When an asbestos-removal contractor bailed out on a major project in the California town of Calexico, Lloyd Betterton's Pana, Ill.-based National Big-4 Co. was invited to bid on the job. There was one major obstacle: He was told that it would take about six months to obtain the required California contractor's licenses.
"I thought we were dead in the water," he said. "We had to get the approvals in two weeks."
Instead of giving up, the general contractor on the job referred Betterton to David Kalb, founder of Capitol Services in Sacramento. Kalb, who specializes in helping business owners navigate the governmental maze, helped Betterton get ready for three state-mandated examinations and prepared a presentation to a special panel set up to expedite permits and approvals.
"I took three examinations in one day -- I was brain-dead," said Betterton, who passed all three and now has about 20 people from Illinois and Arizona removing asbestos from the U.S. Border Patrol station.
Knowing how the system works is half the battle, according to Kalb and Joan Lucas, entrepreneurs who make a living helping others cope with the bureaucracy.
"I don't have any fear of government," Kalb said. "I know the system, and I know how to break everything down into steps."
During the administration of former California Gov. Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown, Kalb worked as a staff assistant assigned to deal with the 150 phone calls and 1,500 letters a week coming from citizens needing help.
"I liked dealing with government, but I didn't want to work in government any more," said Kalb, who opened his business in 1982.
Much of his time is spent expediting permits so out-of-state companies can work in California.
Although he specializes in helping the construction industry, Kalb also helps small-business owners apply for minority contractor status and obtain a variety of licenses required to do business in California. He is also an expert at ferreting out public, but obscure, information needed to close real estate deals or win lawsuits.
Kalb doesn't bribe government officials or cast magic spells. His biggest secret of success: He visits government offices in person, never mailing forms or sending a messenger. Why? Because he says the personal touch is critical to achieving your goals.
Across the country, Joan Lucas also helps business owners deal with government. A former lobbyist for the League of Women Voters, she set up Legistats to track the Iowa Legislature.
Business owners too busy to visit the capitol in Des Moines can purchase reports on voting records or track the progress of a bill that might affect them.
"Once they get a reading on how their legislator feels on an issue, they can go in and lobby that person," Lucas said.
Lucas prepares reports on a personal computer, working from home in Pella, a town about 45 miles southeast of Des Moines. Although she is on top of what's happening in the Statehouse, she rarely ventures into the Capitol -- she relies on public information and reports sent to her by a mailing service.