November 2002

Letter From the Editor


If I followed right away all the business-building advice in this special edition of Upsize Minnesota, I?d either be exhausted or the editor of Upsize Universe.

There?s a lot here: tips on building bigger and more profitable companies from 27 local experts and four savvy CEOs. That?s why I recommend you take the advice as you need it throughout the coming year. This is an annual publication, the Upsize Business Builder, meant to be a year-round resource for small-business owners and top managers. Continue reading →

Business Builders

The benchmarking process

EVERY COMPANY HITS a brick wall once in awhile, that discouraging lull in business you just can?t seem to get over.

Maybe it?s the economy. Changing market dynamics. Or new technologies reshaping old ways of doing business. Whatever the reasons holding your business back, when you find yourself up against a brick wall, don?t keep pounding your head against it. Get a ladder. Continue reading →

How to protect assets

IN TODAY?S WORLD, anything that is ?off balance sheet? is immediately the object of suspicion. But many of your most valuable assets probably don?t show up in your financial accounting. In fact, you might not even hold title to what can broadly be described as a key business asset. Continue reading →

Choosing a banker

WHETHER YOU?VE JUST started your business or are looking for a new partner to meet your growing financial needs, the key to any successful partnership is a solid banking relationship. Strong relationships help to build powerful businesses by covering all financial aspects of your organization. Continue reading →

Slowdowns require sharp eye on the balance sheet

ENTREPRENEURS TEND TO get preoccupied with sales growth figures and operating expenses, if not with vision and stamina and other more dramatic business subjects.

But cash flow needs careful management, especially in tough economic times, and so do three major balance sheet components: accounts receivable, accounts payable and inventory. Continue reading →

Identifying brand promise

Companies that don't take the time to identify their brand promise, or figure out "where they're going," tend to throw a lot of money at random, incohesive marketing activities. Continue reading →

How to choose the right PR agency, the first time

EVERY WEEK in Minnesota, at least one company like yours engages in a business ritual that can be as chaotic as the running of the bulls in Pamplona. They are selecting a public relations agency.

The success of recent PR campaigns for Apple?s iPod and iMac, Viagra, the Palm Pilot, M&M candies, Nintendo videogames, the Wonderbra and Crayola crayons, has reminded companies of the astonishing sales impact a public relations agency can offer. Continue reading →

Protecting business secrets, on both sides of hiring coin

IT?S A FACT OF LIFE that emerging businesses must face: noncompete agreements and confidential information. How do you keep wellintended but ambitious employees from taking the knowledge, expertise, employees and possibly trade secrets that you?ve used to build your business and hand them over to a competitor? Continue reading →

Asset-based loans tap value of firm’s inventory, AR

ANY SKILLED BUILDER has more than one tool in the toolbox. As the architect and builder of your company?s future, you too should employ a variety of tools to finance your organization?s growth.

In addition to traditional loans and lines of credit, many savvy company owners are adding asset-based lending to their financial toolboxes. An asset-based loan is a revolving line of credit, based on the receivables or the inventory of a business. Asset-based lending can enhance the cash flow and increase the liquidity of a small or medium-sized business. Continue reading →

To be successful, attack common “big five” fears

RECENTLY I PARTICIPATED in a Minneapolis venture capital group analysis of a prospective business owner. The owner had prepared an extensive business plan for a proposed manufacturing business.

After the presentation and a review of the plan, funding was denied. Why? Because the venture group felt the owner would only do what he wanted to do rather than what was necessary to start and grow a business. Continue reading →


THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN success and failure for an emerging business often is the availability of enough capital to build infrastructure, fund research and development, and advertise the company?s products or services.

An underfunded new venture will, at worst, fail, and at best will be forced to rely on bootstrapping (funding operations from self-generated profits and cash flow). While bootstrapping is certainly a romantic notion, it is also likely to delay or prevent the growth of the business. Continue reading →

What officers and directors owe to private companies

LEADERS OF PUBLICLY held companies are looking over their shoulders these days. In the wake of recent accounting scandals, regulators and shareholders are asking why the board and senior managers were asleep at the switch.

But if you?re an officer or director of a private company, such as a founder or venture capitalist, you?re safe, right? Not necessarily. Although the focus in recent months has been on public companies, officers and directors of private companies also must understand their legal duties to the company and its shareholders ? and act accordingly. Continue reading →

How to motivate 90 percent — and excise the rest

EXCESSIVE TURNOVER is typically the clue. That?s the tip-off that usually generates a call from a company or nonprofit for outside HR assistance. It?s the kind of call I received from an established restaurant chain, which was concerned about its high rate of management turnover.

Upon closer examination, I found that the restaurant managers didn?t provide corrective performance reviews consistently because they were uncomfortable with these skills, and they felt they did not have clear objectives set for themselves. These two issues frustrated them, and one way they dealt with this was to quit. We prescribed some training, clearer performance review processes and procedures, and management coaching, as well as other forms of human resources assistance. Continue reading →

How to get free advice from your banker (really)

ONE OF THE MOST valuable things a company can get is the right advice at the right time. With that in mind, businesses that want to get the most out of every dollar spent should acquaint themselves with the advice and consultation services their banker can provide.

Bankers are in a good position to serve as consultants because they deal with a number of diverse companies who face similar problems. As a business, your marginal cost for this advice is zero, because the price is included in any fees and interest you are already paying your bank. Continue reading →

Cultivating the press takes time, attention

JUST LIKE A FABULOUS garden attracts positive attention for its owner, a solid program of press relations can enhance your company?s reputation, improve employee recruitment and reassure clients and potential clients that you?re a strong company worthy of their business.

Here?s a step-by- step plan to ensure positive results for your publicity efforts.
Continue reading →

To increase visibility, try many PR tactics

ARE YOU SHY? Well, you can?t afford to be if you want to get your company noticed.

Small businesses can try a variety of tactics to gain visibility in the marketplace and stand apart from competitors. But before jumping in, there is an important and often overlooked component to building a successful marketing communications program. Continue reading →

Time equals leverage in lease negotiations

?MY LEASE ISN?T UP for another six months. I have plenty of time, don?t I?? The answer is, ?Not really.?

Although each real estate transaction is unique in some way, most follow the same basic steps. Typically, commercial leases take about six to nine months from start to finish ? larger projects take longer. Continue reading →

In business as in life, it takes a plan to find a partner

IT?S NOVEMBER. Time to get your strategic plan in place for 2003. You know the drill ? goals, objectives, strategies, measurement tools, timeline and budget ? all of which, in time, leads to the realization of your mission statement.

Although the process can feel like an annual pain in the neck, you wouldn?t dream of running your business without a plan to guide your team toward success. You wouldn?t even be taken seriously. But what if your mission is finding a mate? Suddenly, it seems, planning goes out the window. ?It?ll happen,? you tell yourself, ?when the time is right.? Continue reading →

How to plan for the worst case scenario

A YEAR OF WILDFIRES, corporate scandal, war and a terrorist attack has left an indelible mark on the U.S. economy. Many companies have reacted by placing a renewed emphasis on business risk management, and specifically, disaster recovery and business continuity planning.

Faced with rising exposure to new risks and declining tolerance for disruptions to operations, business owners have been evaluating their capabilities to respond to crises and mitigate future risk. These leaders embrace the moral imperative to protect their people, and they understand that the ability to con- tinuously perform and satisfy customers is fundamental to sustaining competitive advantage in the 21st century. Continue reading →

Planning your company’s future, without you

TO TACKLE SUCCESSION planning, small-business owners need to confront assumptions that keep them from taking action. Three critical assumptions can cause owners to miss the boat in succession planning. You may discover that one or more of these apply to you and your business. Continue reading →

How to keep more of the things you’re working for

AS TIME TICKS DOWN on 2002, now is a good time to review tax and other financial matters related to your business. There are two financial issues to take care of by the time the clock strikes midnight on December 31: Have you taken advantage of the tax opportunities that exist for you and your business?

Are the benefit programs that you have put in place for you and your employees the right ones for the business that you have now, given that it might be different from the business you had when the plans were put in place? Continue reading →

When buying technology, keep it simple and real

THERE IS NO WAY around it, growing companies face increasing technology budgets.

Many forces act to continually press communications and computing charges upward. You need to exchange information with your customers and suppliers ? and they are upgrading. You are continually hiring from a younger workforce and they want to work with the newest equipment. Your older equipment needs repair and you find that parts are no longer available. You have more people and you need more stuff. Continue reading →


WONDERING IF THERE'S a silver lining to the current economic slowdown? How about the extra available time for training employees? Continue reading →

Six ways to check out a telecom company

TODAY, THE TELECOM industry is full of options, but how do you know which option is right for your business?

There are companies of all shapes and sizes making promises of better service and greater choices. And in the midst of industry turmoil with bankruptcies and accounting scandals, how do you really know which provider will be around to serve you as your business grows? Continue reading →

How to bet your business on the Internet, and win

AT THIS STAGE of the cyberspace business, you might be wondering if it?s worth betting your company on the Internet. Consider this: Over 150 million Americans have access to the Web, and in some industries ? such as travel and car sales ? over 70 percent of all transactions are influenced by the Web.

As with most business opportunities, if you don?t move on it, someone else will. Be the first one on the Internet with your unique product, message and service territory, and it?s pretty tough for someone else to come along and knock you off.
Continue reading →