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Wednesday, 31 July 2002 11:52

Health plan tips

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Determining which health plan is best for employees and your small business can be challenging. The options can confuse and overwhelm even the best human resources professional. However, understanding a few key concepts can help ease the search for health insurance and ensure you get the most value from your premium dollars. * Know your employees' needs and wants. Determining your employees' health care needs is a fundamental first step. For example, is your work force comprised primarily of women? If so, you need a plan with an extensive list of physicians who care for women, and make sure the…
Wednesday, 31 July 2002 11:44

Jack Horner

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When Jack Horner launched Jack Horner Communications Inc. a decade ago, he knew a lot of mid-sized client business was slipping by his former employer, Ketchum Inc. He just didn't know how to get it. "I thought everybody would call me and give me work," says Horner. That's what Horner, who'd spent five years at Ketchum Inc., had become accustomed to as an account executive. Horner's experience at the big daddy of Pittsburgh agencies prepared him well for servicing accounts. Jack Horner Communications, which posted 2001 revenue of $1.7 million, since has collared clients including Alcoa, Microsoft and Heinz, where…
Wednesday, 31 July 2002 11:39

The marketing pyramid

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Recently, I was introduced to a company -- let's call it Sylvia's -- that I admire for the way it has constructed its marketing plan. It sells health and beauty services and products to upscale customers. It's been around for a decade and is going strong. Sylvia's marketing plan takes the shape of a pyramid, with a few well-defined goals at the top and tactics and actions at the base. In the middle is a well-thought-out set of strategies, arrived at after considerable research and planning. Sylvia's knows its objectives and how it will measure success. It intends to be…
Monday, 22 July 2002 10:10

Safety net

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Safety net Worker accidents can threaten to push a manufacturer down the tubes. Here's how a Pittsburgh business owner used a safety-incentive program to stop the drain on his company's profits. By Ray Marano When Steve Oliphant wanted to cut worker injuries at Tubetech, he decided to put the company's money where its mouth was. The result is a program that offers workers financial incentives for safe performance on the job. Tubetech, based just across the state line in East Palestine, Ohio, manufactures tube steel stock. Oliphant, a Pittsburgher who is majority owner and president of the $16 million, 67-employee…
Monday, 22 July 2002 10:10

Millennial capitalism, without the M&Ms

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Millennial capitalism, without the M&Ms By Daniel Bates Pittsburgh-based law firm Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott LLC, isn't waiting for the year 2000 to capitalize on the potentially chaotic effects it may have on technology. The firm recently launched an entirely new practice group, made up of 20 litigators from all of its 11 offices, designed to specifically handle technology lawsuits. The new Technology Litigation Section is based in Pittsburgh. The new practice offers, among other things, "Millennium Bug" services including computer hardware and software products and licenses, product defect claims, insurance coverage lawsuits, securities law and shareholder lawsuits, as…
Sunday, 21 July 2002 20:00

In Brief

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They're checking you out If you don't think your customers are scoping out your credibility, think again. The Better Business Bureau of Western Pennsylvania says it answered 223,651 calls last year requesting reliability reports on businesses, general information and assistance with complaints. In fact, requests for reliability reports were up 40 percent from the previous year, and complaints were up 19 percent. The types of companies about which most callers inquired, starting with the most: Home-improvement contractors; modeling and talent agencies; invention marketing; vacation certificate offers; work-at-home offers; window sales and installation; roof and gutter contractors; waterproofing companies; new auto…
Monday, 22 July 2002 10:10

From the editor

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How to succeed after you're hit by a bus By Daniel Bates My car idled one afternoon with the rest of the traffic along the West End Circle when a school bus suddenly merged into my lane in front of me. Misjudging the space before me, the bus driver edged into my car, sideswiping my front right quarter-panel. Unfortunate, but no big deal. That is, until the bus driver pulled through the intersection and on toward the Parkway West without acknowledging my beeping horn. I persistently followed the bus for 20 miles to its destination and, after waiting for the…
Monday, 22 July 2002 10:10

Anatomy of a restaurant launch

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Anatomy of a restaurant launch As James Blandi, owner of LeMont restaurant and now Viaggio as well, learned the hard way, success the first time around doesn't guarantee a second successful venture. By Daniel Bates Like many entrepreneurs who find success the first time, James Blandi Jr., owner of LeMont restaurant on Mt. Washington, wanted to duplicate his success. And he figured that, with all of the lessons he had learned, he would find that the second time around would offer a much smoother road. But in the process, Blandi joined the ranks of others doing it again who have…
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Monday, 22 July 2002 10:09

Small-issue bonds can provide big opportunity

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Business is good. Your company is ready to expand. Plans call for a new facility to increase production capacity, or perhaps the acquisition of additional equipment. Customers stand ready to buy up your increased output. Your friendly banker assures that money is available to pay for your expansion. Does it get any better than this? Quite possibly, yes. If your company and your project meet certain criteria, the money you borrow to pay for your new manufacturing facilities could come with a reduced rate of interest. As part of federal and state policies to promote the expansion of manufacturing facilities…
Like it or not, we are immersed in the age of mergers and acquisitions. The business pages are full of them. Locally, look at the recent attempt by Bank of New York to bring Mellon Bank into its fold. On a grander scale, consider the Daimler-Benz merger with Chrysler Corp. But all of this M&A activity isn't confined to just large, global companies. Small, profitable companies are quite attractive acquisition bait to medium- to large-sized businesses that want to attain critical mass or a capability that would fill a vacuum in their own product or service offerings. Whether your company…
Sunday, 21 July 2002 20:00

Communicating a Sense of Urgency

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Whether your challenge is starting a new company, jump-starting a downsized organization, or nudging a proven performer up to the next level, creating an atmosphere for change is a necessary first step. Anytime you are faced with leading people when some form of change is necessary, you will recognize some resistance. The magnitude of the resistance may vary, but it seems like it is always present. In his book, Leading Change, John Kotter says, "In an organization with 100 employees, at least two dozen must go beyond the normal call of duty to produce a significant change." As the size…
Monday, 22 July 2002 10:09

Being blind to costs

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It comes as no surprise to me that questions and complaints about 401(k) fees have surfaced. As these retirement plans multiply, participants are finding out that the difference between, say, 1 percent and 3 percent in annual costs will add up to a large chunk of change over the long haul. Retirement plan expenses can be hard to pinpoint. One problem is that few workers know how much their plans charge in expenses, and those who want to find out have a hard time. It's not that their bosses are being secretive; most bosses don't know, either. Many business owners,…
Monday, 22 July 2002 10:07

Marketing Matters

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Q. I sell a product that is used by contractors. Typically the contractor will call me for a quote that he can use in preparing his bid. However, once the contract is awarded, he puts my product out to bid, and I am forced to compete on price. How should I handle this? A. The next time the contractor asks you for a quote, ask him up-front what’s going to happen in the event he gets the contract. Will you automatically get the business at the price you’ve quoted, or will it go out to bid? If he tells you…
Monday, 22 July 2002 10:07

Law Briefs

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In this age of computerized information, a business’s classified files may be retrieved intentionally by hackers, or inadvertently by the innocent actions of its employees. Information uncovered in either way can be damaging if it ends up in the wrong hands. The latter problem was highlighted in a case recently decided by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Kempcke vs. Monsanto Co. The facts of this case are fairly straightforward. While deleting old files from the hard drive of a computer issued to him by the company, the employee found documents discussing plans for a reduction in force and…
Monday, 22 July 2002 10:07

From the editor

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If you think life∇and death∇in the country is simple, consider the story Harry, my barber, told me recently as he trimmed away at my hair. Some time back, Harry's now-deceased brother had given him a pie-shaped piece of property adjacent to my neighbor's. It was a useless piece of property. Most of it sat in woods between other properties and offered poor drainage for a septic system. Nonetheless, he had kept the deed and property survey in a drawer at his time-frozen barbershop. Being the good neighbor, I put Harry and my neighbor together to work out a deal because…
Monday, 22 July 2002 10:06

You can get ready for competition, too

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Business owners are being bombarded by new energy-service companies heralding the new era of energy deregulation. What should you be doing to take advantage of this activity? First, position your company to evaluate the myriad of new service opportunities and, eventually, negotiate for the best energy price. It's not just a lower price for the kilowatt-hour that will affect the bottom line. It's the new array of products and services (and providers) for managing energy usage that will provide the benefits of deregulation. Get busy, right now You won't be in on the new savings curve unless you get busy,…
Monday, 22 July 2002 10:06

The coming of ISO 14001

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ISO 14001, like any number of common-sense ideas, took too long to articulate, sounds pretentious and unnecessarily confuses just about everyone. But that doesn't make ISO 14001 any less an important business and environmental development-one that corporate managers and their lawyers will use and talk about for years to come. In September 1996, after five years of discussion, the International Organization for Standardization, based in Geneva issued ISO 14001: the first and most generic in the 14000 series of consensual international business standards for environmental management. Already, ISO 14001 is the subject of numerous articles and several books. Despite its…
Monday, 22 July 2002 10:06

Marketing Matters

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I think everyone would agree that media coverage of your company is a good thing. That is, of course, unless a "60 Minutes" camera crew is waiting in your reception area to discuss rumors of illegal workplace practices. In most instances, though, being profiled in the media provides a forum-one in which you can communicate key organizational messages- that money can't buy. Many companies are keenly aware of this. You probably have noticed some that seem to constantly be in the news. They obtain media coverage and valuable space in front of customers, prospects, investors and other important audiences because…
Monday, 22 July 2002 10:06

How to cut your utility bills

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Every year when Earth Day rolls around, many big businesses seize the opportunity to publicize their commitment to clean environment. Often, their stories are about new energy-efficient technologies enabling them to save money while dramatically cutting pollution. Now, this same story is one that many businesses can also tell, thanks to Energy Star Small Business program, a service of the Environmental Protection Agency. ESSB helps businesses overcome the obstacles associated with gaining profits from energy efficiency. Small business may be the most dynamic sector of the economy, but the reality is that harried small-business owners often lack time, money and…
If you think it doesn't matter how much your business is worth, Bill Richardson and Bob Overbaugh of accounting firm D.G. Sisterson & Co. LLP advise you to think again. "The problem," they say, "is that too many business owners don't take the concept of business valuation seriously. You can't just look at the company's balance sheet, earnings, assets, liabilities and what's showing on the books and say that's the value of the business." They cite five "very important" reasons to consider a business valuation: Completion of a business valuation is mandatory to complete your estate planning properly if you…
Monday, 22 July 2002 10:05

Why overtime pay isn't so simple anymore

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The laws providing for overtime pay and minimum wages have been around for more than 60 years. However, the rules on this subject are frequently misunderstood and overlooked. The problems are because of a lack of publicity concerning the legal requirements as well as the fact that this is an anachronistic and inflexible area of the law. Misconceptions abound regarding overtime and other pay practices. Take the following, for instance: It is up to the employer to determine who receives overtime pay; comp. time (time off in another week to make for overtime work) is OK; all paid time must…
Monday, 22 July 2002 10:05

Seeing the forest

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Ken Doerbecker booked himself into a trade show a few months back hoping to sell his computer-consulting services to the exhibitors. He walked out with a new business. The show, which gives inventors an opportunity to showcase their ideas to contract manufacturers, marketers and, most importantly, to potential financial backers, had turned up zilch in new clients for Doerbecker. Many of the exhibitors, apparently, were having the same luck as Doerbecker. Some of them, seeking to cast a wider net, asked him what it would take to set up a Web page to help them contact resources for financing, manufacturing…
Monday, 22 July 2002 10:05

MoneyTalk

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Today, business owners can choose from a plethora of options for retirement plans. Which one fits best must, of course, be based on the business, its profitability, its owner's age and compensation, as well as its employees. Retirement plans that are typically offered by employers include: 401(k)s, profit-sharing plans, money-purchase pension plans, defined benefit pension plans, tax-sheltered annuities or 403(b)s, simplified employee pension plans or SEPs, savings incentive match plans for employees or SIMPLEs. Before choosing a retirement plan, it's a good idea to meet with an actuary, pension attorney or pension consultant to discuss the various options available. Choosing…
Monday, 22 July 2002 10:05

Legal briefs

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May an employee seek a job transfer to another position within the company where he or she would not be subjected to prolonged and inordinate stress by co-workers as an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act? The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals answered the question with a resounding "no" in the case of Gaul vs. Lucent Technologies Inc. In that case, the court found that this special consideration "would impose a wholly impractical obligation on...any employer," and, therefore, was unreasonable as a matter of law. How to handle employee absences during Pennsylvania "emergency" days A relatively new law in…
Monday, 22 July 2002 10:05

From the editor

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Every Sunday afternoon, to my wife's dismay, I stroll through the garden, making note of all the weeds that need to be pulled. I venture up to the barn, where I imagine the llamas I hope to acquire someday. I visualize the Victorian brick patio that I plan to design and build. Inside, I pick paint colors for a room, rifle through a folder of writing ideas, dream of a new bathroom addition, inspect the water damage on a ceiling beneath a roof that needs to be replaced, and discuss with my wife all of my grandiose plans. Then I…
Monday, 22 July 2002 10:05

Are you overpaying for electricity?

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Electricity is billed in a number of ways, depending on the age and setup of the building. Whatever the process, our goal is to assure that you, as a tenant, pay no more than your fair share. To that end, we'll call attention to the areas in which overbilling commonly occurs and to the steps you can take to prevent it. Electricity rebilled by the landlord Landlords who buy electricity at a volume discount and rebill it to tenants often take an excessive markup. They charge the substantially higher rate tenants would pay - because of their relatively low usage…