By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter
Like many RPCN members, James (Jim) Barton became a consultant when his corporate job disappeared. He had worked for Bausch and Lomb (B&L) for a total of 22 years in several roles, the last seven as vice president for Business Development in the company's Vision Care (contact lens) Division. He moved to Rochester in 1990 for that position, and spent a total of nine years in Asia in executive marketing and sales roles. When B&L was restructured as part of being sold, he had the option of going back to industry with another company, but "in thinking deeply about it, that quite frankly didn't appeal," he recalled. "I decided I could use my skills as an independent businessperson. I thought that would be fun."
It certainly has worked out well. Barton incorporated his business, James H. Barton Consulting, LLC, in July of 2013 and has found success and fulfillment in his consulting role. He does several large projects a year. His wife helps with bookkeeping, and he subcontracts the services and knowledge of colleagues as needed for some projects, such as market research or advice about a new technology or market.
Among the influences in his decision was that "I saw a need that I could help fulfill," Barton said. "My role in business development was ideal and relevant to becoming a consultant. I was responsible for acquiring technology from outside the company, usually through licensing. Many small and medium-sized companies would come to us with technology they thought would be appealing. Their products would be good, but their marketing was often bad - they didn't understand the needs of a corporation," or how to tailor a presentation to those needs.
"It occurred to me that there was a pattern," Barton said. "They needed help thinking through a strategy. I would often spend extra time explaining such things to them. It was a back-handed way of doing consulting."
While the business is thriving, there were a few challenging moments. "I learned from my mistakes," Barton said. "The first time I used a subcontractor, I didn't include the incremental costs." Now he knows better, and always discusses the costs he might incur for their participation beforehand and works that information into the contract with the client.
Barton also has changed direction compared with how he originally envisioned his consulting business. He started out intending to offer four services, but quickly reduced that to two: "working with small and medium-sized companies to help them market their technology to larger companies, and providing strategic advice to larger companies interested in new technology or expanding to new geographic markets." He dropped the other possibilities because "there was less demand for them and I was lucky to have a steady flow of work in those first two areas, so it occurred to me, 'Why fight it?'"
Barton finds clients and clients find his consulting company primarily through networking. "I don't think I'm unique in a history of having worked for and left a big corporation," he said. "To market the business, I focus on account development with individuals in companies I already know. I had a large network of contacts all around the world. I identified the likeliest as clients to work with, suggested we talk, and that has been the source of initial and ongoing work."
Referrals also have helped Barton build his business, and he's had "significant" repeat business as well - a testimony to the quality of his work, and his marketing chops. "I continue to fortify existing and build new relationships through events and associations, and I network locally as well as nationally and internationally," he said.
Barton joined RPCN in the spring of 2013 and found it "extremely important" in planning to launch his consulting business. "I'm an experienced businessperson, but I was extremely nervous about this," he said. "There were all kinds of decisions to make, and it can be overwhelming. RPCN let me connect with members with a large amount of practical information to share - people who went through the same experience. It was very useful in helping me set up my business with full confidence."
To express his appreciation, Barton now serves on the RPCN board and took on chairing the program for the most recent RPCN conference. "I felt it would be a good thing to give back to the organization in a practical way," he explained. "That kind of event helps RPCN grow and build itself up as an organization known for expertise and providing service to small businesses." On his own behalf, he made about 30 new networking contacts by volunteering to help manage the conference.
As an expression of his commitment to networking, Barton is also a member of Digital Rochester and is on the Strategic Advisory board of Ovitz, a start-up company located at High Tech Rochester, and the advisory board of the Biointerfaces Institute of McMaster University in Ontario, Canada.
For colleagues in RPCN, Barton "can lend help to people in certain circumstances, especially if they've been let go from corporations," he said. "I can give practical advice. I have real depth of knowledge in technology development, tech commercialization, etc. I lived and worked in China and Japan for nine years, so I also can share perspectives beyond Rochester."
Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is a freelance writer, editor, proofreader and speaker whose motto is "I can write about anything!"™ She is also the owner of Communication Central (www.communication-central.com), which hosts a conference for communications entrepreneurs in the fall.