There's only so much you can do alone. Maybe a spouse pitches in, or a retired in-law catches the phones. But if you can barely afford yourself, how can you pay a regular employee? Ken Gansmann and Alex Amigoni set up their salespeople as joint ventures. Their company, UniSource Energy, in Chicago, markets specialty petroleum products. It does more than $12 million a year in business now, but start-up capital was zero in 1986, when Gansmann and Amigoni left Exxon and hit the bootstrapping trail. They decided to put salespeople in business for themselves. UniSource establishes base prices by adding overhead to product cost. It then shares profit margins with its salespeople.

Mike Hosford of PCs Plus says, "We told salespeople we couldn't wait more than a couple of months for them to break even or turn a profit for us. We'd hire them at low wages, and if they did well, they'd get bonuses and commissions. They did everything -- made sales, built machines, shipped them, helped with bookkeeping. Some got raises of 20% a year, and most have doubled their starting incomes."

This article was adapted from material that first appeared in Inc. magazine in August 1995.