From the August 1998 issue of Startups

Q: I own a small, homebased financial and credit card acceptance company. How can I attract clients on my limited income? Also, do you know of anyone who is interested in a partnership?

A: Provided by Dan McComas, a speaker and author of High-Impact Marketing on a Low-Impact Budget (Prima Publishing, $16, 800-632-8676), known as "America's Small-Business Marketing Coach."

When your marketing is effective and revenues are growing, it's much easier to attract partners. Plus, when you're a successful new business "rainmaker," you'll have more leverage in partnership negotiations. Here are several low-cost and no-cost marketing strategies I recommend:

1. Start a tip club. A tip club is an effective way to join forces with others who want to share ideas and get business. Tip clubs typically comprise 12 to 40 business-people in noncompeting industries who meet weekly. A tip club for professionals might include an accountant, a real estate broker, a management consultant, an insurance broker, a banker and so on. If you don't want to start your own club, check your phone directory for networking clubs such as Business Network International and LeTip. Both are low-cost ways to generate leads and referrals.

2. Ask for referrals. Referrals are the most underutilized form of free marketing. Why? Most people are afraid to ask for them. Think of the acronym EAR. First, earn referrals from clients by always giving more than they expect. Next, ask for referrals. Simply say, "I appreciate your business, Jim. Who else do you know who might benefit from my services?" If your client can't think of anyone, ask if you can go through a chamber of commerce or trade association directory together to pinpoint names. Finally, reward those who give you referrals with a handwritten thank-you note, a gift or a referral fee.

As for your question about partnerships, research and network in your community and via the Internet. Visit the SBA's Web site at www.sba.gov. Participate in Internet newsgroups in your industry, and read your industry's trade journals.

Q: I'm interested in opening a bar but am not sure of the regulations or even how to begin. Any information would be helpful.

A: Provided by Bob Johnson, a 37-year veteran of the bar business, national speaker at beverage-related conventions, professor of beverage management at Florida International University in Miami and executive director of the Beverage Management Institute.

If you aren't a convicted felon and you have enough money, technically, you qualify to open a bar. Therein lies the problem. Most bars go out of business within the first year. Reasons for failure include poor purchasing procedures, hiring the wrong staff, inadequate inventory controls, insufficient employee training, poor promotional ability and ignorance of laws governing the industry. Theft by unscrupulous bartenders and wait staff can also bring a bar to its knees.

Unfortunately, no school teaches a full curriculum of bar management. So unless you want to be an absentee owner, the bar business is best only for the thoroughly experienced.

If you're determined to go into this business, take a year to complete the following before you invest:

1. Attend a bartending school. Visit other bars. Talk to bartenders, managers, owners-anyone who can offer advice.

2. Attend beverage-related trade shows. Many offer seminars on bar management; call the Beverage Management Institute at (800) 447-4384 for a list.

3. Buy bartending and bar management books, and study them cover to cover. Bruce Fier's Start and Run a Money Making Bar (McGraw-Hill, $29.95, 803-593-7788) is an excellent choice.

4. Attend a Certified Bar Management seminar for $139. Call (800) 447-4384 for a nationwide schedule.

5. Hire a beverage operations consultant to spend two weeks with you prior to opening.

The industry is extremely competitive. Learn everything you can before you pour your first drink.