Last month's column contained a list of simple things you can do to smooth out rough spots in your day-to-day activities. Here, in no particular order, are more tips on how to run a better business.

Boost Employee Morale

There are a lot of creative and fun ways to boost the morale of your employees. In his book titled 1,001 Ways to Reward Employees,Bob Nelson recommends several methods, including the following examples.

Hand out "Pearls and Swine" awards to the people with the neatest and messiest workstations.

Federal Express inscribes the names of employees' children on each new plane it buys. The company holds a lottery for the privilege and flies the parents to the factory for the christening. Why not do something similar with company vehicles?

Black & Decker Corp. sends flowers to the spouses of employees on employee birthdays, thanking them for their support. It never hurts to butter up the spouse!

If you have an outstanding month or quarter, throw a party for employees on short notice, or perhaps hold a cookout at the owner's house.

Don't Promise What You Can't Deliver

If you tell someone you'll get something done in a week and it takes 10 days, you're a bum. If you tell them it will take two weeks and it takes 10 days, you're a hero. If you tell them it might cost as little as $100, then bill them for $200, it makes you a bum. Say it might cost as much as $300, and if it comes in at $200, you're a hero.

So, always make it a point to under-promise on performance and quote worst-case scenario costs.

Sell Up by Selling Down

A fundamental principle of salesmanship is to "sell up by selling down." That is, get in the habit of pitching your best, most expensive products and services first. If you show the cheapest stuff first, many people will think, "That's all I need." They'll accept the offer before you even get a chance to show upscale features and benefits. Starting at the top lets customers see what they'll miss if they buy less than the best.

Accentuate the Positive

It's not only what you say but how you say it that makes or breaks a customer. For example, never tell clients they "have to" do something, as in, "You'll have to be home when our crew arrives." This sounds too bossy.

Get into the habit of using friendlier expressions, such as, "You'll want to be home when our crew arrives," or "Please try to be home when our crew arrives."

By the same token, get in the habit of presenting situations in a positive rather than negative light. For instance:

No: "We can't get there until late afternoon."

Yes: "We can get there before the afternoon is over."

No: "We're all out of those."

Yes: "We'll have them available in just a few days."

No: "I've never seen anything like this before."

Yes: "This is unusual, but we'll figure it out."

No: "That's not my department. You'll have to talk to so-and-so."

Yes: "So-and-so is our expert on that subject. If you'll let me transfer you, I'm sure he will be glad to help!

Use Ads That Get Noticed

For a long time I've patronized a Texas-themed rib restaurant in Evanston, Ill., called Merle's. Their logo and advertising bears the silly slogan, "Bar-be-q so-o-o good it makes you want to slap your Pappy!"

One of their ads appeared in a community newspaper with arrows pointing to two adjacent restaurant ads. The text read, "Eat at Merle's, because we don't run stupid ads like these." (The same guy owns all three restaurants.)

Do crazy ads like that work? Some purists turn their nose up at them because they don't highlight any features or benefits - or provide much information at all.

I think they can work great in newspapers, where the most important thing is to get noticed and have people remember you. If you can get a chuckle out of folks, that goes a long way toward accomplishing that goal.

Be careful about humor, though. It's OK to be corny, but take care not to offend anyone.

Get Rid of Excess Inventory

Here's a simple way to weed out slow-moving inventory. When you do an end-of-year inventory count, place a dot sticker on each item counted. This tells you that anything with more than two dots hasn't moved in over a year, and it's time to take it back to a supplier.

Borrow Good Ideas

Every good advertising professional knows that a good "swipe file" is much more important than creativity.

Keep your eyes out for advertisements, brochures, fliers, junk mail and other promotional literature that makes you stop and read about the offer. This includes stuff from outside your own industry - especially from outside the industry.

Put it all in a file to review when it comes time to compose your own promotional materials. Copyright laws prevent you from "borrowing" word for word from these other sources, but ideas and broad advertising concepts cannot be copyrighted.

Watch Your Back

Whenever you advertise in a newspaper or magazine, always specify that your ad not be placed on the flip side of any page with a coupon. Otherwise your ad will be destroyed when someone clips out that coupon.

Vive La Difference

Price shoppers are always comparing what you charge against certain competitors. At one time or another, you've probably resorted to the old cliché about "comparing apples to oranges" in explaining your greater value. Here are some other expressions to use in getting across the same concept:

"That would be like comparing a 747 to a paper airplane."

"It's like the difference between doing math with pen and paper and doing it on a high-speed computer."

"It's the difference between a tricycle and a Harley."

"That's like comparing a Yugo with a Rolls Royce."

Exude Confidence

I once saw a flier left by a construction company at doors in the neighborhood where they were doing some work. The flier was labeled "Memorandum" and presented in the form of a memo addressed to the neighbors of 25537 Parkwood, Huntington Woods.

The text began this way: "Vision Construction is happy to announce the start of another construction project in the Huntington Woods area! This extensive two-story addition and three-car garage is something you'll want to see. Please drive by 25537 Parkwood and take a look."

The "memo" continued with a description of three other projects in the general area just completed or nearing completion, along with the information that one of their bathroom additions was featured in Better Homes & Gardens. The flier concluded with a reminder to "Schedule your job before the snow flies!" and "Call today for a free estimate."

Here is a company that exudes confidence about itself and its work. Yet it does so without bragging. Instead, they appeal to the "seeing is believing" instinct in all of us.

A super marketing idea!

Look Out for These Warning Signs

In stark contrast to that last item, Guerrilla Marketing (800-748-6444) lists seven signals that say you need to liven up your marketing efforts:

1. Your sales are driven by price.

2. You have no way of differentiating yourself from your competitors.

3. You use a steady stream of disconnected sales gimmicks.

4. There is no unified plan for communicating your message to customers and within your own trade.

5. Most sales leads come from the sales staff.

6. Longtime customers say, "I didn't know you did that."

7. You have no customer or prospect database to use for marketing.

Join Key Organizations

Do you belong to your local Chamber of Commerce and Better Business Bureau? If not, what the heck are you waiting for? Joining such organizations is one of the best things a small business owner can do. Cost is usually minimal, and it establishes instant credibility in the eyes of potential customers.

The Reasons Businesses Fail

According to Dun & Bradstreet, more than half of all newly started businesses fail within five years. The most common reasons:

1. Insufficient profits - 22%.

2. Slow growth - 20%.

3. Too much debt/too little capital - 15%.

4. Management inexperience - 12%.

5. Heavy operating expense - 12%.

6. Industry weakness - 10%.

Notice that only the last item is beyond a business owner's control.