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Question: We run a successful Internet design business. We are in good financial shape (though we can always use more capital), have great marketing people and plenty of clients. What we need to attract are young, talented designers. What are some ways we can steal them away from larger corporations?

Answer: Easy to answer, a little bit harder to accomplish.

You may want to devise customized employment packages geared specifically for the individual you are seeking to hire. What might be super-attractive to one candidate might have little appeal for another. For example, you may be able to lure a young, married woman from her current job with an excellent health insurance plan or 401(k) plan and maybe even a profit-sharing plan. Someone else might be willing to sacrifice a bigger weekly paycheck for a package of stock options.

Offering future employees a piece of the action might be a great way to lure them from their current positions. You won't be able to match dollar for dollar the salary that the larger corporation can offer, but you can offer a share in your company's future profits and growth.

Many young people today, especially in the software business, are very attracted to companies that give them room to move up the corporate ladder. Don't underestimate the value of being a smaller organization. You can provide an individual flexibility and intimacy two very important secret weapons that you have to offer new employees. This could include allowing an individual to work from home, full time or part time; giving your employees an office with a window; offering catered lunches; special events, like monthly tickets to concerts or special weekenders. And keep in mind, just working with an entrepreneur might be enough of an attraction it sure beats working within a stodgy, bureaucratic organization!

Last, but not least, always be mindful that many employees today are in the market for more than just money. They, too, are looking for something more in life that can be rewarding as well as economical.

Q: Our company's business relies heavily on providing excellent customer service. How can we motivate our sales force, which is paid on commission, to also become more customer-intimate?

A: I'll answer this in a general sense, because I don't know what you're selling or what business you're in.

It seems that your salespeople are basically being paid for performance the more they sell, the more they get paid. Simple. But this obviously doesn't leave a lot of room for providing customer service, which many times requires a lot of hand holding and listening (which takes precious time away from making sales). Thus, your reward system accomplishes the opposite of what you are trying to achieve namely, customer intimacy. Now that I have restated your problem, let's try and solve it.

You may want to reconsider your entire commission system. By teaming people up and pooling the commission base, you can encourage a more customer-friendly approach to sales. Of course, you would still keep track of sales per employee. But instead of just paying them for the sale, you will be rewarding them by how much new business they bring in to the firm, how well their "team" is performing and how much repeat business they can get out of your original customer base. These rewards could be paid out of the commission pool as a quarterly, semi-annual, or annual bonus. So your salespeople would not only receive commission (albeit a little bit less than usual), but they might also get a bigger cut of the entire bonus pool.

This will encourage competition among your salespeople while also stimulating camaraderie. Why not try it out as a test case for the first quarter of 1999? If your salespeople balk at this idea altogether, set up a day outside of the office as a brainstorming session, and let them come up with another solution.

Q: As we approach the end of the millennium (hard to believe!), and I'm hitting 40 (uh!), I think it might be a good time to start up a business. I've got some money put aside, about $250,000. I need about $150,000 a year for my living expenses. What type of business can I start up for $100,000 or less?

A: It should be plenty. Depending on the type of business and if you can keep your overhead to a minimum, you could probably even start up a business for much less.

Most businesses today can operate out of the home. This will give you a lot of flexibility to set your own schedule, you won't have to punch a clock, and you won't need to spend money renting office space. It also helps save time (which we all know equals money). Commuting is short depending on how close to the bed you keep your phone and computer! If your home business works out, you'll never have to retire just think about it! It will take you through your graying years.

How to choose the best business for you requires some honest analysis. For instance: What is the current marketplace need that you can offer? Do you have the experience and contacts to get additional financing if needed?

Once you've settled on a business, start slow and easy and remember, every client matters. Listen to others. Network with other entrepreneurs and ask questions and take advice. And finally, take a basic accounting course and computer course.

Lorraine Spurge is a personal finance advisor, author of "Money Clips: 365 Tips That Will Pay One Day at a Time," and business news commentator. She can be reached at (818) 705-3740 or by e-mail at lspurge@spurgeink.com.

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