June 2004

Cover Story

Big fish

For many small companies, large clients are highly sought after. It?s understandable: getting a contract with a company like General Mills or Microsoft can provide a significant, dependable income stream. Who wouldn?t like that?
That?s just the problem. How can you find the opportunities within a large company and make yourself stand out from the competition? How can you convince that large company that your firm can handle the business? And how can you be sure that large customer won?t effectively own your firm? Continue reading →

Letter From the Editor


?The company?s controllable. It?s not running us, we?re running it,? says Tom Meacham, owner of Landmark Creations, which makes huge inflatables for sports teams and high-profile events.
Meacham is in an enviable position, as owners know who have tried to wrestle their company onto a manageable growth path. Continue reading →


No hot air

Tom Meacham had no experience in the giant inflatables business when he purchased Burnsville-based Landmark Creations in 1993.
But he had two things going for him: his mechanical background, and staff members who knew what they were doing.
?I had a background in manufacturing and people, basically, and the rest took care of itself,? he says. ?I also knew that there were talented people that worked here that certainly could do their job already.?
If the last 11 years have been a learning experience for Meacham, president of Landmark, the lessons seem to have sunk in. Today Landmark is a 12-employee company with revenue of more than $1 million last year. The company has grown to a comfortable, manageable size, says Meacham. Continue reading →

Listen & Learn

Karen Houle will be the first to admit, she isn?t very good at predicting the future. She isn?t a business owner who pours hours into market research hoping to find the next big thing.
But she listens to her customers, and that could be the key reason her company, University Language Center (ULC), is rapidly growing.
Houle is founder and president of the Minneapolis-based company that provides comprehensive foreign language services to businesses, adults and children. Those services include language instruction, translating, interpreting and proficiency testing. Continue reading →

Calling cards

The book world changed 22 years ago when consultants Tom Peters and Bob Waterman wrote In Search of Excellence. It created a new industry of business books and a new arena for business leaders.
Fast-forward to today. Stroll through a bookstore. Rows of books cover success, leadership, management strategies, advancement, investing, motivation, sales, consulting, business profiles, human resources, e-commerce, starting a business, careers, marketing, advertising, negotiating and wealth. Continue reading →

Business Builders


In the life of every business, there are times when knowing what your business is worth is essential.
Some events you can plan for, such as your retirement. Other events, like needing a line of credit, can come up unexpectedly. Knowing the value of your business is essential to getting the most out of your years of investment.
By anticipating events when a business valuation is necessary or advantageous, you can take steps to maximize your business?s value and position yourself for the best financial result. Continue reading →

How to speed path to
getting first bank loan

Funding a small business can be tricky. You may consider tapping into your personal resources: borrowing from family and friends, selling pieces to investors, or putting it on your credit card. Continue reading →


The collapse of the dot-coms followed by the Enron scandal tainted the concept of using company stock as a way to retain and motivate employees. The need to attract and keep talented people in your business has not changed, however.
Stock options, employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs) and other methods of employee participation in company growth continue to be important tools for privately held companies to gain a competitive edge through increased commitment from employees. Continue reading →


Managing a brand is a bit like sailing a boat. Core principles apply, but there?s plenty of room for personal interpretation.
Brand management is no different. After more than 30 years of working in the strategic design and brand management business, I?ve developed my own list of brand management rules. Continue reading →


Remember the Wendy?s commercials that asked, ?Where?s the beef?? In this digital age ? brimming with easy technology tools to manage Web content, training materials and other business documents ? that question seems more pertinent than ever.
Many are confusing the technology management tools with the ?beef,? the actual content that the technology is intended to manage or make easier to create and distribute. Continue reading →


Ever wonder why some business people love their consultants and enjoy great long-term results, while others seem to constantly change vendors, endlessly in search of someone who ?gets it??
Knowing what you?re looking for, what you can afford and how to work with consultants who can provide the desired results are keys to unlocking this mystery. If you do your homework, it should be relatively painless to find and select a qualified consultant who can meet your needs. Continue reading →


Do you ever wish you had a sounding board to discuss a new business idea? Do you have skills you need to improve? Would you love an advocate to create with you a bigger vision for your business? Some small-business owners are filling these needs by hiring a business coach. Continue reading →

Disaster planning

Have you gotten used to the likelihood that when you get to the office tomorrow, your computer will turn on, your printer will print, the Internet will connect, and your building will still stand? Continue reading →

E-mail marketing

When the Internet and e-mail came together for marketers in the late 1990s, it seemed like one of those classic marriages, like popcorn and movies or peanut butter and chocolate. Unfortunately, we all know what happened next.
Legitimate marketers found themselves overwhelmed by hucksters unleashing a flood of junk e-mail inviting people to (with apologies to this magazine) ?upsize? various body parts. Spam undercut the effectiveness of e-mail marketing and triggered a crackdown by the federal government.
The CAN SPAM Act, which took effect on January 1of this year, was ostensibly designed to stem the tide of fraudulent e-mail.
Most of us today would look in our e-mail inboxes and conclude that the law didn?t do much to discourage spam. Nonetheless, traditional marketers are paying the price. E-mail can still be an effective marketing tool, but there are now significant new requirements before clicking ?send.? Continue reading →


Today the broad reach of the Internet and the increasing number of foreign visitors at even the smallest trade show make it easier than ever for a company of any size and budget to promote their products to hundreds or thousands of prospective international customers. Continue reading →


If you are a typical entrepreneur, your largest investment is your business. Continue reading →

Health plans

When 15 percent of employees are driving 85 percent of a company's health care costs higher, how can business owners provide a benefit that all employees will view as beneficial? Continue reading →


Ready for change? It's inevitable, but you have a choice about how you respond. Continue reading →


As the famous 'Cheers' theme song goes: You want to go where everybody knows your name. It?s true. We like familiarity. Yet nearly every growing organization will experience an awareness crisis during its lifetime. If you?ve ever heard a frustrated sales rep return from a new-business pitch screaming, "Nobody knows who we are!" you know exactly what I?m talking about. Continue reading →

Mergers: Part one

You met each other over drinks at a party some time ago. After lots more dates, you both think you are ready for that next big step: a merger.
Business mergers are very similar to marriages due to the necessity of blending lifestyles, cultures, methods of handling money, customers and employees. Unlike a marriage however, business owners can select a number of different options for combining their businesses. Continue reading →

Mergers: Part two

A number of years ago, the phrase "don't ask, don't tell" achieved some unfortunate attention. Whatever your thoughts on that particular context, this phrase should never be part of your vocabulary when talking about business financing transactions, including mergers and acquisitions. Continue reading →


Running a business is like the game of Risk. It requires strategic investment of your revenue, smart resources to grow, and a keen eye on the business operations to maintain the company?s direction.
Particularly with a young enterprise, it is difficult to know where to invest in the company when everything needs attention. This is risky business, especially when it involves increasing staff. It is just as important to know how to ride out the peaks and valleys of growth and pull back when necessary. Continue reading →


Remember the adage, "Don't judge a book by its cover?" The wisdom in that chestnut is especially salient when it comes to teaming up with clients to pursue your marketing goals. Continue reading →


Is your business 'toolbox' overflowing with crucial instruments for success, including a strategic plan, the latest technology, a list of prospects? Like many companies, you may be missing one important power tool, which could be the key to protecting and building market share. That power tool is the patent. Continue reading →

Personal finance

Business owners take on many extras during their careers - extra decisions, extra responsibilities, extra aggravations, extra hours. All the blood, sweat, tears and money isn't just to create more flexibility and independence. Your business is supposed to bring extra wealth, too. Continue reading →

Public relations

Are you looking for fresh ways to grow your business? Are you looking for clever ways to reach your customers without pilfering your budget? Continue reading →

Real estate

The layoffs that followed the bursting of the tech bubble and the subsequent economic recession led many people to join the ranks of home-based business entrepreneurs.
Mail-order ventures, consultancy firms and numerous other start-up companies began to take shape out of the spare rooms, home offices and basements throughout the Twin Cities. Continue reading →


Pacifier, a new boutique specializing in baby gifts in northeast Minneapolis, was born shortly after Quyen Tran?s first niece.
After struggling to find a unique baby gift for her niece, Tran did some research and learned that the Twin Cities had few specialty baby shops. She also attended a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan seminar on starting a small business. She opened her trendy Old St. Anthony boutique in March. Continue reading →


?This is driving me crazy,? an owner recently told me. ?Ever since the terror attacks and war in Iraq our business has really taken a hit. The economy is so sluggish that it has really caused a significant decline in our business.?
?I?m really feeling the squeeze,? a manager from a different organization confided. ?The competition is tougher than ever and we are really feeling the margin pressure.?
?Getting an appointment to see a decision maker has never been so difficult,? this salesperson shared. ?They hide behind voice mail and e-mail and most of them won?t return a phone call.?
Sound familiar? These are just some of the reasons I?ve heard lately from sales and marketing professionals, managers and business owners for flat or poor business results in recent months. Continue reading →


If your firm is like mine, your small company works with a number of much larger companies.
Some of your customers are publicly traded or even Fortune 500. These customers have regulatory and compliance issues that do not and may never apply to your firm. Their responsibilities to protect information and affirm its accuracy have grown, recently. Continue reading →