Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Helping Yourself By Helping Others Get $750 Million Worth Of New Contracts

Laura Ricci Story

At a time when few consultants used the Web, Laura Ricci dared to start a company that required customers to work with her virtually.

After 20 years helping engineers and scientists win government grants, Laura Ricci knew two things. She knew she hated flying all over the country to client sites, where she would spend days or weeks advising technical teams about how to write their funding proposals. And she knew that her customers used the Internet -- and had, in fact, been using it long before the World Wide Web bounded onto center stage.

So in 1996, Ricci decided to launch a grant-writing consulting company from a spare room in her home. She would do practically all her work there, posting customized training manuals on a Web site and FTP-ing proposal drafts for both sides to mark up. Vendors, contract employees, and even customers would be required to work with her virtually. Face-to-face interaction would be almost eliminated. "It was an experiment," says Ricci. "I was designing against being a road warrior."

The first virtual project Ricci managed was the construction of her own Web site by a developer in Albany, N.Y., that she had never met. She also took advantage of her early-mover status by snagging free prime placement in the consultant and marketing categories of Yahoo.

But Ricci's temerity was most evident in what she didn't do. She refused, under any circumstances, to print brochures. "If people ask me what services I offer, I refer them to the Web. If they insist on a brochure, they're not worth pursuing," she says. In fact, in 1999 she broke off talks with a large computer company -- one with a growing E-business specialty, no less -- because it required printed marketing material.

On the other hand, companies like Radian International and Lockheed Martin have been more than happy to play by Ricci's rules. "Lockheed Martin is a big organization with a massive bureaucracy around contracting with new people," says Ricci. "Yet it made a decision to pick me based on the Web site alone. That proves this can be done."

And done it is. Since she started, Ricci helped your clients get $750 million worth of grants and new contracts.