Schools of thought Featured

9:45am EDT July 22, 2002
When Jane Applegate told her editor at the Los Angeles Times that she wanted to turn in her investigative reporter’s notebook to interview small business people instead, her colleagues thought she was nuts.

“I wanted to write about people who actually earned money instead of stealing it,” she explains.

The year was 1988, and Applegate had a long-range plan. She immersed herself in the world of entrepreneurs, learning the issues that affected their day-to-day operations and their lives. Twelve years later, she found herself a pioneer riding the wave of small business growth.

Not only does her syndicated column on small business issues run in newspapers nationwide, but she’s leveraged her expertise and knowledge culled from thousands of business owners to found her own company, The Applegate Group Inc. Last month, Applegate told a crowd of small business owners at the 1999 COSE Annual Meeting her six strategies for rethinking business for the next millennium.

Think big

“As small business owners, we often think small,” Applegate says. “We think we don’t have a lot of power or money. But, the reality of the matter is that we’re the engine that’s been driving this economy. We employ more people than the Fortune 500 companies.”

Applegate says in order to conduct business with larger companies, smaller business owners must first recognize that the size of their firm does not matter. What matters, she says, is what products and services the business can supply, and how effectively it can deliver them.

It’s easier at the top

Always make contact with high level management in a company you’re looking to do business with, Applegate says.

“Things happen much more quickly when you start at the top. Always insist to start talking with someone that has decision-making power,” she says.

She also suggests a letter or phone call to the president preceding any meetings with lower level representatives.

“It packs a much bigger wallop!”

A “no” is as good as a “yes”

As anyone who’s ever had a proposal sit in limbo for weeks, or even months, knows, getting a response lets you move forward — either on the deal, or in search of a different prospective client.

“Small business owners tend to be at the mercy of clients or prospective clients,” Applegate says. “And often, they take forever to make decisions.”

Set clear deadlines for proposals and contracts and, more important, stick to them.

“You’ll get some funny looks at first,” she says. “But then those large companies see you want an answer one way or another and you’re serious. It will change the way you do business.”

Never work with people who give you a headache or stomachache

If you do, it spells disaster for your company.

“I know you don’t want to hear it, but get rid of your most toxic customers and employees,” says Applegate. “You will never be as successful as you can be if you’re working with people who make you sick.”

The result, she says, will be akin to other business moves you make: Close one door and another opens.

Market hard and smart

“That’s the biggest challenge we have,” she says. “Finding creative and innovative ways to stretch your dollars.”

Applegate says your company’s best resource is often not who you think.

“The owner or top manager is your best marketing person,” she says. “They know the most about the company and have the most at stake.”

Get wired, but do it smartly

If you don’t have a Web site or Internet strategy, your business will be left behind, Applegate warns.

“Every small business owner will need some sort of presence on the ’Net. Think about it. In the past, we’d ask each other for phone numbers or faxes. Now, we ask for e-mail addresses. And, you look ridiculous if you don’t have one.”

How to reach: The Applegate Group, www.janeapplegate.com

Dustin Klein (dsklein@sbnnet.com) is editor of SBN.