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This story appears in the December 2005 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Working deep underground, with limited oxygen and a long way to go for more, old-time miners took canaries down with them to serve as early indicators of trouble with the air supply. In the metaphorically titled Corporate Canaries: Avoid Business Disasters With a Coal Miner's Secrets (Nelson Business, $19.99), turnaround expert Gary Sutton delivers a collection of simple and practical tales that serve as entrepreneurial substitutes for fainting songbirds.

The indicators are clear, and the prescriptions are emphatic. If your company's sales are growing while profits are falling, for instance, Sutton gives you 180 days to fix it or fail. What to look at first in that situation? If your salespeople get commissions on revenue, he suggests switching them to a compensation scheme based on profits per sale. Brief and conversational, and loaded with homey tales of the author's coal-miner grandfather, this may be exactly the quick read a business owner needs when disaster looms.

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