The Small Business Check-up

An examination before you move to the next level

HighEndCareOnce entrepreneurs successfully surmount the difficult process of building startup capital and writing out a business plan, many believe that their company has the straightaway to success. If a roadblock appears, they seem to think it came out of nowhere, when actually, if they had done a little more planning, the problem could have been avoided.

“No one says ‘I’m going to start a business and mess it up,’ ” says Marcia Pledger, author of My Biggest Mistake and How I Fixed It: Lessons from the Entrepreneurial Front Lines (Orange Frazer Press Inc.; $19.95) “But you can go out of business as quickly as you went into business if you don’t take care of the basics.”

It’s hard enough to stay in business without the U.S.’s sluggish economy making it more difficult. Consider that in 2008 the U.S. government wrote off a record $2.1 billion from small business loan defaults, according to an Associated Press investigation.

Those remaining in or choosing to start businesses must be ever more diligent at avoiding preventable setbacks. diagnoses four common ailments in small business growth and our experts provide prescriptions for remedies to help them recover.

Ailment: The competition always out-prices your merchandise.
Prognosis: The targeted clientele is too broad.

Prescription: Develop a well-established product or service, market to a niche customer, and communicate to that customer the unique qualities of your product or service. Small business owners can’t compete on price points with large, national brands, but they can compete when it relates to value, says Jerome Edmondson, president of the Entrepreneur Development Network, a small business incubator. Convince your customers that even though your prices might be higher, your product or service provides a better benefit and thus a better bargain.

Ailment: Your company is expanding too quickly.
Prognosis: The owner lacks knowledge about how to grow and profit simultaneously.

Prescription: Now that you’ve created a well-established brand, do your homework before you try to take it to the next level. Take time to understand the industry, your product, and your customer. Pledger recalls a story about a pretzel company owner who, in an effort to expand her business, took a large order from a grocery store chain but was not prepared for the challenge. Her distributor ran out of packaging, she did not know how she would deliver the product to the store, and she lost money when the pretzels didn’t sell.

“She should have done some research to find out what the grocery industry entails,” says Pledger. If the owner had sought advice from a larger company that sold a similar product, she might have learned that the profit margin for her specialty product was very thin.

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  • Elie

    Tennessee Williams’ talents seem to peak in the 1950s and 1960s; his work of the 1970s met with ever inrceasing critical and audience disinterest. Created three years before his death, the 1980 CLOTHES FOR A SUMMER HOTEL was indicative of his later failures: a large cast, technically complex show that left even hardcore Williams fans yawning in the aisles. August Strindberg (1849-1912) is Sweden’s greatest playwright, and he exerted a powerful influence over such 20th Century dramatists as Eugene O’Neil, Arthur Miller, Edward Albee, and Tennessee Williams. Toward the end of his life, Strindberg wrote several dramas that he described as ghost plays plays that abandoned linear narrative for the surreal logic of dreams. It is a notion that Williams uses for much for CLOTHES OF A SUMMER HOTEL, but while Williams was noted for his poetic and often dreamy style, this wholesale dreamscape does not come naturally to him, and the result is both awkward and tiresome. The play itself focuses on the legendary mis-match of novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald and his inrceasingly insane wife Zelda Sayer Fitzgerald. The marriage was disastrous for both. Scott based many of his characters on Zelda; she in turn began to write; and the two began to compete over which had the write to use her life as material. By all accounts Zelda had a unique way with words, but while her writings are riddled with poetic turns of phrase, the gift did not translate into anything that approached sustained narrative. Nonetheless, there has always been an underground notion that Fitzgerald suffocated Zelda’s creativity and that this drove her to madness. The play opens very much in ghost play mode, with Fitzgerald, now near the end of his life and suffering from heart problems, visiting Zelda at her North Carolina sanitarium. The characters find it difficult to articulate themselves, and their difficulties are furthered by a wind that tends to sweep their words away unless they shout. After a point, the play seques into the past to present a largely linear narrative of Zelda’s infamous affair with a French aviator in the 1920s; along the way it also presents, with occasional ghost play embellishments, a few of the more famous individuals in the Fitzgerald social circle, including Gerald and Sara Murphy, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, and most notably Ernest Hemmingway. In the process of this narrative, Williams not only presents Zelda’s affair, he refurnishes the rumor that Fitzgerald and Hemmingway were homosexuals who were unable to cope with that fact and who ultimately despised each other because their meetings made them aware of this fact. Toward the end of the play, Williams returns to ghost play mode: the characters are once again seen at the asylum, once again unable to communicate in any meaningful way, and the play itself ends in stalemate without emotional resolution of any kind beyond the certainty that Scott will soon be dead of heart failure and that Zelda will eventually die in a fire that swept through the facility years after Fitzgerald’s death. Although it has a few moments here and there, CLOTHES FOR A SUMMER HOTEL does not hang together in any overall sense. It is easy to see how Williams was drawn to the subject of the Fitzgeralds he often depicted women driven to the extreme edges of life but he fails to find either factual or artistic truth in his portraits, which are at best superficial. Unless you are determined to read every single thing Williams ever wrote, this is one title you can skip over. GFT, Amazon Reviewer