Look out, McDonald's, there's a rising contender for your famous "number of patrons served" tally: The Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) recently served its 3.5 millionth client.
OK, so it's not hamburgers and milkshakes they've been dishing out, but small-business counseling and advice. And they've got a way to go to reach even their first billion served. But SCORE has one leg up on its rival: The information SCORE provides is distributed for free.
"Savvy entrepreneurs utilize every available resource to help them succeed in business," says SCORE president Fred Thomas. "SCORE is a confidential resource that gives entrepreneurs access to business experts that would otherwise cost them hundreds of dollars in consulting fees. Instead, the advice is free."
SCORE, a resource partner with the Small Business Administration, is a nonprofit association dedicated to educating entrepreneurs to help them successfully grow their businesses. There are 389 chapters nationwide and more than 12,000 volunteer SCORE counselors--working and retired executives and business owners--who offer their business expertise on such topics as developing a business plan, assessing the capital needs to start a business, investigating the market potential for a product or service, and managing business growth.
Business rookies are certainly welcome at SCORE: Currently, 50 percent of its clients are start-up businesses and 50 percent are growing companies. If you'd like to join the ranks of those shrewd entrepreneurs who have benefited from the free one-on-one counseling of seasoned businesspeople, call (800) 634-0245 for the location of the SCORE chapter in your community. They'll help you to guide your new business to success, and you'll help them inch closer to McDonald's megalithic record.
These days, evening exercisers aren't necessarily turning in once the sun does: Judging from the number of companies producing safety gear for joggers, cyclists, backpackers and in-line skaters, it seems that nighttime is indeed the right time for business.
Helping to keep these evening exercisers safe from traffic, crime, and even collisions with other moonlit athletics enthusiasts, companies across the country are inventing and manufacturing products geared to enhance outdoor personal safety.
Boston's Reflective Technologies Inc. has created IllumiNite reflective fabric, which was chosen by Popular Science as one of the top 100 products in 1996. While most reflective clothing items feature single strips of reflective fabric in their designs, the entire surface of the IllumiNite fabric is reflective--allowing motorists to distinguish human silhouettes in the dark, as opposed to reflective but unrecognizable floating lines.
Lentek International Inc., in Orlando, Florida, offers flashing Mini Laser Lights that easily clip onto clothing, helmets, bicycles and in-line skates. Weighing less than a half ounce, the lights can be seen from more than a third of a mile away. And in Mequon, Wisconsin, ArmAlarm Inc. sells the ArmAlarm--a wristwatch that, when triggered, emits a 120-decibel tone to signal distress.
As you probably know, one of the keys to business success lies in the marketing of your product or service. MyProfessionalMarketingMaterials is a software program which lets you create professional-looking brochures, newsletters and fliers easily. Designed specifically for small businesses, it lets anyone with a color printer create preformatted, full-color designs on plain white paper.
The software provides more than 500 background designs and 200 Jump Starts, which are fully completed, but customizable, templates. Also offered are 5,500 graphic images and color photographs included in the clip-art gallery.
MyProfessionalMarketingMaterials requires Windows 95 or 3.1, CD-ROM or floppy drive, 8MB RAM, and 8MB of hard-disk space. Suggested retail price: $79.95. From MySoftware Co., Palo Alto, CA. To order, call (800) 325-3508. --Amy E. Lewis
Adventures In Business
Responding to the skyrocketing number of new adventure-tourism businesses starting up each year, Adventure Media Inc., the publishers of Adventure West magazine, have created Adventure Travel Business magazine for those thrill-seeking entrepreneurs who earn their livings leading people on kayaking, hiking, cycling, mountain-biking or river-rafting tours.
Included in the bimonthly trade publication are profiles on various adventure-tour businesses and their owners, helpful tips on sales and marketing, information about industry news and legal liability, specifics about joining the Adventure Travel Trade Association, and a calendar of upcoming industry trade shows worldwide.
If your entrepreneurial plans will be leading you down the path of adventure tourism, this is a must-read. To be placed on Adventure Travel Business's industry mailing list, write to P.O. Box 3210, Incline Village, NV 89450, or call Matt Warren at (702) 832-3700. --K.M.
By Roger Fritz
Every business has problems. But entrepreneurial survivors solve their business's problems as they arise, and grow by converting those solutions into future opportunities.
Dr. Roger Fritz has more than 40 years of experience as an educator, manager, corporate executive, university president, small-business consultant, and author of 28 business and management books.
This month in Dr. Troubleshooter's waiting room, we discover the importance of planning.
Problem: Too often, you have the feeling that you're flying by the seat of your pants or working day to day without any well-conceived idea of what you ought to be doing. As a result, you often feel that you're doing things to keep busy, but not actually making progress toward your long-range goals.
Diagnosis: From the very beginning, your business needs a well-defined plan, designed to keep you on course and prevent you from straying too far afield. Good intentions don't get the job done. Like a road map, a solid business plan will help guide you where you want to go. A business plan actually serves five key functions:
- It communicates your ideas, research and plans.
- It provides essential information for potential sources of funding, such as prospective partners or bankers.
- It provides the framework on which to build your business.
- It provides a yardstick for measuring your company's progress.
- It provides a way to evaluate change, not only in your business, but in your industry, your market and yourself.
Prescription: Prepare a detailed business plan, which entails:
1. Defining your goals. Be brief. Be specific. Make sure they are measurable.
2. Collecting all of the relevant data. Get input from internal and external sources. Tap customers, suppliers, bankers and advisors. Consult the library, applicable trade associations, the chamber of commerce, colleges and universities.
3. Developing the plan. Select and train new employees as needed. Acquire new equipment if necessary. Form new business relationships. Determine how to finance the plan.
4. Implementing the plan. Set your plan in motion by delegating key assignments. Revise your plan as needed.
Excerpted with permission from Roger Fritz's The Small Business Troubleshooter: 152 Solutions to the Problems Faced by Every Growing Company (Career Press, $16.99, 630-420-7673).
Inquire Before You Hire
As a new employer, wading through the murky waters of the interviewing process can prove rather daunting. When you want to choose a winning candidate, you must be prepared to cut through the veneer of artificial answers and quickly address problem areas by posing penetrating questions.
If you don't want to leave anything to chance when hiring, take a look at Paul Falcone's 96 Great Interview Questions To Ask Before You Hire (Amacom, $17.95, 800-262-9699). This comprehensive guide will help you through every phase of the interviewing process--from screening potential interviewees on the phone to handling the face-to-face meeting, and ultimately closing the deal.
Differentiating between a good candidate and the best candidate is made easier, as Falcone provides penetrating, well-thought-out questions, the solid reasoning behind each question, and analyses of the answers. Realizing that past employers can be valuable sources of information about job candidates, Falcone adeptly takes the questioning process one step further by applying probing reference-checking techniques to make the best hiring decisions.
And if you're wary about making a salary offer, negotiating, and closing the deal--don't despair. The book provides key strategy tips, from assessing the winning candidate's interest in making the transition to your company to convincing them that your organization is the right place for them.
Falcone provides a clear guide for finding the optimal candidate. His step-by-step guide will not only provide you with added confidence during interviews, but with the comforting knowledge that your inquiries are right on target.
New employers will also find the chapters on "Staying Within the Law: Interview Questions to Avoid at All Costs!" and "Maximizing Your Recruitment Resources" especially helpful. --Orith Goldberg
Q & A
By Melisa Giordano
Q:I am interested in starting and operating a 99cents store, specializing in household items, cleaning supplies, beauty supplies and novelties. Who can I contact to acquire goods that I may sell in this price range? Your help will be greatly appreciated.
Paterson, New Jersey
A:Provided by Donald Green, president of The Creative Training & Development Co., a retail sales, marketing and operations-training consultancy in Middletown, New York.
There are two basic options for dollar-store entrepreneurs: 1) setting up as an independent owner/operator and managing all of your own merchandise deals, leasing agreements, store design, etc.; and 2) buying a franchise, where these details are already handled by the parent company.
In my experience, you are more likely to be successful as a dollar-store franchisee than as an independent owner. In addition to the buying clout franchisees gain by being part of a large purchasing group, they also enjoy on-site support with merchandising and display. Most importantly, they get help with site selection and lease negotiation, which are key determining factors as to whether the store will succeed or fail.
As for merchandising, let me provide a little background as to why franchisees have more buying power than independent owners. Many of the goods sold in dollar stores are what are called "distressed" goods. There's not necessarily anything wrong with these goods; this simply means that these goods were often purchased from companies that were overstocked, going out of business, or, for some other reason, needed to move their merchandise quickly--usually for cash.
As you can imagine, close-out specialists who deal with distressed goods develop a network of buyers. If you're looking to become a part of this network, you'll put a lot of mileage on your shoes trying to enter this market while trying to take care of the rest of your store's needs. On the other hand, major dollar-store franchises have already built their networks, and provide these resources to their franchisees.
There's no shortage of franchisors out there who would be happy to get you started. One I'm very impressed with is Just-A-Buck, (800) 332-2229. Their stores have a decent mix of goods and are set up nicely. You could also look into Dollar General (502) 237-5444, or Value Lot (914) 343-4005.
Whether you decide to go into franchising or to be your own boss, Discount Store News, a biweekly publication, is a good place to find out what's happening in the industry. Annual subscriptions are $99 and can be ordered by calling (212) 756-5100.
Finally, the National Retail Federation in Washington, DC, is another source of help. For more information, write to 325 Seventh St. N.W., #1000, Washington, DC 20004, or call (202) 783-7971. Also, each state has its own state retail association which can provide more information at the local level.
ArmAlarm Inc., 1017 W. Glen Oaks Ln., #204, Mequon, WI 53092, (800) 475-1305.
Dr. Roger Fritz, 1240 Iroquois Dr., #406, Naperville, IL 60563, (630) 420-7673.
Lentek International Inc., P.O. Box 560455, Orlando, FL 32856-0455, (800) 456-3443.
MySoftware Co., 2197 E. Bayshore Rd., Palo Alto, CA 94303-3219, (415) 473-3600.
National SCORE Office, 409 Third St. S.W., 4th Fl., Washington, DC 20024, (800) 634-0245.
Reflective Technologies Inc., 15 Tudor St., Cambridge, MA 02139-4514, (800) 497-6171.
The Creative Training & Development Co., 22 Mulberry St., #1D, Middletown, NY 10940, (914) 342-5485.