Saturday, April 28, 2001

Don't go it alone

Call on experts for help

By Rhonda Abrams
Gannett News Service

        When you run a small business, one minute you're the marketing director, next you're the computer specialist, then you're in charge of accounting and, after that, human resources.

        How are you ever going to do the stuff you actually went into business for — the core functions that can make you money?

        Are you frustrated trying to do too much yourself?

        Take heart. Just because you have a small business, even a one-person business, doesn't mean you can't have a “staff” at your beck and call. You don't have to hire full-time, or even part-time employees to solve your critical business needs. Through the years, I've found ways to build an infrastructure of reliable people and institutions to assist me.

Identify key functions
        The key is to approach building your “staff” the way you would if you were building a big business. Identify the key functions you need taken care of: accounting, technology, marketing, graphics, human resources, etc. Then, figure out ways to have those functions consistently and reliably handled.

        Realize that taking care of your business is going to cost money. Don't always choose the cheapest solution, because that's not always the best.

        The old rule is true: you have to spend money to make money. Unless you're just starting out and have no income whatsoever, think about the most cost-effective way to use your time.

        If you can, find reliable “outsource providers” of essential services, and treat them as your virtual staff. Meet with them before you need them, discuss fees, services, and give them a small assignment before you have a big project.

        To meet potential providers, join a local entrepreneurs' or networking group.

        Here are some “institutional” suggestions:

        • Technology: Do not rely on your brother-in-law. I recommend buying the upgraded tech support for the most important software and hardware. This is a surprisingly good buy, even if you don't use it. Think of it as insurance. The annual fees typically run in the $150-$200 range, but allow you unlimited toll-free calls.

        I highly recommend the QuickBooks tech support, especially the first year or two you use it. Even though the QuickBooks program is really easy to learn, your financial accounts are so important, and the QuickBooks tech support is so responsive, this is a really smart purchase.

        • Graphics department: If you can find a good, reliable graphic designer to work with, great. But you've got another great source — Kinko's. Most stores have graphic designers, and staff is well-trained.

        • Human resources: Here's one of Rhonda's Rules: As soon as you have even one employee, use a payroll service. Payroll services can take all the paperwork hassles away as well as being a source of some advice on HR issues.

        • Salespeople. Surprise! Salespeople, especially good salespeople, are like free consultants. A smart salesperson wants you to succeed, not just to sell you something. He'll tell you ways to cut costs, help you find the best solutions, plan programs.

        Smart entrepreneurs don't think they have to do everything alone. They look to experts for help.

        Rhonda Abrams is the author of The Successful Business Plan: Secrets and Strategies and Wear Clean Underwear: Business Wisdom from Mom. For free business tips, register at, or write her at 555 Bryant St, No. 180, Palo Alto, CA 94301.



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