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Q: The single largest challenge I face as a beginning management consultant is that I don't have a client list yet, and I'm frequently asked who else I've worked with. I do my best not to answer this directly, but I don't like being evasive. One idea I've come up with is to print a page of testimonials from the few clients I've had. What else do you suggest?

Name withheld
Via e-mail

A: Hey, you do have a client list! It's just a short one. You have some clients, so you don't need to be evasive or defensive when you're asked about others you've worked with. Speak confidently and proudly about the projects you've worked on as well as those you're working on now. Most people are looking for a representative sample of your clientele. You don't have to mention that these are the only ones you've had so far. When your client list grows, you can emphasize its length. For now, you should highlight its scope. And, yes, absolutely prepare a page of testimonials from your clients. If you don't yet have enough to fill a page, prominently feature the clients you've had in a brochure describing your services and background.

Q: I noticed you're predicting personal and business coaching will have awesome growth. I'm a coach in the Atlanta area. My niche is second career and retirement planning for baby boomers. I've just started in this arena. I thought business brokering would be a good add-on to this business. Any insight you might give me would be appreciated.

Name withheld
Via e-mail

A: To market a business successfully, it's essential to maintain one clear business identity. This is especially true when you're just getting started. We wouldn't recommend business brokering as an add-on to your business at this time if you want coaching to remain your primary business. It's an interesting and potentially profitable future add-on service for your business, however.

The task of the business broker is to find sellers, and your marketing task as a coach is to find consumers. Trying to develop two separate clienteles simultaneously could dissipate your time, money and energy as well as your identity. Alternatively, you might want to establish a referral agreement with a business broker or simply get your coaching practice solidly underway before you expand into brokering. Then, if you discover your clients are actually in the market to buy businesses, you can begin developing a brokering service when you have the resources to expand.

Q: I'm thinking of expanding my company into a 900-number business. I'd be interested in any information you might have.

Valarie Hobson
West Newbury, Massachusetts

A: We included the 900-number business as one of the "Rest of the Best" in the first edition of Best Home Businesses for the '90s (J.P. Tarcher-Putnam). That came out in 1991. It was a new business at that time, and it was already fraught with the controversy of state attorney generals clamping down on 900-number rip-offs and children running up big phone charges listening to joke lines. But audiotext (as it was called then) also appeared to be on the brink of becoming a quick, affordable channel for valuable information on everything from insurance quotes and pet advice to tax tips and new car prices. Service bureaus were being set up to handle call processing; by sharing the expected profits, they were able to charge very low or even no start-up fees.

Entrepreneurs we spoke with who were in the 900-number business at the time were optimistic and enthusiastic. It appeared the winning combination was either a topic with mass appeal or highly specialized information not available elsewhere--coupled with an affordable way to extensively market and advertise the number.

When researching the 1995 edition of Best Home Businesses for the '90s, however, we found the picture for 900 numbers was vastly different. Most self-employed individuals we talked to were quite disappointed with their ventures. The major problem: They couldn't afford the extensive advertising required to get a high volume of callers. Government regulations protecting consumers from abuses in this field also increased their operating costs. More seriously, the public didn't seem interested in paying to listen to information on the phone, with two exceptions: sex lines and astrological readings, both of which contributed to the sleaze factor now associated with 900 numbers.

We dropped the business suggestion from our 1995 edition at that point and have noticed 900 numbers are even less desirable now. Of course, someone may write in telling us they've got a business that's an exception (we hope they do), but the Internet has essentially snared whatever potential audiotext once held. So whatever information you're thinking of providing through a 900-number service, we suggest you consider providing it on the Web instead. While people are still a bit reluctant to pay for information online, in researching our latest book, Making Money in Cyberspace (J.P. Tarcher-Putnam), we discovered enterprising individuals who are finding ways to make money as online information providers. If you're not able to sell content so unique and valuable that people can't find it anywhere else for free, you can still profit from the Web by providing quality information that generates enough traffic to your site to attract paying advertisers. Usually, the best advertisers are companies targeting the specific type of visitor your Web site draws. The more difficult and costly it is to find such people, the easier it is to get advertisers.

Paul and Sarah Edwards are homebased business experts and co-authors of several books, including their recently released second edition of Getting Business To Come To You (Tarcher). If you have a question for Paul and Sarah regarding a homebased business issue, contact them at http://www.paulandsarah.com or send it to "House Calls," Entrepreneur's HomeOffice, 2392 Morse Ave., Irvine, CA 92614.

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