Managing a Micromanager

One of my employees -- in a leadership position -- is a micromanager whose style conflicts with the culture of empowerment I have established as CEO. What should I do?

Edward Chaney, Sunchain Tanning Centers,
Scottsdale, Ariz.

Nothing squeezes out morale like an iron grip. If you can't persuade your micromanager to stop sweating the small stuff, you won't have anyone left to empower.

If persuasion doesn't work, try using an ultimatum, suggests Shawn Feinstein, founder and CEO of Absolut Global Healthcare Search, a nurse recruiting service based in Boca Raton, Fla. In 2002 Feinstein began hearing complaints about the manager of her Toronto office. When the manager's domineering style drove one employee to quit and others to start eyeing the door, Feinstein gave the offender six months to get in line with company culture.

Then she recalibrated the power scales. She gave the manager's employees more voice through twice-monthly staff meetings where they could air their concerns. She gave them better skills by establishing a training program for new staffers. (She put the micromanager in charge; by watching her subordinates learn, the manager gained confidence in their abilities.) And she gave them the power of the purse by letting staffers make purchases worth less than $2,000 without approval.

Of course, Feinstein could just have told her manager to reform and hoped she would comply, but the CEO realized there was too much at stake. After all, you can't foster the spirit of a grand democracy if your employees answer to a petty despot.

Confidentially Speaking

Is it appropriate to ask prospective investors to sign a confidentiality agreement before showing them my business plan?

Michelle Hebert, Pop Culture, Belleville, Mich.

Confidentiality agreements are the prenups of the business world: One walks in and love flies out the door. Asking potential investors to sign a legal document sets a tone of distrust and anxiety, according to former venture capitalist George Lipper, editor of the newsletter of the National Association for Seed and Venture Funding. "It's a horrible start," he says.

So instead of putting a lock on potential investors, put a lock on your product or idea by filing for a patent or trademark, if possible. Or simply excise sensitive details, like computer codes, from your plan, advises Bill Payne, an angel investor and entrepreneur-in-residence at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. "The perfect business plan is one that gets mouths watering without giving up the secret sauce," he says.

You can also quiz the CEOs of other companies your potential investors have funded. Yes, the best relationships are based on trust. But verification lets you sleep at night.

Wooing on the Web

My online business sells upgrades and accessories for laptop and notebook computers. What's the best way to promote my site online?

Manuel Manapat, 3klix.com,
Charlotte, N.C.

These days, online marketers have a range of options -- from wooing visitors with a daily blog to repelling them with pop-ups. The goal is to assemble a multipronged marketing strategy designed to hit prospective buyers wherever they happen to live.

Most customers live -- or at least hang out -- on search engines. That's why Bill Strauss, CEO of online gift and flower purveyor ProFlowers, pushes his posies via pay-per-click advertisements in the "sponsored listings" sections of search engines such as Google and Overture. Two employees spend their days monitoring the ads and tweaking them to achieve optimum returns. Specificity is key, and so "roses for Valentine's Day" trumps "flowers and gifts." Strauss estimates that every $1 he spends on pay-per-click advertisements translates into about $3 in sales.

Marketing, of course, is a seasonal game; so before major holidays, Strauss purchases banner ads on high-profile sites like MSN, the Web equivalent of buying airtime during the Super Bowl. The ads are pricey, costing between $15 and $20 for every 1,000 appearances. But don't rule out less splashy alternatives, like buying a spot on the Yahoo company directory, which costs a mere $300 a year.

Stumped by a thorny business problem? Let Inc. help. Send your questions to AskInc@inc.com. We'll consult with experienced entrepreneurs and savvy advisers, folks who've been where you are and figured out what works and what doesn't. If you don't like what we have to say -- well, you can tell us that, too.