Q: I'm starting my own computer consulting firm, and right now, it's just me doing the consulting. I'm ready to begin marketing my services. My concern is that if I get too much response and can't keep up with the demand, my company will lose credibility. I don't want to hire people until I have work for them, but I'm afraid to wait until I have the work lined up to begin the hiring process. Any suggestions?
El Segundo, California
A: This "chicken or egg" situation is a common one for growing businesses, but you have a number of options. First, network with other consultants who may be able to handle your overflow if you need them. Draw up an agreement that clearly defines your respective rights and obligations regarding the work, the clients and confidentiality.
Next, con-tact two or three employment agencies; describe the skills you are looking for and tell them you anticipate hiring over the next few months. They will run the ads, do the pre-screening, and have a pool of candidates ready for you to interview when the need arises. Finally, now and throughout the life of your company, collect resumes and screen candidates--even when you aren't hiring. Encourage your friends and professional associates to refer prospective employees to you. Maintain a file of people with a variety of skills you can call when you have too much work to handle on your own. Don't worry about whether they already have jobs; many people who aren't actively looking to change jobs may be receptive to an offer if you approach them.
Q: I would like to set up a secretarial service. The location I've selected is surrounded by commercial offices, a hotel and a shopping center, and is near a monorail main station. How do I determine if this is a good location?
A: Your location sounds ideal, but it's a good idea to do a little more research to determine whether the market will support your business. Call the companies occupying commercial offices in the area; ask to speak to the manager, and say you're doing a survey on secretarial services. Then ask if they ever use an outside secretarial service, what service they are currently using, what type of work they give to the service, and what type of performance they need. (Pay attention to what these prospective customers say they want and use that information when planning your service package.)
Next, ask the hotel if there's an opportunity to do work for their guests. Many hotels have business centers, but they are not always able to provide complete secretarial services and may appreciate being able to offer their guests a referral. Don't try to sell your services at this point; you're simply gathering information.
Once you have an idea of your potential market, you need to find out if you'll have any competition. This shouldn't stop you from starting your own business, but you need to know what you're up against. Find out as much as you can about your competitors--like what services they offer and how much they charge.
Once you've determined the size of the market and the strength of your competition, you should be able to decide if there is enough potential business in the area for the location to work.
Jacquelyn Lynn is a business writer in Winter Park, Florida.