Bloomberg author visits: big ideas for small business

  • You should never work with anyone who gives you a headache or stomach ache.
  • Don’t finance your customers unless you are a bank.
  • When things are slow, do an all-office clean-up. Not working in a pig sty is a morale booster.

These are just a few of the 201 “great ideas for small businesses” espoused by author Jane Applegate, currently on a book tour for Bloomberg Press and a guest speaker at the Greater Knoxville Chamber of Commerce Friday. Applegate, a former investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times, is now a management consultant focusing on small business. Comcast sponsored her visit to Knoxville.

Other words of wisdom for flourishing in tough times:

Jane Applegate, right, signs a book for Sherry Furr of IsulTech at Chamber Friday

Jane Applegate, right, signs a book for Sherry Furr of InsulTech at Chamber Friday

  • It’s rare that adults can change. So if you find yourself with an employee that you just wish would disappear, you need to get rid of them. “If your people problems are overwhelming, you will never be successful,” Applegate said. “It’s not that you have hired a bad person, it just might be a bad fit. Small businesses usually have a very collegial atmosphere and one person can ruin that.”
  • Get rid of customers who chronically do not pay their bills. And start a policy of charging an up-front deposit for all customers. “You are in business to make money,” Applegate said. “There’s nothing wrong with that.” She assured that if business owners will “clear away all their bad customers and bad employees, good ones will come and take their place.”
  • Know your competition. Spend at least one hour a week looking at the Web sites of all your competitors. Shop your competitors’ stores. Order their products. “You want to know what you are up against,” she advised. Use your vendors to find out what your competitors are doing, she suggested. “Someone in your life has incredible competitive information,” she said.
  • Cut your expenses. Lock the supply cabinet. Rent out any unused space in your office. Turn everything completely off at night, including computers.
  • Give your employees some “face time” with you. That means more to them than money. They want to be heard. And they want the tools and equipment they need to do their jobs properly.
  • Give away free samples of your product. Consider putting discount coupons on your Web site. Cross promote with another business. Do something good for the community and send out a news release about it.

Applegate said she sees the economy changing and credits the new Obama administration for that. “There have been material shifts in what’s going on in Washington. There is a new commitment and concern for small business,” she said. “Things are changing.” As examples she pointed to $15 billion in new small business loans becoming available and changes in tax laws regarding what small businesses are allowed to write off their taxes.

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