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You're a what? Marketing consultant.

Teresa Slider is a salesperson. But she doesn't sell merchandise. She sells her marketing expertise and people-skills to small businesses.

Teresa is a marketing consultant. She analyzes businesses' overall marketing needs and develops plans to address the who, what, when, where, and how of a company's promotional strategies. She has been in business for herself 2 1/2 years and operates Entrepreneurial Marketing Group from an office in her home in Reston, VA.

What makes Entrepreneurial Marketing Group special is that Teresa targets only small businesses, while most marketing consultants work for large advertising agencies dealing primarily with large companies. Teresa's clients are small business owners who may not have the funds to work with bigger, more expensive agencies.

Her clients may want help on a single project, such as a brochure, or may need a consultant's advice on planning or strategy. Because Teresa is willing to work with clients piecemeal, bills by the hour, and has low overhead expenses. her services are affordable for small businesses.

In June 1990, Teresa began setting up her own business. Her experience in marketing and advertising had convinced her that she could target a different group of businesses. "First I decided what I wanted to do, and I had that very clearly defined: I was going to work with small business owners to help them improve their marketing strategies and help them increase their product sales." Three months later, her business was formally registered with the State of Virginia, and 2 months after that she had her first clients.

To court small businesses, Teresa joined networking organizations and began marketing herself. Through networking Teresa meets future clients, and sometimes those contacts refer others to her. But sometimes she meets new clients by chance. Once, on her way to a meeting with another client, she asked a pedestrian for directions to a building. The person walked with her, and, by the time she arrived at her destination, she'd been hired to work for his chain of stores. "The more people I meet, the better off I am," she says. "Personality is extremely important in the marketing profession because business owners have to feel comfortable with and trust someone they hire."

When she began meeting clients, Teresa found her hunch had been right: Small businesses did have a marketing need she could fill. "A lot of people were struck with the idea of someone working with small companies instead of big ones." she says. "With big ad agencies, small companies are small fish in a big pond, and they may not get the attention they deserve."

Teresa's first task is to convince potential clients to put their businesses in her hands. "I've met a number of people who've made marketing mistakes, and their businesses have gone under." she says. The most common mistake Teresa encounters is with those who don't give careful thought to how they spend their marketing, money.

"It depends on what the client's business is, and step one is getting to know the client and getting to know what the client wants," she explains. "I don't have any two clients whose needs are identical. They've learned to trust me, and I trust them."

After meeting with the client and finding out what he or she wants, Teresa usually recommends doing a survey of her client's customers. The survey asks the customers why they patronize the client's business and what they would change about it if they could. "If the client and I can find out their likes and dislikes, then we know what prospective customers will look for," she says.

The survey makes good business sense for small companies. "It doesn't cost much, and it's good public relations for the client," says Teresa. But some clients are skeptical, especially when Teresa suggests offering a coupon as an incentive to customers who complete the questionnaire. "Most clients think it's a waste of time - until they see the results," she says. Surveys often stir up business for the client; people in need of catering services, for example, are more likely to patronize a restaurant owner who asks their advice. "Customers like to know they're important and that their opinions count," Teresa points out. "I think surveying and customer contact are paramount to good business. Sometimes it comes down to which company has the better service, and paying attention to customers can tip the scales."

Based on the survey results, background information, market conditions, and her own expertise, Teresa determines what the client's needs are. Sometimes these needs are met simply by changing a sign or business cards to prevent customer confusion; other times they may involve a marketing plan that outlines a series of projects over several months. "Marketing is not an exact science because each business is as individual as its owner," she says.

Just as Teresa stresses customer contact, she works closely with her clients. In small businesses, that's usually one person, often the owner. "We figure out how to promote their product or service most effectively to the appropriate markets." she says. Marketing strategies may include direct mail, advertising, public relations, special promotions, and programs. Once Teresa and the client determine which is the best approach, they test it on a small scale, monitor response, and make adjustments before taking the final step. Several versions of a direct advertising piece, for example, are sent to a relatively small target location first. Based on the response to that mailing, the most appropriate version will be used for the entire market area.

Some of the tasks for projects Teresa can perform herself: developing marketing strategies, problem solving, hiring subcontractors, and media placement. For services such as graphic design, copy writing, and extensive research, she has a roster of independent contractors whom she matches with clients, again based on the clients' needs.

Determining when the business relationship with a client is over also depends on each individual. Teresa stays with projects from start to finish. Often during the course of working with her, the client will request Teresa's assistance with additional projects. "Most of the time it's an ongoing relationship," she says. "If a project is over and I don't see the client for a while, I'll call to let the person know I'm still around. If there's a clear ending, I usually know it."

Teresa's been a people person her whole life, but it wasn't until her senior year in college that she decided on a career in advertising. In 1984 she graduated from Saint Mary's College in South Bend, IN with a Bachelor of Arts degree in humanities. She realized advertising would allow her to combine her writing skills and understanding of society with her knack for getting to know people.

Her first job after college was with a public relations firm in Washington, DC. After working there a short time, she moved to Cleveland to work with an advertising agency. Although she gained a lot of experience, the job offered little potential for growth, so Teresa decided to look for a job with more diversity.

Teresa's search landed her a job as product manager for a large company that sold roof coatings, caulkings, and other materials to the do-it-yourself building market. She travelled throughout the South to promote her company's products, and it was there that she began to realize the importance of personality in marketing. "I did things in that job that I never thought I would do," Teresa says, as she recalls climbing atop roofs to see products in use. "I was the first woman in that division to work for the company. If I'd been a man, especially a young man, the customers probably wouldn't have paid much attention to me. But because I was a woman, I was sort of a novelty. They knew more about the product than I did, but they listened to what I had to say."

After moving to Washington to get more marketing and advertising experience, Teresa started thinking about self-employment. "I decided that if I was going to work that hard, I might as well go to work for myself," she says. Her husband, Jim, is a management consultant and helped Teresa set up her business in their home.

"When I first began, companies in the Washington area were just starting to feel the pinch of the recession, especially the small businesses," she says. As competition between businesses toughened, advertising became more important, and Teresa was able to help out small businesses that previously had not given much thought to their marketing needs. "It's amazing how many businesses don't think about marketing strategy," she says. "They're either too busy, think they can't afford to advertise, or don't have the marketing expertise or human resources within the organization, the way large companies do."

Most marketing consultants in business for themselves have worked as marketing directors with large corporations or advertising agencies. Their clients tend to be large businesses they had contact with or knowledge of prior to going solo. And many find creative ways to sell their expertise, such as making marketing videotapes, writing books, conducting seminars, and making public speaking appearances. Many marketing consultants can earn between $50,000 and 150,000 per year.

Handling four or five client projects at a time, Teresa averages 40 hours per week. Her standard hourly fee of $55 must cover all of Entrepreneurial Marketing Group's business expenses. including her salary. Teresa is usually busy during her clients' downtime. because that's when they have time to plan their future marketing strategies.

In addition to working on clients' projects, Teresa spends about 15 hours per month on administrative duties. including billing and bookkeeping. She also continues to network and serves on the boards of directors for three professional organizations, nonbillable activities which are timeconsuming nonetheless.

Working for yourself does have disadvantages, of course. "It can get lonely, and all the responsibility is on your shoulders - there's no organized structure to fall back on." Teresa says. "You don't have any regular salary you can count on, either." And taxes. medical benefits, Social Security, and retirement planning are all out-of-pocket expenses.

Still, Teresa loves what she does and enjoys interacting with clients. Working at home gives her the flexibility to stay home with her first child, born in January, an option she might not have had at a private company. "You can usually make your own schedule; you work for yourself," she says. "You're the one in charge. You're your own boss."
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Author:Green, Kathleen
Publication:Occupational Outlook Quarterly
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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