From the January 1998 issue of Startups

How do you install color ink cartridges in your printer? What does it mean when the light won't illuminate on your disk drive? You're not alone if you've encountered problems with your PC. But when you don't have time to spend hours leafing through an owner's manual or waiting on terminal hold for tech support, call the PC Crisis Line.

Created in 1995 by frustrated PC user Robert White and his brother, William, this independent technical support hotline gives callers more than answers: If none of PC Crisis Line's three technicians can help you, not only are you not charged, but they'll refer you to someone who can help. PC Crisis Line never puts callers on hold; if no one is available, they'll call you back within 30 minutes--or give you two free minutes of tech support.

PC Crisis Line is geared toward anyone who's a PC user and needs help. Calls cost $3 a minute, with a 2-minute minimum. After 10 minutes, the charge drops to $1 per minute (average calls last less than five minutes). Support is available 24 hours a day. Call PC Crisis Line at (800) 828-4358.

Husbands For Hire

By Charlotte Mulhern

Last year when Kaile Warren Jr. renamed his home-repair business Rent-a-Husband Inc., he got some strange responses. "A lot of people thought I had an escort service," Warren remembers. Not quite--his company helps people with household tasks, from doing laundry to staining decks, shingling roofs and installing appliances.

As it turned out, renaming the company and targeting a specific market (women aged 20 to 50) transformed Warren's struggling Portland, Maine, business into a million-dollar nationwide franchise operation that expects to have 200 locations open in three years. The name has even attracted national media attention: Warren has appeared on the Maury Povich and Montel Williams talk shows, and Jay Leno has cracked jokes about Rent-a-Husband in several opening monologues.

"[The name `Rent-a-Husband'] is simple to remember," says Warren, 38, whose franchise can be run from the home. "Once people hear it, they never forget it. It stays with them forever."

Despite its moniker, Warren has no intention of excluding women from his payroll. But so far, his only "husbands" are men. "They're every woman's fantasy," he says. "Tall, dark and handy."

California Steamin'

By Janean Chun

Inflamed lobbyists, defensive government officials, a handful of serious misunderstandings--everything's present and accounted for in the controversy surrounding California Assembly Bill 701, which passed the state legislature in September. Debra Schacher, chairman and CEO of the Home Office and Business Opportunities Association, calls the bill "a witch hunt," while Tim Lynch, deputy controller for the city of Los Angeles, says it's "a very minor type of housekeeping thing."

The red tape started sticking this summer in Los Angeles, when the city at long last updated its zoning ordinances to legalize homebased businesses. However, the victory came with a sharp edge: Any homebased business that registers after the amnesty period that ended in September can be back-taxed from November 1996 forward. By the city clerk's calculations, approximately 5,800 of Los Angeles' estimated 20,000 homebased business owners made the cut-off date.

Just as the uproar started brewing, the California Assembly Bill began picking up steam. The bill allows the state to provide city officers with names, addresses, Social Security or taxpayer identification numbers, and business activity codes of anyone paying state taxes. Some homebased business advocates started smelling a conspiracy.

The California bill, says Schacher, empowers the city of Los Angeles to go forward with its plans to identify Los Angeles' homebased businesses through tax records without the knowledge of the business owner.

Lynch claims the bill and the Los Angeles zoning ordinance are not connected. "I can understand that for someone who is working quietly in his home, this looks as if all of a sudden we're ganging up on him," says Lynch. "But [the bill and the zoning ordinance] just happened to coincide in the summer of 1997."

Cyber Stamps

By Charlotte Mulhern

As the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) considers implementing its Information Based Indicia Program, which would enable entrepreneurs to generate postage in their offices, companies awaiting evaluation results expect their electronic postage products to hit the market in 1998.

*Neopost: In May, this worldwide manufacturer and distributor of postage meters and shipping and documentation equipment announced its PC Stamp, which will enable users to generate stamps using their computers.

Once users purchase postage (on the Internet or by calling the company directly), PC Stamp allows them to print out two-dimensional bar codes, also known as indicias, on envelopes or labels. The software required to use the system will be available in retail outlets or from Neopost directly; prices have yet to be determined. Visit http://www.pcstamp.com .

*E-Stamp Corp.: Designed specifically for small office/home office (SOHO) entrepreneurs, E-Stamp Corp.'s E-Stamp Soho, upon USPS approval, is expected to be the first electronic postage product on the market. E-Stamp expects the product to be available in the San Francisco and Washington, DC, areas by the time you read this.

E-Stamp Soho will allow users to download postage off the company's Internet Post Office and print postage in the form of bar codes on letters and packages to be sent. Visit http://www.estamp.com .

*Pitney Bowes Inc.: Pitney Bowes' electronic postage product, also pending approval by the USPS, is called Personal Post Office for the PC. Visit http://www.pitneybowes.com .

It's In The Mail

The SOHO market on handling postage.

*Amount of mail sent out each week:

69% of respondents: up to 49 pieces

14% of respondents: 50-99 pieces

*57% spend up to $49 each month on postage.

*88% do not have or use a postage meter.

*98% would likely use electronic postage software products, if available.

*67% said they would very likely purchase electronic postage products.

*75% address at least half of their outgoing mail electronically.

Book Review

Webonomics

By Debra Phillips

Doing business on the World Wide Web isn't the anomaly it once was. Indeed, according to author Evan I. Schwartz in the highly readable Webonomics: Nine Essential Principles for Growing Your Business on the World Wide Web (Broadway Books, $25 cloth), new Web sites are popping up literally every minute. Unfortunately, not all of these would-be cyberstars know exactly what they're doing.

"Building a long-term business on the Web is done not just by momentarily grabbing our attention, but also by sustaining it with something of unique value," Schwartz says. "If Web pages are to become more than just the Pet Rock of the '90s, browsing them has to be a satisfying experience in and of itself."

As Schwartz sees it, many companies fail to give Web surfers ample reason to return to their sites after the initial visit. "People are looking for more than just information when they go online," Schwartz points out. "They treat the Web as a place where they can interact with other people. The most effective Web sites are not just billboards on the side of the road."

So is it worth all this time, trouble and consideration to venture forth into this new electronic marketplace--or "marketspace," as Schwartz calls it? After reading Webonomics, you're likely to answer in the affirmative. Given its potential as an exporting tool, the Web could prove to be a formidable force for your business.

Contact Sources

E-Stamp Corp., 4009 Miranda Ave., #225, Palo Alto, CA 94304, (415) 843-8000

National Home Office & Business Opportunities Association, 92 Corporate Park, Ste. C250, Irvine, CA 92606, (714) 589-3232

Tim Lynch, Deputy Controller, City Hall, Room 220, Los Angeles, CA 90012

Neopost, 30955 Huntwood Ave., Hayward, CA 94544, http://www.pcstamp.com

PC Crisis Line LLC, 490 San Antonio Rd., Ste. G, Palo Alto, CA 94306, http://www.netbox.com/pccrisis

Pitney Bowes Inc., (212) 684-6300, ext. 313

Rent-A-Husband Inc., 217A Commercial St., Portland, ME 04101, (207) 879-7425