From the November 2007 issue of Entrepreneur

Exceeding expectations is Amy Langer's business. When she and partner John Folkestad, 40, first wrote the business plan for Salo LLC, a senior-level finance and accounting staffing company, they anticipated sales of about $9 million by their third year in business--no small feat. "Most of our advisors [told us], 'These projections are unreal. No small business does this,'" recalls Langer, 35. "We hit $9 million after two years."

Through her background in staffing, Langer discovered a need in the marketplace to supply companies with top accounting and finance talent. Meeting that need triggered explosive growth for Salo, which launched in 2002. By 2006, sales hit $32.1 million, with 2007 projections of over $40 million. Attracting top-notch talent for outside contractors and her own staff is key to managing the company's astronomical growth, she says. Langer surrounds herself with people who are not only exceptional at what they do, but who also complement her skill set and help take the company to the next level. "I know where I'm strong, and I know where I definitely need people to help me," she says.

As the mother of three small children, Langer faces a big challenge that many working women do: balancing an entrepreneurial life with a life at home. "Wanting to be everywhere has been and always [will] be a challenge," she says. Knowing where to put her focus and how to delegate her time has helped her juggle all her responsibilities. She adds, "If I'm required to be in the office 80 hours a week or else the business can't run, then the business isn't sustainable."

Still, there's no resting on laurels for this Minneapolis entrepreneur, who plans to expand her company into other niches within professional staffing. In fact, Salo has already opened two other companies under its umbrella: Oberon, which focuses on HR placement, and Number Works, which focuses on junior-level accounting and finance staffing.

As she continues to move forward, Langer makes sure to keep her eye on the big picture when it comes to the future of her company and suggests other women entrepreneurs do the same. "Having a vision [and] really working on our business vs. working in it has made quite a difference," she says. "Ask, 'Where are you really needed?'"

Behind the Numbers
The 50 fastest-growing women-led companies ranking was compiled with the help of the Women Presidents' Organization, a nonprofit peer advisory organization for independent women presidents and CEOs. Entrepreneur and the WPO solicited applications from women-led businesses in North America and considered those that met the following criteria:

  • Must be a privately held, woman-led company in the U.S. or Canada.
  • Company sales in 2002 must be $50,000 or greater; 2006 sales must be at least $1 million.

Companies were ranked according to a sales growth formula that combines percentage and absolute growth. From this list, the top 50 were selected. (In cases where companies have multiple partners only women are listed.)

Research was conducted by WPO director of communications Caitlin Jenkins and communications assistants Keri Smyth and Tanya Rosado. Entrepreneur editorial assistant Celeste Hoang also contributed to this listing.

Top 50: 1-10

1. Salo LLC
Senior-level finance/accounting staffing, Minneapolis

Amy Langer
Began: 2002
Initial Investment: $100,000
2002 sales: $55,000
2006 sales: $32.1 million

Biggest Challenge:
"By hiring the right management team and building a strong infrastructure, I can focus on the longer-term strategic aspects of growing our business."

Best advice:
"I feel very strongly that it is essential to create a clear vision for our business and to hire great people to help execute. This allows the founder to successfully work 'on' the business rather than 'in' it."


2. Koni Corp.
Hospitality industry window treatments and linens, San Diego

Koni Kim
Began:
1998
Initial Investment: $50,000
2002 sales: $60,000
2006 sales: $13.7 million

Biggest Challenge:
"Quality people are the company's best assets. A good skill set is only part of the equation. Their hearts, passion and outlook on life can be the most important elements in finding great associates."

Best Advice:
"Success is a state of mind. Everyday offers new opportunities to succeed. Share and enjoy the success with others."


3. Circles
Marketing solutions, Boston

Janet Kraus, Kathy Sherbrooke
Began: 1996
Initial Investment:
$26.9 million
2002 sales: $1.7 million
2006 sales:
$44.4 million

Best Advice:
"Communicate incessantly and consistently what you are trying to achieve. As the company grows, communication needs to become formalized."

Success Secret:
"Getting the right people on the team is the only way to succeed.at a certain point they have to have people work for them that can make business critical decisions in real time without 'checking with the boss.'"


4. Windsor Quality Food Co. Ltd.
Food manufacturing, Houston

Anne M. Smalling, Phyllis S. Hojel, Kathryn M. Geib
Began: 1990
Initial Investment: $12 million
2002 sales: $221 million
2006 sales: $697 million

Best Advice:
"Face your issues/problems head-on and quickly. They do not go away; they just get worse if you are not willing to deal with them."

Success Secret:
"Not a secret, but certainly our belief: Our people are our greatest asset and we value honesty and integrity above all else."


5. Mexus Transport
Trucking company, Northville, MI


Alba R. McConnell
Began: 2003
Initial Investment: $300,000
2002 sales: $115,000
2006 sales : $9.4 million

Success Secret:
"Keep your eye on the ball, always remembering there are many paths that will lead you to your goal. You have to want it bad! If self-sacrifice is not one of your virtues, you will most likely fail."

Best Advice:
"Have pride in what you are doing, whether you are alone at the beginning of the enterprise or with a staff as you grow. Always remember that every day you go to work, you are helping others to have a quality of life that we all deserve."


6. Temporary Housing Directory
Temporary housing/hotel placements Plano, TX

Teresa Vidger
Began: 2001
Initial Investment: $100,000
2002 sales: $400,000
2006 sales: $17 million

Success Secret:
"We have most of our employees work from home offices. With the right people and technology, this is a great way to keep your employees happy and to be more productive."

Best Advice:
"I have found it is very important to listen to your customers and be willing to change the way you do business based on their feedback. Try not to be too rigid in your business model so you can adapt to changes when needed and you can constantly improve your service."


7. Lanmark Technology
IT/administrative services, Fairfax, VA

Lani Hay
Began: 2000
Initial Investment: $6,000
2002 sales: $151,000
2006 sales: $10.1 million

Success Secret:
"Always portray where you are going in life, not where you came from. Dare to dream, and create the life you want to live."

Inspiration:
"Prior to forming my company, I found that my professional growth opportunities were limited by people's perception of my talents. This led me to creating a company built on the foundation of my personal values with no corporate ladder to climb and no glass ceiling to break."


8. Sun Coast Resources
Petroleum products, Houston

Kathy Lehne
Began: 1985
Initial Investment: $2,000
2002 sales: $373.7 million
2006 sales: $864.2 million

Best Advice:
"Know what you want. Know where you are headed. Ask for help. Give everything you have to accomplish your goals."

Success Secret:
"Never let anything but succeeding cloud your pursuit of excellence."


9. Morpheus Media
Advertising and marketing agency, New York City

Shenan Reed
Began:
2001
Initial Investment: $0
2002 sales : $800,000
2006 sales: $22.6 million

Best Advice:
"Never get too big for your britches. In a fast-growing entrepreneurial company, there is no job too big or too small for any member of the team, including the leader."

Biggest Challenge:
"As the founders, we were the ones who started everything--the methods, reasoning, thinking, processes--by which Morpheus Media operates.It's extremely hard to trust others to do the work as well, if not better, than you would do it. I've surrounded myself with extremely talented, intelligent people who have that same entrepreneurial spirit, trained them well and set them free to do the work."


10. Cenergy Corp.
Energy solutions, Houston

June R. Coldren
Began: 1996
Initial Investment: $50,000
2002 sales: $3.9 million
2006 sales: $47.6 million

Inspiration:
"I was a very driven mother of three. I wanted to make a difference somewhere but needed flex-ibility with my schedule. I saw this niche opportunity and decided to run with it!"

Success Secret:
"We try to become an integral part of our clients' team which opens up new opportunities for us."

Top 50: 11-20

11. Pinnacle Petroleum
Petroleum products, Huntington Beach, CA

Liz McKinley
Began: 1995
Initial Investment: $150,000
2002 sales: $20.9 million
2006 sales: $120 million

Biggest Challenge:
"Proving the company's legitimacy was key. Once you acquire one good flagship account, you are on your way. A supportive banking relationship can provide instant credibility as well."

Best Advice:
"Accounts Receivable management is critical. For that reason, the type of client you pursue is key. Bad debt will kill you in your start-up period. And of course, don't give up! Hard work always pays off!"


12. Cavanagh Services Group
Project management/logistics, Salt Lake City


Susan P. Rice
Began: 2002 Initial
Investment: $210,000
2002 sales: $108,000
2006 sales: $7.2 million

Success Secret:
"Always speak positively and act confidently about yourself and your company. All people, including customers, want to be associated with a positive force."

Biggest Challenge:
"Hitting your first 'valley' after years of 'peaks'! Look for a new niche to balance out the services your company offers. It minimizes the 'peaks' and 'valleys.'"


13. Providus
Legal staffing, Houston


Lisa Moore Turano, Jackie Bebczuk, Beverly Mattocks
Began: 2001
Initial Investment: Did not disclose
2002 sales: $961,000
2006 sales: $20.5 million

Success Secret:
"Challenging the status quo has been one key to our success; if you're not asking clients and employees to do something different and better, you run the risk of being seen as a 'me too.'"

Best Advice:
"Ask yourself, 'Which part of my business creates the most value for my clients?' Then build your core message, investment strategy and operational tools around the highest-value functions in your business. If your people understand their importance to you and to the clients, they'll feel great about why they come to work each day."


14. Outcomes
Health-care data reporting, Charlottesville, VA

Wanda Kochhar, Kelly Monical
Began: 1996
Initial Investment: $60,000
2002 sales: $629,000
2006 sales: $16.1 million

Biggest Challenge:
"Hiring the right people is probably the hardest part, but it has the most impact on your success. Find energetic people with integrity and brains."


15. Pinnacle Technical Resources
IT staffing, Dallas

Nina G. Vaca
Began:
1996
Initial Investment: $300
2002 sales: $4 million
2006 sales: $42 million


16. Constant Contact
Online communications, Waltham, MA

Gail Goodman
Began:
1995
Initial Investment: $37.9 million
2002 sales: $1.9 million
2006 sales: $27.6 million

Best Advice:
"Make sure you know the answers to the following three questions: Who are/will be your customers? What problem will you solve for them? Will they pay enough for you to make money?"

Inspiration:
"In 1999 to 1999, it became very clear that the internet was going to help small business look like big businesses. We wanted to provide them with a new set of tools to help them look professional and give them a way to easily, effectively, and affordably communicate with their customers."

17. EMC Venues
Meeting management, Annapolis, MD

Jody Wallace
Began:
2001
Initial Investment: $450,000
2002 sales: $807,000
2006 sales: $16.6 million

Biggest Challenge:
"Get better before getting bigger. I made the mistake of growing too fast in the beginning, and it was overwhelming for my team and the customers. Focus on delivery and customer service."

Success Secret:
"Passion is key.You must be energized by your own passion and be ready to bring on new ideas and find the solutions to overcome your challenges. I feel lucky that I have found my passion. I enjoy my work every minute of everyday, even when the going gets tough."


18. TransPerfect
Translation services, New York City

Elizabeth Elting, Shirley Shawe
Began:
1992
Initial Investment: $5,000
2002 sales: $28.7 million
2006 sales: $112.8 million

Biggest Challenge:
"Finding, developing and retaining the best talent in the world is an ongoing challenge, but we continually redefine and customize our incentive packages to help accomplish this critical objective."

Inspiration:
"After working at a translation company after college, I recognized a real gap between what clients needed and what was available in the industry. Given the increasing globalization of business, it was clear to my partner and me that there was a huge need for a top-notch language services provider."

19. Trans-Expedite
Freight forwarder, El Paso, TX

Keeli Jernigan
Began:
2001
Initial Investment: $29,000
2002 sales: $878,000
2006 sales: $15 million

Success Secret:
"Remember the saying, 'If you don't know it, hire someone who does.' We would not be where we are today if we did not have such a great staff."

Biggest Challenge:

"We began operation on October first of 2001, right after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Most transportation companies were down sizing, due to changes in the industry, but we had nowhere to go but up. Our cash flow was a small family loan.My faith definitely helped me to overcome the challenges of those first few months!"


20. Milagro Packaging
Packaging solutions, Dundee, MI


Dolores Rodriguez
Began: 2001
Initial Investment: Did not disclose
2002 sales: $2 million
2006 sales: $23.4 million

Top 50: 21-30

21. MNJ Technologies Direct
Computer hardware/software, Buffalo Grove, IL


Susan Kozak
Began: 2002
Initial Investment: $500,000
2002 sales: $4 million
2006 sales: $34 million

Best Advice:
"In your business plan, take whatever you think your budget needs to be, and double it. Don't be too conservative in what you think your [startup] costs will be."

Inspiration:
"We started MNJ because we are passionate about technology. Our customers understand the value of a well-defined technology plan and how it can positively impact their business."


22. PeopleServe
Technology staffing, Chestnut Hill, MA


Linda Moraski
Began: 1999
Initial Investment: $1,000
2002 sales: $425,000
2006 sales: $9.4 million

Biggest Challenge:
"One of the best things I've done is join a CEO forum of 8 to 10 noncompeting women business owners. We [advise] each other, learn from each other and push each other outside of our comfort zones."

Success Secret:
"Persistence. Don't give up. One of my best clients today would not take my phone calls for over 8 months. I never gave up calling. We just did under $400K in business with them last year."


23. Zorch International
Branding agency, Chicago


Nicole Loftus
Began:
2002
Initial Investment: $50,000
2002 sales: $200,000
2006 sales: $6 million

Inspiration:
"I started my business to create a platform from which I could [encourage] change in the world for women. We entrepreneurs need to use our collective strength to do good things."

Success Secret:
"Make everyone else's success the priority and you will be successful. It is the female mentality!"


24. RCC Associates
General contractor, Deerfield Beach, FL

Beverly Raphael
Began: 1971
Initial Investment: $5,000
2002 sales: $22.8 million
2006 sales: $83.4 million

Best Advice:
"We strive to be better by learning from our failures as well as our successes. Hopefully we can pass that knowledge on to others to make their roads a bit smoother."

Success Secret:
"Listening and learning, and making the right decisions--no matter how difficult the consequences --are my key messages. Understand that there are resources, opportunities and allies available to assist you as you establish and grow your careers."


25. Search Wizards
Consulting firm, Snellville, GA

Leslie O'Connor
Began:
2000
Initial Investment: $0
2002 sales: $91,000
2006 sales: $3.9 million

Success Secret:
"My success is based on a few core values: treating everyone with respect; attention to detail, particularly personal details; and treating people as individuals and understanding their personal needs."

Best Advice:
"You need to be prepared to make the sacrifice of yourself to be successful. No one can build your business better than you, nor will anyone have the passion that you bring to the table. You need to be prepared for many long days."


26. The Saxon Group
Industrial construction, Sugar Hill, GA

Jeni Bogdan
Began: 1995
Initial Investment: $100,000
2002 sales: $4.3 million
2006 sales: $30.5 million

Success Secret:
"A company is only as strong as the people behind it. Our management team makes every effort to work closely on a personal level with both clients and employees."

Biggest Challenge:
"To overcome this challenge [of higher construction costs and employee demand] Saxon began a new training program to train young people to work in the construction industry. Additionally, we have increased wages and benefits. More importantly, we have listened to our employees and have included their ideas and suggestions into our business plan and benefits program."


27. LetterLogic
Mailing services, Nashville, TN

Sherry Stewart
Began:
2001
Initial Investment: $50,000
2002 sales: $321,000
2006 sales: $7.4 million

Best Advice:
"Know your numbers! Know what you need to know, and make sure that data flows to you daily."

Inspiration:
"I worked for others in the industry and was frustrated by the 'status quo' when it came to quality of service we provided. Starting LetterLogic allowed me to create a culture for enthusiastically striving for excellence all day, every day."


28. The Bun Companies
Baked goods manufacturer, Nashville, TN

Cordia Harrington
Began:
1996
Initial Investment: $17.8 million
2002 sales: $12 million
2006 sales: $55 million

Biggest Challenge:
"We have an aggressive training and recruiting program to get people hired and trained as our customers have greater demands. Last year we spent over $100,000 on training and preparing for growth."

Inspiration:
"Embrace and encourage change in the workplace. Have passion and enthusiasm about your product--we all enjoy doing business with people who are excited about what they do!"

29. Big Communications
Health-care communications, Ferndale, MI

Lisa Stern
Began:
1994
Initial Investment: $0
2002 sales: $875,000
2006 sales: $12.3 million

Biggest Challenge:
"9/11 put many of our clients out of business. We were forced to completely redefine our business. We successfully broke into a new industry, changed the way we did business and reinvented the company."

Success Secret:
"Determine what your culture is and hire, fire, review and reward based on those principles."


30. Global Advertising 1st
Advertising agency Lanham, MD

Jacquannette Lewis
Began: 2000
Initial Investment: $100,000
2002 sales: $83,000
2006 sales: $3.6 million

Biggest Challenge:
"My biggest challenge: being perceived as an African-American advertising agency instead of a full-service marketing firm. I overcame it by establishing a successful track record."

Inspiration:
"After reaching the glass ceiling in the corporate world, I knew I had to move on because it was no longer a challenge. I knew that owning my own advertising agency would allow me to fulfill my dreams and give me the opportunity to do everything I've wanted in this industry."

Top 50: 31-40

31. Perfect Power
Solar electric design/installation, Phoenix

Lynn Paige
Began: 1998
Initial Investment:
$10,000
2002 sales: $62,000
2006 sales: $3.1 million

Biggest Challenge:
"Our biggest challenge is making sure our team sees the goal as we grow and change in an industry that changes every day."

Success Secret:
"Have an end goal in mind everyday, with every project."


32. Apex Facility Resources
Facility services, Seattle

Marlaine McCauley
Began:
1997
Initial Investment: $500
2002 sales: $558,000
2006 sales: $9.5 million

Biggest Challenge:
"The idea that you need a college degree to be successful at business [was my biggest challenge]. I overcame it by reminding myself that I was smart and could learn through hard knocks."

Success Secret:
"[Our key to success is] listening to what our customers need, and not being afraid to provide them with a solution even if it is outside our core competency."


33. Business Integra
IT consulting/engineering, Greenbelt, MD

Prathiba Ramadoss
Began: 2001
Initial Investment: $2,000
2002 sales: $149,000
2006 sales: $4.8 million

Best Advice:
"Be fair to your customers and employees, and in turn they will be fair to you."

Biggest Challenge:
"Breaking into a highly competitive market with practically no contacts [was my biggest challenge]. Business Integra started with one consultant and one customer and has grown to a $5 million company."


34. Saicon Consultants
IT consulting, Overland Park, KS

Swati Yelmar
Began:
1998
Initial Investment: $2,000
2002 sales: $1 million
2006 sales: $12.6 million

Inspiration :
"Being a woman, a minority and a foreigner in a male-dominated field was a triple threat. With lots of hard work, I overcame these challenges and have [grown] my company to 166 employees."

Best Advice:
"Give your whole commitment to your business, no matter how many obstacles come your way in your professional or personal life."


35. Atlas Travel International
Travel agency, Milford, MA

Elaine Osgood
Began: 1986
Initial Investment: $65,000
2002 sales: $30 million
2006 sales: $95 million

Inspiration:
"As a social worker, I helped many children, but dealing with trauma day after day was wearing on me. I decided to use my skills to build a business that helps people, but in a different way."

Success Secret:
"Hire the very best. The talented professionals on my team are responsible for the success of the company. I learned a long time ago that the company would not be able to sustain our growth unless we had 'superstars in game breaker positions.'"


36. Fraser Communications
Advertising/PR Santa Monica, CA


Renee Fraser
Began: 1998
Initial Investment: $100,000
2002 sales: $6 million
2006 sales: $32.7 million

Best Advice:
"Reach high: Go for larger orders. If you've been successful after two years, you've beaten the odds and are damn good at what you do. Don't limit your opportunities."

Inspiration:
"Fraser Communications started as a dream. After being president of a large division of an ad agency, I saw a better way to satisfy clients and cultivate creativity throughout the organization. By bringing together senior professionals from media, creative, research, promotions and account services, we could deliver super value to clients."

37. Delta Solutions & Strategies LLC
Defense contractor, Colorado Springs, CO

Kelly Roth
Began: 2000
Initial Investment: $100,000
2002 sales: $418,000
2006 sales: $7.3 million

Biggest Challenge:
"My biggest challenge was obtaining financial support from large banks. By working with a locally owned bank on a smaller scale, I was able to obtain the financing I needed."

Inspiration:
"I started this company because I had participated in start-ups in my past and felt confident that I could do it on my own. I saw a good business opportunity in defense contracting, as Colorado Springs is home to several military institutions."


38. BrightStar Healthcare LLC
Health-care staffing, Gurnee, IL


Shelly Sun
Began:
2002
Initial Investment: $100,000
2002 sales: $112,000
2006 sales: $3.5 million

Best Advice:
"Surround yourself with great advisors. Do not hesitate to ask the best of the best. The worst they can say is no."

Inspiration :
"I started BrightStar Healthcare after the real-life struggle that my husband and I faced to find reliable care for his late Grandma Pat while she was battling cancer. This motivated me to develop a healthcare staffing business to provide reliable, trustworthy and compassionate care to all in need."


39. Energon
Natural gas supplier, Chicago


Mary Skipton
Began: 1992
Initial Investment: $200,000
2002 sales: $27.4 million
2006 sales: $80.9 million

Success Secret:
"I build solid relationships with employees, suppliers, utilities, and most important, customers. If I didn't have good relationships with all four, my business would not be as successful as it is."

Best Advice:
"Manage by the numbers. It doesn't make any difference what type of business you're in, how big or small it is, or whether you have employees or you're on your own. Manage by the numbers."


40. Ideal System Solutions
IT solutions Maple Grove, MN

Elise Hernandez
Began: 1996
Initial Investment: $1,000
2002 sales: $6.5 million
2006 sales: $31 million

Best Advice:
"Do your research and plan every aspect of how your business will operate. Once that plan is formulated, don't be afraid to make changes to accommodate growth or the unforeseen."

Biggest Challenge:
"Historically, technology has been a male-dominated field. I had to make sure that I was well-versed in all areas of technology to be taken seriously."
 

Top 50: 41-50

41. Powertek Corp.
Business/IT solutions, Fairfax, VA

Nancy Scott, Samar Ghadry
Began: 2001
Initial Investment: $25,000
2002 sales: $611,000
2006 sales: $7.8 million

Best Advice:
"Always be 100 percent loyal to your customers, and never let them forget that you always have their best interest at heart."

Biggest Challenge:
"The biggest initial challenge was to get people to trust our ability to do good as a newcomer. We overcame this by conveying to potential customers that we were a quality organization, and then living up to it once they gave us our first accounts."


42. Office Furniture Innovations
Commercial office furniture, Houston

Jayne Edison
Began:
1999 Initial
Investment: $75,000
2002 sales: $2 million
2006 sales: $15 million

Biggest Challenge:
"For four years, I ran the business from a closet in my home--something my competitors never failed to bring up when vying for a job. I quickly learned the importance of creating a successful image."

Best Advice:
"Always recognize the staff that helps you to grow your business. They truly are the 'backbone' of your success. At OFI, we like to say, 'It's not about me, it's about we.'"


43. Dougherty Sprague Environmental
Environmental engineering, Richardson, TX

Cathy West Dougherty
Began: 1998
Initial Investment: $160,000
2002 sales: $521,000
2006 sales: $7 million

Success Secret:
"[Success] shows, and it's infectious. As an entrepreneur, you cannot 'phone it in.' If you don't love it, if you are not hungry and persistent, you will not make it."

Best Advice:
"You must follow the money to get the work.And no one, not even your best employee, cares as much about your business as you do. Never forget that. Other people will be happy to spend your money for you."


44. The NewsMarket
Online video media, New York City

Shoba Purushothaman
Began: 2000 Initial
Investment: $22.6 million
2002 sales: $588,000
2006 sales: $7.5 million

Biggest Challenge:
"I have learned to listen to my gut when choosing the right people. If there's any doubt, it's best not to proceed. It's easy to convince yourself people might change, but that really doesn't happen."

Success Secret:
"It may sound so basic, but having 100 percent unwavering faith that you will succeed is something that I think eludes a lot of people who want to take the entrepreneurial path. Understanding this and being able to commit to what it takes is key to achieving success."


45. Real Living
Real estate franchisor, Columbus, OH

Kaira Sturdivant Rouda
Began:
2002
Initial Investment: $30 million
2002 sales: $200,000
2006 sales: $4 million

Success Secret:
"If you are marketing to women, you need to develop a strong brand because women are three times as likely as men to recommend a product or service based on a brand."

Best Advice:
"Trust your instincts and your experience to guide your early decisions. And be true to who you are, because ultimately this is your business, and you have to love it with every ounce of your being to put in the time and energy required to make it successful."


46. Fulgent Media Group
Media planning, Boston

Karen R. Macumber
Began: 1999
Initial Investment: $2,000
2002 sales: $1.1 million
2006 sales: $10.1 million

Biggest Challenge:
"Starting is easy because you are doing what you love. But for the company to truly scale, your role has to evolve, which means doing less of the work you love and giving up some control."

Success Secret:
"Be the client first. Write down everything you like and don't like about the vendors you work with in that area. Now use that list as your guide to create the right service model, then hand-pick a core team and business advisor to support you."


47. Communispace Corp.
Online communications, Watertown, MA

Diane Hessan
Began: 1999
Initial Investment: $16 million
2002 sales: $1.6 million
2006 sales: $12.3 million

Biggest Challenge:
"My biggest challenge was keeping everyone inspired and motivated-especially during difficult times. I overcame it with constant communication and openness."

Success Secret:
"The secret of our success was listening. We listened very hard to our clients and to our employees, and took action on what they said. Trusting them led us to the right strategy."


48. Advantage Performance Network
Travel/incentives, Savage, MN

Mary Sue Leathers
Began:
1995
Initial Investment: $40,000
2002 sales: $21.8 million
2006 sales: $60 million

Biggest Challenge:
"9/11 was our biggest challenge. We worked to overcome it by diversifying and finding ways to help other people in the travel industry by providing support services to business owners."

Inspiration:
"I had been in the industry for 20 years and with all the changes taking place, there seemed to be a lack of customer service. My No. 1 priority was to bring customer service back to the customer and to create and atmosphere whereby our customers became our partners."


49. Rex Direct Net
Internet marketing, Cherry Hill, NJ

Jennine Rexon
Began: 2001
Initial Investment: $0
2002 sales: $325,000
2006 sales: $4.9 million

Success Secret:
"Focus on what you do best. It's very tempting to try to become a one-stop shop for all of your clients' needs, but it's not necessarily the best strategy."

Best Advice:
"Hire the best people you can. It is not possible to manage and grow a business if you don't have the right mix of people supporting it."


50. MurTech Consulting
IT services, Independence, OH

Ailish M. Murphy
Began: 2000
Initial Investment: $100,000
2002 sales: $274,000
2006 sales: $4.1 million

Biggest Challenge:
"During the challenging economic times of 2002, MurTech had to persevere and stay the course. I realized that the journey was a marathon, not a sprint."

Best Advice:
"Create core values that define you and your business. MurTech's core values are integrity, passion and work ethic."