Here are some fun awards to boost employee morale:

"Pearls" and "Swine"-for persons with the neatest and messiest work station.

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. Never hurts to butter up the spouse!

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

(From "1,001 Ways to Reward Employees" by Bob Nelson, Workman Publishing, New York.)

• Tell someone you'll get something done in a week and it takes 10 days, you're a bum. Tell them it will take two weeks and you do it in 10 days, you're a hero. 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, then it comes in at $200-you're a hero. So, always make it a point to under-promise performance and quote worst-case scenario costs.

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 let's them see what they'll miss if they buy less than the best.

It's not only what you say but how you say it that makes or breaks a customer. For example, never tell a client he "has 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 ...

• Please try to be home when ...

• Do me a favor and be home when ...

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 this person will be glad to help!

A lot of people don't realize that most banks will honor unsigned checks. On the back, simply print or type, "lack of signature guaranteed," followed by your company's name, your name and title, and your signature.

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

One of its 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 the goal.

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

Slow motions

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.

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.

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

Keep your eyes out for advertisements, brochures, flyers, 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.

Price shoppers are always comparing what you charge against certain competitors. At one time or another you've probably resorted to the old cliche 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."

I once saw a flyer left by a construction company at doors in the neighborhood where they were doing some work. The flyer was labeled "Memorandum" and presented in the form of a memo, as follows:

Date: September 13, 1995

To: Neighbors of 25537 Parkwood, Huntington Woods

From: Mike, Jack and Joe of Vision Construction

Re: Two-story addition and 3-car garage.

Vision Construction is happy to announce the start of another construction project in the Huntington Woods area! This extensive 2-story addition and 3-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 flyer 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 about themselves. Instead they appeal to the "seeing is believing" instinct in all of us.

In stark contrast to that last item are these seven signals that say you need to liven up your marketing efforts:

• Sales driven by price.

• No way of differentiating you from your competitors.

• You use a steady stream of disconnected sales gimmicks.

• No unified plan for communicating your message to customers and within your own trade.

• Most sales leads come from the sales staff.

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

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

Source: Guerrilla Marketing (800) 748-6444.

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.

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

• Insufficient profits, 22%.

• Slow growth, 20%.

• Too much debt/too little capital, 15%.

• Management inexperience, 12%.

• Heavy operating expense, 12%.

• Industry weakness, 10%.

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