Get Crazy With The Photos

gcwtpYou’re busy putting together your fifth monthly newsletter to your clients–you’ve come up with new stories, updated your price lists, and improved your layout. So why are you running the same old, boring product shots? The answer may be that there’s not enough money in the budget for hiring a professional photographer to do a big shoot or an outside artist to spice up your newsletter with illustrations in place of snapshots. Whatever the reason, you no longer have to have the image blues. With software that lets you manipulate images, you can make any picture interesting.

Just what kind of oomph can you add to your images? The answer is anything from a sedately modified effect to an all-out distorted look. The result depends on the effect you choose and the values you use to apply it. The practical applications of products such as Aldus Gallery Effects, Fractal Design Painter and Fractal Design Sketcher, and Micrografx Picture Publisher include enhancing plain-Jane images by using a pastel finish for a softer appearance and quickly turning any image into an illustration with a distorting watercolor effect. Effects like these allow you to transform ordinary, everyday photographs into final art that looks as if it were created with anything from a paintbrush or a graphic pen to mosiac tiles.

IMAGES TRANSFORMED

In order to apply these special effects, you’ll first need to scan your original photographs to create digital files your computer can use. If you don’t own a scanner, most service bureaus will scan prints or slides for a small fee. Or you may be able to use some of the predigitized stock images available on disk or CD-ROM from companies like Corel Corp. and 21st Century Media. These vendors offer their images with almost unlimited rights for use in in-house work.

With your images in hand, it’s time to explore what you can do to them and which kinds of images respond best to which effects. Suppose that you want to include an image of a person–perhaps a picture of yourself in your regular column to your clients–or a product–maybe the plendid Widget that you’ve invented. In cases like these, tread gently. After all, you want your clients to be able to recognize you or your product. Image-manipulation programs often give you such a variety of tools that one of your biggest problems will be keeping yourself from goin overboard.

The best effects for subtly modifying an image, especially if you plan to output to a black-and-white device, are named after black-and-white sketching media, such as dry brush, charcoal, and chalk and charcoal. Also, any texture effect, such as film grain or paper textures, can work quite well because they modulate an image slightly, without drastically changing tonal values. Of course, it’s also the degree to which you implement an effect that determines how the final image turns out. Even the most subtle effects can turn any image into a mess of unsightly blobs if all the variables–brush size for a dry-brush effect, for example–are set to their maximum values.

Next, imagine that you need to bring three diverse images–perhaps head shots of your staff–together onto the same page. The problem is that these photographs may have been taken under different lighting conditions and against different backgrounds, and displaying them as is might ruin the consistency of a document’s look. Luckily, some of the effects we’ve just talked about can be used to unify these images. For instance, applying a texture effect like a film grain will draw the viewer’s eye to the similarities of the textures and play down different lighting and background conditions.

Sometimes you want to avoid the subtle and go all the way, turning an original photograph into an outright illustration. This is a good choice when you’re dealing with original images that may not be of the best quality–a poorly exposed snapshot of a client’s newest factory, for example, may be better off if you make it look like a commissioned watercolor. Any image that is being used as an illustration, rather than to supply pictorial information, is also a perfect candidate for some of the more distorting effects. These are usually of the painterly variety: fresco, watercolor, mosaic, and craquelure.

For something completely different, you can even layer various effects so that an image may be, say, done partially in watercolor and partially in graphic pen. This probably works best on elements that you’ll use to add design impact, like icons.

MAKING THE MODIFICATIONS

Now that you’ve seen what you can achieve, how do you get there? One thing to remember is that not every package offers the same number of effects or even the same kind of effects. But one of the simplest tools to offer a broad range of these capabilities is Aldus Gallery Effects. In Gallery Effects: Classic Art, Volume 1 ($199 for Windows or the Mac), you get a collection of 16 effects, including Film Grain, Charcoal, Watercolor, Chrome, Fresco, and Emboss. Classic Art, Volume 2 ($99) brings you 16 more filters, including Rough Pastels and Photocopy.

These effects all work well on either grayscale or color images in the TIFF, PICT, BMP, or TARGA formats. The Classic Art volumes come as Abode Photoshop plug-in (an industry wide standard for add-on modules for the Mac and PC), so they can be used from within the Photoshop image-editing program or any Photoshop plug-in compatible graphic program, including Fractal Design’s Painter and Sketcher, Aldus PhotoStyler, and Micrografx Picture Publisher. (You don’t have to use Classic Art, Volume 1 from within any of these programs; you can simply make your adjustments directly and then import the files into your page-layout software.) The Gallery Effects collection offers a myriad of image-processing effects and doesn’t force you to become an expert to use them. The Mac version of Gallery Effects applies effects to an entire image only, making it easy to use is somewhat less flexible than a true image-editing or paint program, where you can paint or modify selected portions of an image. The Windows version of Gallery Effects offers the same ease of use but provides more flexibility with three selection tools that can be used to apply effects to parts of an image. You can preview the effect you choose before applying it and vary its intensity or scope.

Other Photoshop plug-ins to alter your images are also available. HSC Software’s Kai’s Power Tools ($199 for the Mac and Windows) has effects that range from mild adjustments to distortions that essentially leave you with an entirely new image. Xaos’s Paint Alchemy and Floppy Full of Brushes ($99 and $20, respectively) and Mac-specific products. Paint Alchemy comes with 75 different preset styles that can be combined with 36 different controls to create millions of custom effects. Floppy Full of Brushes provides an additional 50 effects. These products let you paint effects on sections of an image, or you can make life easier by selecting the entire image and modifying it it one step.

Moving up in terms of options and complexity is Fractal Design’s Sketcher, a grayscale painting program ($149), and its full 24-bit color sibling, Painter ($399). Both are available for Windows and the Macintosh. These packages apply their effects to images saved as TIFF, PICT, BMP, PCX, or TARGA formats in two ways: either on a selected portion (which could be the entire image), or as individual brush strokes. Both also offer a full suite of image-manipulation tools for retouching, such as painting and airbrushing. Fractal also now sells two Really Cool Textures packages for Painter and Sketcher, which add intriguing options for modifying or distorting your images.

High-end–and higher-priced–image-editing programs, like the $895 Adobe Photoshop, $595 Micrografx Picture Publisher, and $795 Aldus PhotoStyler come with their own effects. (Adobe Photoshop is available for Windows and the Mac; the others for Windows only.) Picture Publisher, like most high-end image-editing programs, supports imagers saved in the TIFF, GIF, BMP, PCX, TARGA, EPS, and other popular formats, but it comes with a better selection of effects than most competitors in its class, and it offers one of the best interfaces for selecting them. You turn to its Effects Browser to see the effects grouped in categories, with headings such as Artistic and Color Adjust. Picture Publisher lets you access, modify, and preview all of the effects from within the Effects Browser dialog box. But truly robust image-editing programs like these may offer more features than you’ll need, so think about whether lower-cost options are sufficient for what you require before you buy.

However you choose to get there, applying special effects like these to images to something that can actually deliver on desktop publishing’s original promise–giving anyone access and control over graphic tools.

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Make Your Customers Sell You!

mycs“The inspiration for my marketing strategy arrived in the mail,” says Jeanne Mitchell. She operates jTee’s, a wholesale quilted-design T-shirt business, out of he home in Perry, Oklahoma. “For the hundredth time, my book club sent a reminder that I could earn a free book by referring a friend. It suddenly occurred to me that the strategy must work or they wouldn’t keep using it.”

That’s when Mitchell decided to create her own referral-incentive program. She printed 3.5-by-8.5-inch postcards promising her current retailers: “We will reward you for your effort if you help us get the word out.” The card, which includes spaces for the names of the referring and ordering parties, explains the system: Existing customers get one free T-shirt for every 12 ordered by the account they referred. When the new client places an order, Mitchell sends the referring party a coupon redeemable for the merchandise.

The program works because Mitchell’s target market, quilt store owners, constantly exchange products ideas. She places several cards in each order shipped, so she doesn’t even invest a postage stamp. Everyone wins.

“My customers win because they receive free merchandise, and I win because new customers come looking for me,” Mitchell explains. In short, her customers have become her sales reps.

You, too, can turn your customers into a powerful sales force. Rather than waiting passively for word-of-mouth to work its magic, why not give people something to talk about? All you need is an effective referral program (see this month’s feature “How to Reach the Affluent”).

But before you jump into your own program, be aware that referral incentives may not always create a win-win situation. They can backfire if you overstep professional boundaries or put any pressure on your existing customers to send new business to you. An incentive program tends to work best when you never directly ask people to sell for you. Instead, as Mitchell does, just lay the idea of referral incentives before your customers. If they want to pick up the ball and run with it, fine. Otherwise, let go of the idea. Don’t push it.

The referral program you develop will depend on several factors, including the nature of your business, who your customers are, and how urgently you need new business. Outlined below are the three key elements: education, inspiration, and communication.

EDUCATE YOUR CUSTOMERS

Assuming you offer high-quality products or services, your existing customers represent your best source of future business. They’ve experienced the benefits of working with you, so their recommendations carry more weight than a dozen direct-mail campaigns and 10 cold calls combined.

Yet many of your customers probably think you have all the business you need. Others may not realize the full range of products and services you offer. Your circle of influence–family, friends, and former or current colleagues–represents another often-untapped source of referrals. Even if these people don’t need your product or service, they undoubtedly know others who do. However, they can’t refer customers to you if they don’t understand your business.

One easy-to-use educational tool is a capabilities brochure, which presents an overview of your business. After reading your brochure, customers and everyone else in your circle of influence should be able to describe what you do, who needs your products or services, what qualifies you to perform the services or provide the product, what sets you apart from the competition, how long you’ve been in business, and any noteworthy achievements or customers served.

In addition, include a section in the brochure (or prepare a separate flier) describing your referral-incentive program. It should clarify when–under what circumstances–people should refer someone to your business, what procedures they should follow when referring, and how and when you will reward them for referring customers to you. The essential types of rewards include future discounts, free products or services, a referral fee, and gifts.

Here’s a quick test to determine how successful your educational campaign has been to date. “Ask 10 people you know to describe what you do and who your likely customers are,” advises networking-seminar leader Joy Pedersen of Rockaway, New Jersey. “Write down their responses and check whether they have an accurate handle on your business.” Pedersen, founder of four professional networking organizations, including Express Success, also warns: “You might find their misconceptions very disappointing. Just remember, it’s your grade on the line, not theirs.”

INSPIRE YOUR CUSTOMERS

A few kind souls will refer customers to you just for the sheer joy of helping others. And a few other business owners will provide referrals in the hope that you’ll help them in return. Whatever the reason, though, a little inspiration always helps. So states Dianna Booher, corporate trainer and prolific author of 26 books on business communications.

“Whenever we do a corporate program, we ask the customer to write a testimonial letter,” says Booher, who recently moved Booher Consultants out of her Euless, Texas, home when her staff grew to 12. “We sak the customer to document any positive to comments and to address specific issues like why they decided to hire us and what the results were.”

These inspirational letters achieve three objectives. First, writing an endorsement of your business strengthens the customer’s commitment to you. They now have a vested interest in your success. Second, they understand you are in the market for new customers and may immediately refer someone. And third, you have ammunition when seeking new accounts.

Once Booher receives the letter, she sends the customer a gift, such as an autographed book or a cassette tape series. “Customers are always thrilled because it’s so unexpected,” she says. “Often they’ll call to say, ‘I’ve never received anything like this before; no one ever went to the trouble.’” The next time they hear of someone needing a trainer, whom do you think they recommend?

“Even if the referral doesn’t become a paying customer until three years later, we still pay the promised fee,” stresses Booher. Such honesty goes a long way toward inspiring future referrals.

REMIND YOUR CUSTOMERS

Your efforts to educate and inspire your customers will be incomplete without the final component: communication. That’s spelled “f-r-e-q-u-e-n-t r-e-m-i-n-d-e-r-s,” but it’s only the icing on the incentive cake you’ve already baked.

George Churilla–a Tualatin, Oregon, independent representative for several hardware and software companies–is a charter member of the frequent reminder club. He offers a 10 percent finder’s fee (or a prearanged flat fee) to anyone who sends business his way. He says, “People are usually willing to provide referrals, but they just don’t think of it unless you prompt them.” To insure a steady flow, Churilla mails out mini fliers designed to look like $100 bills or fill-in-the-blank checks with the message, “Good toward your next purchase when you refer a friend.”

Churilla also uses a double-sided business card. On the back it reads, “This card is good for [blank].” He says, “I ask everyone I met if he or she knows someone in the market for hardware or software. If there’s the slightest hope for a referral, I’ll fill in the blank with an appropriate motivator.” For example, if the person mentions she’d like to organize her bookkeeping, Churilla fills in: $50 toward the purchase of accounting software (for a referral that spends $500 or more).

“That card is like money burning a hole in someone’s pocket,” he observes. “It’s a constant reminder of the reward that awaits when business is sent my way.”

Still, while it’s heartbreaking to admit, your business isn’t foremost on your customers’ conscious minds. Undeterred, Jim Southwick aims for the subconscious. “I see to it that my customers have subtle reminders of my business throughout their offices,” says the president of Southwick Specialty Advertising in Portland, Oregon.

“Whenever we interact with customers, we leave behind items to remind them of us, whether coffee mugs, Post-it notepads, or memo cubes,” he says. “So even when we’re not around, we’re still communicating our name.”

But without regular communication, these little gifts might be meaningless. So Southwick regularly mails out idea catalogs, holiday promotions, and update fliers to spark a referral. Whenever he ships an order, he includes a handwritten thank-you note. In closing, Southwick will suggest the customer let him know if any of her colleagues need his help.

When he receives a referral, he immediately sends a gift and a note assuring the customer he will take excellent care of her business associate. Southwick says, “I’m constantly communicating the message: ‘Good things will happen if you refer business to us.’ “No wonder referrals represent more than 25 percent of his business.

Whatever communication techniques you choose–whether it’s handwritten notes, novelty items, newsletters, new product announcements, or fill-in-the-blank cards–your objective remains the same: to continually educate your customers and keep them motivated to send business your way. Once customers realize that their referrals will be richly rewarded, they probably won’t mind receiving helpful reminders. In fact, they’ll welcome them.

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Marketing To The Rich

mttrNelson Paramus was a struggling investment consultant for years before striking it big. His marketing methods were, well, primitive. Anyone who was breathing was a prospect. Moreover, of Paramus’s clients, who came from a hodge-podge of occupations and industries, only a handful invested more than a few thousand dollars. So he decided to focus his efforts on clients with higher disposable incomes.

Among the hundreds of well-to-do respondents whom I’ve interviewed at my organization, the Affluent Marketing Institute, word-of-mouth endorsements were most influential in their decisions to patronize businesses. In fact, high-quality products or services–while important–have little to do with the buying habits of the affluent. I suggested to Paramus that he concentrate on the food distribution–service trade, because few investors targeted the affluent in this industry. Then I asked him whether any of his clients were in the food business, and he said he’d had only one. Today, he has many more. After winning the respect of a multimillionaire–and gatekeeper who helped him penetrate this market niche–Paramus does not mamage investments anymore. Instead, he’s built an impressive client base, whose business he refers to other money managers.

Before you develop a marketing strategy, address this question: What types of industries within your trade contain the highest concentrations of affluent individuals? One way to find such a group is to contact your local chamber of commerce or state trade bureau. They can tell you your area’s top industries according to sales revenue. Many of the suppliers to these industries are also affluent.

Enterpeneurs like Paramus who’ve succeeded by influencing the influential already know the secret: Enhance the concerns of others before seeking business for yourself. For instance, the most important thing you say to convert a prospect into a devoted client is, “Given me a stack of your business cards. I have many clients who are likely to buy from you.” You’ll see from the case studies here that a client will go far out of his way to endorse you if you do something extraordinary. So to begin building your customer base, think about what you can offer. Then use one or all seven of the following networking approaches.

1 THE TALENT SCOUT

Armed with the names of wealthy opinion leaders in the food distribution-service industry, Paramus took the talent scout approach. First after learning that most of his potential clients read Food Distribution magazine, he called the editor and said, “I hve some financial articles to contribute. Would you accept them?” The first was published two months later. This enhanced his credibility.

Next, Paramus sent a letter to the heads of 25 food trade associations announcing the formation of his Food Industry Advisory Council, offering the investment advice and speaking skills of investors he knew. Within a week, Mary, head of one of the most influential groups, contacted Paramus asking if he knew of someone who could speak at a local trade show about the financial market’s impact on the food industry. So–acting as talent scout–Paramus provided the services of a top food industry analyst as the featured speaker. How was Paramus rewarded? Mary endorsed him. At his first association meeting, Paramus left with 320 business cards from affluent attendees. Better yet, after Mary opened an account with him, 10 more accounts were started from the attendee list. Why did Marv the millionaire respond positively? Because Paramus addressed Mary’s needs before mentioning his own.

Now Paramus asks his clients to acknowledge their best suppliers. He, in turn, asks these suppliers for their suppliers. Because most feel that by ignoring Paramus they’ll tarnish the relationship with their clients, names are offered. Targeting suppliers of suppliers is a productive way to obtain prospects and build a network.

2 THE REVENUE ENHANCER

Fred Peterbaum, an independent businessman who owned an equipment distributorship, was a conduit of critical information about the construction business in his area. He was among the first to know when a major construction job was about to start. He visited sites every workday. And building contractors who anticipated successful bids would place orders with Peterbaum–but not only for equipment. You see, they viewed him as a for-free headhunter, a person who’d provide them with the names of talented craftspeople. In essence, Peterbaum acted as a revenue enhancer, an informal development agent for his own customers. His referral system, based on his genuine desire to help clients, was simple: You can’t tell equipment to a customer who has no customers. In return, Fred Peterbaum’s customers, who paid on time, made endorsements on his behalf.

3 THE ADVOCATE

J. Conrad Peterbaum, Fred’s son, is successful for similar reasons. Not only is he a talented dentist, but he’s also an advocate for his patients. He goes beyond fillings ane extractions. He establishes rapport.

Early in his career, many of his patients in the practice where he was a partner were members of an airline union. One Monday morning, Peterbaum read an article that reported the airline was considering having its planes repaired in a Third World country to save money. Not long after, the president of the machinists union was sitting in his chair. After discussing the news, the president admitted that he and his constituents were frightened. Immediately, the two began to think of solutions. Peterbaum, playing the role of advocate, offered to write letters on the union’s behalf and to have all his patients address petition cards to their congressional representatives requesting the government do something. The campaign succeeded, and the airlines backed down. But by now, Peterbaum had quite the practice and launched his own. So the president of the machinists union, who felt indebted, took out a large ad listing Peterbaum’s new address in the monthly magazine distributed to airline employees. Unpon reading the ad, scores of pilots and corporate executives sought out Peter-baum’s service. As advocate for his patients’ causes, he was given access to the airline’s network. Today, Peterbaum has more airline employees as patients than any other dentist, with 1992 revenues exceeding $4 million.

4 THE MENTOR

I recently received a phone call from Mr. Gordon, a financial consultant for a regional brokerage house, requesting permission to reprint part of my book, Marketing to the Affluent. After a brief conversation, I asked him what industries he was targeting. He replied that he was pursuing the construction industry. As it turns out, Gordon wisely spent several hundred dollars to become a member of a construction trade association–the one with the highest concentration of wealthy business owners and executives. For his money, he got a biweekly newsletter, a journal, and a directory of who’s who in construction contracting. But the most interesting comment Gordon made during our conversation concerned the association’s newsletter: He’d persuaded its editor to add a Winners Profile section in which he would interview people about their achievements and then write profiles to be published in the newsletter. What a splendid way to meet winners of multimillion-dollar contracts and to be recognized as an industry columinst! Although Gordon is not paid for his service, he is able to teach the association members how to market to other business owners-thus becoming a mentor to the movers and shakers in the construction industry. In this way, he is using his know-how to fill the role of expert and mentor.

5 THE FAMILY ADVISER

Carmine Stardust runs a high-grade limousine service in Los Angeles. He always puts prospects first. During the L.A. riots, he never refused to accommodate their needs. On one occasion, Stardust picked up an influential executive at the airport and drove him to his home 70 miles south of the city. The client revealed that he was concerned about his two daughters: They commuted to a college in the middle of the riot area and were scheduled to take their the final exams the following day. Because of the college’s decision to remain open during the unrest, the two had to take their exams or they would not graduate. Stardust’s client, however, refused to let his girls drive to school–nor would he be able to take them himself. Acting as a family adviser, Stardust said, “There’s no reason for you girls to miss their exams. Have them ready tomorrow. I will escort them to her classroom, wait till they finish, then drive them right home. Standard rate, no extra charge.” The client was thrilled. Whenever he can, that influential executive actively makes referrals on Stardust’s behalf.

6 THE PURCHASING AGENT

Art Gifford, a CPA, is the best networker I’ve come across. When he founded his company 11 years ago, he employed three CPAs. Today, he has 34 accountants, 20 support staffers, and more than 800 clients. All of his prospects became clients because of his network system. Yet he’s never fail to make a sales call.

Currently, Gifford’s network includes owners of automobile dealerships. Why would auto dealer go out of his way to make referrals on an accountant’s behalf? Because Gifford often acts as a purchasing agent of cars for cleints. When prospects walk into his office, he spends 15 minutes asking them about their problems and needs. It’s all part of his intelligence-gathering ritual.

From this, he learned that many prospects don’t have the time to shop for the best bargains on cars. So Gifford began maintaining a list of selected dealerships that sell luxury automobiles as well as owners and top sales reps that give Gifford’s clients significant discounts. Now, when a client tells Gifford that he’s shopping for a new car, he’s handed a copy of the list. Or Gifford will actually negotiate the purchase or lease himself–that is, he’ll do the price haggling. He explains: “A wealthy client decides to buy two Mercedes. I say, ‘Before you do that, where are you getting them and how much are you paying? Maybe I can save the money.’ So I call a dealer on my list, and we end up saving my client $8,000.” Acting as purchasing agent, he also subscribes to publications that list the estimated value of used cars. Now are all the dealers on Gifford’s referral list his clients? No, but they will be soon. Since he sends them business, most reciprocate with referrals.

7 THE LOANS BROKER

So you know you must go beyond offering core services to clients. But what can you offer? Consider this: There’s nothing more important to the affluent than obtaining financial credit. I found a positive relationsship between income and credit use. For example, the average American household spends $700 annually in interest on loans; households in the $1 million-plus income bracket spends more than $150,000.

How can you leverage these credit needs to play the role of informal loan broker for your customers? Train yourself: Scan the papers for reports that identify start-up credit suppliers: examine the yellow pages. You’re likely to find more than 100 firms that lend money.

Take P.W. Charles, a money manager. During the early stages of his career, Charles prospected small banks that had no in-house investment experts. He’s successful today because he offered revenue enhancements and investment advice. With many of his clients, he didn’t limit discussions to investment topics. When someone said they needed money, he’d refer them to his network of banks.

By sending dozens of clients to these banks each year, he also build a solid client base of bankers. In light of this, banks within his area were delighted to have him manage their funds. Interestingly, even senior officers began opening accounts. Today, his network is no longer limited to small banks. Loan officers from two of the largest commercial banks in his region have accounts with him and refer business his way. Why would senior loan officers direct business to Charles and not to their own trust departments? Their departments rarely, if ever, send business to the loan officers.

What all these individuals have in common is something the dictionary defines as symbiosis–the union of two dissimilar organisms in a mutually beneficial relationship. I call it networking.

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Setting Up An Event? Outsource!

wlThey might be setting up gala product introductions or orchestrating theme-oriented extravaganzas in wildlife parks. Whatever their surroundings, professional event planners are busy helping a wide array of clients cut through the clutter of traditional advertising.

“It’s another opportunity for my clients to sell in a nonthreatening way,” says Layne Kaplan, a San Francisco-based event planner for high-tech companies. “You can target a group of people, bring them together, and give them the full message. Instead of selling, it’s more like bringing them into your fold.”

Planning and pulling off an event, however, can be an overwhelming ordeal for the inexperienced. That fact, combined with the increasing recognition of the effectiveness of events-oriented marketing, means a potentially lucrative opportunity for creative entrepreneurs with a good mind for detail. Successful, full-time planners make more than $100,000 a year.

The field of event-oriented marketing has grown tremendously in the last decade, according to Lisa Vested, publisher of Special Events magazine. Though the recent downturn in the economy has hurt some smaller event planners, the magazine estimates that roughly $35 billion is spent on corporate marketing events in the United States each year.

The event planner’s job is to create something that will capture the imagination, then coordinate the endless array of details involved in making it happen. For pulling off an event, planners earn anywhere from $1,800 to $30,000 in fees, according to Kaplan. The client pays expenses on top of that. For simple projects, many event planners charge an hourly rate (usually from $75 to $100), whereas they bill a flat fee or a percentage of the overall cost (from 10 to 20 percent) for larger, more complicated events, much as a housing contractor.

In fact, most event planners act as general contractors, riding herd on a dozen or more subcontractors. Services include the creation of a theme, selection of a site, decorations, giveaways or other premiums, and coordination of transportation, guest registration, food, and entertainment or speakers. Outside specialists are often brought in to help with a variety of services, including graphic design, media placement, audiovisual equipment, and presentation materials.

RIGHT BRAIN, LEFT BRAIN

Some event planners specialize in a particular field, but all share a few key personal characteristics. The two most important are creativity and organization. That means people thinking about entering the field need to cultivate a somewhat uncommon right brain-left brain balance.

“All the creativity in the world means absolutely nothing if you can’t pull off the event,” says Joan Boughton, who started her San Diego-based event-management business seven years ago, after doing special events as a staff member of a large retailer and a nonprofit organization. “In our business, there’s no margin for error. You may have to bring together 20 vendors, and they all have to work together the first time–there are no replays.”

Boughton’s abilities were put to the test when she was hired to put on a 12-week-long, 15th-anniversary celebration for the San Diego Wild Animal Park. The event’s theme, Around the World in 80 Days, required her to coordinate the activities of more than 1,000 individuals with a dizzying array of specialties that ran the gamut from exotic animals and 19th-century cavalry units to caterers and laser show technicians.

“We created a series of international festivals that took park visitors to a different part of the world every weekend,” says Boughton. “We had to do everything, from building and wiring new structures to bringing in musicians and craftspeople from all over the world. It’s a very detail-oriented business; Murphy’s Law just loves special events.”

MARKETING BACKGROUND

Since many events aim to achieve clearly defined marketing goals, some marketing background is important. “If a client really knows what he wants to accomplish, anyone can execute the plan. But taking a marketing approach to events and being able to add to the decision-making process, I believe is what gives me a competitive edge,” says Kaplan, whose background is in high-technology marketing.

An event planner’s role varies from client to client. Some require a comprehensive approach, whereas others need little more than simple execution of an existing plan. “Some clients haven’t got a clue, so we’ll go in and evaluate what their needs are, what they want to accomplish, and then develop a concept that is realistic within their budget,” says Boughton. “Others may have done several events themselves, know what they want, and just need an outside person to make it happen.”

Since event planners ultimately are paid to take on the stress and headaches involved with putting on an event, physical strength, mental stamina, and the ability to remain calm under pressure are additional personal qualities vital to any long-term success in the field.

GETTING BUSINESS

Both Kaplan and Boughton rely on direct mail, referrals, and personal contacts for the majority of their new business. Most of Kaplan’s clients are hightech companies; Boughton’s list is more diverse, including advertising and public relations agencies, banks, theme parks, retailers, and real estate companies.

Since the field of event-oriented marketing is still relatively new, helping prospective clients understand the value of special events is often a big part of drumming up business. “There are a lot of businesses that can definitely benefit from special events, but they need to be educated,” says Boughton. “Pan of the challenge is showing businesspeople what special events can do for them and all the different ways that they can be used.”

Both Boughton and Kaplan advise anyone considering event planning as a profession to start part-time while holding down a job that pays the bills. “It starts slow, and it takes a while to build a client base,” says Kaplan. “I recommend being conservative.” Planning events for nonprofit organizations, where both of these women cut their teeth in event planning, is a good way to learn the ropes and build a track record before taking on your own clients.

“I think the 1990s are going to be good for special events because people are seeing their value as a sales and marketing tool,” says Boughton. “We’ve seen the value of TV and radio, we’ve seen the value of print, but it’s only in the last decade that the power of events has been recognized– because they produce results.”

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Little Loans And Big Action!

llabaUntil recently, there were very few options for borrowing small amounts of money (under $10,000) to start or expand a home business. Banks usually don’t make loans to home businesses. And venture capitalists won’t even talk about such small amounts. The best hope has been to take out a home-equity loan, run credit-card balances to the max, or borrow from a friend. But there is good news. More and more private, nonprofit, community-based institutions are being formed, and they are giving more and more microloans–from $250 to $25,000. Over 200 microloan organizations use private or public sources from a revolving loan fund to make short-term loans to low-and moderate-income individuals who want to start or expand a business. A high percentage of the loans are made to people who run home-based businesses. The purpose of the loans is clear: to promote self-employment and business development for people and areas that were hard hit by the recent recession.

THE ORIGINS OF MICROLOANS

Interestingly, for some time the U.S. government has been giving $75 million a year to fund such microloan programs in other parts of the world through its AID program. Over the past five years, however, microloan programs have popped up in the United States and many more are on the drawing board. A 1991 study by the Association of Enterprise Opportunity (AEO), an organization of microenterprise agencies, found 22 microloan programs in California alone, with another 17 in the process of starting up. According to Robert Friedman, one of the founders of AEO, microloan programs in the United States have at least three different origins. Some, like the 10-year-old Women Venture program in St.

Paul, are indigenous home-grown programs. Others have been inspired by programs in Great Britain and France, where more than a million unemployed and welfare recipients were bootstrapped into self-employment during the 1980s. The Third World, specifically Asia and Latin America, where such programs are widespread and commonplace, served as an additional model for some of the early programs, such as Working Capital/ICCD (see listing) in New England and MICRO in Arizona.

CHARACTER-BASED LENDING

While conventional loans are awarded primarily on collateral, credit history, equity, or previous business success, microloans are based primarily on a belief in the borrowers’ integrity and the soundness of theft business ideas. Each lending program has a different focus within its given region. Some provide loans only to existing businesses. Others serve only one population– such as women, low-income groups, or welfare recipients.

Some programs give loans directly to individuals while others make peer-group loans. In peer-group lending, several people band together to obtain financing. Some programs grant a loan to all of its members simultaneously. Others require that groups decide who among them will get the first loan, then after a certain number of payments are made on that transaction, the next person can obtain a loan, and so on down the line.

Working Capital, for example, which serves rural areas in New England and is considered by many to be the “mother” of U.S. microenterprise, lends only to existing businesses. Its philosophy is to make the program open to anyone who can talk her way into a borrowing group. Many of their borrowers operate part-time businesses.

The North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center is another model program. It sets no income restrictions on its borrowers, and while most borrowers want to start businesses, some have been in business three or four years and need money to grow.

The Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP) makes loans to stimulate economic development in tiny Nebraska towns that have been written off as too small to matter. A given town forms a small-business association that raises from $1,500 to $2,500 in local funds. These local funds are matched three-to-one by REAP. The association then loans the funds to local citizens to start businesses.

For MICRO of Tucson, Arizona, the largest of all microloan programs with 900 to date (averaging $1,700), job creation is paramount. This program recently topped the $1 million mark. States are also getting involved in developing microloan programs. Montana, along with other predominantly rural states, has launched the statewide Microbusiness Finance Program, allocating $3.25 million for microloans, training, and technical assistance to new and existing businesses.

THE SBA MICROLOAN PROGRAM

In June 1992 the Small Business Administration (SBA) launched a five-year demonstration project providing $75 mil- lion in funds to 47 existing nonprofit microloan programs that have been in business for at least a year. The goal of the SBA program is to encourage economic self-determination by pro- viding loans to budding entrepreneurs who otherwise would not have access to them.

“Home-based businesses are the most likely to benefit from this type of loan,” says Mike Stamler of the SBA public affairs office. These initial demonstration programs may pave the way for a time when virtually any dependable individual with a solid business plan will be able to obtain seed money to launch a home business.

Loans range from $250 to $50,000, with the average being around $7,000. In many cases, the lending institution will give a series of small loans, starting at $500 and increasing with each successful payback. The amount of time allowed for payback ranges from three months to six years; interest rates range from 5 to 16 percent.

Most programs offer technical assistance in the form of individual counseling, courses, and seminars. Others provide referrals for such services to other community agencies. Seven programs require or recommend completion of a training program before a loan is given. One agency provides educational grants for applicants.

The kinds of businesses funded range from the unusual– raising exotic birds, crafting dogsleds, and making incense–to the more familiar-computer training, tax services, and desktop publishing. In our survey, desktop publishing was the most popular type of home business that received a loan, followed by day care, catering, and clothing design.

The loans have been used for inventory, supplies, equipment, renovation, and working capital. Of the 70 different kinds of home businesses that have received loans, more than a third borrowed money to purchase a computer or other office equipment, according to our telephone polling.

THE FUTURE OF MICROLOANS

The SBA plans to expand its microloan program to 110 lenders this year. SBA’s Stamler sees a bright future for the program because “it fits in well with President Clinton’s plans for economic development.” AEO’s Friedman agrees, pointing out that both Congress and the Clinton administration have demonstrated a high level of commitment to the concept of microloan programs, and President Clinton’s campaign platform called for launching 1,000 such programs. “The SBA program is a tremendous affirmation of this field,” says Friedman. “It’s grown much faster than even the most ardent proponents would have predicted. Ultimately, there will be many other programs, serving millions of borrowers, and that will still serve only a small percentage of the need.”

So if you need but have not been able to get a small loan from traditional lending sources to start or expand your business and believe you can demonstrate the ability to pay it back, review HOME OFFICE COMPUTING’s Microloan Directory and find out if there is a program in your locale. Since microloan lenders receive funds from local private sources to spur economic development in the community, only approach lenders near you.

If one isn’t available in your area, contact a small-business development center in your community, an excellent source of information about the growing pool of microloan funds available in an otherwise harsh lending climate.

The following list of microloan institutions includes all 47 that have received loan funds from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), plus MICRO, Working Capital, and The North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center, the first two being the most established microloan institutions in the country. All 50 programs loan to home-based businesses. Thirty-one provide loans to individuals; three provide loans only to groups of individuals; 14 provide both individual and group loans. Two provide no direct loans but, rather, work through local banks.

The SBA mandates that loans be made available to anyone within the specified lending area without a means test. Nonetheless, because almost all of the lenders have other sources of funds besides the SBA, many do target particular populations, such as women or minorities. In some cases, the lending institution involved offers both microloans and larger, more traditional commercial loans.

The interest rates can range anywhere from 5 to 16 percent, and many vary according to the market rate at the time. The maximum payback period allowed by the SBA is six years.

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