You've been growing your company, and it's generating a pretty healthy profit. But now it's time to take your product into new areas where your salespeople may not have contacts or knowledge of the business community. A manufacturer's rep is a salesperson--a free agent who generally handles five to seven different, but compatible, products. Well-qualified manufacturer's reps can increase your company's sales while giving you the freedom to focus on other areas of your business. How do you find out who the right reps in your industry are, and how can you successfully hire and keep one?

1. Ask your customers. They may be able to provide names of good reps they've worked with. Also, talk to experienced business owners and manufacturers in your industry.

2. Obtain a list. Try calling such places as big-city merchandise or apparel marts to get a list of names and phone numbers of manufacturer's reps. The reps you contact will either be available to work with you or may recommend someone else who is willing to take on another product. You can also use an independent representative directory for your industry. Most trade associations have access to such books.

3. Advertise for reps. Where? In the back of trade journals, at industry meetings and at trade shows. You can also put the word out to everyone you do business with that you need a salesperson. When writing an ad, include the basics: "Dynamic manufacturer's rep needed for growing company. Territory: South Carolina. Product line includes . . . Call 555-5555 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m."

4. Look for reps that have a support staff. Remember, the rep is showcasing your company and your product. More often than not, however, he or she is on the road. Therefore, make sure the rep has hired professional help to answer the phones and take orders while he or she is away from the office.

5. Remember that the rep and his or her territory are a package deal. If you're ready to hire your first rep and you're based in California, you should probably hire a rep that covers the Midwest or the South to get the word out about your product in those places. More than likely, you're still calling on customers in California. As your business grows, you can hire more reps in territories where you want to focus.