In search of a schedule that allows you to go back to school to hone your skills? Education's latest innovation is coming to the rescue. Available to anyone with Internet access--or, in some cases, just a phone--virtual learning programs are helping time-challenged business owners go to the head of the class.
Small Business University (SBU) is a teleconference-based school founded last year by Leslie Speidel, a Raleigh, North Carolina, marketing consultant and author. "We have telephone lines that hold up to 150 people," says Speidel. At SBU, you can pursue an Advanced Business Certificate or enroll in classes such as "Smart, Affordable Marketing." Costs range from about $40 to $75 per course.
A new front-runner in the pool of Internet-based programs, California Virtual University (CVU) offers online courses from 70 California schools. Among CVU's offerings: University of California, Los Angeles' "Business Computer Programming" and the University of California, Berkeley's "Introduction to Business Organization and Management." Courses cost about $400 to $500 each.
Golf To Go
By Jesse Hertstein
Portable computers, portable phones, portable televisions . . . why not portable miniature golf courses? Why not, indeed, thought Duane Guenard when he came up with the idea for Nine Holes on Wheels, a Cumberland, Rhode Island, business that delivers and sets up temporary golf courses for just about any event where people might want to putt around.
Five years ago, Guenard was working on a business plan to develop an indoor amusement center when he came across Mini-Golf Inc., a company that makes prefabricated courses. "That gave me the idea that, with a few design changes, you could probably make [a golf course] you can move easily and serve a potential market for birthday parties, corporate picnics, school outings and fund raisers," says Guenard.
Working on the design with Mini-Golf in Jessup, Pennsylvania, Guenard started with about $20,000 and worked from home with rented vehicles. He now offers three different styles of courses, which he rents for $300 to $1,250 per day. "Portable miniature golf is an untapped market," says Guenard, who's investigating the possibility of selling Nine Holes on Wheels as a business opportunity. "With the popularity of golf on the rise, there's a lot of potential for a business like this."
For more ideas see "Smart Ideas."
If you've toyed with the idea of becoming your own boss but aren't ready to quit your day job, Moonlighting: Earn a Second Income at Home (Oasis Press, $15.95, 800-228-2275) might be just what you need to test the waters.
For those hesitant to jump in with both feet, Moonlighting provides a guide to easing into entrepreneurship on a part-time basis from your own home. By taking the baby steps prescribed by author Jo Frohbieter-Mueller, you'll plant the seeds of an employer-free future--while keeping the safety net of your full-time job.
Moonlighting addresses taxes and zoning laws, time management, bookkeeping systems and drafting a business plan. Whether you're at a loss as to how to create a logo or what to charge, Moonlighting offers simple solutions.
Short on business ideas? Check out the imaginative list of nearly 500 businesses that might work under your roof. "Don't wait for the perfect moment or until everything is in place before getting started," writes Frohbeiter-Mueller, "because that may never happen."
Close your eyes and imagine spa blue, seagrass yellow or mystical purple. These intriguing names headline Color Marketing Group's (CMG) recently released 1999 Consumer Color Directions Palette, a set of 12 colors predicted to permeate consumer products as we close out the 20th century.
Instead of the warm colors of the mid-'90s, "we're moving toward the earth-based environmental blues of the ocean and sky," says Nada Napoletan Rutka, founder of Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, color-design consultancy Nada Associates and a member of CMG, a nonprofit association of color designers that forecasts color trends.
Expect a shift to the layering of colors, creating multidimensional, textured effects with a hint of the ethereal. "Consumers are thirsting for serenity," says CMG's Leatrice Eiseman. Gray--which Eiseman says blends best with bluer, cooler tones--will replace beige as a favorite neutral.
For home, communications and fashion products, think brighter and cleaner. Meanwhile, recreation and transportation-related products are going darker and richer. "Color is a great way to get people's attention at point-of-purchase or in advertising," says Eiseman.
See Nada Associates' Color of the Month profile at http://www.colordesigner.com
Food For Thought
News, facts and figures to spark ideas for new and better businesses.
Stress test: Can you help them stress less? Nearly 56 percent of Americans feel "a lot of" or "moderate" stress, according to John P. Robinson, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland. For Americans with annual household incomes of $50,000 or more, the figure rises to 64 percent. And while knowledge may be power, it's also a predictor of higher stress levels for the well-educated than for their less scholarly counterparts.
Goin' to the chapel: Targeting newlyweds? Take note: The average first-time bride is 24-and-a-half when she says "I do," and her groom a mature 27, up from 21 for brides and 23 for grooms in the early 1970s, says The Kiplinger Washington Letter, a weekly economic forecast newsletter.
Under wing: Easing parental panic could be big business. A recent Mayo Clinic study revealed 72 percent of parents fear their children will be abducted, even though the Justice Department reports the number of child abductions is much smaller than was believed a decade ago--4,600 annually, compared to prior estimates of 50,000.
No Strings Attached
Calling all contract-phobes: Topp Telecom Inc. has a new, no-contract cellular service, Tracfone, available nationwide. Skipping the hassles of credit checks and deposits, Tracfone customers can cut straight to activation by purchasing Tracfone from local electronics retailers.
Tracfone's prepaid airtime cards come in blocks of 30, 60 or 200 units for $30, $50 or $100, respectively; one unit equals one minute of local calling time. Customers simply purchase an airtime card every 60 days or less in order to maintain cellular service. Nearly 1,000 units can be loaded at a time, and expense tracking is easy with Tracfone's digital display of remaining units. Best of all, unused airtime never expires.
For dealers in your area, call (800) 867-7183.
California Virtual University, email@example.com
Color Marketing Group, 5904 Richmond Hwy., #408, Alexandria, VA 22303, (703) 329-8500
Leatrice Eiseman, (206) 842-4456, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mini-Golf Inc., (717) 489-8623, http://www.minigolfinc.com
Nada Associates, (724) 746-1646
Nine Holes On Wheels, (401) 723-3731, email@example.com