Karlyn Lothery, communications consultant, succeeded after sending out a wider signal

Karlyn Lothery, owner of Lothery & Associates (and it's only employee).
Karlyn Lothery, owner of Lothery & Associates (and it's only employee).
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 27, 2011; 6:29 PM

"The King's Speech" is the story of an Australian speech therapist named Lionel Logue helping England's stammering monarch, King George VI, overcome his disability and lead the British Empire against the Nazis.

I have previously written about the importance of public speaking for businesspeople, but communications consultant Karlyn Lothery grabbed me with her own version of "The King's Speech" - what she called her "fear buster" episode.

Lothery met a women's college basketball coach who was accustomed to giving motivational talks before large audiences and fielding questions from the press. But she was ducking requests to host a webcast in which she would be interviewing some successful businesswomen.

"Her eyes started tearing when she just talked about it," said Lothery, 37, recalling her first lunch with the client about a year ago. "She said her body shut down when she was the one asking the questions."

A person's fear of public speaking or inability to communicate in small settings can cripple a career, and Lothery is trying to build a business around curing it. Two coaching sessions with the basketball coach - including breathing lessons, memorizing facts and rehearsals in front of a camera - and $4,500 later, the client was ready for prime time.

The 1995 Georgetown grad's nascent firm is far from a powerhouse: Lothery & Associates has one employee (guess who?) and will gross around $300,000 this year, she said.

Why am I writing about her?

Like most entrepreneurs, Lothery takes risks. She walked away from a $200,000-plus job with the U.S. Tennis Association to start her own business with $60,000 in the bank - and on the precipice of one of the worst economic downturns in history. She burned through her savings and even dipped into her 401(k) retirement nest egg (which I would never do).

It sounds repetitive, but coming up with an idea for a business and actually executing it are two very different things. "Doing it" is a lot harder than you think.

Lothery admits the mistakes she made starting out, such as assuming her relationships from the USTA and elsewhere would create a cascade of clients. They didn't. She limited her client pool to athletes. Too narrow.

She learned from both.

Lothery said her company is big for a black-owned firm. Her estimated $300,000 in revenue this year will put her in the upper echelon of black-owned enterprises. Only 1 percent of black-owned firms nationally in 2007 had revenues of $1 million or more, compared with 5 percent of all firms, Lothery said, citing a recent Census Bureau report.

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