From the January 1998 issue of Startups

Problem: You're looking for help solving business problems, and then it hits you: "My banker or accountant should have the answer to that!"

In their areas of expertise, bankers and accountants know a lot. It's to their advantage to share what they know with you, but you need to ask. Your banker can give you one financial perspective; your accountant can give you another.

Solution: When you need help in the following areas, don't hesitate to ask your banker about:

  • Determining whether your business plan makes sense.
  • Deciding whether your cash-flow projections are realistic.
  • Advice on the development outlook in your community-and the business climate in general.
  • Suggesting what you can do to make your business attractive when you need a loan.

Some banks actively recruit small-business accounts. Some sponsor small-business workshops or seminars. To get the most value from your relationship with a banker:

  • Have your banker review your business plan and visit your business occasionally to see what you do and how you do it.
  • Stay in touch with your banker and let him or her know what's going on in your business.

Consult an accountant when you need:

  • Help putting together a record-keeping system.
  • Help keeping track of your income, payroll, accounts receivable and payable, and other types of expenses.
  • Help developing your business plan.
  • Help finding financing.
  • Assistance preparing financial statements when applying for a loan.
  • Advice on selecting or training a bookkeeper.

Excerpted with permission from Roger Fritz's The Small Business Troubleshooter (Career Press, $15.99, 630-420-7673).

Q & A

By Christina Grace Peterson

Q: How do I get my hands on mailing lists to target potential buyers of my products?

Belinda Osborne
Nederland, Texas

A: Provided by Gail Nickel-Kailing, vice president of marketing for Postalsoft, a leading manufacturer of mailing-list management, postal-automation and document-generating software in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Mailing lists are big business. Many businesses regularly generate lists of customers and prospective customers and rent them to other businesses. Some of these lists are generated when products are purchased, while others are compiled through industry interests or affiliations.

You may not know it, but you already have the initial resources for your own lists. Start with customers with whom you've done business within the last two years. You can get information from sales orders, receipts, billing statements, warranty cards, credit records, customer service records and delivery records.

As a start-up business owner, the most cost-effective way to acquire a list is to exchange your list of customers with another business that is compatible but not competitive. For example, if you run a pet supply shop, you could exchange lists with a local veterinarian.

If you decide to rent a mailing list from another source, don't go it alone; you'll have a better chance of success if you have experts help you identify prospective customers who are most likely to respond to your offer. If your budget allows for it, consider working with an advertising agency that specializes in direct-response marketing. Most mailing service bureaus also offer some level of mailing-list management.

As for resources, I strongly recommend contacting the Direct Marketing Association Inc. at 1120 Ave. of the Americas, New York, NY 10036-6700, (212) 768-7277 or http://www.the-dma.org

Several magazines deal specifically with direct-mail and direct-marketing issues. Three you can look for are: Direct ($74 for 16 issues per year; 800-795-5445); DM News ($75 for $48 issues per year; 609-786-4780); and Target Marketing ($65 for 12 issues per year; 215-238-5300).