Tuesday, December 28, 2004

"We have room for five times as many consultants in this market."

Bob Sigall
Teaches graduate marketing at Hawaii Pacific University

The Service Corps of Retired Executives helps entrepreneurs for free. Above are SCORE webmaster Bob Souza, left, counselor Mike Herb and Oahu Chairman D.J. Halcro.

Consulting is an inviting
but trying profession

Stephany Sofos, owner of SL Sofos & Co., still flinches when she hears the old joke.

A consultant, the zinger goes, is just a fancy word for unemployed.

Minding your business

Tell us your
business story

Do you own a small business? Do you work for one? Did you give one your best shot, but it didn't work out? We'd like to hear from readers who are in small business and from those who have are planning on opening their own business for future publication.

E-mail: business@starbulletin.com

Fax: 529-4750

Write: Business Editor, Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana, No. 7-210, Honolulu, HI 96813

"People think anyone could be a consultant," said Sofos, a retail and commercial real estate consultant who left corporate America 11 years ago. "It looks easy."

But the demands of consulting have created an unorthodox work day for Sofos. She rises early to work with international and mainland clients and often ends the day networking at pau hana corporate functions.

"It's harder than it looks," Sofos said. "I'm always working or keeping up with my real estate and property management certifications."

Even so, an increasing number of Honolulu business professionals are carving out a niche in the job market by finding ways to make money by telling other businesses how to make more of it.

Consulting is one of the fastest-growing professions, said Lisa Burdige, director of public relations for the Institute of Management Consultants USA Inc., a national association representing management consultants.

"In a business environment that is more complex and more complicated than ever before, the need for expert outside assistance is great. And given that environment, the number of individuals and firms who are offering their expertise and assistance is even greater," Burdige said.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded 501,000 management-consulting jobs nationwide in 2000, and has estimated the profession will grow another 21 percent to 35 percent by 2010, Burdige said.

The average starting salary is more than $100,000 for consultants who have recently graduated from top schools -- a considerable premium over most opportunities elsewhere.

Fees for consulting jobs can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars, said D.J. Halcro, chairman of Oahu's Service Corps of Retired Executives, a nonprofit association that assists entrepreneurs for free.

Paid consultants are a good choice for small businesses that don't have time to act on the advice they get and are looking for someone who can give them answers and execute solutions, said Raymond Riss, president of RM Riss & Associates, who also volunteers as a SCORE counselor.

Consulting is a competitive business; yet there's still room for more consultants, especially in Honolulu, said Bob Sigall, who teaches graduate marketing at Hawaii Pacific University and has run his own business-consulting firm, Creative-1, since 1985.

"We have room for five times as many consultants in this market," Sigall said. "I encourage my students who might have trouble finding jobs in Hawaii to consider consulting."

Consulting was a natural career choice for Sigall, self-described as a lifetime entrepreneur, who started tax preparation and window-washing businesses before he graduated high school.

"The first few years as a business consultant I struggled," Sigall said. "Now I'm in my 26th year and I'm cruising down the highway in fourth gear."

Sigall's specialty is helping small businesses clarify their marketing messages, he said.

"Most companies' primary mistake in marketing is not having a clear, appealing message that makes customers reach for their wallets," Sigall said.

He also provides strategic planning for small and medium-sized businesses that need to set priorities at the beginning of the year or when the marketplace has changed.

He's found a niche because while most "large companies usually have a staff person who does this, many small and medium businesses don't have the resources to plan at all," Sigall said.

Sean Morris and Stephany Sofos are small-business consultants. She works in retail and real estate, while he provides public relations for the Japanese visitor industry.

Finding a niche is key to succeeding as a business consultant, said Sean Morris, who through his business S. Morris & Associates LLC provides media planning and public relations services to the Japanese visitor industry in Hawaii.

"There are a lot of consultants out there, but almost none in my market," Morris said. "That helps level the playing field."

Effective networking is one of the best and least expensive ways to build a business, said Pam Chambers, a presentation coach.

Chambers, who once worked in seminar promotions, networked her way into a consulting career in Hawaii. She opened Pam Chambers & Associates in 1985 and now offers training sessions for businesses, presentation skills classes for the public, personal coaching, and assistance with public speaking.

"One of the things I speak about a lot is networking," Chambers said. "People want to know how to meet that person across a room."

Businesses also want to know how to raise the bar on customer satisfaction and loyalty, Chambers said.

"It takes less than three seconds for customers to decide if employees are professional," Chambers said. "I help businesses look better than their competition."

As a consultant, Chambers also has the grueling task of continually lining up new clients.

"If I had known then what I know now about what it would require to start my consulting business, I may not have had the courage to do it," she said.

However, two decades into her consulting career, Chambers said she's glad she had the confidence to develop her niche and encourages other self-starters to follow their dreams.

"It would be impossible for me to consider having a boss," she said. "I'm addicted to the freedom and every day is a different combination of experiences."

E-mail to Business Desk


© Honolulu Star-Bulletin -- http://archives.starbulletin.com