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Jan 25, 201112:00 AMMad @ Mgmt

with Walter Simson

Disparate Housewives

Disparate Housewives

Mad @ Mgmt addresses the concerns of middle market companies, including banking, family & succession issues, turnarounds & performance improvement and economic life in general. Walter Simson is founder and Principal of Ventor Consulting a firm dedicated to middle market companies.

I recently met the owner of a specialty retail chain who had a good-but-not great revenue profile. We discussed his marketing plan and his staff.

I sensed a problem. He did not have either. He thought he was the best salesman for his business, which was probably true. However, he did not spend enough time promoting, which left him in the "anemic category" in growth.

His wife had asked to attend our coaching session. I turned to her. Was there enough energy in the marketing function? She agreed there was not.

I then asked her to think of the highest-energy people she knew.

"Let me guess," I asked. You are thinking of someone at home who is underemployed?

Indeed she was. A full-time mom who had given up a successful marketing career in order to raise a family. Her kids were now quite successful, in college or about to be, and she was casting about for something to do other than volunteering, managing the sports career of a talented 17 year old, or blogging ... all of which she did.

I suggested we solve the energy crisis at the retailer by bringing in some high powered, motivated, educated and non-threatening resource.

The under-employed.
We all know them. The man who was laid off as CFO post-merger. The woman whose start-up was sent-up. The part-time college professor. The stay-at homes.

These people have skills and it is my sense that, before 2008, they had a fairly ready outlet in the mid-to large corporate world. Networking at the top provided for middle class support.

I do not hear about those corporate opportunities any more. But I do see opportunities where many of those folks do not.

Middle market companies.
There is a boat-load of stuff that needs doing, and, increasingly, the proprietors recognize that they don't have the time.

They also recognize that business is changing. Business is not a "place" with a door that needs watching. Business is a place where events happen to like minded people.

But those events need planning, promotion, negotiation and execution.

In restaurants, think business to business sales. Make the back room the place for the hockey board to fight; the bridge club to bid; the knitting circle to come round.

We started a manager's program in one restaurant chain I recently worked with. Each manager got new business cards, with the word "invitation" on the back. The manager could meet prospects on sales calls or at catering set-ups and invite prospects to come by for a free appetizer at dinner, or a full tasting.

Guess what. A big success. People want to be invited to taste new things to see the venue, to think big about their organization's meeting. But only half the managers could re-tool to get out of the store.

Enter the part-timers. They had the fresh contacts, the ideas, the energy. And because by definition, their efforts were incremental, the client could judge which ones were working and which ones weren't.

And, almost all of them did.

This kind of opportunity is out there right now in every kind of small to medium enterprise. A friend's website needs bookkeeping. A financial planning firm needs help with contact management. (For that matter, I need help in contact management...) Another restaurant wants to set up a kids' program. A dealership wants to set up a service marketing effort. A contract bakery needs part-time sales. So does a gym.

Most of these opportunities build business and will pay for themselves. The entrepreneurs think of these ideas as "shoulds," as in, "I should go to the doctor."

These ideas are really "musts." And the no-overhead, easy-to-manage part timers take all the excuses away.

On the provider side — the would-be part timers — I see a lot of energy, ideas and enthusiasm. These are people who once would have winced if they had been asked to help a bakery. It would have been tempting to ask, "I got my BS in marketing for this?"

But now they are mature, and the nature of the problem, not the prestige of the nameplate, is sufficient. Plus, they are under-employed. They need the challenge, even one provided by a tiny enterprise.

I have a suggestion. Let's start something positive in this new year. Small, but positive. Hire a part time person, build the business, take the next step.

It will work, because they will work.

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