About this Blog

Larry E Vaughn is an experienced independent Writer/Producer of training videos, computer based training, multimedia presentations for multi-projector slide shows, and CD/DVD release. Clients have included ITT International, Eli Lilly & Company, JRL Studios, Allison Division-General Motors, Farm Bureau, L.S. Ayres, McDonald’s Restaurants, Southwestern Bell Telephone Company and United Airlines. Examples of these projects can be found in the links below.

Script writing experience gained from his radio and television background, combined with unique skills in interpreting instructional design requirements for an adult audience, led to the development of numerous successful industrial training videos, sales training, and task training. These materials have been used widely throughout North America to assist clients train new-hires and experienced personnel. Case studies of several of the projects are linked below.

As Executive Producer for a large film/videotape production company, responsibilities included: Develop client/server business applications delivered by remote multimedia kiosk; Coordination of designers, programmers and producers; Design multimedia projects; Script development; Client interaction; Management of multiple concurrent projects; CD-ROM and work-station training; Write and produce video projects: Broadcast commercials; Corporate sales & marketing; Public relations; Multi-projector slide shows.

Led design team in developing software for interactive retail kiosk for Hon Office Furniture; Designed and produced interactive multi-screen health lesson material grades K-12 for Ruth Lilly Center for Health Education;
Created design document and architecture for medical technician re-certification software for St. Vincent Health Center (Burdick EKG Machine); Led design team in developing software for retail interactive kiosk for Huffy Bicycle Company; Designed and produced 100+ units of computer based training for United Airlines’ Indianapolis Repair Hub.

Other clients have included Farm Bureau Insurance, College Life Insurance, McDonald’s Restaurants, Southwestern Bell Telephone Company, Missouri Heritage Trust. Managed in-house advertising agency for Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives.

To view case studies of these projects, click here.

Request a confidential quote for your project; email detailed information on your project along with deadlines and other appropriate details.

Posted in Consulting

Restaurant and Business Reviews

Reviews of Austin area restaurants and businesses published by Larry E Vaughn and currently hosted at http://www.yelp.com

1. La Posada – Wm Cannon & West Gate

A busy neighborhood restaurant with tasty Tex-Mex entrees and large drinks in a casual setting. Warm chips with tangy pepper/cilantro salsa, homemade flour tortillas, delicious hot tamales made with tender shredded (rather than ground) beef, and chimichangas topped with a spicy chili sauce make for a taste bud pleasing meal. Noticeably good service, too, as the friendly wait staff delivers prompt refills on chips, salsa and drinks. Located at West Gate and William Cannon in a retail center, there is plenty of parking in an easy to get to location.

2. Whataburger – 1st Street & I-290

I had heard about this chain of restaurants from former Texans who had moved to the Midwest, and had to try them out right after relocating to Austin. I must say that my first visit may be my last. As a Food Safety Manager, I am pretty familiar with fast food restaurant operations, and I must say that I’m not sure they really fit into the category of fast food. Good grief they were slow! As I watched the kitchen operation from the dining room, I couldn’t figure out what was taking so long. It certainly wasn’t because they were that busy. Besides, there are procedures already in existence that make it easy to handle large volumes.

I did notice that the drive through expediter had to come out into the dining room to get iced tea for her customers. That’s unusual! Actually, I found the whole Whataburger experience mildly disturbing, because the “classic” burger I bought wasn’t as tasty as I expected. It was plenty greasy, however. Burgers that are grilled or fried on a griddle usually don’t have as much grease as my sandwich did. The meat quality was lower than that at Steak and Shake, Dairy Queen, Red Robin, and even some of the genuine fast food chains like Burger King.

I think you would have to pack a lunch to snack on if you decided to use the drive up window. I thought the cars in the line outside the dining room were parked, until I left the building, and noticed they were in line. I just can’t imagine!

3. Hudson’s on the Bend

Hudson’s on the Bend is an unpretentious dark wood lodge-like structure offering outdoor as well as indoor seating. The menu is adventurous and the food is elegant, tasty and well executed. There are traditional dishes in the beef, pork, vegetarian and fish categories, but, they also offer bison, venison, rattlesnake, wild boar, rabbit, elk, quail, and other game not usually seen on most menus.

My wife and I were fortunate to be guests in a weeknight party of six during our first dinner at Hudson’s, and had one of the best dining experiences in recent memory. The staff was helpful and willing to answer questions about menu items, wine pairings and dessert choices. I have read in other reviews that the service was not good, or the staff was not attentive, but we experienced none of that, although I will point out that we were dining inside the building on a weeknight. The only snootiness we observed was on the part of the wine steward, who wasn’t expecting a tip any way. His recommendations for wine pairings, however, were flawless. So, maybe he deserves to be snooty.

Our only negative comments were related to the rattlesnake appetizers, which were underwhelming. The entree prices are quite high. So high, in fact, that they momentarily took my breath away. But, then, I’m just a down home Midwest kind of guy. You should see me when I happen into a restaurant that doesn’t have prices on the menu!

4. La Madelein – Brodie Lane

A great restaurant for a quiet lunch conversation with that someone special, or a small group of friends, la Madelein features Fast Food in an attractive French sidewalk café setting. I have to say the best things here are the soups, salads and sandwiches, which are made to order. They use lots of cream and butter, so this is not a weight watcher friendly restaurant. But, then, would it be French food without cream and butter? Okay, this isn’t really “French” food, but it comes close. The atmosphere certainly helps with the suspension of disbelief, and the flavors are quite good.

The restaurant also sells wine, and beer, and bakes a line of breads and desserts. There are three types of fresh, sliced, bread available at no extra cost; wheat, sourdough, and 7 grain, with butter and three flavors of jelly available at the condiment bar.

The tomato and basil soup is quite good, and the French Onion is better than many restaurants, and the freshly baked bread as an accompaniment is a big plus. However, a sandwich and a drink can be a complete meal . . . they don’t skimp on portions. If you buy salad, soup, drinks, and dessert it can get quite pricey.

The ordering process is a little awkward, in that you will be handed a menu before you are seated, and are expected to order while standing in the walkway of other diners. During busy times, this line gets quite backed up, and you can get pretty flustered because you feel like you are the cause of the bottleneck. But, after a couple of visits you’ll get the hang of it. Grab one of their “To-Go Menus” in the bakery area, and you’ll be able to make some decisions before your next trip. All in all, it can be a fun experience. The food is pretty good, and the atmosphere is interesting.

5. Marie Callender’s – Brodie Lane

This is a very nice place to bring your guests when they stop by for a visit. They have a delightful breakfast plate for only $4 Monday through Friday, with two eggs, hashbrowns topped with cheese, apple wood smoked bacon and toast. I ordered a couple of eggs, two pancakes and crispy bacon, and even with coffee, it was less than $6. The atmosphere is very pleasant, and the servers are very friendly, and food is really good, and ample, for the price.

They also offer a luncheon special each weekday, with pricing below the normal menu. I had their chicken pot pie on the day it is on special, and had to “wow!” when they brought it out, because it is in a larger ramekin than you usually see. The flavor of the chicken gravy was a little lighter flavored than I am used to, because they don’t use any chopped celery or potatoes, and they go pretty light on the onions. The pastry crust was okay, but there are more flavorful recipes available.

I realize that Marie Callender’s pies are very highly regarded by some, and are marketed widely in channels other than their own restaurants; but, I am one of those who feels that the type pie crust they use is too dry and too flat tasting. I like my pie crust to be crispy and flavorful. It should itself be a treat that compliments the filling. And, you either like their style or you don’t. The filling was very flavorful, and can makeup for the disappointing crust.

I like this restaurant, and will return again and again. It may turn out to be one of my favorites. And, I am really anxious to try out their Party Platters!

6. Red Robin – Brodie Lane

This theme restaurant is really designed for the younger crowd. It’s retro, garish, and noisy, although there is outdoor seating available, where you will only hear the deafening roar of traffic on 290 and Brodie. Let’s be fair about the noise, though; Red Robin is designed for family dining, and it is intended to be a fun experience. So, it gets noisy. The variety of burgers is terrific, with the option to select from a whole variety of cheeses, which can change the taste of a sandwich completely.

The menu is a pretty traditional mix of burgers & bottomless fries, chili, sandwiches, soups and such, but I enjoyed a nice lunch here. The meat on my hamburger was very tasty, and was cooked “medium” to order, rather than having the dried out texture of an overdone burger. I appreciated the server asking when she took my order whether I wanted the “relish” sauce on the side, which I said I did. I was really happy when I tasted it and discovered that it is very sweet pickle relish with a tomato sauce. I wouldn’t have liked a sweet sauce on my meat. The server was Johnny-on-the-spot bringing refills before being asked, and really did a good job of taking care of all the diners in the area around my seat.

The broad-cut fries were well prepared, although they seemed a little short on salt. I noticed some of the folks around me putting the Red Robin spice on their fries, but I decided to leave that experiment until a later time. Overall, the food is fairly priced and tasted quite good. I will have to say that getting into their parking lot can be a challenge, but then I am just now learning the whole “Texas U-Turn” – frontage road concept. Those things haven’t made it into the Midwest yet. 

7. La Familia – Wm Cannon & Brodie Lane

Lea and I discovered this café style restaurant while on another mission, and decided to give it a try. It is on the west side of William Canon north of the Walgreens Pharmacy on Brodie, and is located in one of those single story strip malls. When we entered the restaurant, the fragrances were delightful. I could hear something frying in the kitchen in the back, and there were a few couples already seated and eating traditional Tex-Mex dishes. I ordered their lunch special, three pork tamales in a chili sauce for $5.99. It came with refried beans and Mexican rice. Lea had their taco lunch special for about the same price. Of course, chips and salsa were provided, and we added a chili con queso dip. All flavors were fairly bland compared to La Posada dishes, but would be great for those who don’t like spicy. Our soft drinks were $1.75 each, making our lunch total $19.97 without tip. The service was good, and the dishes were nicely prepared, and, knowing that the spiciness is mild, you can kick it up a notch with the three hot sauces provided at the table.

8. IHOP – 8801 S I-35

A clean restaurant with good food, quick service and fair prices. Those are great qualities for any restaurant to have, and this one does stand out from many of the others. I’d rate it among the better IHOPs. Oh, sure, the menu is about the same as any other IHOP, but cleanliness and wait staff are a direct reflection of the restaurant’s manager. If IHOP’s delicious menu is one of your favorites, you owe it to yourself to experience one of the better ones when you’re in the area. Located in the 8800 block of the I-35 access road just south of Slaughter Lane, it is easy to find and offers convenient access.

9. Which Wich – Brodie Lane

Lea and I stopped in the Which Wich for lunch, and found it to be a tongue-in-cheek fun ordering concept. I’m one of those who learns from being shown how something works, so after a few moments of watching some young ladies take a brown paper sack from a holder below the menu board, and write on it with a red marking pen, I figured it out. We took a seat across from the wall board that explains the various options, and looked it over. As we narrowed our preferences, I got sacks for each of us, and a marking pen, and we “designed” our own sandwiches, right down to type of bread and combination of condiments. A fun experience, and reasonable prices. We were there between lunch and dinner, picking up sandwiches for that evening, and found the store to be clean, and the service good. The sandwiches were delivered hot and wrapped, and when consumed some hour and a half later, were still delicious after being refrigerated and then warmed up. Caution, though. You have to plan your condiments carefully in order to make sure they will stand up to refrigerating and then reheating. An option would be to take your sandwich apart and heat only the meat, and then reassemble. Regardless, we enjoyed it, found the food to be good, and are likely to do it again next time we want to have a sandwich on hand for later consumption.

10. Firebowl Café – 5601 Brodie Lane

This concept restaurant offers a different experience than most. It’s a combination of self service and stumble through it service. I was attracted to it because I like to try new things, and there is hardly anything I can’t eat, thank goodness! So, we went in for lunch, and got in line, taking a few minutes to study the menu boards as we worked our way to the cash register. By the time we reached the register, I had decided to try the chicken stir fry, and Lea ordered something with noodles (she is a pasta lover). We also ordered Pot Stickers for an appetizer. The order taker gave me a bowl and told me to pick out my vegetables, gesturing to a vegetable bar to her right, gave me two drink cups, and then handed me a large table decoration with the number 17 on it. So, I got Lea seated and got our drinks, and returned to the table about the same time our pot stickers were arriving. I sat down and tried a bite of one, and found it to be very tasty. As I was tackling another one, the order taker came back to our table, and seeing the empty bowl still sitting on my table, asked if I had picked out my vegetables for the stir fry yet. DOH! I got it! I went up to the vegetable bar, which has a nice selection available, and picked out the veggies I wanted with my chicken, and gave them to her. In a matter of a few minutes we had our entrees, and that both were very good, hot and tasty. We liked the concept, the service, cleanliness, and reasonable pricing. We will be going back to this one. Maybe we’ll even try it for dinner some time.

11. Maudie’s – North Lamar

What a hoot! This Maudie’s has a real tongue in cheek attempt at “decor.” The outside of the building didn’t appeal to us at all as we drove past, but the parking lot was nearly packed on a Sunday morning, so we just HAD to give it a try. I had to chuckle as I entered the building, because it didn’t appear the door would even close shut, let alone keep out a burglar, but I got distracted by the interior decor, which falls somewhere between “We don’t have any money. What’s the cheapest way to cover up the water damage in the ceiling?,” and “Decor? We don’t need no stinkin’ decor! They come here for the FOOD! Besides, I have a sister who likes to finger paint. She can do it!”

Needless to say, I was a little dubious when I had to get up and go get my own menu . . . there didn’t appear to be any table service. But, when I took a look at the extensive menu, and the descriptions of the meals (with really modest prices), I began to feel much better. About the time Lea and I had decided on our choices, another two or three couples came in, and then another, and another, and before long, the place was really hopping, and there were four people tending tables.

Not to say the place is pretentious, at all. Our waiter, in his 30s, wore a pair of faded jeans, a sweatshirt, and a ball cap down over his eyes. We had mistaken him for a customer earlier. Turns out he was just otherwise occupied. Soon there was salsa and chips on our table, delivered by a young lady who took our drink orders. The salsa at Maudie’s is homemade, and delicious! It was spicy enough to clear up my morning sinus congestion, but still left enough taste buds to enjoy the entree when it arrived. Lea particularly enjoyed the very thin chips that are baked fresh daily.

She had the Gringo, a platter of eggs, homestyle potato fries and bacon, while I had the Pancake Platter, with big, fat pancakes, eggs and bacon. I ordered “crispy” bacon, and when it arrived it was so crispy it had burned spots on it! That’s hard to get in most restaurants, where they hesitate to get it to the point you can break it with a fork, because so many folks will send it back. All of our food was delicious, table service was pretty good, and there was a real mixture of (do I dare day “diners” in a place like this?) groups from couples to families enjoying generous portions of their favorite foods. It was definitely a good place to eat if you like good Tex-Mex offerings. And, it’s kinda fun to speculate as you eat how long those big plywood stars on the ceiling are going to be able to hold on!

12. KFC – 6818 W Gate Boulevard

This KFC is the typical fried chicken drive through facility tucked into a corner of a shopping center. Be careful exiting the drive through, as there are about three routes that converge at this spot, and you’ll have cars coming at you from two angles. The food we got one evening was okay, very typical of KFCs, but we spent an inordinate amount of time in line. First, we sat for two or three minutes waiting for our order to be taken, and when we finally got a response, we were told that she would be with us in just a moment. Seven minutes later she came back on to take our order! We received our food promptly after that, but we couldn’t see any reason for the delay as we exited the drive through and looked into the dining room and kitchen area. It’s just another “fast food” mystery! The food was okay, fresh and hot. I rate this one only two stars because of the inexcusable wait times.

13. Dan’s Hamburgers – 4308 Manchaca Rd

Real, old fashioned (original type) burger joint, with time worn tables and chairs, and more available parking than indoor seating capacity. Brisk carry out business, too, with
Lots of traffic in and out. Order at the counter and take your food wherever you want, just like in the days of old . . . eat in, take it to your car, or just plain take it away. Sunday night dinner included the basics of burgers, fries and soft drinks, although they offer a lot of other items, such as thinly sliced onion rings, curly fries, fish and chicken baskets, and thick milk shakes. Everything is made fresh to order, so take your cholesterol medicine and name your poison!  BTW, I paid for our meals with a debit card, so they have entered the 21st century. If you find yourself short of cash, you can now pay with plastic!

14. The Bakehouse – 5404 Manchaca Rd

Lea and I stopped in for lunch just after one o’clock, and were a little surprised to find plenty of seating available. In the older part of the restaurant, filled with booths and world globes as décor, there were five older couples having lunch. We were seated in the front area which has what must be a Spanish theme in view of the bar. We were seated by what we took to be a barmaid or a kitchen helper, we couldn’t really tell. She had what appeared to be flour all over the front of her blouse. She took our drink orders, though, and gave us menus, which we set out to explore.

The building overall has the appearance of a restaurant that just barely makes enough money to keep the owner in business. Evidence of deferred maintenance is every where. I sometimes wonder in these older buildings if the décor isn’t designed to cover up defects in the ceilings and walls so the patrons don’t see it. After we spent a few minutes looking over the menu the server brought our drinks, her blouse cleaner now, and took our orders. Their menu promotes their “original” Smoked Sausage Crisp, so I decided I would give them the benefit of the doubt by ordering their own special entrée. Lea ordered the beef stroganoff, and we both ordered salads, which were only $1.50 each. We were quite pleased with the salads, which had red cabbage, slices of tomato, a radish, black olives and carrot slices tossed with the head lettuce. Quite tasty!

The smoked sausage crisp was served with a small bowl of horseradish sauce, which saves the dish. Combined with the sausage, it actually makes a not too bad flavor combination. I didn’t care for the deep fried flavor of the smoked sausage without the horseradish, and thought the presentation was poor. It wasn’t bad, but I won’t order it again. It’s just not my kind of an entrée. Lea said her beef stroganoff was light on sauce, and consequently, tasted more like beef and noodles. We both enjoyed the fresh hot mini-loaf of bread the server brought out, and ate enough of our entrees to be satisfied. We decided to try their desserts, . . . they looked so good in the display case. Lea got the rocky road chocolate cake, and I got the cream cheese canoe. Both desserts were a little dry, and while not very sweet, they both had pleasant flavor. They were only $1.25 each, so how can you complain?

Funny you should ask. I would have to say that this place thinks of itself as a bar that serves food. The servers were not very attentive. Our dirty dishes were not cleared before the desserts were brought to the table. In fact, they were still on the table when we left! Our drinks were not refilled. The worst part of it though, was as we were finishing up dessert another of the servers was putting out napkins and silverware on the other tables. She was carrying a handful of silverware in her left hand, and arranging them on the tables with her right hand, and as we casually watched her work, she coughed into her right hand, and then took silverware and placed it on YOUR table with that same contaminated hand! I nearly choked!

My observation: Mediocre food, poor service, poor décor, poor food safety standards. We won’t be back.

15. Texadelphia – 5400 Brodie Lane

Nice, clean facility in a shopping strip on the north side of Brodie near West Gate. Wi-Fi, fast service & lots of different sauces to keep things interesting. Their menu states that the sauces, queso and guacamole are made fresh daily. The floor plan reminded us of Quiznos, but this café has a kitchen! Located in the open behind the Carry Out counter is the kitchen crew building sandwiches and entrees for hungry customers. I ordered the signature “Founder’s Favorite” in the large size, and the young lady taking our order offered to put it on two plates for us. Very thoughtful! You order and pay as you enter, then can take a seat. We were given our drink cups and a order number card to place on our table and await our meal.

In a few minutes our order arrived, and it looked delicious. It is a local twist on the Philly sandwich, made with shaved Angus beef, grilled onions, mozzarella cheese, mushrooms and jalapenos, topped with their homemade mustard sauce. We also got a side of curly fries, and everything was delightful, although the bread is somewhere between too soft to hold the sandwich in your hands very easily, and too tough to cut with a plastic fork. We c I ould have customized the sandwich with chicken, or spicy ranch sauce, and could substitute cherry peppers for the jalapenos, but we tried the standard sandwich first. Now, we can go back and try some variations!

I was really enjoying my meal, when the fellow sitting behind Lea was served a huge bacon cheddar burger that must have been a full half pound of Angus on a 5” bun! It looked so good I got entrée envy, and didn’t get to enjoy my last few bites as much as I had been! Now I have to go back and try one of those, too! 

16. Taco Express – 2529 S Lamar Blvd

Lea and I just recently made our first trip to Taco Express for a weekday lunch. We had tried to get in a few weekends ago, but it was so crowded we didn’t even try. We did notice that there was a live band playing on the outdoor portion called the “patio” or “Hippie Church.” What a crazy, weirded out, fun place! They have really pulled together all the bad anti-establishment decorating taste of the hippie era, and actually turned it into an interesting if not intriguing décor. If nothing else, it will keep you scanning the walls and rafters looking at the old metal advertising signs and really bad artwork to discover yet another “cool” something or other tucked somewhere. The clientele at 1:30 in the afternoon included business folks on a late lunch hour, several young couples or groups, and one young lady with green hair wearing leopard-skin hose and shorts. She fit right in.

We ate our meal in the outdoor patio area with it’s dirt floors, 2×4 and 4×4 wooden tables and birds working the dirt for tidbits thrown down by patrons. The roof is clear plastic panels, so you get the feeling of being outdoors, particularly when the side doors are propped open. Service was quick. There was a short line, but you pay when you order, and the fellow running the register has had some practice. He was very good; quick and efficient. We were soon on our way to seek out just the right table out on the patio.

Oh . . and the FOOD!!! We went there because of the name. Tacos! Express! We ordered the Crispy Taco plates, chips and drinks, all of which cost less than $19, and the portions were so big neither of us finished the meal. The plate comes with an oversize portion of refried beans and another of rice. The tacos are filled with a fairly mild blend of taco meat, cheese and veggies, so you can spice them up as much as you want at the salsa bar. Lea and I both like spicy salsa, and theirs was a good tomato-ey salsa, cilantro with a good jalapeno presence and even better back kick. We liked it so much we laced our tacos with it. We thought the experience was very good, and will definitely go back!!

The downsides: parking, and getting out of the parking lot. Parking on their property is minimal. I notice that some of the other postings say that you will have to park elsewhere and walk when they are busiest, and that may not be so bad. We left a little after two in the afternoon, and it took us nine minutes just to get out of the lot onto Lamar! And, there were no cars in front of us, Lamar was just that busy. And, every time I saw a hole in traffic that would let me turn left, there were one or more cars sitting in the turn lane waiting to get into the lot we were trying to leave, and I couldn’t turn until they moved.

But, still, the food is good, the epitome of greasy tacos and just plain tastiness. And, for those of us who experienced the sixties and seventies first hand, the décor will bring smile to your face. If your out of town friends enjoy a good touch of humor served with their meal, this is a fun place to take them. They won’t be disappointed. Just keep in mind that my review is on a weekday . . . be sure to read other postings here about the weekends. That is going to be a completely different experience. Regardless, just go!

17. The Oasishttp://www.oasis-austin.com

After reading many of the reviews, what can I say about the Oasis that would add anything? First, I can reinforce what many have already stated. The food is only okay, though overpriced for the quality, but the view is delightful. I give it two stars for the view. Actually, I gave it three initially, but had to take one away for the difficulty of getting to some decent seating away from the band. It seemed like we were scaling alongside the side of the cliff, and, well, darn it! We were! But, once settled, we enjoyed the view, and appreciated the misters that were spraying a cooling mist into the hot September air. Fans kept the mist moving, and in fact, it was dripping off our umbrella onto us! We didn’t get any service for quite some time, so we finally turned the mister off ourselves to keep from getting soaked.

Many reviewers have stated that it was a beautiful place with terrible food, overpriced, overcrowded, and a haven for partiers; and, that was before it burned down. Strangely, that’s exactly what I was going to list as my impression of it today. The food and drinks are notably not very good, the service is spotty at best, and none of it is worth the prices charged. The sunsets, however, make up for all that. I suppose that’s what makes it so popular. The trees lining Lake Travis, the distant cliffs, the brand-new lower deck of tables and chairs, and the view out into the hill country make this one of the best places to take out of town visitors.

I would rag on about how this place would be gangbusters with a decent chef in there to overhaul their menu, and a good manager to herd the youngsters doing the table service, but it’s all been listed in previous Yelps on the Oasis, and they don’t seem to be paying attention. Sometimes the only way to help them improve is to stay away until they make an honest effort to bring you back.

Here’s a link to a little sunset video shot from the lower deck one evening in September 2007: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ryu-5TGNzaE Once you’re on YouTube you will find other videos listed on their site that focus primarily on the sunset itself, and use better lenses and filters to catch the beauty of the sunset over the lake. Grab a snack and sit down to watch the sunset videos. No parking problems, no elbowing, poor service or tasteless food. Now, doesn’t that feel better?

18. Rudy’s – 2451 S Capital of Texas Hwy

Two of my favorite things are BBQ, and I was anxious to try one of the chain restaurants that came highly recommended. My first exposure was a road trip to pick up some take out. I was aghast when we entered the building and discovered that the ordering line was from the ordering counter to the front door, and the line was stacked four rows deep like at an amusement park ride! I thought it would take forever to get up to the counter, and I am one who will turn heels and quickly depart if the wait is too long. Fortunately, I was with someone who was able to say, “You’ll be surprised how fast the line moves. We won’t be here long.” True to his word, we moved right along. Meanwhile, I had time to peruse the premises, and enjoyed its “country store turned deli counter” atmosphere.

There were thirteen people behind the counter, as best I could count; everything from butchers to cooks to order takers to wrapper uppers to who knows what. And, man, did they make that kitchen sing! I love to hear a kitchen when it is working at peak capacity, and that one certainly was. The people behind the counter were super friendly and offered suggestions and guidance if they got a hint that you hadn’t learned the ropes yet. After you order your food at the counter, you can take it to a long indoor table covered in a plastic red and white tablecloth. Condiments, sauces and add-ons dot the wall counters in the dining area. It’s not fancy, but the BBQ is very good. The baby back ribs were outstanding, and the brisket was delicious, too; moist and flavorful. Ordering by the half pound, the meals are quite cheap (less than $10 a person), and the portions of the sides are generous.

Most of the entrée items were somewhere around $4.50. Naturally sandwiches are served on white bread, the traditional accompaniment to barbecue. BBQ comes in three flavors: the one you prefer, the one you tolerate, and the one you don’t like. Rudy’s barbecue sauce falls into the category of the ones I prefer; sweet. But, I notice they make theirs with corn syrup instead of sugar or sorghum molasses. Although it was very tasty, and I WILL be eating there often, I feel like I can taste the missing flavor of the molasses, or at least, a mixture of white and brown sugars. But, then, we can always find something to complaint about, can’t we? 

19. Bess – downtown

Bess provides a unique experience in Austin . . . an eatery in a basement. I’m told there aren’t many basements under commercial buildings in this area. Too bad, because they make great “hole in the wall” eateries. This one is fun, cozy, and the atmosphere is very pleasant. Our party of four was seated promptly for a late lunch, and our server was quite helpful and pleasant. My first impression of the menu was that they attempt to take “home cooking” and have the chef raise it up a couple of notches. It made for a fun opportunity to try familiar dishes with a different twist. I think that different twist is probably what has led to some of the negative comments I read on here before writing my own review, because sometimes we just have too fixed an opinion about how something should be served, and can’t get over the difference.

Our meal started with salad, and it seems we each preferred a different dressing, so there wasn’t any consensus. We thought the salads were adequate, but not outstanding. The bread was tasty, and the variety of flavors was good. Our ice tea and water glasses were kept full prior to the main course, and our service was good except for the period between the three-minute check back (after the entrée is served) and half way through the meal when glasses are supposed to be checked. Ours didn’t get refilled at that point, and a couple of us emptied our tea glasses and started working on the water before she came back to see if we wanted dessert.

We had a variety of dishes at our table, and the one dish everyone sampled and highly praised was the macaroni and cheese. It definitely had received a higher level of culinary skill. The eggplant was served nice and crispy, but was a little light on the cheese for my taste. I would have liked a little side dish of cheese so I could add more if I chose to. The sauce was pretty skimpy, but the flavor was so delicate even a large amount would not have contributed to the dish. Over all, it was only okay. Everything else was very pleasing, fit in with the ambience of the facility, and is one restaurant that will draw us back.

20. Matt’s Famous El Rachero – South Lamar

Lea and I dropped in for lunch right after church on Sunday, and were able to get seated right away. It was a little cool that particular day, so we opted to be seated inside, in view of the patio area near the fountain. Unlike most Tex-Mex/Mexican dwellings in Austin, this place is quite large, not just a hole in the wall. They have multiple dining areas, and we may have been there on an off day, but the service was just great. The waiter engaged us in conversation, and realizing that this was our first time there, he took time to explain several of the menu items and made some recommendations. I wouldn’t say this was the best service I have ever seen, but it was pretty close. There was one person working the tables in our area just refilling drinks. Another delivered chips and salsa, and made sure we had all we wanted. The chips, by the way, tend to be thicker than some, but are obviously homemade, and quite tasty. The salsa, also homemade, was also quite good, although just a little light on cilantro for my taste.

We selected the Deluxe Dinner, which included generous portions of beef enchiladas and tamales with chili con carne gravy, iced tea, and sherbet or a praline, for just $9.50! It may not be the best Mexican food in the area, but it was quite good, and the atmosphere is very nice. I didn’t think to look up at the ceiling, as one reviewer suggested, so I don’t know whether the cobwebs are still on the light fixtures. I can tell you, though, as the former operator of a Victorian bed and breakfast with eleven foot high ceilings, those cobwebs are a constant problem. They seem to grow overnight!

The parking lot was very convenient, and we were able to find a spot quite easily. The dining areas did, however, begin to get much busier after we were seated. The service we got was very good, and very friendly. I haven’t been treated so much like a valued customer at any of the other restaurants I’ve been to. Like I said, it may have been an off day.

I don’t do five stars; there is always room for improvement, but I am giving Matt’s four stars, and I am definitely going back again soon.

21. NG House – West Gate Shopping Center

Lea and I stopped in for a late lunch during a weekday afternoon, and found the menu board out front of the restaurant displayed the ingredients for three appetizing entrée specials, and decided to stop in for our first visit. The restaurant was noticeably very clean. I like that about Chinese restaurants. There were two other booths in use at the time, so we were seated right away and given menus to peruse. There was also a menu board on the wall directly over our table that listed the same three entrée specials for that day. I learned later that their daily specials are also posted on their website http://www.nghouse.net.

Our server brought out our drinks right away, and placed some chow mein noodles in a wooden bowl on the table, along with a slightly sweetened peach sauce used for dipping the noodles, which is a nice touch. Over time Lea and I have realized that often the best bets for a first time visit to a restaurant is to go with their specialty dish or the special for that day. So, we each ordered an entrée from the lunch specials. She had the ginger-kissed chicken on lo mein noodles, and I went for the beef pepper steak on rice. We each ordered the hot and sour soup, and while it was tasty, Lea added soy sauce to hers, and I added a little Chinese mustard to mine just to boost the flavor.

Unfortunately, I put too much mustard in mine, and ended up eating mustard soup! I know, I know, I should have sampled it first! They make their mustard themselves from a prepared powder base, and it is very full of flavor. It is several times more flavorful than the mustard in the little plastic pouches you get elsewhere. The mustard was delicious, however, on the vegetable egg roll, which I dipped cautiously, but enjoyed greatly because the egg roll was very light and crispy. It wasn’t saturated with oil as the often are at other restaurants.

When our entrees arrived, the fragrance wafted through the air making each of us wanting to taste the other’s dish, which we did, and the flavors were delightful. Lea’s chicken was lean and so light and tender it fell apart at the touch of a fork. The beef on my dish was delightfully prepared in a spicy red pepper brown sauce base that had just the right combination of heat and flavor, and tossed with nicely stir fried vegetables.

The price for each special is $5.99, and the portions are quite generous. The service was prompt and very friendly. As we were leaving, our server, and the cook were just taking seats at one of the tables to have lunch themselves. We liked this restaurant and the service, and we will go back.

22. Juan’s Mexicali – Sunset Valley Homestead

A nice, clean (new) quick service style restaurant with a limited menu, good & fresh meals served up quickly. This restaurant is designed along the lines of many contemporary quick-service (I hesitate to call them restaurants) places where you go to the counter to order your meal, step on down the line to pay your bill and collect your main dish, then move on to fill your drink cup and find a seat. This is a good one.

Juan’s features Mexican and California influenced fare, and everything is made to order right there behind the counter as you watch. Their appetizers range from chips & salsa (or dip) to chicken tortilla soup. They offer a ceasar salad and two chopped green salads, a number of items in the burrito, wrap, quesadillas and tacos categories, along with kid’s meals, and a cookie is the dessert item offered.

Lea ordered the nachos, and I decided to experiment with the Thai Peanut Grilled Wrap, each of which was priced at 5.99. We also ordered self-serve fountain drinks (small 1.29, medium 1.69, large 2.09). Lea’s nachos filled a full size dinner plate was piled high with cheese, chopped greens, black beans, sour cream, pico de gallo, and guacamole. My Thai wrap was as long as long as the plate was wide, and either of the two could have fed two persons a light lunch easily. The wrap was shredded pork, rice, lettuce, crispy noodles and a delicate peanut sauce in a huge grilled tortilla. I was surprised when, after a couple of bites, I began to notice some heat in the back of my throat, but hadn’t tasted anything spicy in the wrap. It was a delicious meal, and I enjoyed the delicate flavors in contrast to many of the overwhelming flavors often encountered in this type dish.

The facility itself was very nice; clean, not too noisy, and the self service counter where the condiments are kept was well stocked and clean. The cashier-host came to our table during our meal to see if we needed anything, and another young lady came from the kitchen area during our meal to see if we enjoyed the flavors of our meals, and any comments we might have to offer. It was a pleasant experience, and as we were leaving, we were given a frequent diner card with two meals already stamped. Buy eight, and get the ninth free (kids meals not included). It is worth a trip to give them a try. It’s simple, fast, offers generous portions and is very tasty. We’ll be back!

This restaurant is located in the Sunset Valley Homestead shopping center on Brodie, but if you turn off onto Ernest Roble Way, you can enter on the back (East) side of the shopping center, avoid a lot of congestion (and speed bumps), and Juan’s is the first business on the right.

23. Iron Cactus – North Austin

Our son took me and Lea to lunch at the Iron Cactus at on a weekday, and we had a very pleasant meal, although the piped-in music was so loud it was difficult to carry on a conversation with anyone sitting across the (curved booth) table from you. We sat on the main floor just across from the front doors, and we had no problem with the service and found our server to be very nice and very professional. Based on many of the other reviews, maybe this was just an off day, or maybe things are better at lunch, or maybe it’s because we were dining inside the restaurant, rather than being on the patio people watching.

Iron Cactus is a Mexican Grill with a expansive margarita bar. But, for a grill, they have a very nice menu selection, and the food we were served was tasty, attractively plated, and was as good as I would have expected from an upscale Tex-Mex restaurant. The building and it’s decor is welcoming and inviting.

I ordered the Pollo Relleno, which is a tender breast of chicken stuffed with corn bread, cheddar cheese, diced relleno pepper and rice, topped with a jalapeno cream sauce. It was a unique presentation, full flavored, and much too generous a lunch portion for one person. We took half of it home; something I rarely do, but it was much too tasty to leave behind.

Pricing is a little on the “upscale” side, averaging $25 per person with $1.95 iced teas (no alcohol), but it’s proximity to the Arboretum Shopping Mall make it an ideal choice for lunch when you’re on the north side. I would have given it five stars if I did five stars, but always feel there is room for improvement, even if I don’t recognize it at the time. 

24. Starlite Café – Downtown

Our first visit to the Starlite, in what I now understand to be their new location, was for brunch for four. As soon as you enter you get the impression that this is a European sidewalk café indoors. The atmosphere is pleasant, with wood planks, interesting lighting (except the giant chandelier) and minimal art. The service is okay, though, I must say, spotty. All of our coffee cups were completely empty before anyone came around to replenish our drinks. It isn’t that they ignored us to wait on other tables. The wait staff just seemed to disappear from the floor for ten or fifteen minutes at a time. I’m not sure why this happened, except that as I went to the bathroom, in the back of the house, I passed the kitchen, and heard a lot of commotion coming from there. There was a lot of cheering, and I wondered whether it was a celebration because another order had come into the kitchen, or if it was cheering for some athletic event somewhere. So, to say the service was spotty is to say they attention you get at some eateries just didn’t happen during this visit. The luncheon fare, however, was notably tasty, and I wouldn’t hesitate to go back again . . . just not when I was in a hurry.

25. Williams-Sonoma – Arboretum Shopping Mall

Founded in 1956, Williams-Sonoma specializes in above average quality products for the home, marketed through their famous catalogs, the Internet, and retail stores. The Arboretum store Lea and I visited is fairly new and is two or three times larger than the store at Barton Creek. I really enjoyed wandering around this store, with way too many items to be able to take in during a single visit.

I particularly enjoy their selection of chef’s knives, and that there is someone available to get them out of the case and let you feel the difference between the various grips, and the noticeable difference between the composite and (more expensive) wooden handles. Williams-Sonoma is one of the few places with almost the entire set of Wustof kitchen knives available and on display. Pricing on these items, by the way, is about the same as pricing found on the Internet, once you factor in shipping costs.

I get a little annoyed at their tendency to stock so many items that can be found in less trendy stores. I wish they could just focus on being “better quality” and carry fewer items. I was able to find on this initial trip, a remote thermometer for grilling. The unit I purchased for about $50 has the temperature sensor to insert into your chuck of meat on the grill, and it displays the current reading on a unit outside the grill, but also has a remote you can put on your belt and take with you while you prepare other side items in the kitchen. This is very convenient when slow cooking or smoking on the grill.

This was a nice shopping experience, and the array of goodies and do-dads available for the home, it is always fun to discover those things that you previously didn’t even know you just HAD to have! I hope they get back to carrying just those “unique, unusually useful and better quality products” that we all “need.”

26. La Feria – South Lamar

Lea and I stopped in for lunch right after church, and found the restaurant already had several families and groups eating lunch, including a party of twenty on the large outdoor patio which faces Lamar. It was obviously a pretty popular place, with its well-worn, homey environment. It seemed to me that the restaurant was not generally as clean as I like to see, and the floors were pretty dirty, but there was a busser working to clean tables during our meal.

As we looked over the menu we noticed that they didn’t appear to have been wiped down very recently, and had dried spots and stains on them. Most good restaurants sanitize their menus at least daily, but I couldn’t imagine ours being so dirty by lunchtime, and have to presume they don’t have a regular cleaning routine. I certainly didn’t see any of the menus being returned to the hostess being cleaned while we were there.

Their salsa was a bit of a let down. I’ve had much tastier salsa several places, and theirs seemed thin and runny and could use more cilantro for balance and onion for heat. The chips were thick and seemed greasy. On the other hand, the iced tea was quite good. Our server recommended fajitas, since, he said, unlike other restaurants, they slow cook their fajita meats to make them extra tender. Lea ordered the beef version, while I ordered the chicken. The entrees were certainly not outstanding, but they were okay. Personally, I didn’t much care for the pinto beans they served in a small bowl. I would have preferred the usual refried beans, but, I wouldn’t say they were bad; just different.

If this review is one of the first you have seen because you are trying to find one of the really good (rather than really fun) restaurants, there are many places that serve better food at the same price with a better atmosphere. However, it is a nice change from the well known local restaurants to a bright, cheerful place with a friendly staff. By the way, we noticed that smoking is allowed on the patio, so if you’re sensitive to second hand smoke you may want to let your server know before selecting a seat, and make sure you’re in the unroofed section. Would I go back? Sure! I could eat there again. After all, you can’t let your immune system get too sensitive, right?

27. Casa Garcia – South Lamar

As I gain a little more experience with Tex-Mex food in South Austin, I would have to say that Casa Garcia is pretty typical fare. Good enough food to come back again when you need another dose, but nothing really exciting. They offer lunch specials for $5.75, and have a fairly good variety of them available. We were a little surprised that their chips didn’t seem very good, but the salsa had plenty of heat and flavor. The queso tasted like a blend of Velveta and Jack cheeses with tiny amounts of diced veggies . . . disappointing, really. The refried beans had great flavor, but the guacamole was over salted, and otherwise without flavor. Service for our late lunch was less than average, but it seemed that they were understaffed, judging by the “rushed” attitude everyone seemed to have.

I think we all tend to find our favorites, and sometimes convenience is a big factor in determining what you are willing to settle for. If I was in the neighborhood when I got hungry, I might give this one another try. But, for right now, I’m going to keep looking!

28. Abuelo’s – Barton Creek Mall

Abuelo’s Mexican Food Embassy (www.abuelos.com) is a privately held conglomeration of 38 companies from Wisconsin to Arizona and Florida operated by Food Concepts International LP of Lubbock TX. They specialize in a variety of ethnic food items, including a range of starters, such as a dip sampler, chile con queso, nachos and green chile chicken quesadillas. The restaurants specialty includes sautéed chicken zucchini, white wine lemon chicken and rib eye steaks. It also serves seafood items, including wood-grilled salmon filets, stuffed crabs and fresh shrimp, and offers special menus for children and senior citizens. The queso stands out from the normal blend of American and Jack cheeses, offering great flavor with just a hint of heat.

I had experienced an Abuelo’s restaurant in Indianapolis, and found the building near the Barton Square Creek Mall to be a pretty close copy, right down to the sky painted on the ceiling, the black uniforms of the wait staff, and the delicious thin chips and salsa. Abuelo’s is a very good concept. No greasy Tex-Mex foods are offered. Good quality Mexican and American dishes are! The menu consists of really tasty dishes attractively plated at reasonable prices. Many are under $10. The food is fresh, the atmosphere pleasant, and the service that we received was excellent. One of the things you’ll notice here is that their wait staff seems like professionals when compared to the service at “mom & pop” restaurants. The facilities were well maintained, clean and bright, the floors sanitized, and the ambience was casual, intimate, and subdued lighting. A good setting for a good meal.

Lea and I arrived early for dinner, well before the rest of our party, as we were coming from the south, and everyone else was tied up in inbound traffic. Regardless, we were promptly taken to a table and seated, and an endless flow of chips and salsa began, accompanied by Steiner Bock and iced tea. Lea and I like Abuelos’ chips more than most chips, and tend to compare all others to these. They are light and crispy, flash fried so they aren’t greasy, and are just sturdy enough to use for dipping the salsa.

Our party arrived and orders were turned in, we oohed and aahed as each beautifully plated entrée was placed on the table: White Wine Lemon Chicken, Salmon San Carlos, Tilapia Veracruz, Juarez with Papas con chili, and the other entrees. All of which were delicious! One word about their soups; they have Tortilla Soup every day, and then rotate the other soups daily. For example, their delicious Cilantro Lime is available only on Mondays. (This soup is so delicious, we have attempted to duplicate it at home, and have come pretty close). Whether selecting meat or poultry, everyone in our party was very pleased, indeed, with the quality of the food and the wonderful service.

The cost of a dinner here is about $25-30, including tip, which is quite reasonable for this level of quality. Plan to be generous when tipping your waiter/waitress. They are right on top of things, and we never had to ask for a single refill all evening. Good service, good atmosphere, good food! That’s Abuelo’s.

29. Bill Miller Bar-B-Q – Wm Cannon Dr

The problem with Barbeque, is that you either like your sauce sweet, or you like it vinegary, and anything in the category starts off with a strike against them. Such was the case when Lea and I went to this Bill Miller’s for lunch. I like my barbeque sweet, and theirs is vinegary, but I thought it was only fair to give it a try and see how it lay on the taste buds. I have to say, it wasn’t too bad for that type sauce. It wasn’t overly sour, and I could actually taste the BBQ rub in the background. We had ours served over slices of nicely tenderized brisket , but I have to say it isn’t going to make me a regular customer.

Nothing we were served was notably tasty, with the possible exception of the iced tea, and the general feeling was that it was just “okay” with nothing that really stood out.

This is definitely a franchise, and you can see it in the care-less way the building and dining area are maintained. The mop marks are four inches high on every stick of furniture, including the home style condiment bar with bread, onions, pickles etc. I could just visualize the bacteria crawling up the side of that thing, and didn’t go near it! I would be more inclined to do a drive through next time, rather than going inside to eat, to reduce the odds of getting food borne illnesses. I usually check the bathrooms to get an idea of how well the restaurant is maintained, but didn’t feel I needed to in this case. What I saw in the dining room was enough to tell the tale.

In summary: The meals are over priced for the quality level, and there are cleaner places to go for a better value. I’d recommend that you keep on looking at reviews for better choices.

30. Trattoria Lisina – Driftwood TX

This is one of the best locations to take guests for a delightful lunch. Located in Driftwood, it is an absolutely beautiful estate, and conducive to extended daydreaming about what you could do if you had such a place. The restaurant is probably smaller than the demand would require, and I’ve read where folks have had to wait for a couple of hours to be seated. Even then, the only choice they had was to eat at the picnic tables out on the piazza surrounding the gorgeous outdoor fountain.

So, even though you may have to wait, they have made it tolerable by providing an attractive piazza area with views of the many-columned restaurant and the vineyards. The estate is beautiful…it is something you would expect to find in Napa Valley, and it is very relaxing just to take in the scenery.

The food was delicious. We ordered 2 appetizers — grilled bread and a variety sample platter of prosciutto, caramelized onions, asparagus, grilled eggplant, etc. Lea ordered a pizza, and got a generous portion for only $11. Be aware that most of the pizzas here don’t have tomato sauce on them, an old Italian tradition. You will have to ask for sauce on the side if you want it. Add your drink, salad and dessert and you can have a great meal for about $20 plus tip.

This is probably one of the better restaurants to take a date, business guests, or visitors you want to impress, because of its ambience and romantic setting. It is a delightful experience, and one I highly recommend.

If I didn’t have a long standing policy against rating anything “as good as it can get,” I sorta wish I could give half stars! This one goes at the top of my list, though. 🙂

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Case Studies

This page contains information on eighteen case studies of Larry E Vaughn productions ranging from computer based training, television commercials, point-of-purchase videos, and multi-projector slide shows used for marketing and annual meetings.

Case Study #1- Enterprise Virtual Team

Challenge: CTG, Inc. recognized the potential of the web integration opportunity that existed with their current main frame clients, for whom they traditionally had supplied staff augmentation on a contractual basis. They knew that many of their 6,000 employees had provided a variety of web enabled services for their clients in a one-off project basis, but didn’t know what skills were available, or the services that might be available to take to market.

Solution: Given responsibility for identifying the web skills available in the present workforce, and unifying them into a talent pool from which service offerings might be identified, I initiated a Web Technologies Virtual Team. Using the input of Regional Managing Directors and their staffs to identify web projects which had been produced within their territories, persons with web skills were identified, and assigned to the Virtual Team.

This initiative organized Web/EDI/E-Commerce/E-Business/Internet Security into an enterprise-wide Virtual Team. The purpose of this initiative was to cultivate web experienced employees in other practices within CTG, and those with an interest in learning, to develop knowledge transfer through monthly conference calls.

Results: This initiative improved communication links between Virtual Team members and improved CTG’s ability to respond to engagement opportunities. In the course of three months, the available skills were categorized into five primary disciplines, and appropriate individuals assigned to Virtual Teams organized by categories. Subsequent communication between these individuals identified the skills available to CTG for assignment, and improved CTG’s ability to go to market with web integration products.

Case Study #2 – CTG-Strategic Marketing Core Team

Challenge: CTG desired to enter the e-Business/e-Commerce development market, taking their mainframe-staff augmentation orientation into an additional line of business. Largely unfamiliar with web enabled technologies, and without a known base of web developers, CTG sought to identify the skills available on staff, and the services they might offer.

Solution: A core team of planners was created from directors, senior consultants, and team leaders to identify the skills available on staff, and the service offerings which might be developed to take to market. The team was responsible for conducting research, forging partnership agreements, developing business plans, cost models and budgets.

Results: CTG accomplished its objective of identifying its service offerings, and reorganized its business lines, competency groups and business philosophy from Flex Staffing to Managed Services, to include web integration, web development and deployment, steady state management, and hosting services. In order to permit maximum flexibility in responding to market forces, appropriate employees were transferred, and the web development business was spun off into a separate business unit.

Case Study #3 – CTG – Project Management

CTG Strategic Planning Team – Active on numerous Computer Task Group, Inc. (CTG.com) committees addressing issues such as redesign of CTG’s public and intranet Web sites, retooling courseware for legacy programmers, training for Graduates (new hires), marketing support materials. Larry was a pivotal player on the Strategic Planning Team, completing a redefinition of team goals through 2002.

Certified Project Manager in the Platinum Process Client/Server Methodology – Successful utilization of CTG distributed web project development team members working from their homes or offices to develop projects, while reducing the development costs of a traditional brick and mortar development center operation. This development process not only reduced costs, but enabled team members to work on multiple projects simultaneously.

IP Solutions – An Internet brochure web site for CTG which detailed e-commerce and e-business services available to the customer, partner relationships, etc. The site was developed in HTML, with Flash and Visual Basic navigation menu systems, CGI search engine, compressed audio and video, and Flash animation. Served as Project Manager, leading a distributed development team of four developers, programmers, working on development via a staging server, and communicating daily via Internet chats and instant messaging.

CTG Internet and Intranet – Primary architect for redesign of public web site and international intranet service, using Novell Groupwise. With 55 offices, 6 regions, and numerous vertical industry groups, project information was available within depositories on the intranet, but were hidden in information silos. The solution architecture recommended was a Plum Tree corporate portal, using two NT servers; one installed with a web server to host the portal, and the other a job server to process new information from data sources and applications.

Lone Star Steel Internet and Intranet – Lone Star Steel has seven factories using a variety of main frame technologies. These factories were linked by dedicated T1 leased lines, and were able to share only limited types of information. A Virtual Private Network was proposed as the solution to their growing need to communicate, with appropriate middleware developed to enable an increased level of data transfer between locations. The VPN also enabled additional capabilities which reduced overall operating expense, and generated an excellent return on investment.

Case Study #4 – E-Commerce Web Site

Challenge: The Asher Walton House Bed and Breakfast wanted an easy to navigate web site which offered the virtual visitor to see the beauty of the facility, make reservations, and purchase amenities on line. The site needed to be easy for the owner to maintain once it reached a steady state, with the ability to block out dates rooms were booked through means other than the web site.

Solution: An attractive 800×600 HTML home page was developed, using Javascript mouseovers, which gives the visitor two means of navigating through the various information repositories on the site, including history of the Walton House, travel directions, on line reservations, amenities available, credit card purchase system, and a virtual tour of the premises. The virtual tour permits the visitor to enter each of the main rooms, and turn to look at each of the four walls, viewing the decor, and reading a text message describing items in the view. An on line calendar/reservation system was incorporated into the site, which offers simple maintenance of available room dates, rates, amenities, etc. for the innkeeper. The system prints an e-mail for the innkeeper advising that a reservation has been made, and lists all details entered by the user. An autoresponder notifies the user that their reservation has been made and confirmed.

Results: The site was very effective, posting numerous reservations in its first few months. More amenities have been sold to those making on line reservations than to those who make reservations through other means. Guest book comments regarding the virtual tour were very complimentary.

Case Study #5 – Web Site: Membership Appeal

Challenge: The Whitewater Valley Railroad is a historical organization which runs antique railroad equipment on 17 miles of track. Traditionally, the railroad utilized a steam engine to pull their passenger excursions. Since replacing their steam engine with more modern diesel locomotives, they have experienced a reduction in passenger traffic, and in new members joining the railroad. Operating as a volunteer organization, new members are key to their operation.

Solution: An HTML web site was developed for the railroad which gives detailed information about their operation, accepts reservations via e-mail, provides a discussion board for their members, and offers the opportunity for interested parties to register for free training as a railroader. To attract the interest of visitors, the site contains a large repository of the railroad’s equipment roster, photos, and descriptions.

Results: In its first few months of operation the web site generated large numbers of on line passenger reservations, private charters, and requests for additional information. During the most recent training class it was determined that 11 of the 22 new students learned of the railroad from the web site. Plans are currently underway to expand the web site to provide additional services such as an on line version of the monthly newsletter, chat area for members, and an on line version of the railroad’s gift shop.

Case Study #6 – Motivational Presentation; Mixed Media

Challenge: ITT International proposed to introduce a new marketing strategy for the coming year, which was expected to derive considerable resistance from long term employees. The new strategy was conceived to address rapid changes in ITT’s market, and meant a new marketing methodology which could initially adversely impact the income of the sales and marketing team. A negative reaction to the new strategy could result in loss of vast experience vested in the sales and marketing team. Retention of these team members, and their enthusiastic support, was essential to success of the new marketing strategy.

Solution: A three-day theme meeting was conducted in which the attendees were treated with the respect and courtesy due them, including custom airport transportation, arrival gifts in each guest’s room, extensive spouse activities, recreational and social events, and numerous opportunities for peer meetings. Every effort was made to make the attendees feel appreciated and an important component of ITT International.

Three customized mixed-media presentations were specially produced for the meeting. The first presentation introduced the theme of the meeting, “Meeting the Challenge,” during the opening session. The presentation format was large screen, covering the entire width of the theater, and incorporated a fifteen projector slide show with video inserts, dry ice for, surround sound, and a laser light sequence. The presentation style was celebratory and motivational, with upbeat music, and a collection of slides and video clips acquired on the day of arrival, with the main thematic material.

The second mixed-media presentation was a fifteen-slide projector program which followed the “Challenge” theme, but addressed the issue of how ITT was responding to market change through a restructuring of their strategy. This program was presented during the banquet on the second evening, and was coordinated with table and room decorations. As part of this program, several of the top producing individuals and teams were recognized, brought to the stage, and awarded a nice gift.

The third mixed-media presentation was an integral part of the closing session, and incorporated photos and video acquired during business and social sessions the first and second days of the meeting. The theme was team work and individual achievement, and was accompanied by custom three-ring notebook binders containing comprehensive marketing and collateral materials to assist the sales and marketing personnel address the change in strategy with their clients and prospects, and to achieve their sales objectives in the coming months.

Results: ITT responded to the changing market conditions in a proactive manner, preparing in great detail the marketing, collateral, sales support, and media release information well in advance of announcing the change to their sales and marketing force. This preparation combined with an outstanding 3-day announcement meeting helped the attendees accept the strategy change, and leave the meeting knowing that they were an important part of the company’s implementation strategy. Over the next several months ITT exceeded its sales projections, and experienced below normal attrition levels. The meeting format has since been subsequently successfully employed by ITT.

Case Study #7 – Customer Education: Video/Collateral/Direct Mail

Challenge: Eli Lilly Company’s Qualicaps capsule manufacturing business was expanding to meet market demand. Qualicaps relied on independent Field Representatives to market their capsules to pharmaceutical and medical manufacturing companies throughout the free world. To meet growing demand, Qualicaps was purchasing a capsule manufacturing competitor in Puerto Rico. This company had a well established client base for their distinctive style capsules, which was a client base Eli Lilly wanted to retain. Since the equipment to manufacture these capsules has a finite life span, Eli Lilly was faced with the cost of continually replacing the existing equipment, or transition customers to the more ubiquitous style manufactured by Qualicaps. The potential of this market represented millions of dollars in potential income for Qualicaps.

A decision was made to continue the production of the newly acquired company’s capsules, while establishing a parallel Qualicaps manufacturing line, and to transition the established client base to Qualicaps capsules. Clients would have to retool their production facilities to use a different style capsule, which could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in capital investment. Field Representatives would have to be trained in a new dual marketing role, and taught how to address these issues with the newly acquired company’s client base.

Solution: Eli Lilly agreed that controlling the Field Representative’s interaction with clients was going to be necessary to make the marketing transition successful. Since the Field Representatives were a mobile force, traveling by private and public transportation, a compact 8mm videoplayer solution was employed. A carefully structured series of video productions was designed, each for a specific segment of the market. One was for use by the Field Representative during an initial presentation. Another was designed as a leave-behind for the prospect. A third was targeted to the mass-mail market, and was accompanied by appropriate collateral material, including a custom packaged oversize fortune cookie, with appropriate message, announcing the new campaign. The fortune cookies were mailed to each of the newly acquired clients, with a message specific to them, and another version was shipped to the Field Representatives.

A series of seminars announcing the new campaign were produced, with a variety of target groups: new employees, new clients, existing manufacturing employees, Field Representatives, marketing support staffs, and various management groups.

Results: The Field Representatives experienced excellent reception when calling on the new client base, and had very little resistance getting the opportunity to play the videotape for appropriate one-on-one audiences. Successful transition of nearly 72% of the existing client base occurred over the ensuing four years, with most of the client losses being attributed to business failures. Only a handful of the clients made a change to Qualicaps’ competitors.

Case Study #8 – Market Positioning: Promotion/Direct Mail

Challenge: Allison Division-General Motors manufactures the 250 hp aircraft and marine turbine engines which had enjoyed wide acceptance, particularly in the aircraft manufacturing and refurbishing industries. With the advent of the competitive small jet engine, however, new sales of the 250 turbine engine were waning, as aircraft manufacturers focused on introducing new jet powered models. GM wanted a tool to renew the manufacturer’s interest in the long proven 250 engine, and to recapture a major segment of the new aircraft engine market.

Solution: GM agreed that aircraft manufacturers are airplane buffs, and that the most important aspect of their business was safety and reliability of their aircraft. They also agreed that the power and ambient noise level of the Allison 250 turbine could not match the new jet engines, while the maintenance costs, historical reliability and availability of repair facilities were superior. A plan was put into place to conduct a research study in Allison Division’s archives for success stories relating to the safety and durability of the Allison 250 engine. This study resulted in an amazing number of reports and comments from military, airline and private owner sources.

A 15 minute videotape production was created, addressing the historical significance of the wide variety of aircraft that, coincidentally, used the Allison 250 turbine engine. Ranging from military and civilian helicopters, airliners, cargo liners, and private owner aircraft, the television production became an aircraft lovers cornucopia of rare photographs, film and video footage, and stories of the many times these aircraft historically performed well beyond the norm. It was only at the conclusion of the presentation that the viewer was reminded that all of the aircraft shown used the Allison 250 engine.

Results: Allison Division was overwhelmed with requests for copies of the videotape, and immediately produced an entire marketing collateral packet to accompany the gratis shipment of the custom packaged videotapes. The aircraft manufacturing market place was subtly reminded of the reliability and ubiquity of the Allison 250 engine. New commitments were received for employment of the Allison 250 for future aircraft models, and an entire line of collateral materials has been developed over the years celebrating the historical aircraft which employed the engine.

Case Study #9 – Market Positioning: Advertising/Direct Mail

Challenge: Motorola Communications was experiencing erosion of their two-way radio communications market, due to the proliferation of cellular telephone service. Motorola wanted to position their products against the more expensive cellular telephones in the public service and craftsman markets, to recapture lost or postponed sales, while avoiding positioning themselves in a manner that would prevent their own entry into the cellular market.

Solution: Motorola Communications agreed that cellular service was here to stay, but that two-way radio service had its own niche which could be expanded within certain market segments. It was decided to produce a television documentary which explored the historical significance of two-way radio communications, and reaffirmed the economical cost of operation of these systems over their lifetime. Used as a marketing tool, the documentary was direct mailed to clients and prospects, along with a supplemental information sheet that compared the costs of two-way radio to cellular.

The documentary was shot on videotape in numerous locations throughout the Midwest, using dozens of actors, antique automobiles, police and fire departments, props from the Motorola Museum and private collections, and file footage from military archives. Thirty minutes in length, the documentary began with the first transmission by Marconi, and continued through the introduction of automobile radios, two-radio communication for public safety, the military handie-talkie, and concluded with scenes depicting the critical role of two-way radio communications in situations where cellular telephones would not be adequate or appropriate.

Results: The documentary was widely employed as a direct mail promotional item, a leave-behind by field representatives, and as a filler program for cable television systems. Copies of the videotape were distributed to many public school system libraries throughout the United States. A shorter revision of the documentary was created within a few weeks after the documentary’s release, to fulfill demands from the field sales force for a sales tool that could be presented one-on-one with prospective clients. The documentary received an independent production-industry award for excellence, and was attributed with achieving great success in improved sales within the public safety and commercial segments of the communications market.

Case Study #10 – Market Positioning; Computer Based Training

Challenge: Hon Office Furniture was experiencing difficulty in maintaining their extensive product catalogs in their thousands of retail outlets. Although they stressed timely distribution of sales collateral material to their outlets, they found that the material often didn’t get placed in the catalog, and many clerks on the sales floor were unaware of the revisions when presenting Hon’s products to prospects. This often led to a purchase of a competitor’s product, which was perceived to be more modern or expansive in options. Although the retail catalog was an excellent sales tool, if it was not maintained in a current fashion, it was often perceived as being out of date. Hon needed a new way to present their product options to the shopper.

Solution: Working in conjunction with Office Depot, one of Hon’s largest retail outlets, a plan was developed to produce an interactive computer-based retail kiosk which the shopper could utilize to select products, view color and fabric options, and then place the products into a scale room, to see how the new purchases would fit into the space. The project was developed on IBM’s Digital Video Integration platform, and used an automated modem to receive periodic video updates to products. Thus, the shopper was always looking at the most up to date product line from Hon.

Results: This system was adopted by Office Depot, and now incorporates many of their product lines, including Hon. The work stations are now Web based, and updates are downloaded from scheduled satellite feeds from corporate headquarters.

Case Study #11 – Education: Multiplexed Video

Challenge: The Ruth Lilly Center for Health Education provides classes for school children ages 6-18, delivering more depth and detail than can be effectively delivered in the traditional classroom. School districts in their service area utilize the facility on a field-trip basis, paying a small fee per student, selecting classes from a variety of subjects available. Most of the educational material had been delivered via multi-projector slide shows with synchronized sound tracks. Burned out bulbs, slide trays out of sequence, and unfamiliarity with multi-projector system operation often prevented teachers from being able to present a class. The slide show format was viewed as outmoded, and much of the material outdated. A more reliable solution was desired, as well as a means of presenting the material in a more contemporary format.

Solution: IBM’s Digital Video Integration technology was coupled with rear-view LCD projectors to present action video and graphical material on three viewing surfaces simultaneously, and stereo sound brought the material to the student in a manner consistent with big theater presentations. Each classroom was equipped with a video server, a graphics server, a program sequencer, and the Center’s existing slide projectors.

Each lesson was revised and updated prior to production. Upon approval of the production script, custom produced video, graphics and sound were created to develop an engaging theater style production designed for the appropriate age group. Involving dozens of locations, countless set designs, and approximately one hundred actors, the course material required almost seven months of production. Lesson material was deployed as soon as it was produced, while other material remained in the writing or production process.

Results: The acceptance of the material produced was widely acclaimed, and was featured in a front page article of the local newspaper. Schools were unanimous in their support of the improved material, which resulted in a surge of participation by school districts. The successful deployment of this new technology became the model for other health centers around the country to immolate, and continues today as a Web enabled teaching model.

Case Study #12 – Employee Education: Computer Based Training

Challenge: St Vincent Hospital’s nursing staff and technicians trained in administration of electrocardiograms are required to recertify on the EKG machine each 90 days. Testing includes a written examination and demonstration of the testing procedure on a patient. Since the staff of trained operators are constantly responding to emergencies while on duty, the recertification process presented a very difficult challenge for the training department. It was common practice to allow technicians to operate well beyond the 90 days allowed before testing. St. Vincent had recently been inspected by the state health department, and found to be deficient in training currency for their operators. A concerted effort to bring their staff into compliance required significant overtime pay. A better means of training was required.

Solution: St. Vincent agreed that the written examination could be administered through alternative means, and that this was the most difficult portion of the recertification process to achieve, since testing had to be done in a monitored environment, usually a classroom. A proposal to place a large battery of randomized questions on a computer terminal was accepted. The technician could log into the system using their employee number, initiate the test, receive a randomized list of questions, and could respond to the questions through a multiple choice array. The test was then scored, and submitted through e-mail to the training department. If a technician was called away during the test, the test could be bookmarked and completed at a later time. If a test question was twice answered erroneously, the computer opened a help window in which text and/or video instruction was displayed. The subject question was then offered again for a correct input.

Results: Recertification of technicians and operators was achieved much more easily during a normal working shift, eliminating the requirement for periodic classroom instruction. The entire staff was quickly brought into compliance with recertification requirements on written tests, and the training department’s tasks were greatly reduced.

Case Study #13 – Point of Purchase Kiosk: E-Commerce

Challenge: Huffy Bicycle produces a large number of bicycles for various market segments. Few retailers could devote enough floor space to display the full Huffy Bicycle line of products. Often, floor space was divided among multiple bicycle manufacturers, meaning that shoppers were not often able to compare Huffy’s model to a competitor’s which might on display. Huffy needed a way to present their entire line to shoppers, without requiring retailers to stock and refill large amounts of collateral material.

Solution: In conjunction with K-Mart, one of Huffy’s largest retail outlets, a prototype retail kiosk was developed and tested on the retail floor. The initial software/hardware used for the prototype comprised IBM’s Digital Video Integration package, a custom retail kiosk, a touch screen for client interaction, and a cell phone to place the orders over night. The software presented full color photographs of each model bicycle in children’s, lady’s, men’s and mountain bicycles. After the model in which the customer was interested was selected and displayed on the screen, the preferred color could be selected. If the shopper was interested in more information, a touch of the screen would bring up an action video clip of the bicycle in use, with an appropriate narration of the features and benefits of that model. If the model was not in stock, the shopper could place an order through the kiosk, and given priority order status by K-Mart’s purchasing department. The bicycle was usually available for pick up within four to five days.

Results: The results of the month long retail floor test of the kiosk demonstrated that shoppers were willing to wait for delivery of their bicycle in order to get just the model and color they desired. The test also demonstrated that K-Mart could expand their sales of bicycles by making a wider selection of models available, and the kiosk eliminated the requirement for more dedicated floor space in order to display additional models. This system experienced wide acceptance, and can be found in a Web enabled model in many retail outlets today.

Case Study #14 – Training Design: Computer Based Training

Challenge: United Airlines established an international repair hub for its 737 aircraft at a Midwest location where no repair facility had been located previously. Employees familiar with 737 maintenance were being transferred to the new city, but the bulk of employees were new hires with no experience with this model aircraft. The processes being employed for maintenance included newly designed infrastructure and support equipment, which was innovative and unique to this facility. United needed to train their entire team on all facets of the new hub, from building maintenance and support systems, to aircraft maintenance procedures.

Solution: United recognized that the best instruction available for many of the systems being installed in the new building were the manufacturer’s representatives who were on site during installation of their products and systems. Each supplier was required to provide detailed instruction on each component of the system installed, which would be captured on video tape. As each phase of the construction was completed, and instructional material grouped into categories targeted at specific maintenance groups, the video was transferred to CD, and placed in the training library. Over one thousand subjects were covered, and distributed on nearly 400 CDs available for viewing in the training room. Instruction was delivered to employee groups and new hires as needed through this system.

Results: This training system was very effective in delivering detailed training not usually available to support the manuals and maintenance manuals provided by manufacturers after the initial training session. The information contained in the volume of work continues to be a source of reference for infrastructure maintenance personnel, and continues to be effective in training newly hired technicians.

Case Study #15 – Consumer Motivation; Media Production

Challenge: During times of extended extreme heat the ability of electricity producers to provide sufficient power to prevent brown outs is tested to the ultimate. Operating costs for the electrical companies is highest when operating at full capacity, and requires considerable overtime expenditures for maintenance personnel to be in a constant state of readiness. The Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives is a trade association representing the regional rural electric cooperatives in the State of Missouri. Rather than being constantly in a defensive position when temperatures were high, the Association sought a way to be proactive in reducing the demands on their member’s systems.

Solution: The Association agreed that the best method of alerting members of the rural electric cooperatives was through announcements on radio and television. The cost of such a concept, however, was seen as prohibitive. A plan was developed to create an in-house advertising agency to place advertising with the media, and recoup the ad agency discounts available through each placement. the agency was also empowered to develop 4 thirteen-week schedules annually with each radio and television station throughout the state, to gain the discounts available for bulk advertising.

In order to receive as much exposure for the Association as possible without the expenditure of huge advertising budgets, a plan was developed to educate electrical consumers through press releases and a carefully planned series of newspaper and statewide magazine advertisements. These ads explained the system that was being devised, and informed the public that Alert announcements would be aired on their local radio and television stations during peak usage times. When these announcements were aired, consumers were asked to reduce their consumption, to help reduce the annualized cost of electricity.

Concurrently, television stations in each market throughout the state were contacted about a plan to gain television exposure at minimal costs. The plan was to form a planning group comprised of a representative from each television station to determine the public service programming they were required to address as part of their licensing agreement. Each station was required to conduct quarterly studies in their markets to ascertain issues that the public felt needed to be addressed by the media.

By determining which issues were common to all markets, an arrangement was made to produce a single half hour program addressing each of the issues, which could be aired in every television market. This plan saved the television stations the cost of producing the programs themselves, and met the requirements of their license agreement. The programs were produced at the expense of the Association, and provided to the station in exchange for Alert announcements to be run upon demand.

Results: The alert system, named Peak Alert, was aired successfully in all Missouri markets, and in each instance had a measurable impact on the peak loads being experienced by the electric utilities. The cost of the program was far outweighed by the savings, and was continued in operation for four seasons. The Peak Alert program gained national media recognition and received the Missouri Broadcasting Association’s annual Award of Excellence. The half hour television programs were widely lauded, and received numerous awards and honorable mentions for production excellence. The Association was awarded the George Washington Honor Medal by the American Freedom Foundation for its sponsorship.

Case Study #16 – Railroad Engineer Training Program

Challenge: Consolidated Grain Company’s facility in Jeffersonville, Indiana operates a grain and fertilizer handling business that includes river barge traffic and railroad traffic. The railroad traffic had traditionally been handled by having the incoming revenue cars dropped off in their yard facility by the delivering railroad. Elevator employees would then take one of the facility’s two locomotives to the yard, couple to the required string of cars, and take them to the elevator for loading or unloading.

Over the years, the area around Consolidated Grain Company became formalized as the Clarksville Maritime Facility, an industrial complex which included additional businesses. New sidings of railroad track were laid to the new industries, all leading to the switching yard operated by Consolidated Grain. Elevator employees from Consolidated Grain began handling delivery of loaded or empty cars to and from their switching yard and the industries on an on-call basis. In time, Consolidated Grain formed a short line railroad company, MGRI, and began charging the industries railroad tariff rates for pick up and delivery of their cars.

In 1995 the MGRI railroad operation, by federal law, had to meet all operating standards required by the Federal Transportation Act, pertaining to certification of all individuals who operated railroad locomotive. The certification of the engineer roster had to be achieved in a short period of time to continue operation, or the railroad, and therefore Consolidated Grain Company, would be subject to fines levied by the Federal Railroad Administration.

Solution: In July of 1995 Larry Vaughn was selected to develop and administer a three-year training program for Consolidated Grain Company, to transfer the necessary knowledge to their engineers during an intense classroom and field exercise training program. The initial six-month training period was required to design and conduct the classroom sessions, conduct field training in federal safety standards, and to develop proper locomotive and train handling techniques. During the first quarter of 1996, the entire staff of engineers, except one person, passed the written knowledge examination. Of those who successfully completed the classroom training, all performed satisfactorily on their operating field tests, and received federal licenses as locomotive engineers.

For the remaining two years, the engineers received periodic observations of their field operating practices, and annual classroom sessions dealing with federally mandated topics. Simultaneously, one of the senior staff members also received training as a Supervisor of Locomotive Engineers, and completed the training during the third year of the training program.

Results: MGRI met, and in some cases, exceeded the federally mandated requirements for the education and training of their engineers, and continued to improve their operation to such a level that they became a model operation for other short line railroads to implement in their operations. Each MGRI engineer continued to increase his knowledge of proper operating practices, and improved in train handling skills, throughout the three year training program. One member of their engineer staff received additional classroom and field training in the federally mandated requirements for a Supervisor of Locomotive Engineers, and assumed responsibility for management of the Engineer Training Program in the third year of its implementation. The railroad’s program became a model program, and has been adopted by similar operations throughout the United States.

Case Study #17 – Marketing & Training Using Mixed Media

Challenge: ITT International proposed to introduce a new marketing strategy for the coming year, which was expected to derive considerable resistance from long term employees. The new strategy was conceived to address rapid changes in ITT’s market, and meant a new marketing methodology which could initially adversely impact the income of the sales and marketing team. A negative reaction to the new strategy could result in loss of vast experience vested in the sales and marketing team. Retention of these team members, and their enthusiastic support, was essential to success of the new marketing strategy.

Solution: A three-day theme meeting was conducted in which the attendees were treated with the respect and courtesy due them, including custom airport transportation, arrival gifts in each guest’s room, extensive spouse activities, recreational and social events, and numerous opportunities for peer meetings. Every effort was made to make the attendees feel appreciated and an important component of ITT International.

Three customized mixed-media presentations were specially produced for the meeting. The first presentation introduced the theme of the meeting, “Meeting the Challenge,” during the opening session. The presentation format was large screen, covering the entire width of the theater, and incorporated a fifteen projector slide show with video inserts, dry ice for, surround sound, and a laser light sequence. The presentation style was celebratory and motivational, with upbeat music, and a collection of slides and video clips acquired on the day of arrival, with the main thematic material.

The second mixed-media presentation was a fifteen-slide projector program which followed the “Challenge” theme, but addressed the issue of how ITT was responding to market change through a restructuring of their strategy. This program was presented during the banquet on the second evening, and was coordinated with table and room decorations. As part of this program, several of the top producing individuals and teams were recognized, brought to the stage, and awarded a nice gift.

The third mixed-media presentation was an integral part of the closing session, and incorporated photos and video acquired during business and social sessions the first and second days of the meeting. The theme was team work and individual achievement, and was accompanied by custom three-ring notebook binders containing comprehensive marketing and collateral materials to assist the sales and marketing personnel address the change in strategy with their clients and prospects, and to achieve their sales objectives in the coming months.

Results: ITT responded to the changing market conditions in a proactive manner, preparing in great detail the marketing, collateral, sales support, and media release information well in advance of announcing the change to their sales and marketing force. This preparation combined with an outstanding 3-day announcement meeting helped the attendees accept the strategy change, and leave the meeting knowing that they were an important part of the company’s implementation strategy. Over the next several months ITT exceeded its sales projections, and experienced below normal attrition levels. The meeting format has since been subsequently successfully employed by ITT.

Case Study #18 – Customer Education: Video/Collateral/Direct Mail

Challenge: Eli Lilly Company’s Qualicaps capsule manufacturing business was expanding to meet market demand. Qualicaps relied on independent Field Representatives to market their capsules to pharmaceutical and medical manufacturing companies throughout the free world. To meet growing demand, Qualicaps was purchasing a capsule manufacturing competitor in Puerto Rico. This company had a well established client base for their distinctive style capsules, which was a client base Eli Lilly wanted to retain. Since the equipment to manufacture these capsules has a finite life span, Eli Lilly was faced with the cost of continually replacing the existing equipment, or transition customers to the more ubiquitous style manufactured by Qualicaps. The potential of this market represented millions of dollars in potential income for Qualicaps.

A decision was made to continue the production of the newly acquired company’s capsules, while establishing a parallel Qualicaps manufacturing line, and to transition the established client base to Qualicaps capsules. Clients would have to retool their production facilities to use a different style capsule, which could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in capital investment. Field Representatives would have to be trained in a new dual marketing role, and taught how to address these issues with the newly acquired company’s client base.

Solution: Eli Lilly agreed that controlling the Field Representative’s interaction with clients was going to be necessary to make the marketing transition successful. Since the Field Representatives were a mobile force, traveling by private and public transportation, a compact 8mm video player solution was employed. A carefully structured series of video productions was designed, each for a specific segment of the market. One was for use by the Field Representative during an initial presentation. Another was designed as a leave-behind for the prospect. A third was targeted to the mass-mail market, and was accompanied by appropriate collateral material, including a custom packaged oversize fortune cookie, with appropriate message, announcing the new campaign. The fortune cookies were mailed to each of the newly acquired clients, with a message specific to them, and another version was shipped to the Field Representatives.

A series of seminars announcing the new campaign were produced, with a variety of target groups: new employees, new clients, existing manufacturing employees, Field Representatives, marketing support staffs, and various management groups.

Results: The Field Representatives experienced excellent reception when calling on the new client base, and had very little resistance getting the opportunity to play the videotape for appropriate one-on-one audiences. Successful transition of nearly 72% of the existing client base occurred over the ensuing four years, with most of the client losses being attributed to business failures. Only a handful of the clients made a change to Qualicaps’ competitors.

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Business Research Links

Basic Business Research Methods
Topics include: Planning Your Research, Various Research Methods (including advantages and disadvantages), Selecting Research Methods, Analyzing, Interpreting and Reporting Results, Ethics and Conducting Research, Related Library Links, On-Line Discussion Groups.

Brint
If Brint doesn’t have it, then you probably don’t need it.

Comfind
Useful site for finding corporate web sites. Search by company name, business category, product, etc.

Companies Online
To find a particular company’s website, you can search this database by company name, city, state, industry or stock ticker symbol.

SBIR
Department of Defense Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program– $1/2 billion in early-stage R&D funding for small technology companies.

Business.com
The leading business search engine and business directory designed to help its usersfind the companies, products, services, and information they need.

Business Week
Information you need from Business Week and other valuablesources on the Net.

CEO Express
Daily News & Info, Business Research Office Tools & Travel BreaktimeExecuDiva.

Center for Women’s Business Research
The premier source of knowledge about women business owners and their enterprises worldwide. The Center’s mission is to unleash the economic potential of women entrepreneurs by conducting research, sharing information and increasing knowledge about this fast-growing sector of the economy.

CIOBC
The CIO E-Business Research Center examines the current stateand future directions of conducting commerce on the Web.

Company Home Pages
Dogpile

Company Overviews
Hoover’s Online

eBusiness Research Center (eBRC)
Now the pre-eminent center for research in e-business, e-business on demand and adaptive organization.

Entrepreneurial Links
Links to sites that offer help and advice for the entrepreneur.

Great Plains Info
Relevant information and insightful data on economic conditions, in Nebraska, the Great Plains, and the USA as a general service to individuals and businesses in the state.

Go.com
Find corporate websites. Click on the Business subhead, then choose Companies in the websites section. Links to numerous sites to help find corporate pages.

Hoovers
Online database of 50,000 companies. FEE for some of the detailed information.

Jobnet.com
Philadelphia’s Career Site

MSU Business
Current information on the business climate, news, history, political structure, economic landscape, and relevant statistical data for 196 countries.

McMaster Business Research Center (Canada)
E-business Knowledge for a Changing World. McMaster E-commerce Research Center, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

MIT Center for eBusiness
MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Monster
Research Companies in Monster’s Business Section

National Institutes of Health
Small Business Funding Opportunities

New York SBDC
New York State’s SBDC is often recognized as the premier business assistance program in the state.

National Bureau of Economic Research
Business Cycle Expansions and Contractions from Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research

NUA Internet surveys & Demographics (Canada)
Comprehensive round up of all internet related news worldwide as well as a mailing list.

Research Magazine
Free subscription to Research Magazine.

Riley Guide
Puts the top business research sources (both print and online) in one easy-to-use place.

State and Local Governments on the Net

Strategis Research Center (Canada)
This web site is designed to encourage small business researchers and policy analysts across Canada to share information on small business research and policy.

UMass Library
Digital business library at University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Entrepreneurial Research Links

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Franchising

The success rate for franchise owned businesses is very high according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Less than 5 percent of franchised businesses fail, but this level of success doesn’t come easily, and success is not guaranteed. According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), One of the biggest mistakes that you can make is to be in too big a hurry to get into business.

Don’t feel pressured to purchase a franchise that isn’t a good fit for you. You need to conduct a broad study of opportunities to understand what is available, and which franchise is going to be the best business for you to undertake. You need to conduct a Due Diligence process when considering a franchise, just as you would when considering the purchase of an existing business. You will find some guidelines to help you with the process in my article “Buying A Business”.

Personal Assessment

Perhaps your most important step in evaluating a franchise opportunity is examining your own skills, abilities and experience. The ideal franchisee is a creative, outgoing person who is eager to succeed, but not so independent that he or she resents other people’s advice. Are you this type person? Maybe you think so, but haven’t pursued a self-assessment tool to help you see clearly what skills you have as well as those you may lack. There are a number of assessment tools available, and you should avail yourself of at least one of these.

Then, ask yourself how this decision will affect your family. Do they understand the risks and sacrifices required, and will they support your efforts? Beginning a franchise business is a major decision that does not ensure easy success. However, an informed commitment of time, energy and money by you and your family can lead to an exciting and profitable venture.

What Is A Franchise?

A franchise is a legal and commercial relationship between the owner of a trademark, service mark, trade name or advertising symbol and an individual or group seeking the right to use that identification in a business. In its simplest form, a franchiser owns the right to a name or trademark and rents that right to a franchisee. In the more complex Business Format Franchising, a broader and ongoing relationship exists between the two parties. Business format franchises often provide a full range of services, including site selection, financing, marketing plans, training, and a source of supply to products.

As in all major business decisions, however, nothing substitutes for thorough Due Diligence investigation, planning and analysis of your options. The Small Business Administration recommends the questions below to guide your research and cover all the bases.

What Is The business?

Determine whether the business opportunity would be a successful venture on its own, apart from the benefits offered by the franchiser.

· Is the product or service being offered new or established? Does the business require special skills or aptitudes that you may lack? Do you feel strong motivation for producing the product or providing the service?
· Does the product meet a local demand? Is there a proven market?
· Who is the competition?
· If the product requires servicing, who bears the responsibilities covered by warranties and guarantees? The franchisee? The franchiser? If neither, are service options available?
· What kind of reputation does the product or service enjoy?
· Are suppliers available? What reputation do they enjoy?

Who Is the Franchiser?

Visit at the very least one of the firm’s franchises. More would, of course, be better. Ask for a list of all of the firm’s current franchises and make sure that you select the one(s) to visit. At the very least, the franchiser must provide you with the names of 10 franchises in your prospective market area. If you can visit only one franchise operation, avoid those most recommended by the franchiser, but look to those on the list who were not as highly recommended. These may often give you a better picture of a typical operation, and the feedback from the franchisee may be more reflective of the opportunity.

The Discovery process for franchising is much like the process for any business, except that you need to know what you can expect from the franchiser, and what conditions of operation will be required of you. When you make a site visit, discuss franchisee expenses and ask how well the franchiser supports the franchise units. Does the franchiser actively promote and market the products or services of the franchise? This will help you determine the reputation, stability and financial strength of the franchiser.

Here are some additional questions from the SBA that you should ask:
· How long has the franchiser been in the industry? How long has the firm granted franchises?
· How many franchises are there? How many in your area?
· Examine the attitude of the franchiser toward you. Is the firm concerned about your qualifications? Are you being rushed to sign the agreement? Does the firm seem interested in a long term relationship, or does that interest end with the initial fee?
· What is the current financial condition of the franchiser? Check the franchiser’s financial statements in the disclosure document. If the franchisees are paying their upfront fees but not their royalties, this may indicate that franchise units are being sold to investors but that they fail to open or perform too poorly to pay royalties.
· Who are the principal officers, owners and management staff? What is each person’s background? How much experience in franchising do they have? · Compare sales promises with existing documentation. Be certain that the sales presentation is realistic and that major promises are clearly written into the contract. Be alert for exaggerated claims and pressure tactics.
· For newly established franchises, make sure the franchiser has registered the company’s trademark. If not, the company’s name and logo may have to be altered, forcing you to change your market identity after you have established yourself.
· Verify earnings claims and compare them with other business opportunities. Investigate all earnings claims carefully. Earnings claims must (1) be in writing; (2) describe the basis and assumptions for the claim; (3) state the number and percentage of other units whose actual experience equals or exceeds the claim; (4) be accompanied by an offer to show substantiating material for the claim; and (5) include certain cautionary language. Treat this opportunity like any other investment. Does the franchise offer the return you require? If not, you may want to look at a different business.
· What is the legal history of the franchiser? Have any of the executives been involved in criminal or civil actions? Is any litigation pending, particularly involving any restrictions on trade that may affect the franchise?
· Is the franchise a member of the International Franchise Association (IFA)? If the franchise is not a member, find out why. The IFA has a strict code of ethics that must be met before a company can become a member.

What Is The Franchise Package?

Bring all your information and resources together as you examine the contract. Think carefully about the level of independence you will maintain as a franchisee. How comprehensive are the operating controls? Be very clear about the full costs of purchasing the franchise. Involve a franchise attorney, accountant and/or business advisor as you examine the following questions.

· What is the full initial cost? What does it cover?
· Licensing fee?
· Land purchase or lease?
· Building construction or renovation?
· Equipment?
· Training?
· Starting inventory?
· Promotional fees?
· Use of operations manuals?
· What ongoing costs are paid to the franchiser?
· Royalties?
· Ongoing training?
· Cooperative advertising fees?
· Insurance?
· Interest or financing?
· Are you required to purchase supplies from the franchiser or a designated supplier? Are the prices competitive with other suppliers? · What, if any, restrictions apply to competition with other franchises?
· What are the terms covering renewal rights? Reselling the franchise?

What Is the Disclosure Document?

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires sellers of franchises and other business opportunity ventures to provide prospective investors with the information they need to make an informed investment decision. It also requires that all earnings claims be documented, that the information investors receive is complete and accurate and that investors have adequate time to consider and evaluate the disclosures before making any final purchase commitment.

All required information is given to prospective investors in the form of a franchise disclosure document, which must be furnished at least 10 business days before any purchase may occur. This document includes 20 important items of information, such as

· Names, addresses and telephone numbers of other franchisees.
· A fully audited financial statement of the seller.
· The cost required to start and maintain the business.
· The responsibilities you and the seller will share once you buy a franchise.
· Litigation involving the company or its officers, if any.

Information Resources

U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) – The SBA offers an extensive selection of information on most business management topics, from how to start a business to exporting your products. Much of the information contained in this report is listed in their Small Business Directory library.

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Buying A Business

Many entrepreneurs today are considering buying an existing business, rather than starting a new business. This approach offers the ability to enter self-employment with an established, on-going business, which offers an existing stream of income. Advertising and marketing for the startup phase has been achieved, and those months of establishing a reasonable cash flow have been accomplished.

The main reason to buy an existing business is the drastic reduction in start-up costs of time, money, and energy. In addition, cash flow may start immediately thanks to existing inventory and receivables. Other benefits include pre-existing customer goodwill and easier financing opportunities, if the business has a positive track record.

In many cases, this can be the most financially sound method of entering the self-employment field. However, there are some important issues you need to address if you are considering purchasing an existing business. The biggest block to buying a small business outright is the initial purchase price.

Because the business concept, customer base, brands, and other fundamental work has already been done, the financial costs of acquiring an existing business is usually greater then starting one from nothing. Other possible disadvantages include hidden problems associated with the business and receivables that are valued at the time of purchase, but later turn out to be non-collectable. Good research is the key to avoiding these problems.

You must do a thorough investigation of the business to make sure you understand ALL facets of the existing owner’s situation. This process of digging down into the operation of the business is called Due Diligence, a process that begins after you’ve done your preliminary investigation and determined that you are sincerely interested in buying the business.

When you’ve made this decision, you will submit to the owner a document called a Letter of Intent, which states that you are going to buy the business if the Due Diligence process goes smoothly, and the results of the process don’t turn up any red flags. At this point in the process the owner(s) should open up the business’s books to you, to let you investigate them thoroughly, looking for any financial problems with the business.

You would be well advised to obtain the services of a professional accountant to help you with this process. In fact, the accountant will usually work alone during this process and supply you with a written final report of the findings, and any recommendations that need to be brought to your attention.

It can be to your advantage to retain an accountant that has an established practice in the community where the business is located. It may also be to your advantage to use an accountant familiar with the industry segment the business is in. An established accountant is going to know a lot about the business community where they practice, and will be able to recognize problems with the business that may be otherwise overlooked.

You can also check online resources such as Bizcomps.com and Business Valuation Services, to get a good idea of what businesses similar to the one you’re investigating commonly sell for in your geographic area. The cost of information at this point is outweighed by future savings.

A significant portion of the asking price for a business is what is called “Blue Sky.” The Blue Sky” is merely an estimate of the income potential of the business over the next few years. This usually represents how much income the current owners might have expected to receive from the business if they had continued to own and operate it.

Blue Sky can range from a few months to a few years worth of income depending on the type business. This is also the portion of the asking price you need to fully understand, as it will also likely be the area of most negotiation. Think of it this way: If you pay three years worth of income as the Blue Sky piece of your purchase price, you will have to make that level of profit for three years to be able to start earning real income from the business.

A well-structured Due Diligence process will include a close look at the cash flow of the business under consideration, the accounts payable, the age of accounts receivable, and a detailed listing of clients and their financial status. There are some obvious factors here: noticeably high accounts payables may indicate an inability to pay the bills. Aged accounts receivable can indicate difficulty on the part of customers to pay their bills.

There has been more than one case where the accountant has been able to identify customers who are in dire financial straits, and may not continue to be customers much longer. This would be extremely valuable information when considering the purchase of a business. There are a number of resources that need to be utilized during this process, including Dun and Bradstreet reports on each of the major customers. These $125 reports will help you get a better understanding of the client or customer base for the business, and may point to the need for further investigation.

While the accountant is checking out all things financial, you should also do Due Diligence on the legal side. You need to discover any liens, judgments or other legal actions against the company. You can often discover this type of information by doing some searching of files at the Recorder’s office at the county courthouse. The Secretary of State will also be able to provide you with any information of legal activity against the company.

It is at this point a small business attorney becomes very important to this process. If the company has passed all the tests, and you are favorably impressed with the results, you need to take one more step. Have your attorney do an investigation of the business. Potential buyers are often surprised by the information an attorney can uncover for you, and it can result in saving you a great deal of money.

Attorneys have access to the workings of the legal system, and during their discovery investigation may turn up information about pending legal actions that a layman could miss. One participant on my Entrepreneurship webinars related a story about a business he had been considering, and during the Due Diligence process, the attorney uncovered a pending lien by the Environment Protection Agency.

It seems the small manufacturing business under consideration had a very well established niche in the marketplace, and would have been a good business to operate. However, the business was operating out of a former gas station, and there were still gas tanks underground. The EPA was going to require that those tanks be removed at an estimated cost of over a million dollars!

Uncovering this kind of information is what Due Diligence is all about, and the process will cost you in reports and fees for the professional support. The savings, however, if you decide to purchase the business can be dramatic. The process normally knocks the top edge off the Blue Sky price, resulting in a fair purchase price, and a much easier transition into owning your own business.

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Risk Assessment

There are nearly 20 million home-based businesses in the United States. But some 60 percent of them are gambling with the future of their businesses and don’t even know it. According to the Independent Insurance Agents of America Inc. (IIAA), an Alexandria, Virginia-based trade group, these home-based entrepreneurs don’t have nearly enough business insurance coverage.

Many entrepreneurs mistakenly believe they’re covered by their homeowners insurance. However, most homeowners’ policies limit loss of business property to around $2,500, won’t cover losses away from the home, and exclude liability coverage for business-related activity. Consider these ordinary risks:

· A graphic artist can easily have $20,000 in computer equipment and software in the home office. Homeowners insurance usually has limits of about $2,500.
· Sales representatives often take a laptop and cell phone on the road to meet with customers. Homeowners insurance doesn’t cover these when away from the home.
· A client could slip and fall during an appointment at a home-based bookkeeping service. An accident in your home is not covered if related to business use of the home.
· A home-based manufacturer could be held liable if his or her product injured someone. This coverage is not a component of homeowner’s coverage.

Types of Insurance

As a home-based business owner, liability and property damage are two types of insurance you need to investigate. Liability protects you against someone getting injured on your premises or by one of your products, while Property Damage protects against damage to things from computers to carpets. The most protection you can receive will be from a Business Owner’s Policy, although a Home Office Policy may provide enough protection in your situation. If you are won’t have customers coming to your premises for business purposes, a Business Pursuits endorsement on your homeowners policy may be enough. A Business Owner’s Policy (BOP) includes both liability and property damage coverage, and usually covers typical hazards like loss of data, software or income; theft; and general business liability. In many cases, the structure housing your business is also covered, so this might duplicate your homeowners’ coverage. A BOP also provides some off-premises coverage, including liability coverage for products you sell or parts you install. Things like flood protection or insurance for outdoor signs may be optional in some cases. And, be certain that tools such as laptops and other equipment taken to a job site are covered in the policy. This, too, may be an add-on.

A Home Office Policy is a step down from a BOP. This policy combines homeowners and business insurance, eliminating duplicate coverage, such as the structure itself. This is a good choice for a company with no more than a handful of business visitors each week and an investment in quality office equipment. It covers general business liability, lost income and ongoing expenses like payroll for up to one year if the business can’t operate because of damage to your home. Also covered are loss of records, accounts receivable, some off-site business property, fire, theft and personal liability. Many policies don’t cover “options” such as floods or earthquakes, so be sure to ask about these if they are important in your situation.

A Business Pursuits endorsement to your homeowner’s policy provides the least protection, and isn’t recommended for most home-based businesses that have customers on site or costly equipment. However, it may be well suited to your business, so ask about this type protection to see if it is a lower cost fit. Read the fine print on your current homeowners’ policy to find out the restrictions on business property and activity in the home.

Cover Your Assets

Examine your business and your assets to determine your net worth, likelihood of business interruption, and liability “red flags.” When you’ve found a policy that’s within your budget and covers possible losses, review it yearly to make sure it’s still adequate. If your business has employees, you will be required to have workers’ compensation insurance, which covers employees’ injuries on the job. Requirements vary from state to state–check with your state’s employment office to see what’s required.

If you will be operating your business from your home, make sure you have the necessary insurance protection, and take additional steps to protect yourself. Here are some suggestions collected from insurers and risk assessment consultants:

Crime Prevention
· Notify your police agency that you would appreciate regular patrols;
· Install smoke and fire alarms, fire extinguishers, emergency lights, and deadbolt locks on exterior doors;
· Install motion-sensing lights in dark outside areas;
· Keep your office equipment out of view from the street;
· Keep money and important documents in a fireproof safe, or off site;

· Have your electrical circuitry inspected for overloads by a professional;
· Keep driveways, steps and walkways free of ice and debris;
· Remove loose throw rugs from walking paths;
· Do not allow customers to operate any of your equipment;
· Establish safety rules, and enforce them;
· Conduct regular preventive maintenance on all equipment.

Liability prevention:
· Don’t accept work assignments you aren’t qualified to perform or make promises you can’t keep;
· Have an attorney review contracts to avoid assuming someone else’s liability.

Disaster Recovery
· Make clearly labeled backups of important documents and store them at another location off site;
· Develop a disaster recovery plan to help you return to normal operations quickly;
· Test your disaster recovery plan on an ongoing, periodic, basis.

Honestly Assess Your Insurance Needs

Commercial or business insurance offers property and liability coverage, but only to the limits you establish when purchasing your coverage. If you are self-employed, in effect you own your own business and are responsible not only for your own equipment and supplies but also for any damage to your clients and their property. Make sure you acquire adequate coverage for your situation. Rates for this insurance will vary depending on the risks involved in your business.

The Independent Insurance Agents of America Inc. states the primary factors in determining cost of business insurance coverage are: · The likelihood of a loss occurring-The greater the probability a loss will occur can mean a higher rate {e.g., earthquake insurance in California). · The potential size of the claim-If you purchase a large amount of coverage (that is, if the item you are insuring is quite valuable), the chances are there could be a large claim and the premium will need to cover that possibility.

The percentage of loss the insurance company will be required to pay-If you have no deductible, the company will pay 100% on a covered loss. This increases their risk and your premium. To understand how a deductible works, consider the following: If the deductible on your auto insurance is $100, it means you agree to pay this amount first, and your insurance company will pay for damages exceeding this deductible. By increasing your deductible from $100 to $250, or even $500, this decreases the insurance company’ risk, which may mean a savings in your premium.

Other factors can influence premiums, too, such as the volume of lawsuits and the average amount awarded in your state in litigation that could arise from your business practice. In short, your insurance company tries to ascertain how much it needs to accumulate from its insureds to cover all the claims it will potentially receive.

Talk to your local homeowner’s agent, and ask a lot of questions to determine the amount and type of insurance your business needs. If you can’t get satisfactory information, seek out a commercial insurance agent. Independent agents typically will represent half a dozen or more carriers, so be sure to ask for coverage comparisons and rates.

Start your search with this information in hand:

· What inventory items do you have at home?
· How much equipment?
· How much would it cost to replace your inventory and equipment?
· How many customers come to your home office?
· Will you be taking equipment to customer sites?
· What would happen to your business if a disaster forced you out of your home temporarily?

As with so many factors in business, the better you understand what details you must analyze the better you will be able to prepare. Risk assessment is certainly one of those areas that requires your most forthright effort.

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eCommerce

Today’s entrepreneur has more business opportunities available to him or her than ever before in history. The global economy coupled with the Internet has fueled a tremendous explosion of service-oriented businesses, many of which reside only on the World Wide Web. When considering an online business, there are a number of factors that need to be analyzed. Below is a brief overview of some of these factors compiled from the E-Commerce Article Archive.

Select Your Product or Service

You can find practically everything you can imagine already on the Internet. So, how do you determine the products or service you can offer through your business to make it successful? Once again the answer lies in research. There are a number of site on the web that provide newsletters and articles online to help you find out what the trends are, what product is moving best, and how etailers are achieving sales success. Do a search for “eCommerce Sales Trends.”

Selecting Your Business Website Name

The importance of a website that reflects the type business you operate, and its stability as a reliable source, can’t be overemphasized. Your website name becomes your brand. It is the name by which you will be identified.

The initial step in selecting a name is to determine what you’d like it to be, and then do a search for availability of the name. Find a name that will be a good reflection on your business, design your website and place it on the web through a webhosting company. Within about 24 hours after activation, servers around the world know where to send the visitors requesting your website.

Website Design

Experts say that better website designs attract more visitors and make more sales. Web design consultants or webhosting companies can put together a professional looking, basic, website for a small business for $1,500 to $5,000, and an e-commerce site for about $10,000 to $50,000.

If you do choose to do it yourself, first we’ll assume you’ve got a decent computer and the time to put your business website up for all to see. Usually you can’t do that without amassing an arsenal of Web authoring software. Thankfully, there are companies like Sirius International that specialize in making it easier, and more cost effective to design and deploy a website by providing all the authoring software you need online. This software is included with each eCommerce account and includes over 100 software tools for your use.

Search Engine Placement

A key factor in positioning your website so it will be ranked appropriately is to begin with search-conscious design of each page. You will need to decide what the keywords for your business are going to be, and then use those words strategically in the metadata of your pages. These keywords don’t appear on screen, but are picked up by search engines visiting your site.

The text within the body of your page is very influential, too, in search engine positioning. If your website’s navigation system is consistent with the primary keywords, it will reinforce those keywords when indexed by a search engine. Even the headlines, subheads, links to other documents and the text within paragraphs on your page will influence search engines. Try to keep each of these elements consistent with your primary keywords, and you should consistently get excellent search results.

Copy Writing

One of the most effective secrets of sales and marketing is well known to professional copywriters, who use the techniques to turn a prospect into a buyer. It is a standardized process for reaching into the subconscious of the reader and stimulating the impulse to buy at the emotional level of the mind. I discussed this process in another article called E-Mail Marketing Techniques, because it is a key to successfully writing copy for every sales medium from print to broadcast, and yes, the web, too.

This is a powerful concept, and is often overlooked by e-tailers, particularly those who are just starting out in their business. By being aware of this concept you’ll have a much better chance to be successful with your e-tail store. Understanding that good copywriting is important to your site’s success will help you continuously evaluate the patterns of traffic to your site and keep you focused on what works well and what could work better. As an e-tailer, you have to analyze the effectiveness of every element of your web page design to ensure every element is working for you as effectively as possible.

Selling Service

When you sell your services, you’re selling the possibility of a mutually rewarding relationship between yourself and your client. This means that your website has to do more than one selling products; it has to establish your credibility and develop a level of communication with your visitors that helps them visualize how you can help them. You need to not only establish the benefits of the service you’re offering but also establish the value of having you provide this service. Design your website so all your services can be seen on the homepage. If you bury services several pages into your site, you’re unlikely to get the exposure you need to generate sales.

E-Mail Marketing

If you want your website to be robust enough to generate sales you must consider the option of collecting e-mail addresses of your visitors and using those e-mails to stay in touch. One of the most common practices is to mail monthly newsletters to subscribers, But what about e-mailing standalone product promotions to your subscribers? When used properly this practice can be a useful tool for your visitors. When you first enter the e-mail promotion arena, you need to feature one of your most popular products, or one that is in popular demand from other sources. Feature something current, and fashionable, so you can get a good feel for how effective this medium can be in building your business. This is no time to unload dated inventory! If you design your e-mail to give people a good reason to buy one of your best-selling products, you can guarantee yourself a terrific response!

Online Payments

Getting your e-tail website on the Internet is a big step to becoming an online merchant. But, if you’re a first time merchant, how do you get merchant status so you can accept credit card payments? The first place to start your search for merchant status is your own bank. Most banks issue credit cards, and if you have a long-term relationship, you may be able to arrange for a credit card in your business name.

If that doesn’t work, do a search online for “merchant account.” You’ll receive thousands of hits from companies who are looking for small businesses that need their first merchant account. You will also find that many webhosting companies have arrangements with online merchant account processors to get you started through their connections.

Shop around for your best deal, but also be aware of hidden costs in many of these merchant accounts. Credit card processing from any source isn’t cheap, however, at least not for a start-up. A typical fee schedule for a small-volume account (fewer than 1,000 transactions monthly) would include start-up fees amounting from two hundred to five hundred dollars and monthly processing fees of around $20-35.

Summary

There are many benefits enjoyed by the online entrepreneur in terms of a potentially stable and growing income, sense of accomplishment, partnering with a spouse, and often creating a family-wide business. The range of business opportunities is truly unlimited. Research the 8-10 online opportunities that interest you most, and you may discover the one that can lead to great satisfaction and personal achievement for you.

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Business Plans

An entrepreneur is someone who accepts challenge and takes action to pursue an opportunity. When we talk about Business Plans for the entrepreneur we must also mention that an entrepreneur is a person willing to risk failure in order to achieve success. Business Planning is hard work. It requires a lot of research. Taking a business to market is 80% planning and 20% action.

For those of you who have dealt with Business Plans in the corporate environment, you undoubtedly worked on a component of the corporation’s overall Business Plan, with those with expertise in their areas also inputting information. It is easy to feel that the budgeting process didn’t really create any value.

The entrepreneur’s Business Plan, however, is an entirely different animal. It is going to expose the very heart of your business, and has to be as detailed in all of its elements as you can make it. You need to explore and analyze everything that is a part of, or can affect your business. It is a lot of work, but is one of the distinguishing factors in the realm of who makes it and who doesn’t make it. In fact, the Small Business Administration statistics prove that 90% of the businesses that succeed take six to ten months to research their business idea.

Business Plans scare most people looking at entrepreneurship for the first time. Often times it is a person who has been in the corporate environment for a long time, is now in transition, and yearns for an improved quality of life. Oh, yes, did I mention that this person is usually out of work? There’s no steady stream of income each month to take care of the household expenses. So, how can a person afford to take six to ten months to research a business!? The answer, of course, is that people who write goals succeed over those who don’t, and businesses that determine their goals, and problems, succeed over those who don’t. So, Business Planning is essential to the long-term wellbeing of your business venture. Statistically, those who fail to plan, plan to fail. Profitability is no accident. It takes a plan.

There are lots of reasons for preparing Business Plans, and lots of uses for Business Plans. One of the main purposes of a Business Plan is for the raising of debt or equity funding to finance your business. In order to get funding, either from a lender or investor, you will have to research a number of components of the Business Plan, and detail the assumptions you have made based on the research.

When you are a startup, it’s essential that your data is factual and your presumptions about the future are realistic. You don’t have past performance figures for your business and you can’t predict what may happen in the future because market dynamics change so quickly. Because of this, you will have to make assumptions for your business based on what you can learn about the performance of the industry you are entering, and industry projections for the future.

You will find that you are trying to estimate sales and prospective revenues, profit and loss, and cash flow when you develop your Business Plan. New businesses are very prone to having cash flow problems. In fact, this is the most common case of business failure in the first two years of business. Even if you are not a cash intensive business, cash flow is an area where you can run into problems.

There are a lot of expenses in the first two years of your business you won’t run into as frequently after your startup phase. Launching your business is a great example. What is it going to cost to get your venture operational? Lease and equipment costs, marketing research, initial advertising and marketing costs. All kinds of variables will be one-time expenses that you may not incur again for quite a long time, if ever.

Your business, seemingly, is always longer getting started than you initially believed. Customers are slower paying than you had anticipated. It’s also common to find that vendors will demand payment up front because your business has no credit history. These things may seem a little obvious, but they are the types of problems you may not think about if you don’t go through the Business Planning process.

There are three primary Business Plan styles: the Summary Business Plan, the Full Business Plan, and the Operational Business Plan. All Business Plans should provide information on how the business is going to run, marketing plan, financing plans, what type of legal entity it will be, risk assessment, and a Pro forma.

Summary Business Plan

The Summary Business Plan is a 10-15 page overview of how your business will be structured, and how it will compete in the market place. You might think of this plan as being your business’ calling card. It is a great tool for business networking, and letting the business community know about your startup business, even before you get it started.

The plan will include condensed information in several component areas:
1. Marketing Plan
2. Financing Plan
3. Pro forma
4. Legal Structure
5. Risk Assessment
6. Appendices

Keep in mind that this Summary Plan is similar to a resume. Its purpose is to acquaint the reader with the new business, not to solicit funding. Nor should it give any details that you consider privileged or confidential. What you want to achieve is awareness in the business community that you are going to be providing a service. It is a great tool, for example, to hand out to other business people attending a Chamber of Commerce meeting.

The Summary Plan is an excellent tool to use in business networking. Think for a moment about the number of commercial bankers in your market area. Now think about small business attorneys, accounts, and commercial insurance agents. As I mentioned in the article on Business Networking, you need to connect with these people early on in your research stage, because they are often the mostly tightly and broadly networked people in your community.

This plan is an overview. You are using it to introduce your business. You want the reader to understand who you are, what you’re planning to do, when you are starting, and your Business Plans for the future. You will have some Pro Forma numbers but they will be extremely condensed. You don’t need to reveal details. You always need to have half a dozen copies of this plan in your briefcase in order to take advantage of every networking opportunity.

This is the document you give to bankers before you need a loan. The first time you meet with commercial lenders in your area should not be when you need money. Banks deal with your potential clients, and when they know about your Business Plans they can often give you assistance. Just as you would with your resume in a networking meeting, ask the recipient to critique your Summary Plan and give you any suggestions they might have to improve it. Also be sure to ask whom else you might want to contact to research it further.

Your summary Business Plan is similar to a resume in a couple of other significant ways. Like your resume, it will should contain carefully structured high impact statements, crafted to engage the reader. Additionally, when going to a business-networking meeting, you want to target the recipient by revising your Business Plan as necessary to and encourage them to read on and, when appropriate, request your complete Business Plan

The Full Business Plan

The full Business Plan is going to be a lot more detailed, containing detailed information, and may run 50-70 pages in length. It is going to address projected sales and expenses in a much more detailed fashion projected over time. You will detail Cost of Sales broken down into material, labor &overhead. Financial information typically makes up one third to one half of the pages in a full business plan.

This is the Business Plan that is going to force you to understand what is going to cost you money, where you are going to get your revenue, and market projections. It is the one that is going to make you find out how much your liability insurance is going to cost every month, how much your advertising expense is going to be, and how often you will need to order office supplies.

This is the document you will absolutely need to be thorough and accurate when you need to acquire financing or when you solicit someone to invest in your business. Because this document has a lot of detailed information about your business, you have a right to expect confidentiality from those to whom you submit it. Include a “Non-Disclosure Agreement” or “Confidentiality Agreement” as the cover page for this plan, and if you have any reservation about giving it to someone, you probably don’t want to do business with him or her anyway.

Operational Business Plan

The Operational Business Plan in not intended for external audiences. It is a planning device for the operation of your business, and may be 100 pages or more. If you are going to have a business with just yourself involved, don’t have any plans to franchise, go public or open multiple offices, you may not have this form of a Business Plan.

This plan details operational issues, production processes, sample charts, how you prepare proposals for customers, pricing data strategies, flow diagrams, work charts, maybe how the telephone is supposed to be answered. If you ever want to go public or franchise the business or prepare an ISO report, this is your training guide. If you have to replicate your business, you will have already done the homework.

You may look at the Operational Business Plan as a road map, or training manual to run your business day to day. You can use it as an evaluation and planning tool, forcing you to continually critique your effectiveness. A regular periodic review of the Operational Plan helps you discover how you may be able to tweak your effectiveness and efficiency to further your goals.

Research

In preparing your Business Plans you are going to be required make a number of assumptions based on research. Make certain that you detail where you got the data for the assumptions, and append them to your document for quick reference. Pricing models, exchange rate, interest rates, projected customer benefits, interviews and focus groups are all extremely important tools to helping you make your assumptions. Be sure you can find this research data when you need to refresh your memory or justify your assumptions to a potential lender or investor.

There are a large number of excellent resources on the web to gather information. Association websites are excellent tools for researching an industry, as are sites like Small business Administration. Be sure to check these resources to start your research into each component of your Business Plans.

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Business Networking

As I have stated in my Entrepreneurial webinars, business networking is as important to the success of your business as career networking is to those who plan to succeed in their careers. In a time when the average job is lasting less than four years, there will be a lot of changes in who is a key player in the businesses who are potential clients for you, and who they have relationships with that could be of value to you.

One of the basic purposes of networking is expanding who knows you in order to connect to people in your new contacts’ circle of influence. In other words, tapping into the networks of others. This principle has been around for ages in the direct sales profession, and manifests itself each time a sales person asks for names of others who could use the service or product you have just purchased.

Networking is a tried and proven means for connecting with people to create opportunities. Throughout history people have relied on one another to better themselves in all aspects of life. From getting that first job and generating business opportunities, to receiving personal advice, the benefits of networking are limitless. By networking you will facilitate opportunities for others and help them achieve their goals, and in return, they will support you. The individual who holds the correct answers or knows the right people just might be one contact away from you.

When it comes to business networking, you never know whom those you already know have in their circle of influence. The more diverse your business network, the more likely you are to make overlapping linkages between groups of other business people. The more linkages you can make between groups of people, the stronger your business network will be. It takes time and energy, but it is an effort that will pay you back many times over.

Keep in mind that networking is about being genuine and authentic in your relationships, building trust and always keeping an eye out for a way to help others. Strive to become known as a powerful resource for others, so people remember to turn to you for suggestions, ideas, and names of other people. Be ready to state what you are looking for when someone asks, “How may I help you?” Knowing your objective, and how others can help you, makes the relationship reciprocal, and rewarding for both parties.

Knowing your purpose is important in business networking. In my entrepreneurial webinars I discuss a networking practice for new entries into small business to connect with those most tightly networked individuals in every community; commercial bankers, small business attorneys, accountants, commercial insurance agents and professional business to business sales persons. These individuals depend on continually expanding their circle of influence to grow their own effectiveness and business success.

How do you get started? Make a list of all these professionals in your market area, and begin scheduling meetings with each of these people to introduce yourself to them, to ask them to critique your Summary Business Plan, and to get their suggestions on who you should meet to get your business started off on the right foot. Then, meet with these referrals and get some more names. Follow through quickly and efficiently on referrals you are given. When people give you referrals, your actions are a reflection on them. Respect and honor that and your referrals will grow.

You’ll be surprised how much excellent quality feedback you will get from each of these face-to-face meetings and inevitable call backs with invitations to attend a meeting with them. Over time you will get invitations to club meetings, Chamber of Commerce meetings, service club meetings, and other group meetings where you will have the opportunity to introduce yourself to a number of new acquaintances. Remember to get business cards and follow up in the next couple of days to schedule a face-to-face meeting to discuss your Summary Business Plan.

Using the Internet

Technology is revolutionizing the way business is being done, and business networking is no exception. If you own a home computer, have a telephone and access to the web, you can build a successful business eNetwork. The pool of resources available for that initial eNetworking connection has grown exponentially. Online business networking combines the old proven practices with technology to create a means for connections to happen that literally would not have been possible without online accessibility. Online business eNetworking transcends the normal issues of time, distance and space giving people access to wholly new possibilities.

The Internet is an excellent vehicle for networking via bulletin board and chat room communities. Many of these communities allow business professionals to connect on a regular basis, exchange information and ideas, and get to know one another a little better. In addition, staying in touch via the Internet has no equal. The web is a great tool for staying in touch with people with whom you’ve already established a connection.

However, it may not be the best tool for you to make those initial connections to prospects. Nothing beats good old-fashioned face-to-face networking to start the process of building a relationship of trust. Granted, you may do some business with people that you’ve met on the web, but, for the most part, people typically do “repeat” business with people they know and trust. Most repetitive referral relationships start through personal contact and then the ongoing connections that generate repeat business can occur via the web.

Surf the web to discover the businesses in your geographic location. Read the information posted on their website to discover their market segments, how they compete in the local market, and who the main contacts are in the company. Then, make it a point to meet a decision maker in each of those companies. And, don’t be concerned that these individuals are from an entirely different industry than you expect to be marketing to.

Just as in building your personal network, building your business network means striving to meet those who may have contacts that aren’t easily available to you. When it comes to networking, not having a lot in common with someone you would like to meet means that person may be able to connect you to a whole circle of business people that you might not otherwise have access to. The only thing these business contacts should have in common with you is that they, like you, should be really good at what they do. Create a strong business network with these principles in mind, and you’ll help your business grow quickly and become successful.

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