Over the past few months, several Network readers have sought advice on selling an idea to an established company. The first letter below asks all the basic questions, so your answers to it may help other innovators as well. Also this month: questions about building sales, about S corporations and Social Security, and about how to move from garage-scale start-up to full-scale business.

* * *

Selling an Idea
Some time ago I came up with an idea for a service that would allow people to keep billions of dollars in inheritance that they now lose. The service would operate best within a large, national company with a credit-card system, and it could be provided internationally.

My first problem is that a service cannot be patented. If I began on a small scale, I could easily be wiped out by a large company once the business becomes successful. Anyway, I don't have the abilities or the capital to make it on my own. Hence my question: how can I approach a large company and sell it my idea, in return for a modest stipend? What level of executive should I try to approach? Is it a good idea to have an attorney with me?

Manuel Byrge

Cincinnati

* * *

Out to Bid
I run a small cabinet and woodworking shop and have been in business for four years. My company has grown steadily from the beginning. Things go great when we are doing commercial jobs, such as stores, offices, and restaurants, but these jobs are few and far between. In the past, such jobs have come from friends, advertisements, and referrals. Now, I'd like to be able to bid on them all of the time. How do I learn what jobs are available to bid on? Does anyone know of a network or organization that can help?

Doug Crane

Owner

Contemporary Interiors

South Norwalk, Conn.

* * *

Straining at the Leash
We are launching a small manufacturing company making nylon pet collars and leashes in unique designs and colors. The product has been extremely well received, and we have marketing and production in place. Here's the catch: we are a couple with three small children, and my husband works a full-time government job, so the company lives on borrowed time -- borrowed from our sleep! -- and borrowed money. We want to move the business out of our garage and spare bedroom, and go full-time. We know what we would need in sales, and it's not out of reach. Can anyone recommend resource material on starting a truly small business from your home? We've read Growing a Business, by Paul Hawken, and it was great, but we need more help. I'd especially love to hear from anyone who has done it.

Sharon Bennett

Co-owner

Premier Pet Products

Richmond, Va.

* * *

Taxing Problems
I retired in June 1988 and formed my own S corporation, consulting for several companies as an independent contractor. I employ my wife and pay federal, state, and Social Security taxes for both of us. I report my income on S-corporation tax forms, and pay the taxes on a 1040 form.

Here's my concern: I plan to retire in five years, at age 66, and apply for Social Security benefits. My accountant informs me that earnings of an S corporation are not self-employed income, and that I therefore do not have to pay Social Security taxes, since I already qualify for benefits. However, I'm worried that I will lose disability or other benefits by not paying into Social Security.

I asked some people at an IRS workshop for their opinion, but they couldn't shed any light on the problem. Neither could the local Social Security people. My question is: who can?

David A. Smith

Newark, Del.