Learning From Agency Beginnings (Part 3)
Making an Impact on the Market
When Jonathan Ward, Jonathan Ward Associates, Atlanta, Georgia, opened his doors last year, his initial thoughts zeroed in on the typical business marketing considerations. “By that, I mean conducting the sniperlike pursuit of market objectives,” he explains. “In order to achieve that objective, I have to answer the question ‘How do I allocate my time and ability in the marketplace to achieve the most synergistic effect allowing me to make the most money over the next 20 years?’”
Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? As a matter of fact, those few words probably represent the plans and dreams of most reps today.
To achieve his goal, Ward explains that he’s networking, contacting past and present business friends and acquaintances — and he’s joined MANA. On the latter point, he emphasizes that through a business acquaintance he learned about the association “which was the obvious organization for me to join. Almost immediately I received word of an Atlanta Networking Chapter meeting. I attended, and that was an extremely positive experience.”
Ward adds that since he’s just opened his rep doors, he’s yet to sign on with his first principal, but he’s been persuaded that becoming a rep is a good move. “I had been doing marketing consulting and communication work for a variety of companies for more than 20 years. Finally it dawned on me that I didn’t feel like there was a closed loop to what I was doing. You work just as hard getting new clients and customers and you follow that with hard work on their projects and you get paid. But it seemed to me that there was more I could provide to customers. Hence, since I view myself as an entrepreneur, the move to becoming a rep was a natural.”
In addition to networking and keeping in touch with business contacts, Ward also uses his web site (www.jonathanward.com) to attract “suspects and prospects” and communicate the products and services he works on.
Jim Cotton, Atlanta, Georgia, has a bit of a different story to tell as he relates how he “reopened” or began his rep career again. According to Cotton, “I had been working as rep since 1983. However, in 1996, I foolishly allowed myself to be hired by a Fortune 100 company. What I didn’t realize when I took that position was that you weren’t supposed to do your best to do your job. In the course of two years, I increased sales by 40%.” After those two years, Cotton went back to rep life and reconstituted his agency under a different name in 1998. Cotton’s original agency name was James Cotton Assocs. As reconstituted, it is named PanAmerican Resource Group, Ltd., to more aptly represent Cotton’s interest in international business.
Although his beginning-again task had some similarities to a startup, it was also different. “When you close your agency after working with principals for 15 years or more, you make sure you let all of them know well in advance when closing your doors. The problem occurred when I went back to being a rep. I did so with absolutely no principals, and no leads on principals, and naturally no customers.” That’s the position he finds himself in today. “Bottom line, I’m new at it again.”
One of the first hurdles Cotton identified was that of getting lines. “I’m working in the area of industrial equipment/construction. So far I’ve been working closely with MANA* and an independent placement outfit that locates principals for reps.”
Finding principals and obviously customers remain the biggest concerns for Cotton. “To locate qualified manufacturers — manufacturers you want to do business with — first you’ve got to find them, and then make your qualifications known to them. There are always any number of manufacturers that want you to conduct pioneering work (at no cost) for them. One thing I keep in mind, however, is that the pioneers were the guys who generally wound up with arrows in their backs. Manufacturers and certainly reps have to keep in mind that there’s a cost associated with any kind of activity. It’s important for the rep to be compensated for the work he conducts.”
This is the final article in a three-part series on start-up advice from actual successful rep firm founders.
* Editor’s Note: There are several ways for MANA member reps to work with MANA to find lines. One often overlooked way is to use the MANA Directory “in reverse,” that is to use the Directory to look up manufacturers in your area that make the type of products you sell. Another is by reading and placing classified ads in MANA’s monthly flagship publication, Agency Sales. These ads are also available online. MANA members receive a 20 percent discount on ad placement.
Yet another way is by responding to every line lead you receive via MANA’s Premium Web Ad Service. The way this service works is that when a manufacturer places a premium ad, every MANA member agent in the product category he advertises under receives an e-mail stating that he is looking for reps for his product line. Many agents say they are too busy to respond to every line lead, but when you consider that though this line may not fit in your line card, perhaps someday this company will approach you with another line that does. If that turns out to be the case, you don’t want to turn them off by being unresponsive the first time around. Common courtesy goes a long way toward establishing your professional reputation in your territory.