From the January 2002 issue of Entrepreneur

Cut the Slack

Your accountant, lawyer and publicist may all be wonderful people-but you still should question their abilities. "It's about not being afraid, as the client, in asking for value," says Brian Okun (above), a partner at Computer Professionals USA Inc. in New York City.

For example, when Okun reviewed his accounting, he received proposals to look over the company's $10 million in sales from two other agencies and saw how much more service he could get. Using that information, he got a better deal from his existing firm.

When Okun put his PR agency under the microscope, he realized it was doing more generalized planning than his company needed. Okun fired the firm. "In today's trying economic times," he says, "you need to re-evaluate all your business relationships and ensure that there's value in them."

Bye for Now

Cisco made a splash last summer when it announced a new type of layoff. If departing employees went on to work at nonprofit organizations, Cisco would pay one-third of their regular salaries for one year and allow them to retain and continue to vest their stock options. In addition, they would be considered for open positions within Cisco on the same footing as employees still with the company.

Even if you can't afford that kind of generosity, you still should keep relations with top laid-off workers good enough that they'll come back when prosperity returns. First off, don't give them the bum's rush, says Anne Pasley-Stuart, a human resources consultant in Boise, Idaho. "Let them use office space for a job search." Patricia Berg of Minneapolis consulting firm Personnel Decisions International recommends taking it a step further by offering letters of recommendation and encouraging networking with the remaining staff.

Another low-cost goodwill gesture, says Bill Coleman, senior vice president of compensation at online compensation information service Salary.com, is to offer equity in your firm when you can't offer any other form of severance. It might not be worth anything now, but the employee will appreciate the thought and benefit should your company bounce back.

And once they're gone, don't lose touch-whether by phone call or taking them to lunch. "Treat them like people," says Coleman. "Call them up and ask how the job search is going."


Business writer Chris Sandlund works out of Cold Spring, New York.

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