By: Constance Lee Menefee

Developing countries and growing businesses have similar problems, differing mostly in scale. You do what you can with what is at hand, even flying old, badly kept up airplanes. Recently, Vietnam Airlines announced that their fleet of  Soviet-made Cold War era Tupolevs is being decommissioned.

I hope the flight attendants are upgraded to go with newer, safer airplanes. I still flinch when I think back to our landing at Tan Son Nhat Airport. Attendants ran up and down, snatching food trays and customs forms from our clenched fingers as we bumped and skidded to an abrupt halt.

I don't really consider operating unsafely an option, but it happens frequently in the real world. Little cash often means operating on a shoestring. Unfortunately, the mindset of cutting corners and poorly trained employees can easily become business as usual.

If you have operated your business (or country) from an underdog position, take time now to look at your image. First decide if you are operating safely. Then, check the signage, all entrances and exits, and review company materials. Do these items scream "shoestring?"

Are your hours posted clearly where customers can see them from the sidewalk? What about your address? Don't tell me that you rarely get walk-up customers: I have been there. Not only was it unclear what door to use, but the knob threatened to fall off in my hand.

Call yourself on the phone. Does your answering machine sound as if you never change the tape? Customers don't need a cute message: they want to know when you are open and how to leave a message at other times.  Better yet, call yourself on the phone when an employee should be  answering it.  Do you get a busy signal? How long does it ring? Does the person answering sound alert and interested or bored?  That's your image.

Try a little creative visualization: imagine your business, no matter how old it is, as busy and thriving.  Now look around and invest a little money and time to change anything that doesn't match the appearance of a successful business.

  Article originally appeared in the Cincinnati Post, Dec 2, 1997