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Business 911

Our team of experts gives 3 companies advice on overcoming their growing pains.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Whether you've been in business for one year or 20, no owner can say he's built the company without any pitfalls or problems along the way. Below, three entrepreneurs with great products and services come forward with what's holding them back from their full potential--be it unreliable employees or bleak website traffic--and our experts offer their advice for getting past the obstacles. Chances are, you'll recognize one of their problems as your own.

No Name Clothing

The problem: Robert Smith, 33, is the founder of No Name Clothing in Loves Park, Illinois, a company specializing in selling T-shirts. He has been in business for two years, and despite solid numbers--he expects 2007 sales between $800,000 and $1 million--his search for reliable marketing and business development employees has been a frustrating process.

"Past employees didn't have the vision; they just wanted a job," says Smith. "They weren't proactive in finding ways to grow with the company."

Unfortunately, the experienced people Smith wants to hire ask for six-figure salaries, which he can't afford.

The solution: Smith needs to get creative and put together a compensation strategy that combines direct pay with deferred compensation, recommends Penny Morey, a human resources consultant and owner of RemarkAbleHR in Boca Raton, Florida.

With assistance from professionals who specialize in developing these types of plans, he can explore alternatives such as restricted stock, phantom stock or a post-retirement consulting agreement, among others.

To motivate his employees, Smith needs to make sure he's communicating the company's vision effectively and not assuming everyone understands the process. "Unless management clearly defines goals for the company and for each individual, employees cannot be expected to know the big picture or how their roles are intrinsic to the company's success," advises Morey.

Smith needs to set clear, quantifiable goals for each department and employee. To make achieving these goals hit home, he then needs to attach compensation to them, Morey recommends. Bonuses paid out quarterly are more effective than annually, and Smith can tie them to variables, such as company revenue, cost reductions, productivity and growth in the customer base.

As for potential employees, Morey recommends reviewing resumes for a career story that makes sense. Does it show a nice progression of responsibilities or a downward slide? Business owners should also take the time to put together sound job specifications and then carefully review candidates who have the needed job qualifications. Morey suggests implementing aptitude or personality testing, which are inexpensive and can reduce the time spent interviewing, hiring and training people who don't have the right skills or character traits.

Away With Clutter

The problem: For the past six years, Dana Korey and Michaela Keuchenhoff have been providing residential and business makeovers in one to three days for the organizationally challenged. Whether your bedroom or office is in disarray, Del Mar, California-based Away With Clutter comes to the rescue with a swat team of professional organizers who coach clients on what to keep, donate or trash. But despite last year's sales of $300,000, growth has frozen this year, and the owners are looking for help with their publicity.

"We have a very limited marketing budget and our ads don't seem to pull people in," says Korey. "Our clients are disorganized and can lose the ad, and our website traffic is dismal."

The solution: With a little creativity, entrepreneurs can boost publicity without spending a lot of money, says Pam Newman, CMA and author of Out of the Red and Boosting Your Bottom Line.

"Consider out-of-the-ordinary ways to advertise," she says. "Get involved with PR campaigns in the local community. If there's a [fundraiser], find ways that make sense for your business to get involved. You'll be in the public eye, and you just donate a little time."

Newman also recommends entrepreneurs market their knowledge by booking speaking engagements with organizations, such as women's groups and small business groups. In Away With Clutter's case, the owners can use the platform to put together a presentation on "Five Easy Ways to Get Organized" and start creating buzz about their services.

"When you share those tips, people might not go back and use them, but they can say, 'Hey, this place can help me, let me call them.' It's about building awareness of your company name," says Newman.

For generating website traffic, Newman urges investing in a professional who can tweak the website with correctly embedded tags so search engines can easily pick them up. GoogleAds can also be a useful source of advertising, which allows users to pay for their sites to be listed on a search results page within a pre-set budget; you don't have to pay until visitors click through your site.

Lastly, business owners need to be networking, says Newman. After defining your target market, find organizations that fit in your target audience and start getting involved. "Go to chambers, business networking groups, PTA meetings," says Newman. "People do things for people they know."

Granny's Natural Goodness

The problem: Jaci Rae started Granny's Natural Goodness in Salinas, California in 2006 as a healthy alternative to the harmful additives, preservatives and chemicals found in traditional microwaveable popcorn. Her product, Granny's Natural Microwave Popcorn, uses only natural ingredients and is packaged in an FDA-approved bag without any text or images on the outside to prevent chemicals from seeping into the popcorn.

While her sales are close to $100,000 this year and the product is in high demand, the 35-year-old entrepreneur is doing all of the accounting herself, while struggling to find the capital needed to cover production costs and investors to help fund her business.

The solution: Tim Berry, president of Palo Alto Software in Eugene, Oregon, recommends Rae start by working with a local counselor to help guide her through growing a company and seeking investment. Berry suggests looking to the Small Business Development Center for an advisor or visiting a local community college or nearby university to find professors teaching courses on entrepreneurship who might be willing to help.

Berry also warns that while healthier eating and organic foods is a popular market right now, time is short since "all the other popcorn vendors can go organic and they already have channels of distribution and branding." Rae needs team members who can help her in the areas where she has less experience so she can elevate the business at a faster pace.

Hiring someone to specialize in the investment area, whether it be a partner, an employee, a consultant or a board of advisors, could be a big boost, advises Berry. Her most likely source of investment would be angel investors, particularly those who are either local or know about the organic foods market.

"She's trying too hard to do it all by herself," he says. "She's doing the bookkeeping, while developing the product and trying to build the company. Maybe she has the food processing and marketing knowledge, but her team needs bolstering."