From the September 2003 issue of Entrepreneur

Turn It Off!
Business owners are pulling the plug on errant cell phone use during meetings. Managers at Traq-wireless, an Austin, Texas, telecommunications consulting firm, have noted that half their corporate clients are enforcing strict no-cell/no-PDA/no-BlackBerry policies. "It's typically driven from the top down, from someone who's irritated and thinks it's rude and inhibits the meeting's productivity," says Jeff Fugitt, director of marketing.

That rings a bell with David Ratner, president of Newman Communications Inc., a 20-employee literary publicity firm in Boston. The common-sense policy adopted by Newman prohibits calls during meetings, especially those with clients. Staff members expecting a pressing call must let clients know before the meeting starts if they might have to step out.

Establish a no-cell policy by getting agreement among company execs that such a policy is needed, advises Peter Post, business etiquette expert for The Emily Post Institute of Burlington, Vermont. Then notify the rest of your employees.

Reinforce the policy by reminding employees before each meeting. That minimizes the chance somebody will forget, especially when the policy is new.

Bored Meeting
Anybody who has watched local planning or zoning commission meetings on cable TV knows how tedious and painfully long they are. The view is no prettier from the inside.

Business owners who think serving on a commission is a clever way to gather intelligence about soon-to-emerge competitors will quickly learn there are more efficient ways to keep their ears to the ground. Board members have to attend two long, contentious meetings per month, and preparation can take hours, ex-plains Stephen R. McClary, planning administrator for the city of Columbus, Ohio.

"If you join one of these things to get tipped off in advance about what's happening, it's a horrible waste of time," says J. Daniel Schmidt, president of JDS Companies, a Columbus, Ohio, developer. Schmidt has served on several boards. Deals aren't even brought to a commission until all the pieces are in place, says Schmidt. By the time a deal grinds its way through a zoning or planning commission hearing, it's public knowledge.

Instead, cultivate relationships with commercial real estate brokers and landlords. They're the ones, says Schmidt, who catch the scent of new developments long before any others and can tip you off.


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