Sweet and Low

5. Image Consultant

A booming economy and the need for a competitive edge are contributing to the demand for professional image consultants, according to Elaine Stoltz, a consultant in Fort Worth, Texas. "Now that [people are] educated about what image consulting is, [they] realize they could use our services," she says.

Corporate clients are turning to certified image consultants like 34-year-old Michelle Damiano, owner of Impressions in State College, Pennsylvania, for help in presenting a powerful image. Damiano assists clients with everything from marketing materials to business etiquette, but her specialty is trade show advising. "There are high-tech companies whose trade show booths look like they were put together by the Brady Bunch. That sends an inconsistent message," says Damiano, who launched her business full time in 1997. Before venturing out on her own, however, she worked (for free) with several New York City image consultants who proved to be invaluable mentors.

Working with two subcontractors, Damiano lands clients by attending trade shows, conducting workshops and advertising in business publications. Her annual sales in the past three years have grown from $20,000 to nearly $80,000.

Damiano's biggest challenge is helping her clients present a consistent professional image. "Image consulting is not rocket science," she says, "or I wouldn't be doing it. On the other hand, if it all were all just common sense, everyone would be doing it."

The basics: a standard PC and software, a business phone line, a fax machine, and e-mail. Marketing the business costs up to $2,000.

Total cost: $4,000 to $4,500

What she spent: Damiano spent less than $3,000 to start the business because she worked from home and had most of the basic equipment.

For details: Association of Image Consultants International, (800) 383-8831, www.aici.org

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This article was originally published in the August 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Sweet and Low.

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