From the June 2001 issue of Startups

Part of an executive search consultant's job is to find prospects who are happy employees simply looking to further their careers. But maybe if those on the happy list knew more about the jobs of these "headhunters," they would consider dumping their gigs for theirs.

That is, if this type of career sounds good: working out of your home, setting your own hours, being your own boss with practically no overhead or start-up costs, helping others become more successful, and enjoying a cozy starting salary of more than $100,000 a year. Appealing? Nah.

Executive search consulting has become one of the most solid-and lucrative-start-up businesses you could own, whether you've got a background in HR, have worked for placement agencies, or have no experience at all and thought headhunting was only for bail bondsmen. Odds are, you've already got all the equipment it takes to get started: that is, a phone, a computer and e-mail. "No one even takes faxes anymore," says David Lee, a 30-year-old search consultant in New York City. "You don't even need paper."

Like many search consultants, Lee started his one-man show, EZDNYC Inc., after leaving a recruiting job. Lee takes as clients companies that are looking for a certain type of applicant, and when they find someone who fits the profile, it's payday. And with a little patience and a lot of hard work, it can be a nice one, too. Typically, a search consultant will make anywhere from 20 to 33 percent of the employee's first year's salary. And with no overhead (outside of a measly phone bill), the money's for keeps.

According to The Fordyce Letter, the industry's most widely read newsletter, the average fee per placement last year was more than $15,000, and the average annual billable income for executive search consultants was $197,000. Like many in the field, Lee, who founded his company in January 2000, says he cruised past the industry standard first year's salary of $100,000.

According to Michael Bloch, a search consultant in Rochester, New York, the amount of money made is proportional to the amount of work done. "I don't advertise at all; everything's over the phone," Bloch says. "Honestly, that's about all you have to have equipmentwise. But the key is to have the knowledge of how to do it."

Bloch says being well-organized and having an interest in helping others succeed are a must, as are constant calls to clients, prospects and references. He warns, however, that in addition to learning to work on your own, it's also important to know how to be a salesperson and budget your money. It could be a long time between paydays.

Paul Hawkinson, publisher of The Fordyce Letter, concurs with Bloch. "The failure rate is horrendous in this business," he says. "It looks easier than it is. Some people are not sales personalities, and this is a sales job no matter how you look at it. It's an easy-entry business, and most easy-entry businesses are easy-exit businesses."

According to The Fordyce Letter, engineering and technical positions are the most popular among recruiters. Many search consultants stick to what they know, concentrating on their own specialties.

Lisa Olson, 29-year-old owner of Mio Creative Solutions, works from her home in Dallas and focuses on the marketing and advertising fields. Though she started from scratch like most other homebased search consultants, she had an edge: After one year working for a recruiting firm, her department was eliminated, and she was allowed to take her clients with her. Instead of moving those clients to another agency, she decided to put her five years of recruiting experience to the test and gained them as her first clients. Now, two months later, she's well in the black. "I felt I owed it to myself to give it a shot," she says. "Taking that actual risk is scary, but it just kind of happened for me."

You've Got What It Takes
Don't worry about overhead. Odds are, you've got the right tools for the job at home already-and most of them you won't even need:

Multiple-line phone with headset
Computer with Internet access and e-mail
Voice mail
Printer
Fax machine (rarely used)
Tape recorder
A desk, filing cabinet and organizational skills-always used