From the December 2000 issue of Startups

Ok so you've resolved to exercise more and actually leave your computer chair once in awhile. How about New Year's resolutions for your business? (You will make some, right?) Here are four resolutions from some savvy entrepreneurs-and one of our own-along with expert tips to help make them happen.

1. Meet for cheap! Talk about embarrassing: Rebecca Hines' 3-year-old son called a client "Grandma" and read the book Everyone Poops during a client meeting. Her resolution? "My goal for 2001 is to obtain meeting space," says Hines, owner of Virginia Beach, Virginia-based That Nice Computer Lady Inc., a Web design and consulting firm. "All other operations of my business are more than adequately handled out of my home office."

Good news: Renting meeting space is a snap. "There are office suites [you can rent] that provide space for cheap, and you get shared resources like fax service, a receptionist and copy machines," says Michael Chiodi, a home business coach and owner of Home Business Services in St. Paul, Minnesota. If a suite isn't possible, Hines can timeshare an office with other homebasers. That way, she'll have a professional meeting space-without springing for a full-time office.

2. Help out. Mentoring another entrepreneur can be fun, satisfying and challenging. "I want to find local small businesses to mentor and help them develop and grow," says Ramon Ray, 28, a Brooklyn, New York, small-business technology analyst and owner of the hot new technology resource site Smallbusinesstechnology.com. "I've received a lot of help from others who have taken the time to mentor and help me."

But beware: Discuss expectations before you start in order to head off weirdness later. "Offer a very limited scope of services. If you offer your help on an unlimited basis, you may find it difficult to say no later," warns Chiodi. To avoid misunderstandings, tell your mentee upfront when you're available, and specifically outline how you can help.

3. Keep sane and profitable. "My biggest resolution is to make sure we don't take on more clients than we can realistically treat as if they are the one and only," says Mara Singer, president of Littleton, Colorado-based Internet Marketing Dept. Inc., an e-marketing campaign provider. "I want to be able to meet with a client tomorrow if that is what they ask for."

Having too much work may sound like a cool problem, but it will burn you out-and fast. The trick is to work smarter, not harder, and specialize your services. "When you specialize in a particular niche, you can get a higher-quality client, have more credibility and make more money," says Chiodi.

4. Just say no! "Our resolution is that we would like to learn to say no. We take on way too much," says Nancy Price, 31, who develops pregnancy and parenting Web sites with her partner, Betsy Gartrell-Judd, 32. As owners of the Kingston, Ohio-based Myria Media Inc., they hear constant telephone sales pitches. "We don't have time to research all the opportunities," says Price. "It's a timesuck."

Are salespeople sucking away your time? Set boundaries from the beginning. If you're interested, "ask salespeople to summarize their pitch in one to five minutes," says Chiodi. You can always ask them to send you more information via e-mail and snail mail. If the pitch doesn't grab you immediately, don't think twice about hanging up.


Heather Lloyd-Martin is owner of SuccessWorks, a new media copywriting firm. Her resolution is to take one day off a month without feeling guilty.