If your company is on life support, don't expect sympathy or gentle encouragement from George Cloutier, the CEO of American Management Services and author of Profits Aren’t Everything, They're the Only Thing. The no-nonsense consultant advocates a severe, business-first philosophy that might shock small-business owners—and, possibly, revive their fortunes. In an interview with Kermit Pattison of the New York Times, he gives advice like this:

Don't use the recession as a catchall excuse for poor performance. "Why does your work dry up?" he asks. "Normally because you haven't built a strong enough sales organization."

Micromanage your team. "Getting good people is 100 times more difficult than conventional wisdom says," argues Cloutier. "The fact is, you're going to deal with a lot of mediocre people, no matter how hard you try. You have got to have a system in place to check on how they're doing."

Fire relatives who don't perform at a level well above that of unrelated employees. "A member of the family, if they're not carefully policed or indoctrinated by the principle of the business, tends to feel entitled," he says. "That entitlement is terrible for morale and is terrible for the business."

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