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This article was were prepared for the June 27, 2001 edition of

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Great Ideas for Small Business

Syndicated business columnist Jane Applegate, above,

one of the panelists at Merrill Lynch’s June 28 small business


has just published a book of advice for entrepreneurs. Called 201

Great Ideas for Small Business (Bloomberg Press, $14.95) is full

of practical suggestions. Here are some excerpts:

Always deal with decision makers. Even when our company

was based in the den of my suburban Los Angeles home, and later in

a converted garage, we always resolved to deal directly with the very

top people. Sure, it raised eyebrows because most of our consulting

clients were Fortune 100 companies, but they wanted to work with us

because they were anxious to sell into the fastest-growing



I am convinced we have been so successful because we’ve insisted on

dealing with the top level decision makers or managers with high-level

access. No matter who you are, you can practice this approach. You

can write directly to the president or chairman. Briefly outline your

product and what you can do for his or her company. In many cases,

the top person, or an assistant, will make a note on a letter and

direct it back down through the ranks. The notation carries weight.

Solicit a quick `yes’ or `no.’ Through the years, I’ve

learned that a quick and honest `no’ is as important as a `yes’ in

many, many business situations. While we all love to sign on a new

client or make a huge sale, too much time is wasted in discussion

and negotiation because folks are afraid to just say `no.’

If someone isn’t interested in buying what you are have to sell, it’s

painful but more efficient to know the truth and move on.

The challenge is this: Most people don’t like to say no, so they


stall, mumble, and don’t return your phone calls, faxes, or E-mails.

This adds to your frustration and wastes your time.

One strategy I’ve found to be extremely efficient for getting a timely

answer is setting a clear deadline. You may think this takes a lot

of nerve, but it works very well in most situations. We set response

deadlines on proposals submitted to even the biggest Fortune 500


Never work with anyone who gives you a headache or a stomach

ache. If I had a motto, this would be it. Life is too short to

work with people who make you miserable. This isn’t emotional hogwash.

You can’t do your best work when you hate the person managing you

or your project.

I know. I’ve tried. Without naming names, I’ll share a quick story.

A very big company interested in selling its services to entrepreneurs

asked me to come up with some good ideas to get them started.

I came up with a concept the company believed was a winner. My former

partner and I wrote a formal proposal for funding. After months of

`yes, it’s happening,’ then, `no, it isn’t,’ we were awarded a



But it wasn’t time for champagne. During the rocky negotiations, I

realized that while my idea was embraced by the top brass, his second

in command hated it. Why? Because it was `not invented here.’ The

guy felt obligated to manage my project because his boss told him

to, but he hated it from day one and set out to sabotage it.

He hired another consultant to manage my consulting contract. He added

layers of bureaucracy and B.S. He second and third guessed everything

we did. In short, he made it nearly impossible for us to function.

I had a headache and a stomach ache nearly every day for two years!

When it was finally over, I felt as if I had been run over by a truck.

No amount of money is worth the pain. Success will evade you if you

are working in a poisoned atmosphere.

Rent a financial genius. Ward Wieman, founder of Management

Overload in Santa Monica, California, helps small, fast-growing


manage rapid growth. To manage his own cash flow, he says, `I rent

a financial genius once a month.’

Relying on this kind of outside expertise helps him keep track of

his big financial picture.

`These temps have proven to be exceptional,’ says Wiesman, who pays

about $250 to $300 an hour for savvy financial advice. `For many


owners, these finance managers do a good job at managing the resources

the company already has. Sometimes they will tackle or identify a

potential problem, like when a business owner doesn’t know whether

he’s making or losing money.’

Many businesses can’t afford, or don’t need, a full-time chief


officer. If that’s the case, you can rent a very competent one.

Buy disability insurance. A busy entrepreneur risks losing

everything if he or she is temporarily unable to work and is not


insured. Yet insurance executives estimate only 30 to 40 percent of

the nation’s small business owners have disability insurance. This

is a chilling statistic, especially when you consider that at age

37 — the prime age for an entrepreneur — the probability of

becoming disabled is three and a half times higher than the


of death.

Buy used office furniture. When I was an investigative

reporter, my beat was white collar crime. I chased after the slickest,

sleaziest business criminals in the country as they defrauded


out of millions with precious metals scams, stock frauds, and



The one thing they all had in common — other than a passion for

stealing money — was a passion for glitzy, opulent offices. To

impress prospective victims of their schemes, they always rented


space on the top floor of the nicest buildings, with a spectacular

city or ocean view . . . To this day, I still equate fancy offices

with criminal behavior. And that’s one of the reasons I urge smart

business owners to outfit their offices with as much used equipment

and furniture as possible.

Create an active database. If you look at the piles of

business cards on your desk and just see a mess — look again.

What you’re really looking at is potential income.

No matter how small your business may be, you should be creating and

updating a database. With simple software, a current database allows

you to easily mail newsletters and sales information to customers.

You can also target prospective customers by renting mailing lists.

Add telephone numbers, and your database becomes the basis for a



Collecting detailed information about people and their companies is

easier than you think. Business cards, sales invoices, catalogs,


and magazine and newspaper articles all contain valuable information

and contacts.

The easiest way to create and maintain a database is with a simple

software program. There are many affordable programs on the market

that keep track of information and allow you to cross-reference and

access it in several ways.

Work hard, and play harder. The most successful


I know work hard and play even harder. This work hard/play hard


fits the entrepreneurial lifestyle perfectly. In the start-up years,

as most entrepreneurs know, you rarely get a day or weekend off —

and a vacation is totally unthinkable. There are so many personal

sacrifices involved in running a small business. So, when things


do take off, it’s time for you to take off.

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