Question: I'm an administrative assistant and work for an entrepreneurial online publishing company. My boss is the owner of the business and has lots of energy and ideas, but could use more staff to help him. I would like to help more, but while he is "progressive" at business, he is very old-fashioned about me. He considers me to be a mere secretary. What can I do?

Answer: Having been a "secretary" myself when I started my career, I can truly understand your frustration. Maybe instead of waiting for him to ask you to do more, just do it! There is a great saying that goes "It's easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission."

Here are some ways how:

Instead of just answering the phone, try and help the caller. Often you can take care of a customer's needs without having to get your boss involved.

Read through the mail unless of course it's marked personal & confidential. Get yourself up to speed on what's happening in the industry so that you can catch on to what's happening at the office.

Develop a list of questions to ask your boss when things are quiet, so you can learn more about the business.

Ask if you can sit in on meetings. You can take notes for later as well as get a understanding of how your boss operates with clients and business associates.

Become familiar with your company's clients. Start to identify the customers who call in frequently and develop a rapport with them. This can be enormously helpful to your boss and will give your customers the sense that your company cares about them.

Set up a weekly time that you can visit with your boss to go over open issues, ask questions, and just get to know each other. It can get very lonely at the top and when you run a small business, it's nice to have someone you can confide in.

These are just some of the ways you can be more productive. Performing functions that are "out of the box," or doing tasks that are not in your job description, are some of the best training tools for any administrative assistant who wants to build a career.

Q: My business sells custom-made clothing. We thought it would be an interesting idea to set up a Web site to market our business. But we don't even know where to start can you help?

A: I suppose one could say, "What took you so long?" But now that you've made the plunge, there are definitely some tips worth noting.

Though you don't even need your own computer to have a Web site, you will need to choose an Internet Service Provider, or "ISP." A few questions to ask when picking the right one would be: How much does the service cost? Can the ISP be dialed up through a local phone number or is it a long-distance call? What are the set-up fees, if any?

Be careful of expensive package deals that claim to be "all-inclusive." They almost never are, and for a novice they can get rather punitive.

Since you market clothing, here are some ideas to think about before choosing the right provider:

Do you want your Web site to function essentially as a brochure (i.e., simply to advertise your business)? Or do you want to publish your entire 100-page catalog and give customers the ability to order through a secure credit-card entry system on a 24-hour basis?

First, you might want to surf the Web yourself to see how your competition may be using the Internet. There are so many things you can do quickly and inexpensively. Remember, technology changes so fast that whatever decision or system you choose, you'll probably have to upgrade within a year or two don't worry too much about making a mistake.

Q: My family runs a laundry service. We have been in business for several generations, but oddly enough, no one has ever put together a strategic business plan. Do you think we need one?

A: My first reaction is, if it isn't broke, don't fix it. But after some consideration, there is really no harm to thinking through a strategy for the future, and maybe it will help you come up with new ideas on how to grow and build the business.

Most entrepreneurs have the notion that business plans are needed for investors. Not true. It's those entrepreneurs who draw up a road map, follow each step on how to get from point A to point B, and have the guts to push the envelope who get ahead faster than those who don't.

There are plenty of books on the market to help you get started. (I particularly recommend "The Entrepreneur Magazine Small Business Advisor.")

Q: Our company has been in business for more than a decade, and my employees just got together to become unionized. Where can I get some information about this new development?

A: You will need to immediately become familiar with the National Labor Relations Board. Organized in 1936, this organization serves two basic purposes: It will monitor secret balloting by employees to determine whether they want to form a union and be represented by it, and it protects employees against unfair labor practices by employers or unions.

You will not be allowed to interfere with union members' right to participate in union activities and you will be penalized if you discriminate against workers in hiring, promotions, or other decisions relating to employment based on their union status. Therefore, you must allow your employees the ability to form or join their own union.

To get more information, contact the National Labor Relations Board's Office of Information direct at 1099 14th Street N.W., Room 9400, Washington, D.C. Or call or e-mail at (202) 273-1991, nirb!almanac.yoyo.com. When you contact the NLRB, also ask them to send you a free brochure called "The National Labor Relations Board and You: Unfair Labor Practices." You may also want to get a copy of "A Guide to Basic Law and Procedures Under the National Labor Relations Act" through the U.S. Government Printing Office, by calling (202) 512-1800.

Lorraine Spurge is a personal finance advisor, author and business news commentator. She can be reached at (818) 705-3740 or by e-mail at lspurge@spurgeink.com.

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