entrepreneurial conference, held at The Entrepreneurial Center at Manhattanville College in Purchase, N .Y, the answer was yes. However, it requires creative thinking, sound business practices, training and patience.

Speaker after speaker at this conference discussed the opportunities and pitfalls of running a small business during a recession. Here are tips and tactics that helped them gain success.

Networking to the top

It was only a matter of time before Terrie Williams would launch her own public relations and media communication agency. Williams paid her dues by volunteering her services to friends who were struggling as jazz musicians and working part-time with a number of groups, including the Black Filmmakers Foundation.

Williams began her professional career in 1977 as a medical social worker, using her free time to volunteer as an associate producer for the public affairs department at New York radio WWRL. Her interest in public relations began when she attended a PR course being held at the YMCA. At the time, she had no idea of her future in public relations or as a small business owner.

In 1982, she was hired as the director of corporate communication for Essence Magazine and at 30 years old was named the company's youngest vice president.

"I was still at Essence when I went to a party for jazz musician Miles Davis, and I heard that U.S. comedian and actor Eddie Murphy was looking for a publicist. After having that information come to me two more times, I said to myself, it's now or never, so I sent him a package. I didn't know anything about running a business, and I had no money, but landing Eddie Murphy, the number-one box-office draw in the world, as my first client was all the incentive I needed," says Williams.

Williams is an advocate of networking at every available opportunity. In 1988, she rounded The Terrie Williams Agency, a public relations agency that specializes in the entertainment field. In addition to Eddie Murphy, her clients also include Anita Baker, Take 6, Don Cornelius Productions, Essence Communications and The Sony Corporation of America.

"Sometimes it's the little things that get you noticed," claims Williams. She feels that creative networking techruques have helped her master the moment. Here are Williams' networking tips:

* Stay in touch with people who are doing interesting things.

* Make sure your reputation'reaches your target audience.

* Return phone calls promptly.

* Be an active listener.

* Create a small-talk notebook for networking.

* Send letters to people with whom you want to do business.

* Keep a supply of greeting cards for seasonal hellos.

* Send hello notes to past contacts.

* Speak at panel discussions, seminars and workshops.

* Donate your time to nonprofit associations. Give something back to the profession.

In her fourth year as a business owner, Williams proves that startup money alone will not determine business success. Terrie Williams notes that, "My greatest accomplishment was moving from a defined career path to launching a successful business."

Brainstorming your transition

"Make a wish list and creatively solve your problems," says Bryan Mattimore of Mattimore Communications, a brainstorming and training company. Brainstorming your corporate experience accelerates the creative thinking process and will bring to light your strengths and weaknesses. This technique eliminates your fear of the unknown and fine-tunes your business strategies and actions.

"Close your eyes and picture the opportunity in your mind. Now, create images of business success. This technique will often flush out brilliant intuitions," says Mattimore. The mind is a powerful business tool if used properly. Public relations and corporate communication practitioners are excellent candidates because the job requires the ability to solve problems creatively.

"At any brainstorming session, withhold judgment. All ideas, no matter how outrageous, should be given the space to grow or evolve. In my experience, the most absurd ideas have the greatest potential for leading to a truly great idea," says Mattimore. Brainstorming creates the vision of tomorrow and positions you to take action.

"Research has shown that talking out your brainstorming images is most effective. This technique bridges different elements of the brain and gives clear vision to tackle a variety of situations. In professional terms, we call it pole alignment," says Mattimore.

Lessons learned Believe it or not, the easiest part of starting a business is the startup phase (usually the first six to 12 months). As you try to. grow your business, you will face a variety of challenges that will test your patience and flexibility.

Ted Levine of Development Counselors, Inc. is a survivor. He began his firm 31 years ago with a desk and a phone. His firm helps attract business and tourism to client locations. Today, he serves 23 development and travel groups around the world. His clients include the government of Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, state of Nevada and the city of Stamford, Conn., just to name a few.

Levine's first client was the government of Puerto Rico. He leveraged his experience with this client into a fullscale company which now has 15 employees and 10 part-timers. He believes that growing a business is a high-wire act of chance. In addition, he believes if you follow these seven business steps, you will increase your chances for long-term success.

* Be attentive to the bottom line: When you first begin your company, try to keep your overhead low. Use relatives or other voluntary sources. However, there comes a time in the growth of a company when it takes risk. Evaluate all expense items and the effect they have on profitability. "Watch the bottom line at all times, but don't be controlled by it."

* Use professionals whenever possible: Select the best legal, insurance and accounting minds you can afford. However, never let them make the business decisions that will determine the future of your company. "Use professionals, but don't let them use you."

* Pick reliable people: When growing your business, choose the most reliable people to assist you. Doing it yourself will only take you so far. Don't hire fellow entrepreneurs. Find people who make up for your weaknesses. "Hire people who are dependable and deliver the goods all the time."

* Put service before sales: Keep your current clients sold. Put old clients before new prospects. "You create a winning reputation when you make your current clients happy."

* Grow and die: Determine when the time is right to expand. Never grow just for growth's sake. Make sure you're capable of handling the increased work bad. "Does it make sense and will it make money? If you can answer yes on both counts, then you can do it."

* Selling out: At some point in the life of your company someone will offer to buy it. If you do plan to sell your organization, plan to leave as soon as the deal is completed.

* Succession planning: As you grow older, have a succession plan. Do not wait for an illness to change the direction of the company.

The formula for long-term success is varied. In most cases, if you're an entrepreneur, delegating responsibility can be a difficult task. Understand that a small company with you making all the decisions creates a lack of trust over time. According to Levine, "You must empower others to take pride in helping you grow the company. Offering incentives for growth is beneficial to both the employee and company.

"When growing your company there are also ethical issues that affect your credibility as a company," adds Levine. "When we accept a project from a client, particularly from foreign governments, we negotiate the contract based on ethical standards and proper business practices," Levine firmly states. Business and cultural differences with foreign governments can lead to major misunderstandings that can hurt your company's reputation.

"I have learned many lessons over the years. But, being ethical with your clients and employees is just smart business and adds years to the life of your company," concludes Levine.

Launching your business on a shoestring

To entrepreneurs, tuck is preparation meeting opportunity. Literally hundreds of businesses can be launched with only the will to succeed.

"I come from a long line of women entrepreneurs -- my grandmother, mother and my aunt. For the past 14 years I have owned and operated my own marketing communication company," says Carol Milano, president of Milano Marketing. Her company provides consulting services to startup businesses within the New York City area.

Milano has learned some essential lessons in business that ensure success as a startup.

Rule 1: Keep your costs low (work out of your home if you can).

Rule 2: Select a service-oriented business.

Rule 3: Do not purchase costly equipment.

Rule 4: Select a business that requires low-cost promotion.

"Use the skills you already possess and then take a look at the world around you," says Milano. "The changing demographics point favorably to new and insightful services. Research the changes that are affecting businesses and people in your area. Talk to potential suppliers, realtors and bankers. Ask them questions pertaining to your business interests," adds Milano.

Before you select the service you want to offer, ask yourself these three questions.

1: What do you like to do?

2: What do you do well?

3: What will people pay you to do? Using these three questions you can now begin the brainstorming that is required to build the framework for your low-cost startup.

At the very outset, planning, commitment and hard work will drive your company to success. However, you must keep in mind that to grow your company you must reinvest any profits into the business. If you treat the income earned as nothing more than your salary, your company is doomed.

Be prepared and forewarned... if you are attached to weekends and relaxing evenings, stay where you are, says Milano. Moreover, your personality traits determine if you should begin a business. According to Milano, "An entrepreneur has a need to be in charge, is a self-starter, has the ability to be a staff of one, must be decisive, has sales and negotiating abilities, can handle ups and downs, must be a risk taker, and finally must be an optimist."

The daily grind of running a small business can be overwhelming to the unprepared. A business plan must be in place before you hang your shingle outside your door. Your plan should include a timeline of goals and the actions required to achieve them.

"If you can, plan your company while you're employed- Do not wait until you're unemployed," says Milano. "Try to accumulate two years worth of savings before you launch your company." Milano adds Developing a cash cushion will give you additional leverage during the launch.

Know your market

After you develop your business plan and financial projections, the next step is segmenting the market place. Who will be your clients? How will you promote your services to these potential clients? What services are needed by these companies ? How should you price your services ?

"The most cost-effective method of building a business is segmenting your market," says Leo Harley, president of Leo F. Harley and Associates. Harley is a seasoned veteran of 20 years. His organization develops marketing programs for small businesses and large corporations. "You must do your homework to succeed in a competitive market place. Treating the entire business community as your potential client is wasted energy," according to Harley.

Use your corporate awareness and time management skills to justify your marketing program. Research the company within your target area-find out if they contract out to consultants. Produce a press kit detailing your experience and how organizations can benefit from your abilities. Follow up on all correspondence and arrange for faceto-face meetings. Create a directory of companies contacted and follow up with your contacts on a regular basis.

In the beginning, when clients are few, create a potential client quota sheet- Measure the results of your marketing program, not only on total sales, but also on important contacts made. More leads generated increase the odds for business success. And remember, 85 percent of the work force is employed by firms with 20 or fewer employees.

Lee Hornick is president and CEO of The Corporate Edge, New York City.

REPACKAGING YOURSELF: NEW SKILLS CAN GIVE YOUR CAREER A FRESH START

In today's climate of rapid change and diversification, it's wise to add new skills regularly -- even at times when your career is moving along wellfl. If you've been a generalist in the communication industry, it's a good time to become a specialist. If you're already a specialist, now's the time to broaden your horizons to include the new skills our changing times have brought.

Having a set of specialized skills that will help your organization pursue its current goals is one of the most effective ways to gain recognition and build a positive image for yourself. Especially valuable abilities today include implementing or improving customer-service systems, designing and updating customer databases and supervising direct-mail marketing projects.

Your new package

How do you know when it's time to repackage? First, your career may be stalled or seemingly on a plateau. Second, you may be basically pleased with your position and your employer, but feel the need for new stimulation and challenge.

In either case, acquiring new and useful skills can help.

The difficult part is choosing a specialty or additional skill and plotting a learning process for it. Charles Camerson and Suzane Elusor, coauthors of "Thank God it's Monday" (Jeremy B. Tareher), say you can start being open-minded and curious about current activities in projects are going on that you're not involved in? What's the CEO's pet product or service right now?

The authors also recommend the following steps:

* Look at your industry. What additional skills would be relevant? Yor a quick review, look at people who are currently doing jobs you would like to have. What skills or information do they possess? How did these people acquire their skills and how can you?

* You may not realize it, but you have already capitalized on another effective way of keeping current: joining an industry-related organization -- like IABC! The seminars and publications are especially valuable for keeping up to date with industry developments. You'll quickly broaden your knowledge by exchanging ideas with other industry professionals.

* Investigate training options. Is there someone in-house, a mentor of sorts, who can teach you what you need to know? Is there a seminar (inhouse or outside) that would give you the necessary background? Make sure you ask to attend, so that your new knowledge will make you even more valuable to the company.

Learning by volunteering

An effective, free way to get training in new skills is through volunteer organizations. Example: Mounting a successful direct-mail campaign to recruit participants for a local arts festival or donors for a blood drive could give you valuable skills, which would position you better within your organization.

Just be sure the work will afford you the opportunity to develop the skills you want to learn, not the skills you already have! Once you're confident in your new skills, publicize your activities to make sure your company knows about your untapped skills and the special tasks you've completed.

Reprinted with permission from the lABC/San Antonio (Texas) newsletter Communique, and Executive Strategies, published by the National Institute of Business Management, 1328 Broadway, New York, NY 10001.
COPYRIGHT 1992 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes related article
Author:Hornick, Lee
Publication:Communication World
Date:Mar 1, 1992
Words:2605
Previous Article:Rewiring corporate communication.
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