From the April 2003 issue of Entrepreneur

Power Surge
Getting the attention of your power company is as fun as sticking a fork in an electrical outlet. But one utility is catching on to small-business needs, and more may follow if entrepreneurs will pay for energy consulting services, as a recent report by Atlanta utility consulting firm Chartwell Inc. says they will.

Jennifer Quay Allen, the report's author, found 34 percent of entrepreneurs claimed they would pay for utility audits, and small companies with $5 million or more in sales were most interested in paying for good energy advice.

In 2001, managers at the Iowa subsidiary of Alliant Energy Corp. plugged into the concept when frustrated business owners kept calling the consumer center for help. Alliant created a small-business resource center that's accessible online and through a toll-free number.

Alliant conducts energy checkups on the phone and help businesses whittle usage and claim rebates for buying energy-efficient equipment, says Craig Tuetken, manager of residential and small-business program services. Typical help: analyzing the energy draw of older equipment and offering advice on when energy savings will offset the cost of a newer model.

--Joanne Cleaver has written for a variety of publications,
including the
Chicago Tribune and Executive Female.

Parents for Hire


Health insurance premiums increased
12.7%
in 2002.
SOURCE: The Kaiser Family Foundation

Dorian Winslow tapped into a trusted employment source--her parents--when she needed an IT specialist and a person to head fulfillment for her New York City-based catalog company, Womenswork. "While they didn't know much about what I sell, they have management experience--and were delighted to help," Winslow, 45, says.

The combination of trust, savvy and availability is why many entrepreneurs hire their parents. Having a healthy relationship with your folks is essential, but "role reversals are hard," says David Gage, founder of Business Mediation Associates in Arlington, Virginia. He urges business owners to:

  • Be clear about expectations. "You need to know what you expect from yourself and each other," Gage says.
  • Find out what everyone's top priority is. "Usually, parents' number-one goal is appreciation and respect--not money," Gage says.
  • Do scenario planning. "It's easier to deal with contingencies in your imagination before they become reality," Gage explains. So tackle "what if" situations such as "How will you let me know if the work gets too much for you, Mom?"
--Patricia Schiff Estess is the author of Work Concepts for the Future.