From the May 2004 issue of Entrepreneur

Weighty Matters

If your employees subtly shun overweight customers, they're not only behaving reprehensibly--they might also be costing you a loyal group.

Myrna Marofsky, president of ProGroup Inc., a diversity consulting firm in Minneapolis, has observed retail salespeople treat overweight customers coldly, even when they were shopping for items unrelated to their size, such as cosmetics. Cultural assumptions about overweight people-that they're lazy and don't make much money-can translate into the idea that they don't have money to spend. Salespeople often "don't see them as desired customers," says Marofsky.

Your challenge is to "create a culture that welcomes everyone," advises Marofsky. About 61 percent of American adults are overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means salespeople must adjust their attitudes about selling to people of all sizes.

Simple measures, such as having armless chairs in a waiting room, can create a welcoming environment for the amply proportioned, says Marofsky. Most important, teach your staff to treat all customers with respect. It's not just good business; it's good sense.

Coming to America

International students in the United States on J-1 visas can be employed by U.S. firms while they are in school and up to 18 months after graduation, provided their jobs are related to their academic studies. These students can serve as an inexpensive, albeit high-turnover, source of labor for small businesses.

The main caveat is that the students are supposed to work at a job that gives them experience directly related to their degrees. That means a computer science major can be legitimately hired by a small business to help run its computer network, but university advisors are unlikely to look as kindly on that same student flipping hamburgers. And, of course, they must be paid at least the minimum wage.

Because international students are already here, businesses don't have to process any more paperwork to hire them than they would for any other employee, says Charles Bankart, assistant director for scholar programs at the Office of International Programs at Indiana University, Bloomington. "You don't have to prove you are hiring them because you couldn't find an American who is more qualified," he adds.

The best way to find international students who are seeking work is through the career development offices of local universities.

Some Good Advice

Five years ago, the management consultant was a key part of any business strategy. In many companies, consultants ran the show.

But management consultants are exiting the stage lately: Consultants News, a publication that tracks the consulting industry, estimates that total revenue over the past two years at the Big Three strategy firms-Bain & Co., The Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey & Co.-has decreased 5 percent, 13 percent and 12 percent, respectively.

A huge realignment of consulting is underway that's "bigger than at any other time in the industry's history," says Mark Lipton, author of Guiding Growth: How Vision Keeps Companies on Course (HBS Press) and a management professor at New School University in New York City.

The slow economy hasn't helped the management-consulting industry's bottom line, but perhaps the biggest change is that Fortune 500 companies have grown cynical about the benefits of management consulting. And when large companies do hire consultants, they'll want to see a measurable return on investment.

"[Large companies] are looking more to partner with their consultants," says Norman Eckstein, founder of Eckstein Management Consulting in Chicago and chair of the Institute of Management Consultants USA Inc., a professional organization for management consultants. To keep their large clients happy, the big consulting firms are scaling back projects to include fewer consultants working on much shorter time frames.

What does this trend mean for small businesses, which tend to rely on very small consulting firms? Small companies still need management consultants, and there are a lot of them for hire.

But it's a good time to renegotiate the terms of the entrepreneur-consultant relationship, Lipton says. You want a consultant who sees your company as unlike any other rather than just another company to fit onto a template. Avoid consultants who see their methods as proprietary and propose strategies that take years instead of months to implement-good terms for the consultant but not for you.

Also ask consultants to show you how they'll transfer their knowledge to your senior management. How the consultant transfers knowledge "needs to be a part of the deal, and even more, a part of the contract," Lipton says.

If business owners demand a new kind of partnership with management consultants, like the Fortune 500 companies are, it will change consulting as we know it. "The entrepreneur is in a real sweet spot right now to reshape the rules," Lipton says. "It sets the stage for a whole new [era] of contracting."

78%
of employees say they expect to continue working in some capacity well into their retirement years.
SOURCE: Towers Perrin
34%
of executives say strategic vision is the most essential quality for successful leadership.
SOURCE: The Creative Group

Joanne Cleaver has written for a variety of publications, including the Chicago Tribune and Executive Female.