June – July 2006

Cover Story

Case study: Making acquisitions

When Will Stewart graduated from college he became a real estate broker, selling commercial properties and making a decent living. He left that business nearly two decades ago to sell hoses and work with his father.

While it might not have the appeal of real estate, he has grown through the ranks, working nearly every job the company offers. President since 2002, he bought St. Paul-based MFC Innovative Solutions from his Dad in 2004 and is now stepping up the growth rate. Continue reading →

Letter From the Editor


Today?s advice for business owners: be quiet and listen. You might learn something to improve your company.

Have you ever noticed how hard it is to take advice? I see this most clearly when I facilitate workshops that bring business owners and expert advisers together. I?ve convened more than 50 of these over the years, in one form or another. Continue reading →


Case study: Retail vs. wholesale

When Jodi Braun launched For Goodness Cakes in 2002, she was baking dozens of gourmet cakes out of her Eagan kitchen in what she calls a ?rickety old oven.?

?There were days when I had my counters covered with pans. It was crazy,? says Braun, adding that she baked about 200 cakes in her first few months in business.
Braun, now 50, also did all of the delivering, often driving to 12 houses a day.

She has come a long way from those start-up days. Today, she?s working with a big-name distributor, sells her cakes at Byerly?s, Lunds and Kowalski?s Market, recently landed a contract with Simon Delivers and is in price negotiations with several national retail chains. Continue reading →

Case study: Managing employees

Margaret McDonald had held top marketing positions with several companies before deciding to put her MBA to work for her own enterprise.
Abandoning the board room in favor of her favorite room ? the kitchen ? she opened Let?s Cook, a cookware store plus cooking classroom in Northeast Minneapolis in October 2004.

In the process, she tossed out the gospel preached by some of her business profs. She chose to staff her enterprise in an egalitarian fashion, drawing on her earlier degree in social work. Those choices have proved to be successful. Continue reading →

Business Builders

Are you ready for private equity? Here’s how to tell.

"You're buying an...airplane?!"

This was my partner's shocked response when a business owner informed him that he was using precious capital to buy an asset that flies.

Our firm was considering an investment in his business, which had attractive growth characteristics and needed capital to expand. Our negotiations ended abruptly when we discovered that our investment may be used to fund an asset with a questionable return on investment. Continue reading →

Delegate responsibility, not just workload, to build business

A lot has been made of the success of companies such as Google and Yahoo, high-tech companies built by gifted founders who created major brands and record sales. Few people realize, however, that perhaps the key reason for their success had nothing to do with technology or their ability to gain significant market share. Continue reading →


Most commercial Web sites can be divided into two types: sales-driven (e-commerce) or informational. For organizations using e-commerce to sell products through their Web site, success is measured in dollars and cents. For the others, calculating success is not as simple. Continue reading →

Looking for gaps is key to creating business ideas

Entrepreneurship enjoys favorable status in the higher education system, from single classes to full-blown graduate degree programs. Continue reading →

Ten important questions deserve annual attention

Small-business owners don't have the luxury of a large staff to prepare complex business analysis and planning strategies, but they can still benefit from conducting an annual business checkup. Continue reading →

How to calculate opportunity cost to make decisions

When a company is in its start-up phase, it is easy to get the financial and product development arms of the business to agree on how resources are spent. There is no cash flow from existing products and services; everything is opportunity cost. Continue reading →

Top 10 PR tips to help build your small business

These days the media play a much larger role in our lives than they did in Abraham Lincoln's time. The need to gain public sentiment, however, has not changed - causing public relations to be more important than ever. Continue reading →

How to keep your ‘secret sauce’ secret

The formula for Coca-Cola is often described as the world's most famous trade secret. Famous or not, trade secrets are valuable assets for many successful companies. Continue reading →

Don’t let the ‘bad nerds’ hijack your site

As soon as you started your company and booted up your first computer, information security issues began to intrude. Continue reading →

Weigh both sides before including arbitration clause

Many business owners view arbitration as a magic bullet to help reduce the costs, risks and time necessary to solve their legal disputes, and so mandatory arbitration clauses are now routinely included in many contracts.

Although arbitration can provide significant benefits, it also has some drawbacks. To intelligently decide whether to arbitrate legal disputes in a particular setting, decision-makers should be aware of the pros and cons. Continue reading →


The best way to avoid losses from nonpaying accounts is to stay focused on keeping your customers current. According to the Business Owner Newsletter, if one of your accounts falls past due by more than 180 days, you will lose 33 percent of the dollars owed. So how can you minimize delinquencies? Continue reading →

Customer relations

Is your Web site a winner or a loser? If it's a winner, you probably already know why. But if it's a loser, you may be unaware of the problems that prevent it from drawing in customers. Continue reading →

To compete in global economy, move up food chain

Worried about the effects of global outsourcing, or offshoring, on your business? You're not alone. Continue reading →

Businesses must now notify customers of possible identity thefts

In 2005, at least 130 companies reported that their data security systems had been breached, and the personal information of 55 million Americans was stolen or improperly disclosed, according to USA Today and other sources. Continue reading →

How to fashion workforce to match big, wide world

The globalization of business and the changing demographics of the U.S. population are well-documented phenomena. Continue reading →

Plan structure of company with maturity in mind

When you think about the choices related to the organizational structure of your business, you should consider many issues and trade-offs. Continue reading →

Seven Uncommon Sources of Capital

We think outside the box for our marketing, how we promote our business and how to energize our employees and management. But when it comes to financing our business, we tend to only think of traditional methods. Continue reading →

Health insurance

Health insurance is one of a company's greatest expenses, but to stay competitive, even small companies are pressured by the marketplace to offer some type of coverage. Continue reading →

Cover basics before hiring first employee

It's an exciting time when you're ready to add that new employee to your company, yet it can be nerve-wracking if you do not plan well. Continue reading →

How young firms can avoid top 10 IP mistakes

CEOs of growing companies have many things to worry about. Courting investors, recruiting top engineering and sales talent, shepherding product development, overseeing manufacturing operations, and disentangling supply chains are all in a day's work. Continue reading →