Artificial grass

A mat which simulates grass and is designed to be used as a teeing-up mat for use in golf training has been developed by Swedish inventors Jan Lindblad and Bo-Roland Olofzon. The mat has been designed to be durable, but also to provide a surface with the general feeling of grass.

When playing golf the club head often penetrates the ground surface to some extent when striking the ball. When this occurs some grass and earth may be dislodged and this divot has to be replaced after the stroke. This permits the surface to heal and it also should prevent permanent damage being done. In the proposed mat the pile yarns are securely anchored to the backing fabric. As the ball is struck part of the pile is pulled from the mat by the club and after some use there is a tendency for the pile to become sparse and for the mat to wear out. One objective of artificial surfaces is to improve durability and strengthen the anchorage of pile to backing. However, as the pile becomes stronger the characteristics of the mat become poorer in terms of play and the similarity with grass diminishes. The inventors argue that in designing teeing-up mats the manufacturers have tended to ignore that grass essentially comprises two layers. The upper layer has relatively soft blades of grass. Beneath this there is a layer comprising earth and grass roots which are harder than the upper surface, but not sufficiently hard to prevent the golf club from penetrating to some extent. Often the bottom of the mat is drenched with a plastic or rubbery compound which serves to protect the pile fibres from being pulled out when struck by the club. The deeper this layer is the further up the pile will it extend and so the harder the mat will become. In the construction proposed (Figure 2) the mat (1) consists of a ground or backing fabric (2) with a pile (3) which is combined with the backing. This pile projects upwards from the backing. The mat is drenched with natural or synthetic rubber which binds the pile in place. The backing fabric is woven, having warp (4) and weft (5) ends and through these the pile is interwoven. The pile consists of alternating rows of cut and loop pile yarns. However, there are two pile heights, one being longer cut (6) while the lower, loop pile (7) provides support for the projecting longer pile. This means that the longer cut pile will be comparatively sparse, while that below is much denser.

This construction is said to behave much like natural grass, while the sub-structure resembles ground or earth. The impact of a club will be more effectively absorbed by this denser mass. The longer pile offers less resistance to the club during a stroke and the lower resistance is said to lessen the force of impact on the binder layer that holds the pile to the ground fabric. This mat can be used for sports other than golf, including pitch-and-putt courses, minigolf and indoor hockey.

Asian Technology

You don’t have to be a Net junkie to figure out where to go when you need to find a site on the World Wide Web: Google should be enough to satisfy most people’s searching needs. Search engines are conducting a search all their own. SEO companies Phoenix are working hard to grab competitive advantages by delivering to users the perfect query result. But what if you want to find something from the Guangzhou Daily or the fan club of Japanese teen idol Masahiro Nakai? A growing number of Asian-language search engines, mostly Japanese and Chinese, allow searches for sites that are hard to find with English only search engines.

(Displaying and working with Japanese or Chinese on your computer requires special software. Computer users who just want to surf can add Chinese or Japanese capabilities to most browsers through simple add-on programs downloaded from the Web.)

Yahoo! Japan, a joint venture between Yahoo! and Softbank, was officially launched in April. Though it models itself after the English-language Yahoo! in page design and subject categorization, the Japanese search engine has listings developed solely in Japan. The site is visited by an average of 1.6 million Internet surfers a day, says Makoto Arima, sales and marketing director of Yahoo! Japan.

There are more than a dozen Japan-based search engines, run mostly by large corporations such as Nippon Telegraph & Telephone, Sony, NEC and Fujitsu. Searches on these search engines can be done in either hiragana, a phonetic Japanese script, or kanji characters. A search for “sushi” in hiragana found seven matches on Yahoo! Japan, 13 on NTT’s InfoBee, 292 on NEC’s Net Plaza and 1,727 on Fujitsu’s InfoNavigator. The same search in kanji brought up 33 matches on Yahoo! Japan, 33 on InfoBee, 20 on Net Plaza and 929 on InfoNavigator.

WhatSite!, a Taiwan-based search engine set up in June, claims to have one of the most comprehensive databases of Chinese-related sites, in both Chinese and English, from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and non-Chinese-speaking countries. Calling itself “the 21st century Chinese Internet catalog,” WhatSite! accepts searches in English and Big5 Chinese characters (Big5 is the most popular method in Taiwan and Hong Kong of displaying and using Chinese characters on a computer).

Users without the software to display Big5 characters can browse WhatSite! using images containing Chinese characters and do searches by clicking on a specific subject displayed on the image.

Surfers using GB Chinese characters, the most popular format on the mainland, can point their Web browser to Richina Search Engine, run by software company Stone Rich Sight in Beijing. Searches can be done in Chinese in GB characters or in English.

In Hong Kong, search engines such as Hong Kong University of Science and Technology’s Index Server support searches in English, GB Chinese and Big5 Chinese. A search of the English word “revolution” on Index Server brought back 26 results while the same search on Richina yielded two results and WhatSite! scored three. And yes, politics does play a part. A search for “the Dalai Lama” found one entry on WhatSite!, three on Index Server and — not surprisingly -none on Richina.

WhatSite!, Richina and Index Server maintain separate directories for English entries and Chinese entries. When you type in a search statement in English, you only get English-language results in return. However, WhatSite! and Richina will give you English results along with Chinese results when you type in a search statement in Chinese.

Yahoo! Japan, possibly the most commercially aggressive of the Asian-language search engines, accepts so-called banner ads on its pages. Advertisers, now totaling 60, range from computer companies to auto makers to consumer-goods manufacturers.

Jacky Hung, staff engineer at WhatSite!, says his company is considering accepting advertising. Mr. Li says Stone Rich Sight is using Richina as an advertising tool for its own software products and doesn’t have any plans to solicit paid advertising.

Sign-making systems

The three modules together made a complete package for creating and printing signs on ink-jet printers, screen printing systems, vinyl cutters and plotters. The main news was an effort to expand its business by restructuring it into two products. One has the complete facilities for creating signs and printing them. The other, called a “RIP and print” system, does just that.

It rasterizes and outputs jobs already composed. Those two products are:

* PhotoPrint, which includes software for importing, rasterizing and printing jobs, as well as setting them up and managing the job.

* PhotoPrint Designer, which includes all of those capabilities plus software for creating signs.  A Windows version was scheduled to be available early in September and Mac version 30 days later.

Functions. PhotoPrint Designer has a lot of the functionality of other graphics packages on the market: autotracing like Corel Draw, Color Fill like Scitex and a variety of features from Photoshop. It will support importing or scanning images, creating text and special effects, performing image manipulation, gradation changes, layout of the elements of the sign, and rasterizing and printing. While we didn’t get a good demonstration, we did read the manuals, where we found some interesting features that may make it worth looking at as a dedicated sign maker. Some other examples:

* Text is always editable, even after effects have been applied. It is very easy to create outline text of user-specified widths. It is very easy to create and manipulate text on an arc, to employ other distortion features and to create perspective shadows.

* Gradients are easy to create and can be saved for future use.

* After creating a design that suits one need, the user can convert that design into a format to be used later to create another, similar object - the old “compose from model” feature that dominated the display ad market years ago.

* It supports some non-Roman languages that aren’t easy to compose, including Chinese, Japanese, Arabic and Korean.

* Patterns can be made into fill elements and the substrate color can be adjusted.

None of these features is unique, but they do offer a single package with a single user interface to learn. And if you want special effects for the sign market, you can look at vinyl sign supplies from DiscountSignSupplies.com.

Plan early for a smooth move

If you’re in the market to buy, sell or rent a home, that means you’ll soon be in the throes of moving. Yes, it can be a stressful, cranky ordeal. But the sooner you start the process, the smoother it will go.

“Moving always is way up there on the high-stress scale, along with death, marriage and changing jobs,” said Jill Moritz, general manager of Gazda-Mayflower Transit, Coon Rapids. “Planning ahead can help reduce the stress.”

Moving comes at a time - wouldn’t you know it? - when there are so many things to do at once: Attend goodbye parties, pick out wallpaper for the new home, perhaps plan for different schools for children, prepare the kids for the move, find new churches, doctors, whatever. Not to mention your job and trying to maintain some sort of “normal” life.

Moritz said a local move of a three-bedroom home all packed and ready to go could cost anywhere from $550 to several thousand dollars, depending on whether any special services are needed, who does the packing and how many hours it takes. Long-distance moves cost $2,000 to $10,000 or more, again depending on how far away the move is, who packs, what insurance is added, whether there are stairs, elevators or special services added, and how many trucks are needed.

Whether you’re moving across the street, across town or across the country, you’ll have a lot of work to do.

Downsize

Get rid of junk and extra stuff you’ve been saving but haven’t used for years; clothing, toys and sports equipment you no longer use; books you don’t care about.

“We’ve had people show us boxes in their garage that have been moved two or three times before and haven’t even been opened in years,” said Laura Langer, marketing manager at Barrett Moving in Eden Prairie, an agent for United Van Lines. “Moving that stuff costs money. There’s a lot to think about before a move, and there’s a lot of pressure to get a lot of things done. But if you can get rid of stuff you’ll never use again, you’ll save money, and it may be a lot more pleasurable when you move in, not having to find a place for all that stuff.” Bob Rarey, a Gazda-Mayflower salesman who has been involved in the moving business for 35 years, said he’s seen a lot of things moved - often the more expensive things - at the behest of a corporation that is transferring the client.

“For one family, I think we’ve moved them - and their pet rock - about eight times. That rock is really something, granite, I think, about a foot thick, 3 feet wide, about 500 or 600 pounds,” he said. “Shows we can move just about anything.”

Except plants, which most movers won’t take, except for short distances, so you may have to give them away, or find a florist to ship them for you. You’ll also have to make other arrangements for animals, from gerbils to horses. And you can’t move anything explosive, including aerosol cans, or flammable, including paints.

Choosing the movers

Now it’s time to decide how your move will be accomplished. Will you move yourself, get some friends to help you or hire glendale az movers? Decide fairly early so you can line up the appropriate equipment, friends or moving company to do the job.

Summer is the busiest moving time, so planning then is especially critical. Will friends be there when you need to move? If your friends are beyond their 20s, they may be less eager and able to help than they used to be.

If you decide to hire a truck or a moving company, you can arrange that as little as two weeks before your move. But you’re likelier to make better decisions and have a better choice of timing and equipment if you shop several weeks early.

If it’s professional movers you want, how do you know which company is best?

You can follow the usual consumer-prescribed route: Ask friends, relatives and coworkers for recommendations of moving companies. Then call two to five movers for estimates; they should send an estimator to your home unless you know exactly what is going and how many pounds all your stuff weighs.

Some guidelines for buying central air conditioning

Choose the right size of system for your home.

Here is a guideline: If your house is 1,000-1,500 square feet you need a 1 1/2-ton system. A house measuring 1,500-2,000 sq. ft. needs a two-ton system; a 2,000-2,500 sq. ft. house needs a 2 1/2-ton system, and a 2,500-3,000 sq. ft. house requires a three-ton system.

The unit “ton” originated many years ago and is based on the amount of ice required to achieve the required cooling.

Your contractor will make the proper recommendation during the site inspection.

Choose a unit that is quiet.

Certain brands are substantially quieter than others and you don’t want an angry neighbor calling to complain about the noise. Features to look for which contribute to quieter operation are:

* A two-speed fan on the outdoor section, with high speed only being used during exceptionally hot periods (e.g. automatic switchover above 90F/32C.)

* A large diameter fan on the outdoor unit to efficiently expel heat at lower RPMs (revolutions per minute).

* A separate insulated compartment, for the compressor, to reduce compressor noise.

Most manufacturers display sound rating data, measured in BELS on their product brochures. A value of 7.6 BELS has been set as an Ontario performance standard. These BEL ratings can be used to compare one brand to another. A rating of 7.2 or lower is exceptionally quiet and above 7.8 is usually unacceptable to most municipalities. Proper location of the outdoor unit will also have a big affect on noise level. Avoid locating the unit between two houses less than 15 feet (4.6 metres) apart, avoid car ports, avoid alcoves where two brick walls meet at right angles. If the above locations cannot be avoided, a five foot (1.5 metre) high fence, solid wood or concrete, will reduce the sound transmitted to the neighbors.

Look for a rugged design.

There are a number of features which can contribute to long, reliable equipment life, and these are as follows:

* A factory refrigerant system installed with precharged lines and connect fittings. This type of system prevents leakage of refrigerant and prevents system contamination by water or dirt which may occur in systems which use soldered fittings.

* A low ambient cutout switch turns off the compressor when outdoor temperatures fall below 55F/13C. Central air conditioning can generally not be used at Thanksgiving or Christmas regardless of how hot it becomes inside. Accidental start up could significantly damage the equipment.

* To ensure that the outdoor unit remains attractive year after year, look for vinyl coated grilles, polyester paint and corrosion resistant screws.

Choose equipment that is easy to service.

If a unit is hard to work with, you’re eventually going to pay a serviceman for extra time. Some features which make central air conditioning phoenix easy to service include:

* Copper tubing, with aluminum fins, make it possible to repair damage which might have occurred. One hundred per cent aluminum systems are usually difficult to repair.

* A separate compressor section allows service, repair or replacement of the compressor without taking the entire unit apart.

Corporate simplification

The much-heralded Federal Government Corporate Law Simplification Act has been passed and cost savings will flow to small businesses. In essence, the Act streamlines statutory administration requirements and considerably reduces compliance costs.

Cuts can be more than 50 per cent of current costs, amounting to savings in legal and accounting fees for some small businesses of between $20,000 and $40,000 a year. In exceptional cases, savings would be higher.

What is now the Institute of Company Directors has been lobbying for almost 20 years for laws to cut red tape and the costs of operating small companies.

In the new legislation, proprietary companies will be classified as large and small. Passage of the Act was delayed by the need to clarify the criteria for these companies and the accounting and auditing requirements.

The definitions of small and large companies will be reviewed after two years, according to Ms Alexandra Kagis, senior associate, business law division at Corrs Chambers Westgarth.

A small company is defined as one not conforming to at least two of the following three criteria:

* Consolidated annual gross operating revenue of at least $10 million.

* Consolidated gross assets of at least $5 million at year-end.

* At least 50 employees.

A company classified as small will not have to prepare statutory accounts for the Australian Securities Commission, unless specifically directed to do so by the ASC or by its shareholders.

For small companies the Act axes the requirement for more than one shareholder and more than one director, and there will be no need to maintain shareholder, officer and equity registers, hold annual general meetings, or automatically file annual accounts with the ASC.

The director and shareholder can be the company secretary.

Ms Kagis explains that the Act is welcome because it addresses the problem that many of the obligations now imposed by the law on all companies are inappropriate for small businesses and out of touch with commercial reality.

One senior accountant says that changes can cut relevant annual accounting and legal bills up to $20,000 for each company, while the most common range of cost savings for accounting is between $3,000 and $12,000.

The legislation rewrites the rules for running small corporations. It puts direct control in the hands of owners, while removing some of the non-productive bookwork.

The company can be run, or sold, without board meetings, minute books or director, officer, and equity registers.

The annual general meeting, a mere formality in many small companies, is abolished - but records of company decisions must be kept.

The Attorney-General, Mr Michael Lavarch, expected the legislation to be passed before July 29 this year. It is now expected to be operational this December but is guaranteed to be proclaimed before April 17, 1996. As a result, accountancy savings will be available this financial year.

For large corporations, keeping and filing annual accounts - revealing current and non-current assets and liabilities, net assets, profit, and a schedule of shareholder equity - still applies. In most instances, accounts must be audited.

Small companies will not be obliged to keep these accounts, unless demanded by more than 5 per cent of shareholders or by the ASC.

Now the caveats. Changes in statutory accounting requirements should not encourage companies to act imprudently and dispense with record-keeping altogether. Budgets should still be prepared and meaningful financial records maintained.

A form of accounts should be kept to aid cash flow control, record company development (or lack of it), and provide an accurate financial history that can throw light on business problems and opportunities.

Proper company accounts are also needed as a basis of tax returns and to answer any Tax Office queries.

These accounts also assist in making loan applications, in supporting an asking price when trying to sell the company, or in demonstrating to a potential venture partner the company’s sound track record.

“Serious thought should be given to incorporating, regardless of the new law. It costs $1,090 to buy a shelf company package from us. There are additional Small Business Book Keeping costs if more legal advice is needed to establish the company,” Ms Kagis said.

“Corporate limited liability is rather illusory these days. People need to satisfy themselves that a company structure is the best for the activities of their business,” she says.

The ASC can demand filing of full accounts from a small company, but as yet the how, when and why of these demands are still not known.

What is known is that the ASC has full discretion on what it can demand from a company and there is no clarity on the status of a company that moves from small to large size during the course of its activities.

However, the ASC is influenced in its decision-making on company account requirements by the number of creditors and potential creditors the company has, and its liabilities.

The Act is Stage 1 of a three-pronged assault on the complexity and quantity of company law.

Stages 2 and 3 are of more concern to large corporations. These cover financial reporting to shareholders, defunct companies, accounts and audits, share capital, company formation, fund raising, takeovers, company officers and related party transactions. The objective is to make the legislation more understandable and cheaper for all to observe.

WHAT CHANGES MEAN FOR SMALL FIRMS

* No need to prepare accounts for ASC, but accounts must still be kept for tax.

* One person can be director and shareholder as well as company secretary.

* No need for annual general meetings, though records must be kept of company decisions.

* No need for company registers to be kept.

Choosing the right lawyer can make a big difference

Karen Mayo says her bankruptcy attorney saved her life. Phil Flom says his bankruptcy lawyers ruined his.

It’s been about 10 years since Mayo and Flom went through what sometimes is called “straight bankruptcy” - freeing themselves of debt under Chapter 7, or liquidation, of federal bankruptcy laws. Both had been fairly comfortable financially before being forced into bankruptcy by unforeseen circumstances. Both say they have managed to rebuild their finances somewhat since then, although each says it’s been a painstakingly slow process.

And both say their relationships with their attorneys - Mayo’s good, Flom’s bad - set the tone for how their bankruptcy cases unfolded.

phoenix bankruptcy lawyers and trustees say the biggest mistake people make in hiring a lawyer is failing to clearly understand what they’re getting for their money. Most people wouldn’t dream of buying a house without knowing whether the price includes the washer, dryer, range and refrigerator. They wouldn’t rent an apartment without asking who picks up the tab for the heating bill.

Yet it’s not uncommon for people to assume that the fees they pay to a bankruptcy attorney cover not only the basics of filing petitions, completing schedules and appearing at creditors’ meetings and in court, but also other services such as financial counseling and fighting mortgage foreclosures.

Ian Ball, a Twin Cities bankruptcy attorney, says that in his line of work he has “clients for life” because of problems that can arise even after an individual’s bankruptcy plan is confirmed in court. He says he explains to potential clients that they can be billed for things that come up after their bankruptcy plans are confirmed, although that is negotiable because he understands they may be financially strapped.

That’s particularly true for Chapter 13 of federal bankruptcy laws, under which individuals can work out a plan to repay their creditors over an extended period of time.

Stephen Creasey, an attorney who works with the state’s Chapter 13 trustee office, offers this example of how people can be hurt if they don’t clearly understand what services they’re buying from their attorneys: Assume a debtor files and gets court approval for a repayment plan, then falls behind on mortgage payments a couple of years later. The mortgage company tells him it’s going to foreclose, and in a panic, the debtor calls up his bankruptcy attorney assuming that the attorney can iron out the problems.

The attorney may be able to straighten things out, Creasey explains, but it’s going to cost the client extra. The client is furious, figuring the original fee covered any problem that would ever surface connected with repayment of debts.

“It’s very important that an attorney and client have a very clear understanding of what’s covered by the fees, and how accessible that attorney will be to handle things that may come up over time,” Creasey said.

Bad advice

Flom says one of the biggest problems with the first attorney he hired (he later fired him and hired someone else) was getting advice on how best to protect assets he had accumulated, especially a Red River Valley farm that had been in his family for more than 100 years.

Flom, who has always been self-employed, had found himself in financial trouble because he was behind on mortgage payments on his home in the Twin Cities. Those problems were a result of tax liens related to a dispute Flom had with the Internal Revenue Service. An acquaintance referred him to a tax attorney, who suggested that Flom file bankruptcy.

Because Flom owned a small business, the attorney advised him to file for bankruptcy under Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy code. The attorney, who didn’t specialize in bankruptcy law, may not have known that because Flom was self- employed, he could have filed for Chapter 13. Flom said he later was told that if he’d filed for Chapter 13, he might have had a better chance of keeping his farm. As it was, his case dragged on for four years and eventually was converted by the second attorney, who also didn’t specialize in bankruptcy, to a Chapter 7 liquidation. The farm was sold for $75,000, far less than its $200,000 market value.

Flom acknowledges that he probably was somewhat naive in choosing his attorneys. He says he assumed that if they were lawyers “they knew the law.” He advises anyone facing bankruptcy to hire an attorney with a proven track record in bankruptcy practice, someone who regularly works with the intricacies of the bankruptcy code.

“There’s nothing wrong with coming right out and asking an attorney how many {bankruptcy} cases he has done, if he does them occasionally or if he specializes,” Creasey says. In addition, Creasey says, people should ask how much experience an attorney has with particular types of debt problems, be they tax arrears, mortgages or credit card debt.

Shopping for a lawyer

Molly Shields, a Twin Cities attorney who also is a Chapter 7 trustee, says competition among lawyers for clients currently means that some people can “shop for price.” But she cautioned that it’s better to do that if you have an uncomplicated case. It may be worth it to pay more in fees to get the right lawyer to handle a complicated case.

Karen Mayo’s Chapter 7 filing was a reasonably straightforward case, but she credits her attorney for making it much easier for her. Mayo, who now works as a residential services coordinator at a senior citizens’ development, had just earned a teaching degree but didn’t have a steady job when her husband left her about 10 years ago. She was left with thousands of dollars in medical bills he had accumulated, plus the expenses of raising four children.

“I paid the people who screamed the loudest” - the health care providers, Mayo said. That left her with little money for other things, such as clothes for her kids, and as a result her credit card debt began to climb. In addition, she was still responsible for paying a student loan.

An acquaintance referred her to a family practice attorney who advised her to file for Chapter 7. It cost her $600, but it wiped the financial slate clean of everything but her student loan.

“What I remember the most is how much time he spent explaining the theory behind bankruptcy, how it was designed to give people a fresh start. He was extremely patient and kind, advising me on the importance of moving toward establishing a good credit rating once the bankruptcy was over,” she said.

Mayo said she’d advise people looking for a bankruptcy attorney to get a word-of-mouth referral. “I’d put more stock in that than any advertising,” she said.

Mayo’s good experience also shows how important it is to feel comfortable with your attorney. Ball says the right chemistry between clients and attorneys is essential to a good working relationship.

Flom can testify to that, too. Looking back, he says he should have known that things weren’t going well with the attorney he eventually fired.

“If the guy had been a doctor, you would say he had the bedside manner of a mortician,” Flom said. “There just was no relationship.”

Marketing services - always pushing, always slipping

I am one of several product managers at a software company. All of us use our in-house marketing services department. I have a lot of things that need to get done: press releases, ads, brochures and more. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to get anything out of marketing services. I am judged by the success of my product, and I can’t market or sell my product without these materials. It’s driving me crazy. I have no authority over marketing services, so all I can do is beg or badger them, which doesn’t work. Meanwhile, my market window is closing. What do you suggest?

A: I agree with you; you don’t have time for your projects to get stalled. Markets are moving so quickly now that market segments, and sometimes entire industries, spring up and die in as little as six months.

Based on my experiences with other companies, you are not alone. Many other product managers have the same problem. Sometimes their situation is so bad it becomes a running inside joke.

Often product managers with this problem just give up because the marketing services manager is one of the CEO’s favorites, or the marketing services department is perpetually understaffed. And many marketing managers refuse to admit that there’s a problem.

Surprisingly, when product managers mention their frustration to the CEO, they seldom communicate the severity of the situation because they don’t want to look like whiners or alarmists. And they don’t want to make the situation worse by getting on the bad side of the marketing person.

The secret to getting your materials produced is to identify the true source of the problem in marketing services. Armed with this information, you can either help the marketing services manager solve the problem directly or you can present your observations and specific suggestions to higher management. Whatever you do, be kind about it. Running marketing services is like being a waitress in a crowded restaurant; each patron only cares about his or her dinner, but the waitress has to serve all of the customers equally well.

We can’t guess what the real problem is in your marketing services department, but we can tell you what we usually find in other cases.

Problem 1: Poor processes

Many who are attracted to the email marketing services field are nice folks who want to help others. They are eager to please. They respond as best they can to the requests that come in, as they come in. But their pile gets bigger and bigger until they are completely overloaded.

They barely have time for a personal life, much less the time to change the way their department operates. All sorts of things are done inefficiently. For example, most companies advertise in a certain group of publications. Every time someone creates an ad for one of these publications, certain production specifications must be met. For some reason, no one ever thinks of storing the specifications, on paper or digitally, where everyone can access them. So each time an ad is created, someone has to go digging, or an incorrectly prepared ad has to be reworked, usually on deadline.

Process problems usually can be solved by setting up knowledge repositories, creating a scheduling and tracking system that works for everyone involved, organizing jobs as they flow through and setting up standard practices that are published and followed. Once the basic problems are addressed, you can begin to streamline the approval process, which can make a great difference in how swiftly a job moves through the organization.

Problem 2: Unclear communications

Product managers typically hand off a job by calling a meeting, describing what is needed, then giving the marketing services person a pile of background material. Relying on another person’s notes taken on your oral directions always results in miscommunication, especially as the job is handed from person to person during production. Take 15 extra minutes to write out what you want. Better yet, help create a standard form for all product managers that answers the important questions. Using this form will save you hours of work and days of delays.

Problem 3: Stalled in the CEO’s office

In some companies, jobs get hung up in the CEO’s office. If this is the case, you need to talk with your CEO. Perfection is becoming a dangerous luxury in today’s fast-moving markets. A picky or uncertain CEO has to understand that an ad that is “80% there” will pull a lot more than an unfinished ad that isn’t there at all.

Problem 4: Denial

People react a variety of ways when they are overwhelmed. Marketing people tend to go into denial. They do the best they can until they can’t take it anymore, and then they quit. Even a small amount of organization and prioritization can make things better.

None of this is easy, and you will surely step on a few toes as you find ways to help. But it’s better to step on a few toes than to have your product fail due to lack of marketing materials.

Local business owners offer tips on managing growth

The owners of four fastest growing businesses agree the main ingredients for successful growth involve three things: proper planting, a balance between work and personal life, and treating employees fairly.

Gary Johnson, founder and chief executive officer of Cardmember Publishing, said his company will earn $100 million in revenues on its seventh anniversary this year.

Johnson outlined five points he characterized as crucial to successful growth:

* A company should always have set aside a little venture capital to provide for those periods when business is slow. “Venture capital is the lifeblood of any business. Don’t run short, or the competitors will try to crush you.”

* A company is expected to make mistakes, hut a successful company “capitalizes” on them to improve the business.

* A business must hire good people, and then reward them specifically for taking risks, even when those risks may fail. Making employees wealthy will make the business owner wealthy, Johnson said, offering this as a successful alternative to “pigging everything for yourself.”

* Owners should hire employees who will challenge them. “I don’t want a bunch of ‘yes’ men following me around,” Johnson said. These employees are productive when treated fairly and allowed to participate in making important business decisions, he said. They also serve as a team of advisors who can help a company rise out of a down period.

All businesses need to invest in the latest technologies to stay on top. “In my experience, technologies will help a company grow,” he said.

Benson Zinbarg, president of Sun Hill Industries Inc., said he found success when major department store chains began placing large orders for the holiday decorations he was selling through mail order. “Big companies do pay attention to small-business owners working in their basements,” Zinbarg said.

Sunhill’s springboard to explosive growth, however, was the invention of lawn leaf bags with large pumpkin faces sold during the Halloween season–an instant hit with consumers. Walmart began placing orders for 100,000 lawn decoration bags at a time, Zinbarg said.

The idea or the bag came not from Sun Hill’s management team or from its advisors but rather from Sun Hill’s purchasing agent (who consequently was promoted to vice president of operations), Zinbarg said. “You must involve everyone in your company in all decisions from the receptionist on up.”

Catherine C. Candland, president of Advantage Staffing Services, agreed that employees should be invited to participate in strategic and tactical decisions. In addition to motivating employees to do a better job, the business owner also sets himself up for “an incredible idea flow,” Candland said.

In 13 years, Candland has grown her employment placement business into a company churning out $80 million in annual sales.

When interviewing for the ideal employees, she said, the business owner should tune into the prospective employee’s motivations–past and future.

This is as an important job criteria as experience and skills, according to Candland. “If motivated, they can do and will do the job.”

Candland said a business should attract and retain the best talent and set up a remuneration package for them based on individual as well as team performance.

As for the retail trade, Edward Schachter, founder of Richards of Greenwich, offered what he said was responsible for transforming that clothing business from a $100,000 per year store in 1956 to an $11 million one today. Schachter recently sold the business to the Mitchell family, which continues to operate it.

“You must attend to your customers on a daily basis. You must treat each customer like the most important customer who ever walked into the store,” he said.

Schachter also attributed diversity in clothing lines - from Docker pants to $1,500 suits - to attracting diverse customers. That diversity should range from the kid out of college dressing for his first job to the area’s most distinguished CEOs. Schachter cited that as a reason his business has thrived in spite of a growing number of national clothing chains opening in the area. “You always must improve whatever product you have.”

As did the other owners at the conference, Schachter characterized his personnel as playing a starring role in his successes. “You must motivate your personnel. I’ve decided they are not perfect - but then I tell myself the next person I hire will not be any better.” That remark drew a big laugh from the conference audience.

In reference to finding and managing the money necessary to grow a business, Brian O’Connor, a financial advisor with Diserio, Martin, O’Connor & Castiglioni, said the growing businessman must surround himself with accountants and attorneys, as well as an experienced board of directors.

He said financial advisor scottsdale can, for example, help structure a business to make the best use of tax laws that can mean the difference between paying 40 or 60 percent of earnings on taxes.

A business owner should spend 25 percent of this time devising financial and other plans for the future, O’Connor said. “They should not get bogged down with the everyday minutia of the business.”

O’Connor said he frequently encounters the “high-energy, opinionated” business owner who does not want to listen to advisors, or anyone else. “You cannot know everything. You need a willingness to listen to others,” he said.

Another speaker was Michael F. McNulty, managing director of corporate finance for Forum Capital Markets L.P., a venture capital firm that invests in companies in exchange for an equity position. He agreed that some entrepreneurs and others have forgotten how to seek help. “Often the hardest thing to do is to ask.”

McNulty said companies seeking to earn $5 million to $7 million a year should not discard the idea of spending a typical $5,000 to $7,000 on professional advisors to help devise a sound business plan.

On lawyers and accountants, however, Zinbarg offered conference attendees a different point of view. “I have a strong feeling the best advisors are other people in business who really care about you. You don’t want lawyers and accountants. Instead, look for the people in business who have scars, who have already been beaten up. Lawyers and accountants haven’t been beaten up.”

He said lawyers and accountants will routinely reject some of the best ideas. “If you have an idea, don’t listen to the lawyer or accountants. If it’s in your gut, go for it.”

Grading Your Pest Control Company

Evaluating your pest control company is a continual process requiring updates throughout the year. For the next three months we will provide articles for pest control operators to grade their marketing ability, employee performance and financial status. The articles are intended for individual use and may need to be adopted for each PCO based on application to specific topics.

After each section determine a grade for your company based on how well it performs in the discussed area. After the grades are completed average them for a final grade. Keep the final grade from each article to determine exactly how your company is performing in 2012.

GRADE SCALE

1. Poor; 2. Fair; 3. Average (budget); 4. Above Average (15 percent over budget); and 5. Excellent.

After the first eight months of 2012, how do you rate the effectiveness of your marketing plan? How many new customers are receiving your service for the first time? Why was your company chosen over the competitors? What ongoing marketing are you currently undertaking or planning to perform in the next four months? What is your customer retention rate?

Understanding that the winter months are the most critical for a PCO, the development and implementation of an effective marketing plan should be established during this slow period. Regardless of the size of a PCO’s business, a through marketing plan needs to be developed and followed.

In 1995 many PCOs are referring to the phrase “going back to basics” to attract new customers. PCO s are developing marketing programs as a result of listening to customers during the last few years. The continual drive for customer satisfaction and listening to the customer have made the development of an effective marketing plan a much more simple straight forward task.

Direct Mail

Direct mail advertising is an up and down approach to marketing because often the target market and message of the sender are not clarified. Even though a PCO may spend hundreds of dollars developing a direct mail piece, if the desired response is not achieved, the entire process may need to be reevaluated.

Too often a PCO believes he has the perfect direct mail piece even though his response rate is less than one percent. Evaluating direct mail pieces is difficult unless experienced personnel are utilized. How many pieces were sent our during the initial eight months? What was the expected response rate? What was the actual response rate? How many direct mail pieces are planned for the remainder of the year?

Media Use

How effective has your radio and television advertising been for 2012? PCOs who develop their own commercials are often in for a heartbreak as a result of their dismal response rate from the commercial. PCOs often develop commercials without a clear understanding of what they are trying to achieve. Increased customer awareness, new service identification or name recognition are only a few of the options to portray when developing a media campaign.

Professional advertisements require qualified professionals to overlook and administer the development of a strong media plan. By using friendly local media it may be gentle on your accounts payable, but hard on the accounts receivable because business did not increase as a result of the media spot. In all media their is some degree of risk involved. Through experience and professionally produced commercials, the desired responses may be achieved if the message is clearly understood before hand.

Trucks

The use of vehicles is a common mistake among PCOs. Vehicles along offer an excellent means to reach your target market and ensure customers. Because your vehicles are traveling billboards they demonstrate to uncertain customers how predominant your company is in the local market. Displaying the company colors, logo, or telephone number are only a few ways vehicles may be utilized to help the company.

Referrals

A valuable tool not used by PCOs is current customers. Current customers offer an opportunity to reach the target market from a different angle. A continual increase in the number of referrals each year is a positive demonstration of how well your service is received by customers.

Customers are the key to every PCO’s survival and if the customers are not only receiving your service, but also looking for ways to expand your service when applicable, it is the best situation for everyone involved. How many referrals have you received?

Telemarketing

Measuring the effectiveness of telemarketing is difficult to do. Telemarketing may begin with a phone call and progress to direct contact for pest control mesa service later. If telemarketing is used after a sequence of direct mail pieces or other inquires, telemarketing will clearly be more effective than a cold call.

The Next Four Months

Whether or not you have used a marketing plan for the first eight months of the year, now is the time to continue or implement your marketing plan. The first months of each year provide an opportunity to try different techniques to attract new customers and determine which techniques are going to work this year.

By September, the customer base in established and receiving service at some level of regularity. With the customer base in place, now is the time to solidify the base and begin to expose the customer to additional services that will become applicable as the seasons changes from summers to fall and fall to winter.

Pest control operators who have done little to no marketing during the first few months may begin to market now because it is much cheaper and easier to administer. Marketing over the summer is always cheaper because during the summer almost everyone is experiencing bugs. Regardless of the customer base, summer is when PCOs are driving the company billboard also known as the company vehicle.

Take the time now before the year is over and make sure the marketing plan developed in December and January is on course and moving in the direction it was intended for. If it’s behind or off course, move it back into place because it is the single strongest means for maintaining and growing your customer base.