From the September 1997 issue of Startups

Your living room coffee table just doesn't cut it as a client conference table anymore, and your dog insists on greeting your clients face to face. It may be time to seek an alternative workspace. Executive suites, which allow business owners to rent office space on a temporary basis, have become a popular way for homebased entrepreneurs to run their businesses in a more traditional office setting--free from the interruptions of home.

"It's projected there are about 4,000 executive suites in operation in the United States right now," says Jeannine Windbigler, executive director of the Executive Suite Association in Worthington, Ohio. "Membership in our association grew from 474 in 1996 to 550 in 1997."

Catering to convenience-driven entrepreneurs on the go, Executive Office Club Inc. in Washington, DC, now rents offices by the hour and requires no minimum time commitment. For $7.95 per hour, temporary tenants have access to computers, secretarial assistance and an open office space. Multimedia conference rooms and private office spaces are available for a higher fee. Anticipating that this new format will woo homebased entrepreneurs nationwide, Executive Office Club Inc. plans to develop a network of by-the-hour executive-suite facilities in major cities across the country in the next five years.

Nobodys Fool

By Christina Grace Peterson

As a small-business owner, you're smart enough to know you don't know everything. Operating on the principle that there is no such thing as a stupid question, The Complete Idiot's Guide book series can help you through the complexities of learning about business by starting at the beginning.

In The Complete Idiot's Guide to Marketing Basics (Macmillan/Alpha, $18.95, 800-428-5331), author Sarah White addresses the core issues of marketing, and does so in a language anyone can understand. She helps small-business neophytes create a marketing strategy, explains how to position your product or service in the market and gives advice about advertising, promotion, pricing and sales.

For every 11 new product ideas, only one succeeds, says Edwin Bobrow in The Complete Idiot's Guide to New Product Development. Bobrow outlines the steps to breaking through the barriers product developers confront. Among the guide's tips are ways to nurture new ideas and develop the basics for new product names and trademarks.

The series also includes Terrific Business Writing, by Marcia Layton; Finance and Accounting, by Michael Muckian; Successful Business Presentations, by Linda Kroeger; and Starting a Home-Based Business, by Barbara Weltman.

Print Shop In A Box

By Lela Kim

If you're looking for an all-purpose graphic-design program that's easy and fun to use at work and at home, you may want to consider Print Artist 4.0. With it, you can create all your business stationery needs: logos, business cards, letterhead, banners, envelopes and labels. For your graphic needs, there are 10,000 images from which to choose. Full-color and black-and-white drawings, as well as hundreds of photographs, are available to enhance your visual presentations and projects.

If you need to drop a line to a potential client or thank a customer, you can create a card or postcard from one of more than a thousand professionally designed layouts. And if you happen to be short of words, there's a database of phrases and quotes to inspire you. Suggested retail price: $49.95.

From Sierra On-Line Inc., Bellevue, WA. To order, call (800) 757-7707.

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 learn how to handle working with family members.

Problem: Your business involves numerous members of your immediate family, both as investors and as employees. Too often, business differences become family differences, leading to intra-family bickering. Can these things be avoided?

Diagnosis: An old saying cautions that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Problems in family businesses really are no different than problems in nonfamily businesses except when the participants let personalities rule over good business judgment.

Before trouble arises, take time to set up some devices that will enable members of the family to voice their concerns, but without disrupting the operation of the business.

Prescription: When you consider adding a family member to the firm as an employee:

  • Deal objectively with their qualifications.
  • Consider having a young person gain some experience elsewhere before joining the family business.

When a family member is employed by the business:

  • Be sure the individual's area(s) of responsibility are clearly defined.
  • Define the roles of other family members who are working in the business.
  • Divide the business responsibilities according to each person's particular area of expertise.
  • Be sure the working hours are clearly understood in advance, as well as the salary, vacation policies and other perks.
  • Clearly define who reports to whom.
  • Delegate office space and equipment thoughtfully so as not to favor one employee over another.
  • If a difference arises, be sure it involves an issue, not an emotion.

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).

In Your Neighborhood

According to the results of a study conducted by the Small Business Administration's Entrepreneurial Research Consortium, about one in every three U.S. households--37 percent, or 35 million households--includes someone who has had a primary role in a new or small business.

Q&A

By Melisa Giordano

Q: I've wanted to get into the pay-phone business for a long time. What journals or books give good information and advice on this subject? What procedures can guide someone to a reputable company, thus avoiding the fly-by-night scams?

Kurt Gillespie

Suisun City, California

A: Provided by Vincent R. Sandusky, president of the American Public Communications Council Inc., in Fairfax, Virginia.

Anyone interested in the pay-phone business should be willing to investigate it thoroughly before investing money. First contact the American Public Communications Council Inc. (APCC), a national trade association representing more than 1,500 companies engaged in the sales, service, manufacture and provision of private pay-phone equipment and service. APCC sponsors two conventions and trade shows per year; one in Las Vegas, in the spring, and one on the East Coast, in the fall. Each of these events attracts more than 2,000 people to attend seminars and visit with more than 100 manufacturers and service providers.

APCC also publishes a monthly magazine, Perspectives on Public Communication, devoted exclusively to the pay-phone business. The magazine is free to anyone involved in the industry, including non-APCC members. APCC's annual dues vary according to the size of your company and the policy of your state's branch association. In some states, when you join your branch association, you automatically become a member of the national association. For more information about APCC, write to its national headquarters at 10306 Eaton Pl., #520, Fairfax, VA 22030, or call (703) 385-5300.

For further reading, I recommend Bob Nartowicz's The Guide to Payphone Ownership (Pay Phones Plus, $29.95, 608-274-2526). Nartowicz, a relatively small pay-phone service provider who learned the business the hard way--through trial and error--passes along a tremendous amount of incredibly practical and useful information.

If videotapes are more your style, you should contact High Touch Video by writing to 16 Boxwood Dr., Fairfield, NJ 07004, or by calling (973) 403-0555. This company has several helpful tapes on starting and operating a pay-phone business. Prices range between $50 and $150.

You can also visit one of several Web sites devoted to the pay-phone industry. My personal favorite is http://www.payphones-usa.com , where you can find businesses and equipment for sale, consulting services and other useful information.

A word of caution: There are many advertisements appearing in newspapers and magazines exhorting people to plunk down from $10,000 to $20,000 to get started in the pay-phone business. These ads promise big returns with little effort. Unfortunately, I field a large number of calls from people who invested only to find the phones didn't work, the locations were nonexistent or generated no income, or the company refused to make good on their promises.

Do your homework, find locations with a high volume of foot traffic, learn how to program and service your own phones, and pay particular attention to your customers' needs. Finally, contact your state pay-phone association to find out about the numerous state and federal regulations that govern the pay-phone business.

Contact Sources

Executive Office Club Inc., 1025 Connecticut Ave. N.W., #1012, Washington, DC 20036, (800) 784-2484

Executive Suite Association, 438 E. Wilson Bridge Rd., #200, Worthington, OH 43085, (800) 237-4741

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

High Touch Video, 16 Boxwood Dr., Fairfield, NJ 07004, (973) 403-0555

Sierra On-Line Inc., 3380 146th Pl. S.E., #300, Bellevue, WA 98007, (206) 649-9800, ext. 5345