From the July 1997 issue of Startups

Think you're past your entrepreneurial prime? Or do you feel that you're too young to start your own business?

The truth is, businesses of all kinds are started every day by people of all ages. So don't let the number of candles on your last birthday cake slow down your plans for business ownership.

Consider the following figures, gathered in a recent survey by the National Federation of Independent Business and Wells Fargo Bank, which indicate the average age of start-up owners in 1995.

While more and more teenagers and middle-agers are being bitten by the start-up bug lately, entrepreneurs in the 25-34 age group still start the lion's share of new businesses (33 percent)-but only slightly more than their immediate elders in the 35-44 age group (32 percent).

Other noteworthy findings:

Entrepreneurship is hottest in the South, where 35 percent of the businesses surveyed were started. In second place were the Western states (27 percent), in third place were the Northern states (20 percent), and at the bottom of the chart were the Eastern states (18 percent).

The first quarter of the calendar year is the most popular time to start a new business, as 35 percent of new business owners surveyed did. Who says nobody follows through with their New Year's resolutions anymore? -Karin Moeller

File This Away

Due to the success of TeleFile, the IRS' recent electronic individual tax filing system, business owners who file Form 941, the federal, quarterly payroll-tax return, may soon be able to say goodbye to filing paper returns and let their fingers do the walking, instead.

The IRS chose 14 states in the southeastern United States-roughly, Delaware through Louisiana and the District of Columbia-as part of a market test to initiate the payroll-tax telephone-filing method, which automatically calculates the tax and any refund or balance owed. The Form 941 TeleFile system will eventually be available nationwide.

In addition, be aware that businesses nationwide can currently eliminate paper deposit coupons and time-consuming trips to the bank by using the IRS Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS) to file federal taxes electronically.

"TeleFile and EFTPS are two ways to make it easier for business owners to file and pay their taxes," says IRS Commissioner Margaret Milner Richardson. "They will have more time to spend on their businesses." -K.M.

Contact Made Easier

Janna Contact Personal for Windows 95 makes keeping in touch with your clients and prospects a quick, easy and affordable process. This data-management system has a unique "contact-centric" design, which allows all information regarding a client (letters, faxes, e-mails, voice notes and full-motion video clips) to be organized and stored with your traditional contact-management information.

With Contact Personal, you can increase your productivity, customize your accounts and save time locating data. View your schedule by day, week, month or year. If you need to reschedule an appointment, it's as easy as dragging and dropping the appointment from one date field to another.

Sliding, scaleable windows and floating tool bars allow you to create personalized contact-information categories. You can store Web addresses and, when online, click on an address to be immediately launched to a designated Web site. In cooperation with Caller ID from your local phone company, Janna Contact Personal can also bring up a contact's file automatically when he or she calls. How's that for organized? Suggested retail price: $49 (plus S&H).

From Janna Systems Inc., Los Gatos, CA. To order, call (800) 268-6107. -Lela Kim

Buy The Way

With more than $800 billion spent on office products and services in 1995, it's obvious that competition for the buying public's attention is fierce. But as a small-business owner, it's imperative not to get mesmerized by slick advertising campaigns when making a purchase for your business; you've got to do your homework, too.

Anyone who has referred to the "Business Consumer Guide" (a monthly, advertising-free consumer-targeted newsletter filled with product and service reviews), before making an office equipment purchase will be happy to hear that its staff has compiled its reams of research into a new, comprehensive book, The Essential Business Buyer's Guide (Sourcebooks Inc., $18.95, 800-727-8866).

In it, you'll find frank purchasing advice on buying office products (such as telephone headsets and copy paper), equipment (such as postage meters and desktop computers) and services (such as health insurance and overnight mail). Discussion about each item includes a basic overview of the product or service, special buying tips, key industry terms, a list of quality vendors and a cost comparison.

The next time you make an equipment or service purchase for your business, be sure you're armed beforehand with the best purchasing power there is: knowledge. -K.M.

Getting Carded

Designed for small-business owners, AT&T's new Universal Business card acts as a combined credit-, calling- and cash-card all in one. With no annual fee to cramp traditionally tight start-up budgets, the card is available in two versions: the Classic account, which offers credit lines up to $10,000, and the Gold Executive account, which offers credit lines up to $25,000.

As a calling card, the Universal Business card includes a 10 percent discount off AT&T Small Business Advantage calling-card rates, without minimum calling requirements.

"With a single card, customers can make purchases at more than 13 million MasterCard locations worldwide, make calling-card calls at hundreds of millions of phones around the world and get cash at more than 450,000 ATMs and financial institutions," says MasterCard U.S. Region President Alan Heuer.

Some of the card's other benefits include:

AT&T Universal Assurance, which safeguards Internet purchases against fraud.

Additional cards, in case you'd like to provide your employees with corporate credit cards to cover business expenses they incur. The annual fee for each card is only $5. You can even decide the amount of the maximum credit limit, and insurance is included to protect owners against employee misuse.

Monthly reports, so you can see a breakdown of each employee's charges to track how and where money is being spent.

The Universal Business card offers variable annual percentage rates starting at 13.9 percent. Those interested in applying can call (800) 68-APPLY or visit Universal Card's home page at www.att.com/ucs.

Dr. Troubleshooter

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 staying focused on your market.

Problem: After attaining a measure of success, your company has lost its focus and has overextended itself, trying to be all things to all people.

Diagnosis: It has been wisely said that you can't stand for anything if you chase after everything. If your company has temporarily lost its focus, try to get it back again.

Many entrepreneurs do not know how to grow their companies. They move away from their original business rather than concentrating on the thing that they do the best. They do not realize that they are more powerful when they have a narrow focus than they are if they have a bloated product line.

Often, after some initial success, a small company will attempt to increase sales by reorganizing itself into several small divisions and hiring new people to manage each one. Too often, after trying to change the company's focus, the company falters and dies.

Prescription: A narrow focus is particularly valuable when a company is involved in a new industry. Consider IBM, a company that once had a virtual monopoly on computers. But when large mainframe systems gave way to inexpensive personal computers, small competitors with a narrower focus jumped into the field and took over the market.

As a the leader of a small company that's unencumbered by rigid bureaucracy, procedures and precedents, you should be able to refocus your efforts with less trouble than a large company.

Refocusing isn't a seamless transition; it requires objectivity, courage, sacrifice and the unanimous agreement of your key decision makers.

The time to refocus is when your sales begin to flatten or when you see new opportunities arise. Try refocusing on a second brand. If the company has two strong brands, it can have two strong focuses.

Trend Watch

Here's the truth about cats and dogs: They're big business. More pooches are being pampered and kitties are being coddled as entrepreneurs take note of America's love affair with its pets. If you're an animal lover with a pet business idea, now's the time to get a leash on the market.

PigDog Press in Nashua, New Hampshire, publishers of The Dry Dog Food Reference, recently showed its loyalties weren't just in the doghouse when it released The Cat Food Reference. The 416-page book, which compares the label contents of 347 different types of cat foods and provides various ingredient definitions, helps cat owners keep their felines frisky.

New York City's ComfyCool Products Inc. makes the ComfyCool Canine Coat to keep dogs cool during the sweltering dog days of summer. Soaked in cool water, the adjustable coat-available in sizes extra small (for toy poodles) through extra large (for St. Bernards)-provides "hot dogs" with relief through natural evaporation.

And this fall, the Discovery Channel's new Animal Planet cable network will introduce "The Pet Shop"-an entertainment talk show that's being touted as a hybrid of "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" and "Wild Kingdom"-which will feature celebrities and their pets, an animal star search and a pet psychic. -K.M.

Q&A

Q: I am looking for more information about desktop publishing. Can you recommend an association, a magazine or any other publications? Thank you.

Bob Berry

Peachtree City, Georgia

A: For information about desktop publishing, a good place to start is the National Association of Desktop Publishers (NADP), an organization that represents both professional and nonprofessional desktop publishers. NADP circulates up-to-date information about the desktop-publishing industry, offers purchasing discounts on industry events, videotapes, reference books, and computer hardware and software, and has a member helpline network. Annual dues are $95. For more information, write to 462 Old Boston St., Topsfield, Massachusetts 01983, or call (800) 874-4113.

As for specialty publications about desktop publishing, NADP publishes a monthly journal, The Desktop Publishers Journal, which is free to members. Non-members can receive an annual subscription for $18.

The Directory of Desktop Publishers (800-555-6124, ext. 3326) is another resource for desktop publishers. This directory offers a listing of businesses nationwide involved in desktop publishing. (And you'll be glad to know there are 163 listed in Georgia alone.) The regularly updated listings include the name, phone number, address, contact names, number of employees, and a full description of the business, and can be purchased on CD-ROM. Costs vary, depending on the number of businesses requested. Printed versions of the directory are also available.

Local colleges often offer courses that can be very helpful for introducing you to the field of desktop publishing. Contact your local campus's administration office for a class syllabus. Also, check the Business Start-Ups Web site (www.entrepreneurmag.com/bizstarts.hts) to read the April "Computer Ease" column, "Tools Of The Trade: Desktop Publishing."

Contact Sources

ComfyCool Products Inc., P.O. Box 1789, New York, NY 10021, (212) 861-2587.

Discovery Communications Inc., 7700 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda, MD 20814-3579,

(301) 986-0444.

Dr. Roger Fritz, 1240 Iroquois Dr., #406, Naperville, IL 60563, (630) 420-7673.

Janna Systems Inc., 15951 Los Gatos Blvd., Ste. G, Los Gatos, CA 95032, (800) 268-6107.

PigDog Press, 427-3 Amherst St., #331, Nashua, NH 03063-1258, (603) 880-8639. ComfyCool Products Inc., P.O. Box 1789, New York, NY 10021, (212) 861-2587.

Discovery Communications Inc., 7700 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda, MD 20814-3579,

(301) 986-0444.