From the February 1997 issue of Startups

If you're a mobile computer user who continually finds your productivity stunted by inappropriate lighting situations, the Ultimate Computer Light provides an illuminating solution.

The NCL 480 Notebook Computer Light attaches to all notebook/laptop computers, and the L-shaped light slides atop the computer screen, improving your lighting during seminars, in hotels, while traveling, or even in the office--without disturbing others around you. Four high-capacity, rechargeable batteries, three clear Ektron bulbs, a slim AC adapter/charger, and a soft compact travel case are included.

The NCL 480 sells for $49.95 plus $4 S&H, and comes with a 90-day warranty.

Available from ASF Associates Ltd., Merrick, NY. To order, call (800) 936-3638.

Signing Simplicity

Tired of always having to write your John Hancock on every document? Apropos Software offers a quick and easy solution to the task of signing papers that's as simple as a click of a button. Their product, Sign-It!, is a software program that translates your signature into a computer font, which can then be placed into your Windows-based document.

Apropos Software will convert your signature into a TrueType font, allowing the signature to be scaled to any size and printed at any resolution. Sign-It! also includes Signature Server, which provides password security protection and an automatic title block, which produces extra information such as name, title, and company underneath the signature, for extra convenience.

Sign-It! works with Microsoft Windows 3.1, Microsoft Windows 3.11, Windows for Workgroups 3.11, Windows 95, and Windows NT. Sign-It! sells for $29.95, plus $3 S&H.

Available from Apropos Software, Torrance, CA. To order, call (800) 229-7888.

Bit O The Bubbly

Amid the recent trend of homebrewed and microbrewed beer, Virgil's is following suit with their own . . . root beer, that is. With no artificial ingredients, Virgil's Root Beer provides soft-drink lovers with a refreshing alternative to traditional sodas.

While most American root beers use corn syrup in their drinks, Virgil's uses unbleached pure cane sugar to add sweetness to its taste. Considered an "Outstanding Beverage" at the 1994 and 1996 International Food and Confection Shows, Virgil's is giving the top soda manufacturers a new taste to contend with.

Virgil's 12-ounce bottles are sold in packs of four. Wholesale prices: $1/bottle, $24.00 a case (One case: 24 bottles), plus S&H. Minimum order: 3 cases. Suggested retail price: $4.99/4-pack.

From Virgil's, Wayland, MA. To order, call (800) 626-SODA.

Fun Seekers

If your customers love sports or other outdoor activities but can't shell out the clams for a set of costly, fragile binoculars, BNOX allows them to take a closer, cheaper look: FunSeeker binoculars are giving clunky, old-fashioned binoculars a run for their money.

Substituting lightweight acrylic for traditional glass lenses and thin glass mirrors for glass prisms, FunSeeker binoculars provide magnification at a fraction of ordinary binocular price. Weighing only four ounces, the compact binoculars resemble popular single-use disposable cameras and are ideal for children as well as adults.

The binoculars slide open, have flexible eye shields that are easily adjustable for wearers of eyeglasses, and come prefocused beyond forty feet.

Wholesale price: $8.50 each. Suggested retail price: $12.99 each. Minimum order: 12 units.

From BNOX Inc., New York, NY. To order, call (800) 454-BNOX.

Computer Security

Computers are costly investments for your business, serving as invaluable storage spaces for all your business and personal data needs. Computer theft, therefore, can result in a loss of countless amounts of time, energy and money.

Master Lock Universal Notebook Security Cable, a sturdy but lightweight galvanized-steel cable and locking device, provides security for stationary and laptop computers alike.

The Master Lock Universal Notebook Security Cable sells for $44.99 and is backed with a lifetime warranty.

From Kensington Technology Group, San Mateo, CA. For retail locations, call (415) 572-2700.

Safety On The Go

As a personal safety measure, offer your customers the ArmAlarm and ArmAlarm Sport--wristwatches with easily accessible attached alarms. When the alarms are sounded, they emit a piercing, 120-decibel sound to ward off would-be attackers. Both versions comes with easy-to-read digital time/date displays and stopwatch functions.

Wholesale prices: ArmAlarm, $10.85; ArmAlarm Sport, $12.85. Suggested retail prices: ArmAlarm, $19.95; ArmAlarm Sport, $24.95. Minimum order: 20 units. Each comes with a point-of-purchase display case.

From ArmAlarm Inc., Mequon, WI. To order, call (800) 475-1305.

News and Reviews for the small-business

By Karin Moeller

Buyer Beware

Well, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is crackin' heads again: Last November, we reported the recent uprising of telemarketing fraud, where scam artists were selling-over the telephone-office supplies of dubious quality and inflated price to unsuspecting business owners. Now, the crooks are hitting closer to home, selling less-than-legitimate self-employment opportunities, and the FTC is again on the case.

"Operation Missed Fortune," their massive crackdown effort to deter sales of fraudulent get-rich-quick self-employment schemes, has so far resulted in more than 75 law enforcement actions. Some of the fraudulent "businesses" being sold include work-at-home scams, pyramid schemes often pitched on the Internet, and certain pre-packaged small businesses.

In trying to peddle their schemes, scam artists claim impressive yet unsubstantiated earnings figures, often fail to provide consumers with detailed business disclosure statements required by federal or state law, and anchor their reputation on endorsements from phony references, or "shills"-people who provide glowing, but false, reports about their so-called "successes."

As part of Operation Missed Fortune's national consumer-education campaign, the FTC is offering free brochures and tip sheets for consumers on how to protect themselves and their precious start-up capital. These can be found online at the FTC's Web site (http://www.ftc.gov) or by calling (800) 554-5706. Some of the tips include:

Check out the company with the consumer protection agency and Better Business Bureau in your state and in the state in which the company is headquartered to learn whether there are any complaints on file;

Beware of shills-decoy references paid by a plan's promoter to describe their fictional success in earning money. Seek business addresses where possible so you can actually visit the site, and insist on a list of all individuals who have invested in the opportunity;

Be wary of any opportunity that sounds too easy; success usually requires hard work.

Entrepreneurial Women

When it comes to entrepreneurship, women are getting into the game in record numbers.

According to the National Foundation for Women Business Owners and the U.S. Census Bureau, there are nearly eight million woman-owned businesses in the United States, which contribute nearly $2.3 trillion in sales to the economy each year.

If you're a woman who's thinking of starting a new venture or have recently done so, be sure to take a look at Barbara Littman's The Women's Business Resource Guide (Contemporary Books, $18.95), a compilation of more than 800 national sources where you can find assistance in starting or growing your new small business. Included in the guide are sources of business financing; specialty programs for the socially or economically disadvantaged; information on seminars, workshops and associations; and interviews with various women business owners who have successfully taken advantage of these start-up resources.

Top Of The List

If you're a homebased business owner who used to work in a traditional office setting, you probably have a list of a few things that you miss from time to time about the old office-things like company benefits, financial security, and interaction with co-workers. But if you're like most homebased entrepreneurs, you have an even longer list of things you don't miss about the corporate office setting-things that made you seek the independence of entrepreneurship in the first place.

A recent study conducted by the American Association of Home-Based Businesses (AAHBB) and Canon Personal Copiers found that AAHBB members least missed the following things about their experience in the traditional office: the daily commute, wearing business attire, having an overbearing boss, working within set business hours, lack of authority, required status reports, and seemingly everpresent office politics.

"When things get rough in the corporate world," says Beverley Williams, president and founder of AAHBB, "it's easy enough to step out of that corporate environment and say, 'I'm going to do this on my own.' "

Q &A

Answers to your small-business questions

Q: My husband and I are interested in starting a food-seasoning business and need information on getting started. We will not be cooking any of the ingredients; rather, we will be mixing spice ingredients that are already processed. What rules and regulations exist concerning this type of business? What are we required to put on our labels? How does the product need to be packaged?

Juanita Rust

Brandenton, Florida

A:Answer provided by Morris H. Kushner, former president of the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade Inc. (NASFT) and the author ofMorris H. Kushner On Specialty Foods(Cumberland Enterprises Inc., $19 plus $3.50 S&H, 800-205-8254):

I commend you and your husband on seeking a career where you'll be in control of your own financial destiny. Coincidentally, you've chosen a field that is most timely, in light of the growing popularity of spicy, piquant, Pan-Asian dishes. But keep in mind that, unless your new product has a unique flavor, packaging or dispensation method, or possesses other qualities that separate it from the "me too" category, you will likely encounter rough going in an attempt to crack an already crowded field.

However, if you feel that your spices are unique or superior in quality, you might consider applying for a membership in NASFT. They host two giant trade shows each year, one in New York and one in San Francisco, which attract 25,000-40,000 retailers-consisting of buyers from department stores, supermarkets, specialty food stores, food services and gift packers. They also publish Showcase, a bimonthly magazine, and conduct seminars, educational programs and award competitions. For more information, write to NASFT at 120 Wall St., 27th Floor, New York, NY 10005-4001, or call (212) 482-6440.

Unless you hire a consultant to assist you with the particular information germane to the spice field, you might want to attend the excellent seminars offered by the University of California in Davis. The seminars, called "Getting Started in the Specialty Food Business," will next be offered on May 17-18, 1997, for $345. For more information, contact Karen Fischer at the University Extension Office, University of California, Davis, CA 95616-8727, or call (800) 752-0881.

Your product label will have to conform to the government's recent new label statutes that, among other things, require that you include the weight (in ounces and grams) on the lower one third of the front panel, list the ingredients (in the order of their volume), and provide a Universal Product Code (UPC).

For more information on labeling, you might contact Zebra Technologies VTI Inc. in Sandy, Utah (800-390-1362). Their "Barcode Anything Suite," which includes label design software, a tracking database, a scanning wand, and which is designed to work with most printers and labels, retails for about $300. You can also contact Eltron International Inc. in Simi Valley, California (800-443-4424). Their "Barcode Professional," a package tailored for small businesses, includes a barcode printer, software to track your sales and inventory, a starter supply of labels, and a scanner-or barcode reader-for about $600.

On to packaging: Depending on your product's density, I propose a glass container with a plastic sprinkle top, if it will be used as a table condiment. However, if the product will be used as an ingredient in food preparation, then the opening must accommodate the insertion of a measuring spoon. A reliable co-packer, who will package your product for you to your specifications (look in the Yellow Pages, under the "Food" section), will be able to advise you as to what container will fit his machinery-that is, unless you intend to start as a kitchen product on your own, which will entail obtaining licenses and arranging for sanitation and health inspections.

Above all else, you'll want to be sure to follow the guidelines outlined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the government agency that oversees this industry. They publish a number of information booklets to help manufacturers meet production requirements, including A Food Labeling Guide ($6). To order, send a check or money order payable to the Superintendent of Documents at P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954, or call (202) 512-1800.

For further information, call your local FDA branch, or visit the FDA's Web site at (http://www.fda.gov)

Address your small-business questions to: Q&A,Business Start-Ups, 2392 Morse Ave., Irvine, CA 92614, or e-mail them to 76711,1724@compuserve.com or BSUMag@AOL.COM. Due to limited space, time and resources, we can answer only those Q&A letters chosen for publication. Questions may be edited for clarity.