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Tips and Trends For and About Small-Business Owners Thinking about launching a new business? Consider this advice and data as you get started.

Putting Belief in Your Brand
Companies need to have specific, identifiable and defendable missions and beliefs

Mention the word "branding" and most people think of multi-national companies putting a high sheen on a new product or a political candidate adding a varnish to his latest image. But branding is not mere window-dressing, nor is it a marketing trick--and even the smallest businesses need to do it, according to Debbie Millman, who is the president of the design division of Sterling Brands. "Everything in our world is branded," says Millman, who has worked on the redesign of global brands for Pepsi, Procter & Gamble, Colgate, Nestle and Hasbro. "We create constructs to understand ourselves, the way we look, how we feel, what we believe--and we telegraph that 'branding' to the world." Even marriage is a brand, she explains. "You have the ring which is the symbol and the ceremony which is the ritual and you have certain things associated with the institution. And there are specific associations if you are not married." Millman says that companies--whether big or small, new or old--need to constantly telegraph what they stand for and how they want to be perceived, both by their customers and their competitors alike. "A brand," she says, "is simply a set of beliefs. And if you don't create a set of beliefs around your products or services, well, you stand for nothing--you have no values and no vision." She says that every company has to ask if they have a very specific, own-able and defendable mission. "If it doesn't,"Millman says, "then you are not creating something that is distinct enough to survive. And, frankly, you have to ask yourself is it worth surviving anyway." She says that if a company fails to position itself, it's customers will do it for them--and that clearly is not a good way to run a business over the long term, or even the short term. Millman advises that, along with the business plan and the hiring, entrepreneurs think long and hard about their brand and either figure a way of building it themselves or hiring a professional to do it for them. "If not, they're lost," she says. --John Montorio

In Praise of the "Gazelle"
The fastest-growing companies--"gazelles"-- generate about 10 percent of all new jobs

What's the best way to create new jobs? Encourage startups. At least that's the straightforward solution, according to a recent study by the Kauffman Foundation. Dane Stangler, a senior analyst with the Kansas City, Mo., research and education center, noted on the center's website that in any given year the fastest-growing startups--or so-called "gazelle" companies--comprise less than 1 percent of all businesses, yet generate roughly 10 percent of all new jobs. The study recommends several strategies to promote entrepreneurship, including: Removing as many barriers as possible that stall startups--rules that block access to capital, as well as taxation and regulatory burdens; targeting immigrants, which have been known to produce high-growth firms but often suffer from bottlenecks by establishing, for example, a new visa program for those who can raise $250,000 for their startups; and eliminating restraints at the university level that impede researchers from commercializing their innovations. "Without startups, our research shows that net job creation in most years would be negative, so policies that expand firm formation could increase both job creation and the number of high-growth firms," Stangler said. --J.M.

Use Your Head
You can go with your gut, but there's nothing wrong with good old common sense

We've all heard the stories of the entrepreneurs who succeeded by going with their gut, or because they were brave enough to break what everybody else assumed were the rules. But good, old common sense helped, too, says Nelie Shah, president of Nothing Falls Short, a New York-based marketing firm. Shah, whose client roster includes American Airlines, AT&T, Ogilvy & Mather and Kinkos, offers this straight talk:

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