From the October 1997 issue of Startups

Savvy small-business owners know there's more to a good employee-compensation package than a regular paycheck, bottled water and "casual-dress Fridays." In today's competitive hiring market, benefits--or "perks"--can often be the deciding factor in an employee's decision to accept a position or remain in one.

A recent study conducted by The Wall Street Journal, entitled "Small Business Insights--Focus: Employee Benefits," reveals that an overwhelming percentage of business owners surveyed utilize employee benefits--including health insurance, 401(k) plans, flextime and worker's compensation--as effective management tools.

Eighty-two percent of respondents surveyed report that they use benefits to recruit new hires; 90 percent indicate that a solid benefits package helps to retain good employees; and 69 percent claim that attractive benefits aid in motivating employees.

Not surprisingly, maintaining a package of perks that attracts, inspires and keeps a staff together doesn't come cheaply; the majority (65 percent) of business owners and managers surveyed also identify the cost of providing health benefits as a major challenge to their budgets.

Super Contest

By Karin Moeller

The Super Bowl usually brings to mind all things big: Big competition. Big advertising campaigns. Big budgets. Big business.

In an attempt to include the spirit of small business, however, worldwide postal service franchisor Mail Boxes Etc. (MBE) is sponsoring a contest targeted exclusively to small-business owners, entitled "See Your Small Business on the Super Bowl."

The contest, open to business owners with 20 or fewer full-time employees, will award a grand prize winner with $10,000 and the opportunity to be featured in a 30-second MBE TV commercial that will air during the 1998 Super Bowl XXXII.

"Somewhere in America is a small-business owner who is 100 words or less away from a shot at the big leagues, courtesy of MBE," says James H. Amos, Jr., Mail Boxes Etc.'s president and COO.

In those 100 or fewer words, entrants are asked to explain what they would tell America about their small business. Looking for a business with a uniquely compelling story to share, MBE will judge applicants on the originality of their small business or their submission.

Entry forms can be found at participating MBE locations or on their Web site (http://www.mbe.com ) and must be received by October 31, 1997.

A Public Announcement

By Laura Tiffany

Navigating the uncharted seas of media publicity can be a daunting task for someone with no formal public relations training. Yet for the owner of a small business, a good publicity campaign can often mean the difference between success and failure.

Authors John DeFrancesco and Gary Goodfriend have taken the mystery out of public relations with their hands-on, practical advice to garnering publicity in The Common Sense Guide to Publicity (DeFrancesco/Goodfriend Public Relations, $14.95, 312-644-4409). Tossing out scholarly theory, the authors provide readers useful advice on developing relationships with the media and using different methods to get publicity.

This 128-page book is divided into brief chapters with bulleted lists, so you can read it in one sitting for a quick introduction to publicity techniques, or keep it at your desk to use as a handy reference guide while you put together your own publicity campaign for your small business.

Phone Tag

By Christina Grace Peterson

If your small business is stretching its technology with only one or two telephone lines, take advantage of Total E-Call, a new software product that combines more than 54 telephone, e-mail, answering-machine, voice-mail and recordkeeping tools to unload your stressed system.

Total E-Call has several advanced features previously found only in large, more expensive telephone systems. Its Express Voice-Mail system can send your voice in any language over the Internet and allows you to attach up to 50 video, text, graphic or data files to your mail. Anyone with an Internet e-mail address can receive your recorded messages. Integrating a broad range of computer, telephone and Internet technology, Total E-Call lets you import information from most contact management and database software, minimizing data-entry time. Its Auto-Polling feature can conduct voice-automated surveys and customer service reminders over the phone. It also has several password tools to help secure incoming mail and phone messages.

Total E-Call system requirements include a PC with Pentium 60 or faster; Windows 95; 8MB RAM; 4MB of hard disk-space; a 3.5-inch, high-density drive; a standard telephone line; an Internet connection; and a Microsoft-compatible mouse. Suggested retail price: $199.95.

From American Network Systems Inc., Simi Valley, CA. To order, call (888) 839-8898.

Trend Watch!

Millennium Madness

By Karin Moeller

For owners of specialty-travel businesses, weekends and holidays can be the busiest--and most profitable--time to stay open for business. And the mother of all holidays is now less than 825 days away. As specialty-travel business owners worldwide begin to set up their unique celebration packages, New Year's Eve, 1999, may prove to be one of the most lucrative days of the millennium.

"People want to mark the turn of the millennium in unusual ways--from the daring to the idyllic," says C. Steen Hansen, co-publisher of Specialty Travel Index, a national directory of specialty-interest travel companies published in San Anselmo, California. "Adventure tours always provide memorable experiences, but for such a monumental occasion, tour operators are pulling out all the stops, highlighting dramatic events and exotic locales."

Rex Travel Organization Inc. in Chicago has planned and sold more than 50 trips around the world for the special date, one of which will include a camel caravan through the Sahara Desert to the foot of the Pyramids outside Cairo, Egypt.

Marine Expeditions Inc. in Toronto, Ontario, has already booked more than 30 percent of its openings for the "Seven Continents Millennium Cruise," where participants will journey to every continent on earth--ultimately toasting the new millennium in Buenos Aires, Argentina, at the height of the summer season.

And JMT Travel in Las Vegas is allowing its gusto-seeking guests to celebrate the millennium not once, but twice, with its "Double Millennium" excursion. The first half of the party starts in Auckland, New Zealand. On New Year's Day, after welcoming the year 2000 the first time, the group will head back to Las Vegas--where it will still be the evening of December 31, 1999--just in time for another night of celebration.

Dr. TroubleShooter

By Roger Fritz

Every business has problems. But entrepreneurial survivors solve their businesses' 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 the importance of maintaining bookkeeping records.

Problem: You've maintained your own records since you first went into business, but you now realize that accurate and thorough recordkeeping takes more time and effort than you've been devoting to it. The amount of records you have retained has grown to mountainous proportions.

Diagnosis: Accurate, up-to-date accounting records are essential to a successful business. Determine what records are needed, who will maintain them, which format is most efficient and how often they should be reviewed. Records retention is almost a science of its own, but finding a particular bookkeeping document once it has been stored away is equally important.

Prescription: Bookkeeping can be handled from inside or outside the business office. Your accountant, lawyer or banker can help you determine your needs for an inside bookkeeper or an outside accounting service.

A good system should include:

  • A system for the accurate and timely recording of your company's cash receipts, disbursements, sales and operating expenses
  • Periodic statements, including a balance sheet (a statement of assets and liabilities as of a specified date), an income statement (results of operations for a given period of time), a statement of changes in your financial position, records of accounts receivable and records of payments due
  • State and federal income tax returns
  • Social Security tax returns
  • Employee tax withholding records
  • Property tax records
  • Other tax-related documents

Consult your accountant and your attorney to determine what records you must retain and for how long. Tax records, for example, should be maintained for a specific period of time. Also determine who is to be responsible for disposing of old records, and establish the manner in which it is to be done.

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).

Q & A

By Lela Kim

Q: I have a friend who wants to start her own business. She's interested in obtaining more information on associations and sources for financing for women entrepreneurs. Can you help us?

H. Stahl

via America Online

A: Provided by Theresa Leets, Esq., an Economic Development Specialist/Loan Officer and a representative for the Office of Women Business Ownership (OWBO) Small Business Administration's (SBA) Los Angeles District Office.

The first question I ask anyone interested in starting a new business--and seeking money to do so--is whether or not they have written a business plan. If you need help putting together a business plan, the SBA provides free help at its Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs); SBA Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) counselors are also available for free consultations; and general help is available at SBA Small Business Information Centers (SBICs).

Once you have your business plan in hand, you're ready to contact the participating SBA lenders in your area. Your local SBA office can provide you with a list, or you can call any bank and ask if they have an SBA division. For SBA resources nearest you, call (800) U-ASK-SBA.

The SBA has several loan programs to assist businesses at different stages of growth. Specifically for women, SBA has a new program under the 7(a) loan program called the Women's Prequalification Loan Program. The aim of this project is to provide additional resources to women who are having a particularly difficult time gaining access to capital. The SBA itself does not loan money to small businesses. Instead, it provides guarantees or promises repayment to lenders on behalf of the qualified businesses.

Through the program, you can apply for an SBA-guaranteed loan by submitting a prequalification application to the SBA via a designated intermediary (independent, nonprofit organizations recommended by the SBA to guide you through the loan application process).

If the small business applying for a loan is eligible and creditworthy, the SBA will issue a commitment letter. The intermediary will then help the borrower find a lender to fund the SBA-guaranteed loan. The search for a lender is usually made easier because the lender knows the SBA is committed to the loan.

For specific information about SBA loan programs, review its home page at http://www.sba.gov , speak to a loan officer at a participating bank or a loan officer from your local SBA district office, or call the toll-free number mentioned above.

Also, I suggest you contact the following associations, national in scope, dedicated to helping women entrepreneurs. Some have local chapters: American Women's Economic Development Corp. (AWED/800-321-6962); Women Business Owners Corp. (WBOC/310-530-7500); Women Inc. (WI/800-930-3993); Office of Women Business Ownership (OWBO/202-205-6673); and National Association of Women's Business Owners (NAWBO/800-55-NAWBO).

If you'd like to do some research right away, the following books can be quite helpful: Vickie Montgomery's The Smart Woman's Guide to Starting a Business (Career Press, $14.95, 800-227-3371); Priscilla Huff's 101 Best Homebased Businesses for Women (Prima Publishing, $12.95, 800-632-8676); and Carol A. Turkington's Reflections for Working Women (McGraw-Hill, $14.95, 800-338-3987).

Contact Source

American Network Systems Inc., 4615 Industrial St., #1G, Simi Valley, CA 93063, (805) 578-2442

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

Mail Boxes Etc., 6060 Cornerstone Ct. W., San Diego, CA 92121

Marine Expeditions Inc., 30 Hazelton Ave., Toronto, ON Canada, (800) 263-9147

Rex Travel Organization Inc., 100 N. LaSalle, #2010, Chicago, IL 60602, (800) 777-7739

Specialty Travel Index, 305 San Anselmo Ave., #313, San Anselmo, CA 94960, (415) 455-1643