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One Iota

The e-commerce slump isn't restricted to dot-coms. Small, fast-growing companies of all stripes are backing away from the Web, says PricewaterhouseCoopers. Just 29% of fast-growth CEOs expect to be selling online next year, down from 42% last year. Those planning to display wares online and close sales by phone fell from 64% to 36%. Pundits blame the weak economy, dot-com failures, and techno-confusion.

Even thriving, tech-savvy companies find online sales tricky. "Demographics on the Internet aren't right for us in terms of direct sales or even leads," says Lawrence Weinberg, CEO of 65-employee BOWA Builders in McLean, Va. Weinberg builds $2 million to $3 million houses in a tight geographic area but gets Web visitors from far away who ask about $118,000 houses. The Web may be global, but BOWA isn't. American Airlines is easing the pain--or is it pangs?--of letting employees rack up frequent-flier miles on your dime. As of January, its Business Extraa plan awards employers points for every $10,000 spent with American--and employees can still get their miles. Points are redeemable for flights and upgrades. At Physics Entrepreneurship. Sounds like a contradiction in terms, no? Don't tell that to Cyrus Taylor, physics professor at Case Western Reserve University. Taylor is also the director of a new degree program at CWRU--a masters of science in physics entrepreneurship. Two of his biophysics students are off to a good start. Marc Umeno won three business plan competitions with a test to detect heart disease by tracing the progress of a radioactive material through the bloodstream. Classmate Nina Pandey is teaming up with a professor to commercialize a new imaging technique to help scientists track disease in lab mice. The other three students are interested in what the program's associate director, Robert D. Hisrich, calls "intrapreneurship"--academic-speak for being entrepreneurial without giving up a steady paycheck. Considering that physics aims to stretch the boundaries of the known universe, stretching the definition of entrepreneurship is no big deal. Wendy Weiss, the author of Cold Calling for Women and president of Weiss Communications, a sales training company, on making cold sales calls:

What mistakes do cold callers make?

The biggest mistake is simply not making the call. The next biggest mistake is not getting to the point. That happens when people let their fear overcome them.

How do you conquer fear?

By recognizing that you're coming from a place of integrity--your personal integrity and the integrity of what you're doing. Be prepared--develop your marketing plan, and write your script.

What should your script say?

It says who you are. Then it differentiates you from everyone else in the world who's doing the same thing. And you must ask for what you want.

If you write your pitch in perfect English, it'll sound stiff. Try speaking it into a tape recorder and then writing it down. Then run it by an 8-year-old. If he doesn't understand what you're talking about, your prospect won't either. The new markets venture capital initiative, designed to funnel $150 million to inner-city businesses, could get a new lease on life. Created by the last Congress, the Small Business Administration program was axed from President Bush's budget. Now, with Democrats controlling the Senate, John Kerry is chair of the Small Business Committee--and he backs New Markets. To date, the program's uncertain state has made it hard to raise money to match the federal dollars provided by New Markets, says Kerwin Tesdell, president of the Community Development Venture Capital Alliance, a trade organization. So, New Markets could still grow old before its time. As the cost of benefits grows, entrepreneurs still find ways to pamper their staff:

64% of small companies offer flextime, vs. 58% of all companies

41% let workers telecommute, compared with just 37% of all companies

11% give extra pay for weekend travel, vs. 8% of all companies

6% permit pets at work, compared with 4% of all companies

Data: Society for Human Resource Management THAT'S JUST FINE

Percentage of OSHA fines on small companies that were eventually reduced: 100%

Data: General Accounting Office

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