Environmentally Friendly Products Keep Shooting The Lights Out

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IN 2014 AMERICANS SPENT $510.1 BILLION ON PRODUCTS that were perceived to be eco-safe; gross sales for 2015 are expected to hit $621.5 billion. These figures are no surprise given that consumers are weighing the environmental impact of their everyday products and practices against new greener alternatives.

The government’s pro stand on conservation and preservation is also a key issue. With an ear to the earth and an eye on the future, the following three entrepreneurs are growing successful companies from the seeds of environmental concern. Their stories may generate the spark you need to start your own eco-friendly business.

Jane Klimek, Eco Tech Inc. After learning that many companies don’t bother to reformat disks after one-time installation on their computer networks but, instead, opt to store them indefinitely or simply throw them away, Jane Klimek saw a niche.

Klimek, 36, launched Eco Tech in 1992 to Continue Reading »

Don’t Let The Isolation Of A Home Business Affect You

hbayI AM KNOWN BY A THOUSAND NAMES-CONSULTANT, freelancer, outsource cadet, New Age techno-geek, Lamarr–actually, those are just five. But they all say the same thing–when all the other wage slaves are rushing out of the house to catch the 8:02, I’m pouring my second cup of Belgian Waffle Mist International Blend coffee and checking out who’s on Regis & Kathie Lee. Although this may sound idyllic, you’re probably unaware that watching daytime TV—even just long enough to ascertain that Montel’s guests are “Love-Addicted Finnish-American Meter Maids” is proof you’re legally insane in at least three states.

Many years ago, I worked in a normal office in a normal high-rise building in a normal faceless American downtown. I was a stressed-out, caffeine-slurping, shredded-nerve encrusted jangle of raw meat. But I was normal…compos mentis…one of the guys. I was sane.

Then I snared that first client. Ah, how I rejoiced. I didn’t see the spiral-eyed golem hovering above the contract, salivating on my signature, and cackling away like an Amway rep. I was innocent. Naive. I went skipping out of my Continue Reading »

Eight Ways To Keep Your Business From Going Under

ybguWhat do you do when your business is floundering? Sometimes you’ re too busy battening down the hatches to see the larger picture. We contacted small-business specialists and came up with these steps to help you keep your business afloat.

1. Find new ways to get money. If you’ve exhausted all the possibilities, “seek out the alternatives–second traditional mortgages, credit cards, friends, and family,” says William Wetzel, director of the Center for Venture Research at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. Other sources: an investor specializing in companies too small or new to interest venture capitalists, and accountants and lawyers working with small businesses. They’ll help you find local clubs or networks.

2. Rethink the capital you’ve got. Many businesses Continue Reading »

How Bad Times Make Strong Businesses

hbtsbALL ENTREPRENEURS, AT ONE TIME OR ANOTHER, FEAR that their businesses are going down for the final count. What generates success is determination, tenacity, and adaptability. It’s not that they enjoy getting caught in a storm but that they’re smart enough to go the way the wind is blowing. They maintain their focus and never lose sight of their goal–success. That spirit–the willingness to learn from their mistakes and move on–is what helped these business owners bounce back. They were able to take control of seemingly disastrous situations and gather the knowledge and resources that have sustained them ever since. These three profiles will not only provide you insight on how to overcome such adversities but also on how to avoid them.

A Supporting Cast

Janet Lynn, a speech pathologist, started her own private practice in 1984, concentrating on children in private schools. It thrived until 1987, when a major illness knocked her out of commission for four months, and she was forced to refer her clients elsewhere. Discouraged but not beaten, she began rebuilding her business, this time expanding her Continue Reading »

Affordable Care Act Had Nothing On The Health Security Act

hscWITH ALL THE FANFARE AND HYPERBOLIC UNCERTAINTY surrounding President Clinton’s Health Security Act proposal, there’s been no singular response among small-business groups. Some people, powered by the vocal opposition of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), say that the plan as constructed will destroy business and jobs. On the other hand, many other small-businesses owners believe that the Clinton plan will cut their costs considerably. For instance, the Vermont Teddy Bear Co., named the best small business in awards administered by the NFIB, endorses Clinton’s health-care efforts.

That continuing controversy is why we need to take a line-by-line look at the plan’s expected impact on the self-employed: sole proprietors, partners, and owners of incorporated small businesses. While the outline of the proposed legislation remains relatively clear, the details change almost daily in the halls of Congress, as representatives argue about how best to reform America’s Continue Reading »

The Future: Is Your Business Ready??

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REMEMBER THE FUTURE? IT WAS AN OMINOUS WORLD WHERE GARGANTUAN CORPORATIONS with names like Omnitron would have access to all sorts of information. They’d know every aspect of your life–perhaps even the code of your DNA–from which they could foresee your destiny.

Although this may have been more science fiction than reality, it’s not that farfetched. The truth is, the future can be anticipated–if you are tuned in to the world around you. Major socioeconomic events, ranging from America’s recent recession to the reunification of East and West Germany, wouldn’t have been too hard to predict– if you were closely monitoring the stages leading up to each. Investors, for example, who didn’t anticipate the effects of the recession–with its increased unemployment and decreased interest rates—have suffered major losses. But those who did some forecasting managed to turn a profit. They proacted.

And like a forward-looking investor, entrepreneurs who learn to spot trends today will profit. You begin by closely observing seemingly trivial events, stringing them together to form patterns, and ferreting out untapped opportunities. In short, you master the art of trend tracking. After all, trends are occurring every day and can be found practically anywhere–if you know where and how to look. Even the marketing seers admit that tracking trends is just a different way of observing events: “You only need your eyes and common sense,” insists Gerald Celente, director of the Trends Research Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, and editor/publisher of The Trends Journal.

Watching the Trend Watchers HOME OFFICE COMPUTING called on Celente and three other noted trend watchers to find out where the next opportunities might lie–and how entrepreneurs can learn to spot them on their own.

First, we contacted Ken Dychtwald, president of Age Wave Inc., based just outside of San Francisco. Dychtwald specializes in helping Fortune 50 corporations attune themselves to the needs of older consumers–the fastest-growing segment of the population and the one with the most money. After reading Celente’s groundbreaking book, Trend Tracking: The System to Profit From Today’s Trends (Warner Books), we asked him for additional tips on how entrepreneurs can learn to recognize trends. Finally, Irma Zandl–president of The Zandl Group, a trend consultancy that advises such companies as Nike, General Motors, and J.C. Penney on young consumers–and Mary Cetron, Ph.D .– president of the Arlington, Virginia, company Forecasting International Ltd. and author of American Renaissance (St. Martin’s Press)—offer more opportunity-seeking insights (see “Fads: An Entrepreneur’s Best Friend” and “Fields of Opportunity”. All four consultants are regularly paid large amounts of money by corporate clients, yet they are the first to admit that they don’t necessarily have any special talents or a gateway to the future. It’s simply a different way of looking at events in terms of business opportunities.

“It’s not like 1 know the future,” admits Dychtwald. “I built my entire career on trying to develop a unique expertise on a megatrend. It doesn’t require any supernatural or psychic powers. But when you reach deeply into a particular subject, you’re more likely to see its next steps in evolution than anyone else would. Having spent the last 20 years examining the aging of America, I’ve become confident that my futuristic speculations are accurate.”

How to Spot a Trend Celente defines a trend as a predictable sequence of events, not one occurrence. “You need at least two points to plot a direction, to form the sequence,” he explains. “At first, you won’t know if what you’re seeing is a trend or not. Suppose, for example, you read in the newspaper that 85 percent of the high school graduates who applied for jobs with a local company failed a test of basic skills. That’s an event, but it’s not a trend. A year later, however, you read that 90 percent of them failed the same test–now that’s beginning to look like a trend.”

After you’ve spotted what looks like a trend, says Celente, ask yourself two questions: What caused it? What likely effects will it have? If the answers are trivial, it’s not a trend. It’s important to note, though, that the causes and effects of a trend are often found outside its field. For instance, one cause of the declining public school system is the breakdown of the nuclear family. And an effect is our loss of competitiveness in the global marketplace. So if an event has social, economic, and political significance, you’ve hit upon a trend.

But what if an apparent trend has only political significance? According to Celente, it still has not passed the litmus test. To be a trend, it has to meet all three conditions. And once you’ve isolated the trend, says Cetron, “you’ve reduced the uncertainty of running your business.”

How to Track Trend$ All of our consultants agree that predicting the future is really about carefully observing information that’s right under your nose. But they’re not talking about the kind of intelligence that’s contained in a bimonthly newsletter. To seek out vital information, our experts suggest the following strategies.

Read all the major papers, Celente advises like a mother saying “eat your vegetables.” Do this every day with the sole purpose of spotting trends. “And stay away from junk food news. It’s not important to know about gossip such as Amy Fisher and Joey Buttafuoco,” he insists.

Also, stop using television as your main source of information. Instead, thoroughly read both mainstream newspapers and magazines, in addition to special-interest publications. “Look beyond your immediate field and have an understanding of markets outside your own,” he adds.

“I, too, am a small-business owner,” says Zandl, “and I get many of my ideas by reading a diverse array of trade magazines. That’s one of the best ways to see patterns developing. For example, I read in one trade magazine how microbreweries are one of the fastest-growing business segments. Then I started noticing similar trends in chocolates, coffees, and cookies. People are turning to high-quality designer products. I recommend reading Supermarket News, which covers many different categories and is a great source of information. Trends that are happening in the food business, for example, often translate to other businesses.”

Don’t ignore politics, adds Celente. World leaders are important trendsetters. “To a great extent, Ronald Reagan determined the course of the 1980s,” writes Celente. “He changed national priorities from social programs to defense; he moved the economy toward a laissez-faire system; he led the intervention in Grenada, Nicaragua, and Afghanistan-events that affected every level of our society.”

Attend trade shows and conventions unrelated to your field of business. “I think of myself as an information scavenger,” says Dychtwald. “Every bit of seemingly trivial information I get leads me to new ideas.” He gathers much of his information from conferences and conventions. “I would recommend that an entrepreneur stop by the next convention that comes to town–no matter how unrelated to his field of interest he thinks it is,” he advises. If you go looking for insights on your own business, you’re certain to find them.

Five years ago, for example, Dychtwald attended a conference on medicines for the elderly. One of the speakers commented that many older people are concerned about their medications when they travel. What if they lose their pills and don’t have a prescription handy? “I learned that day that medication is their lifeline. The thought that they might become iII often creates high levels of anxiety,” he says.

One week later, Dychtwald was called into a brainstorming session by American Express. They were looking for perks to add to the card for people over age 60.

“They were thinking in terms of leisure-related benefits,” Dychtwald recalls, “rental cars, hotel discounts, that sort of thing. I remembered the conference and told them to set up a 24-hour medical hotline, a place that cardmembers could call where their medical files would be and they’d be able to get support whenever they needed it. The people at Amex slowly realized that it isn’t leaving home without their American Express cards–older people just don’t want to leave home at all. Now my idea is the centerpiece of their benefits package for seniors. Had I been thinking like a charge card expert, however, I never would have come up with that particular marketing idea.”

Still, adds Dychtwald, it took five years to implement the plan. “An entrepreneur could have done it in six weeks,” he says. “The irony is that the types of companies willing to hire trend watchers are also the ones that are so slow moving that the likelihood they can do something with the information they receive is relatively small. It’s the entrepreneurs who can take the information and run with it. Entrepreneurs can change the focus of their business in a day if they must. And this ability is a huge advantage in a fast-changing technological environment.”

Create trend files. If you’ve uncovered various bits of information that may seem trivial at the time, but you can’t put your hands on them when you need them, then you can’t use that information. So Celente suggests setting up files for the various events affecting your business.

The first step is to select the overall fields of interest that you’d like to track. Start with the most broad ones. They will give you a basic framework for classifying information, from which all your categories will emerge. For example, one of the fastest-growing categories is the homeless, which could be placed in the field of family. But homelessness also has causes and effects in other closely related fields, such as politics, health, and the economy. Arrange the categories in a manner that best suits your own business.

While there is a natural tendency to add categories that are of special interest, don’t ignore trends that at first glance may appear as if they won’t affect you. The key to a good trend-tracking system is making connections between fields.

Once you’ve selected the fields, organize your clips and brochures in a file cabinet or desk drawer–something that can be later downloaded onto a database as the information grows. Say, for instance, you read about an election in which the candidate’s position on an issue could impact your business. Clip the information and file it under politics. Watch for further articles and news items on the topic, and follow it every day. “But don’t rely on someone else to track your trends,” cautions Celente. “It’s like having on someone diet or exercise for you.”

Murphy Brown Brown vs. Rosaanne One common mistake that entrepreneurs often make is getting too far ahead of the trend curve. Instead of focusing on futuristic predictions about, say, the data highway and cybernetics, you ‘d.be better off getting a grip on the present.

“Most of America looks more like Roseanne than Murphy Brown,” Celente says. “Until technology such as software is as easy to read as something like a comic book, for instance, much of our society isn’t going to pay any attention to it. When the readers of HOME OFFICE COMPUTING magazine perceive that something is common knowledge, it probably means that it won’t really be widely accepted for about another two years. That time frame still leaves you plenty of leeway to act on it as a business opportunity.”

“One of the hardest things for an entrepreneur is to avoid being too far ahead of the market with a visionary idea,” Dychtwald agrees. “The needs of consumers and the market lumber along at a slow pace. You can’t make money as an entrepreneur being 20 years ahead. You have to be two years ahead.”

The key to the immediate future is knowing what exists at the edge of consumer demand. And you’re probably already there. The kind of products and services you want today are the ones that the rest of the country is going to want in two years’ time. Trend watchers are looking at you, and you should be looking at yourself: What did you buy last week–and,-more important, why? What kinds of services would you be willing to pay someone for?

That’s what consumers will be looking for in the near future.

FIELDS OF OPPORTUNITY

Our trend experts foresee tremendous growth in the following markets. Elder Care “A pig in a python” is how Ken Dychtwald describes baby boomers, the generation whose needs have become the obsession of our society. As boomers near age 50 and start to worry about arthritis, back pain, and hemorrhoids, they create new avenues for entrepreneurs. According to Dychtwald, people over 50 control 70 percent of the total net worth of the country– that’s $8 trillion in wealth. And it’s a market that is wide open and ignored as marketers pursue younger consumers.

He foresees thousands of new products and services that haven’t been invented yet that will cater to aging people. Dychtwald envisions an entire industry–which he’s coined home. management–providing services to the elderly who are house bound. “When people get older, many of the day-to-day activities in their lives are handled by an adult child. That child takes care of the checkbook and becomes the chauffeur, making sure the bills get paid and that mom or dad gets to the doctor on time. And when the plumbing breaks, the wiring shorts, the dishwasher stops working, it becomes a burden for the children. This is why some older people end up in nursing homes. But that’s changing. Boomers are less likely to send their parents away, and they aren’t going to want to go away themselves.

“One person at home with a computer could probably track the needs of 100 older people, taking care of their checkbooks and bills, making sure a car service gets them in time for a doctor’s appointment or for a trip to the mall. You could handle the plumber and ensure that the bill is fair. You could also coordinate food shopping. The computer would tell you exactly what each client likes to eat, and they could call you with special requests. Then once a week, you could have someone take the computer printouts and shop for these 100 clients—even arrange for discounts at the stores.”

Then there are products. As people get older and less nimble, they’re going to want things that are easier to use: remote controls with bigger buttons, door levers to replace hard-to-grasp door knobs, readable labels on appliances, chairs that are easier to get in and out of. And as Dychtwald points out, this graying generation is not likely to sacrifice on price. “They’re used to pampering themselves,” he says.

Health Care Gerald Celente and Marv Cetron, Ph.D., both see health care as another field with strong growth potential-and neither recommends going to medical school to take advantage of it.

“Decentralization and rising costs are the two most-important trends in health care,” Celente says. “This is going to create demand for products and services that haven’t yet been invented. Home health care will become a $60 billion market in the next seven years.”

Celente envisions the growth of home health-care networks. “We have an aging population that won’t go to hospitals. But all of the things that once took place in hospitals don’t have to be done from a central location any more,” he says. According to Celente’s predictions, it’s possible to envision independent business owners tracking and coordinating medical services for groups of clients, handling their health claims, and managing costs–something like a travel agent perhaps.

And in rural areas, Cetron foresees a boon in mobile health-care services. Entrepreneurs could travel from town to town, he says, and sell the use of their CAT scans, MRIs, and other health-care equipment on a rotating basis to hospitals-all from the back of huge 18wheeler trucks. “This would be a marvelous business:’ enthuses Cetron.

Education and Training “Because of the declining public school system, there will be a greater demand for private educational services–providing help in reading, math, languages, and other subjects,” explains Celente. “Concerned parents will expand the market, and schools will find that in some areas it’s actually more cost effective to use private contractors.”

Take Computertots, a franchise that teaches computer skills to preschoolers. The company estimates that at its present rate of growth, it may have as many as 225 franchises in operation by 1995. Hooked on Phonics, an innovative product that teaches kids to read through the use of sound, helped put Gateway Educational Products Ltd. on the map. The Orange County, California, company boasted revenues of $85 million in 1992.

And because our schools are churning out below-average graduates, the involvement of corporations in the training of employees will increase as well. “Within the next five years,” says Cetron, “97 percent of all training will take place within corporations.” As a way to save on the overhead of expensive equipment, he foresees an opportunity in mobile training facilities, offering groups of employees everything from airplane simulation and robotics courses to health and occupational therapy. “Entrepreneurs could even split the use of their equipment between schools and corporations,” adds Cetron, “and they’d be way ahead of the game.” All of our experts agree that the list of new educational tools that corporations, schools, and parents would be willing to pay for is endless.

FADS: AN ENTREPRENEUR’S BEST FRIEND

While Ken Dychtwald can confidently predict long-term trends as this country ages, Irma Zandl’s target group-young consumers–moves at a more frenetic pace and in less-predictable directions. Younger people’s buying habits are based on fads, and capitalizing on them requires the ability to move quickly and decisively. She defines a fad as a trend with a two-year life span.

The real opportunity here is in licensing, buying the name of a teen star to put on a drinking glass or a T-shirt or to stick on a perfume or a key ring. Obviously things like Batman or Jurassic Park are way out of reach, but there’s plenty left over.

“Because big companies avoid narrow fads, some licenses are available cheaply,” Zandl says. “And the earlier you get in on something, the cheaper it is. For example, from talking to kids, we knew that the TV show Beverly Hills 90210 was going to be a big hit long before it caught on. Today, kids love Blossom, but it’s clearly going to be a quick fad.

“The key to making money is knowing when to get in and get out. If you stay in close contact with that world, you can get in on the ground floor before the prices are driven out of sight,” she says.

Zandl recommends studying your kids and their friends or quizzing your nephews and nieces at the next family outing. Ask them what they watch on TV or what they’re talking about in school. “Spotting a fad can be a little like playing the lottery,” says Zandl. “If you hit, it can be really big.”