Read an Excerpt
201 Great Ideas For Your Small Business
By Jane Applegate
Bloomberg PressCopyright © 2002 Jane Applegate
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSince I began writing about the entrepreneurial market in 1988, I've compared business owners to plate spinners in the circus. It seems that as soon as you get one plate spinning, another starts wobbling and crashes to the floor.
No matter what kind of business you're managing, you face big and small challenges every day. Hands-on managers wear many hats but rarely have time to hang any of them on a hat rack.
For instance, one morning when I arrived to have my hair cut at the Total Image salon in New Rochelle, New York, the owner, Frank Como, was already facing an enormous pile of wet towels because his clothes dryer wasn't working. Several minutes later, the real estate broker working a few doors away ran into the salon in a lather because the basement of her building was filling up with water. That wasn't all. Between clients, Frank was soothing an upset hairdresser. Just a typical day, we agreed.
While Frank's business is tiny compared to some of the other business owners you'll meet in this book, you'll see that no matter what size your company is, you can always use fresh management strategies.
One of the most successful entrepreneurs I know has bigger headaches than Frank's. In recent years, she's dealt with the unionization of herassembly line workers after a very nasty battle. During that incredibly stressful time, she was being wooed by one of the biggest corporations in her industry to manage their West Coast manufacturing center.
Although she's one of my closest friends, we communicate mainly via voice mail, exchanging detailed messages at odd hours because she rarely has five minutes free for a live conversation. But, like Frank, she loves being an entrepreneur.
It doesn't matter whether you're running a fast-growing factory or a cozy suburban beauty salon-I have great ideas for you.
In this chapter, you'll learn how to woo clients and find great places to meet with them, even if you don't have a fancy office. You'll find out how to set up an informal advisory board to help solve tough problems and how to streamline your meetings so you have more time to work.
You'll learn how to hire great attorneys, accountants, and consultants, and how to create a safer workplace so you stay out of trouble with health and safety authorities.
You'll be inspired to plan a company retreat to rethink your priorities, move your business from home into a business incubator, invest in good office furniture, and improve your telephone skills.
Maybe you're feeling lost and want to find a mentor? I'll tell you how.
I've also included some thought-provoking ideas on dealing at a higher, less stressful level, and why it's so important to tell the truth and have more fun, despite the incredible demands on your time.
I've been an affordable management consultant for years. For the price of a newspaper, you can get a weekly dose of practical advice in my syndicated column. Or you can check out the websites where I operate in cyberspace, including my own site, sbtv.com. But for now, you can have my greatest management ideas in one place-right here.
Always Deal with Decision Makers
GREAT 1 IDEA
THE ENTREPRENEUR'S CHALLENGE IS ALWAYS TO operate at the highest level possible; present proposals to the top decision maker, not the gatekeeper; elicit a prompt response; and move on quickly if the answer is "no."
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 eager to sell into the fast-growing entrepreneurial market.
I am convinced we have been so successful because we've insisted on dealing with the top 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 the letter and direct it back down through the ranks. That notation carries weight.
There are, of course, other ways to make the initial contact. Voice mail is a terrific tool for getting through to the person in charge. Most executives have a direct line. Ask to be put through by the receptionist. Call early in the morning or late in the evening-they often work longer hours than their secretaries. Try phoning during the lunch hour, too.
I should warn you that the "easier at the top" strategy does have pitfalls. Even if the top person signs off on your project, middle managers will sometimes exercise their powerful veto power. And at times they'll try to sabotage you.
After one project I had nurtured nearly to completion died a slow death from lack of middle management support, I learned that any outsider proposing a new idea to a major corporation must be very aware of the "not invented here" syndrome. It's a deadly corporate virus that can wipe out a good idea in no time. I share that not to discourage you, but to emphasize how critical it is to have solid support from the decision makers.
That said, be persistent-e-mail a provocative message describing your product. I'm living proof that it pays to start at the top and deal with whoever is signing the checks.
Don't Be Afraid to Recreate Your Business
GREAT 2 IDEA
WHEN ANTHONY'S FISH GROTTO DROPPED THE zabaglione cake from its menu, Rick Ghio feared his dear, departed grandmother, Catherine, would send a lightning bolt down from heaven in protest.
"But we were throwing away more cake than we were selling," said Ghio of the traditional sponge cake served with a rum custard sauce. Now Anthony's serves trendier tiramisu and fresh fruit tarts.
After fifty years, Anthony's also dropped rosé from the wine list, switching to white Zinfandel. These menu changes are just part of the major facelift under way at the famous San Diego-based restaurant chain.
Today Rick, a co-owner, manages the financial aspects of the company. His brother, Craig, and three other family members are the third generation to run the family-owned business founded by their grandparents.
Rick and his counterparts are giving the business a total makeover, inside and out. But why would a famous San Diego institution like Anthony's reinvent itself?
"We were losing our market share," he said. "Our reputation was still strong, but people were not dining at Anthony's as frequently as they did in the past."
Families still booked tables for major celebrations and holidays, but the younger, twenty- and thirty-something crowd did not consider Anthony's a hip place to eat.
"Competition is fierce, relentless, and unforgiving," said Craig Ghio, who oversees seafood purchasing and recipe development. "Diners have more choices than ever, and tradition is no longer enough to keep them coming back."
At first they changed advertising agencies, updated the menu, and did a little remodeling, but sales stayed flat.
The company, which started out in 1946 with one eighteen-seat diner, decided to completely rethink its purpose. The family hired two respected restaurant consultants who urged them not only to remodel their La Mesa location but also to turn the management of the company upside down.
The family had always made all the key decisions. Now Anthony's is managed by interdisciplinary teams, led by trained "integrators" who conduct frequent discussions about everything from service to what kind of food and drinks to serve. The company's 400 employees all serve on one or more of the teams.
Everything at Anthony's has dramatically changed in the past year or so, Rick said. For example, "You always paid your bill at the cash register on the way out," he said. "Now you pay your server, which slows down turnover, but on the upside, it gives the server an excellent way to close out the meal."
They spent $1.3 million turning the lakeside La Mesa location into a fantasy grotto, complete with a video game arcade built on a thirty-six-foot Criscraft boat, a trellis-covered patio, and cascading waterfalls.
They created two new characters for kids: Sandy the fish and Diego the octopus. Kids have their own menu and free beverage cups to take home.
"We learned to scan the environment," said Rick, "to stay in front of current trends. For the first time, we extended our hours. We are now open until 10 PM on weekdays and 11 PM on weekends."
Sales increased 35 percent shortly after the remodeled La Mesa restaurant opened. "People of all ages love it," Rick said.
While retooling the management and remodeling, they also worked hard to control food costs and boost profits. "For every dollar we took in, we used to spend 44 cents on food," he said. "Now it's down to 36.5 cents, and we've become more profitable." Anthony's, which is privately held, has revenues of about $18 million a year.
Although it has taken thousands of hours and more than $1 million, Rick said the total revitalization program was worth it.
"It is the scariest darn process," he admits. "We literally had to reexamine things that were done the same way for fifty years. There's a huge risk in saying goodbye to some of the things we had been doing ... but we are truly blessed by the initial response."
Check out Anthony's website at gofishanthonys.com.
Hire a Great Lawyer
GREAT 3 IDEA
WHEN YOU'RE STARTING A BUSINESS, IT'S natural to try to save money at every turn. But it doesn't pay to scrimp when it comes to getting solid legal advice.
Most business owners' first encounter with legal forms comes with a DBA, which means "doing business as" and is legally known as a fictitious name statement. After this first step, you'll need good legal advice to buy or sell real estate, form a partnership, create job applications, and write employee handbooks.
A good small business attorney will protect you and your business from legal troubles involving staff, vendors, and customers. He or she can also help when you are looking for investors or dealing with bankers.
Finding a good attorney is not as challenging as you may think. According to Brad Carr, spokesman for the New York State Bar Association, there are about 729,000 practicing attorneys in this country, with three out of four working for themselves or for a small firm. The best way to find a good lawyer is to ask other small business owners if they would recommend their own attorney. Your banker and your accountant may have some recommendations; ministers and rabbis are also good sources of referrals because they know so many people in the community.
Another way to find one is through legal directories. The reference section of most larger public libraries should have the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory. This directory provides brief biographical information about lawyers in your area. Some listings also include the names of their clients, so you can call for references.
Most state bar associations offer free referral services. Call the bar association in your state for information. Most lawyers listed through the referral service charge a modest fee for an initial consultation.
Remember, hiring an attorney is a very personal thing. Be sure to choose someone you can confide in, who makes a good impression, and who has experience in your industry.
Some good news: A glut of attorneys, especially in big cities, has forced many to reduce their fees to beat the competition. Most are happy to work by the project and do not expect to be put on a monthly retainer. Some attorneys who specialize in working with entrepreneurs will take you on as a client in exchange for stock in your company or profit-sharing down the line. If an attorney is willing to work on this basis, consider making him or her a part of your strategic team.
The hourly fees you'll pay depend on where you live. For instance, business owners in New York City and Los Angeles generally pay higher legal fees than those living and working in Omaha, Nebraska.
When you are interviewing prospective attorneys, here are the questions to ask to get you started:
* Are you a member of the state bar and licensed to practice law in this state? (If your company does a lot of interstate commerce, you might want to hire an attorney who can practice in the federal courts as well.)
* What kinds of small businesses do you represent?
* How long have you been practicing law?
* Could you give me some references?
Turn to Spiritual Leaders and Science for Management Advice
GREAT 4 IDEA
ENTREPRENEURS LOOKING FOR A NEW SPIN ON management might want to read two provocative books: Moses on Management (Pocket Books, 2000), by Los Angeles-based Rabbi David Baron, and Leadership by the Book (William Morrow, 1999), by Ken Blanchard.
In this confusing and unsettling time, it's no surprise that two revered spiritual leaders have been tapped to provide modern management advice. If you've tried traditional management books and are open to a new spin, here's what you'll find:
In his book, Blanchard, with coauthors Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago, and Phil Hodges, managing director of the Center for FaithWalk Leadership, explain the principles of "servant leadership" by telling a scary story with a happy ending. Michael, a hard-driving, workaholic executive who has neglected his family, friends, and spiritual life, has a serious heart attack. His collapse brings two longtime friends back into his life: The Professor (a thinly disguised Blanchard) and The Minister. What Michael learns during the course of the 197-page story is that true leaders think of themselves as servants to their customers and employees. Anyone who runs a small business is in the service business and can apply these parables.
Rabbi David Baron, founder of Temple Shalom for the Arts in Beverly Hills, said he started writing sermons about how the Bible relates to business issues as a way to reach out to members of his busy congregation. He said many people would like the companies they own or work for to reflect values they cherish.
Often entrepreneurs are too busy running their businesses to think about incorporating important values into their day-to-day management decisions. Yet, a truly successful business has to operate based on the ethics of its owner and employees. For example, if you cheat or short-change your customers, you shouldn't be surprised if your employees do, too. If you tell white lies about why you were late or missed an appointment, your employees will think it is OK if they do the same.
Excerpted from 201 Great Ideas For Your Small Business by Jane Applegate Copyright © 2002 by Jane Applegate . Excerpted by permission.
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