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Harry Newton's In Search of The Perfect Investment Technology Investor.

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9:00 AM EST, Thursday, December 4, 2008: Too many of us are caught in the headlights, frozen, waiting for this to be over. It is happening. Times are tough. BUT ... if you're running a business, or still have a job, you need to be aggressive:

1. You need to reach out to your customers with the phone, through email and with personal visits. Some aren't paying you as fast as they should. Some need help you can provide. And some might enjoy a bargain you could sell them. Most of my vendors ignore me. A few send me daily emails promoting something. Often they grab my attention and pry open my wallet. My phone doesn't ring much these days. My "deal flow" has evaporated. I actually appreciate whatever little attention anyone showers on me. Even a vendor.

2. You need to pay attention to your customers. Ask them what new features they'd like in your products or services, and listen to them. Or at least pretend to. While they're on the phone, maybe you can sell them something, or at least collect some of what they owe you. OK. I know this a repeat of point one. But you need to think about customers and clients.

3. Do your job better and faster. I'm staggered at how many people think it's business as usual, and tomorrow -- not today -- is just fine. Do it now! Example, Lenovo has a a public relations agency called Text100. I'd like to interview the Lenovo's ThinkPad X200 laptop product manager. The X200 is an upgrade of the X61 I strongly recommended on this site and which I use every day. Text100 has been unable to organize my simple request -- and worse, never gets back to me to tell me of its progress. I've been writing professionally since I was 18. That's 48 years. Never have I met a public relations firm as incompetent as Text100. It took several weeks of total ineptitude on their part before I wrote this. You'd think they, of all people , would know how bloggers, like me, can hurt your reputation.

4. You need to reach out to your bank -- whether you need money today, or most likely, will need it tomorrow. If you bank with one of the huge, national banks -- like Citi, Bank of America or JP Morgan Chase -- you need to find a small local bank and establish a relationship with them. Pick the smallest, most financially sound, most friendly one. I have my friends with ailing businesses visiting their banks, plying them with financials and their plans for dealing with this economic mess. My friends tell me these small banks are welcoming the attention. Local banks want you. They have money. They need business.

5. You need to pay attention to the nuts and bolts of your business. For example, I bet your web site sucks, or doesn't exist. I bet you don't carry business cards. I speak from experience. You can meet people in New York -- like lawyers and brokers -- who need business and yet forget the nuts and bolts of soliciting it. They forget their business cards. They forget to send "good to meet you" follow-up emails. They forget to develop emailing lists to use for sending information to clients -- old and new.

6. You need to be researching new businesses. For some, the economy is booming. (See tomorrow.) For some, the economy will boom. The next boom will definitely be alternative energy. Obama believes he can generate two and a half million new jobs by encouraging natural gas, wind, solar, etc. industries. I've been looking at alternative energies for our country house. I am amazed at the amateurs in that business. I smell huge opportunity. The new Washington will make this happen.

7. Seek out the bloggers and the local press. Feed them stories. It's easier for you to write their stories than for them. Someone might see your name and actually buy something. Stranger things have happened. Text100 will hate that I think they're incompetent. I'll forward this column to Lenovo. I bet (and I hope) Text100 will lose the Lenovo account. They deserve to.

Investment myths exploded this year: It's early to write what we learned this year, but here are some starters.

1. Yesterday's "experts" are today's experts. Bill Miller runs a gigantic mutual fund, called the Legg Mason Value Trust. For 15 years, its performance exceeded its benchmark -- the S&P 500. Mr. Miller, like many ultra-successful money managers, developed a gigantic ego. He walked on water. But then came the downturn and Mr. Miller's fund has done abysmally. This year his fund is down 60%, compared to 40% for the S&P. This week, Mr. Miller said the "bottom has been made" in U.S. equities, and he forecast opportunities for strong gains once markets rally.

He also said the Federal Reserve should buy stocks and junk bonds to avert a deeper financial crisis, adding "the taxpayer would make a killing" as markets rebound.

I like this idea. I'll buy a basket of stocks. I'll give the list to the Fed. Then they can buy them. This will drive up the price. And I'll make a killing. I call this The Reverse Bear Raid. See yesterday's column. Or the Harry Newton Personal Bailout.

Funnily enough, all the managers I had in years gone by -- like Private Capital Management, Lateef and Snow Capital -- have all done far far worse than the S&P this year. Their performance (and hubris) has hurt them. Private Capital used to have $30 billion under management. Now it's down to around $6 billion.

I remember when I first noticed Private Capital's performance flagging. I called and asked for their top five industry holdings. One of them was the newspaper industry, which I knew from personal experience was going straight down the toilet. I thought if these guys are idiots in newspapers, what else are they idiots in? And, of course, there were others. I'm told Private Capital is now heavily into casino and consumer discretionary stocks, like the Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. That's right. You and I don't have any money. We don't have a job. But we're going cruising. Are you crazy?

2. Buy and hold is the only way to go. It avoids the problem of having to time the market. Rubbish. When it's obvious the world is going to hell in a handbasket -- like it was when I made my now-famous "Get out of everything"call in mid-November, 2007 -- then you need to follow your instincts. And if that doesn't work for you, use my inviolate 15% Stop Loss Rule. If it drops 15%, get out.

3. Diversification makes sense. The big reason for diversification is that when one investment goes down, the other goes up. On balance you do OK. Nonsense, this year proved that they all can happily, and do happily, collapse together. My commodities fund (which I redeemed as of end-September) is now down 35% (including November).

The rolling five-year annualized return on this fund -- the best commodities one I could find -- is only 4.02%. I can easily earn more than that with a muni bond.

4. Alternative investments are hugely profitable. They used to be. But most of them are illiquid. And many have continuing capital calls, even in these awful markets. It's these capital calls which are killing the large pension funds and college endowments. I'm getting them too. Fortunately, I have enough cash on hand to handle the calls. But many of the pension funds and college endowments got greedy and invested their cash into other illiquid alternative assets. So they're having to sell good stocks to pay the bad capital calls.

The stockmarket may be irrational and volatile, but at least it's liquid. And, so, to a slightly lesser degree, are muni bonds. I can't say the same for corporate bonds.

Favorite recent New Yorker cartoons:

Molly the camel.
A new Army Captain was assigned as commander to an outfit in a remote post in the desert. During his first inspection of the outfit, he noticed a camel hitched up behind the mess tent. He asked the First Sergeant why the camel is kept there.

"Well sir, as you know, there are 250 men here on the post and no women. And sometimes the men have "urges". That's why we have Molly The Camel."

The Captain says, "I can't say that I officially condone this, but I understand about "urges". The camel can stay."

About a month later, the Captain starts having his own "urges" and asks the First Sergeant to bring the camel to his tent. Putting a ladder behind the camel, the Captain stands on the ladder, and satisfies his "urges" with Molly.

When he's done, he asks the First Sergeant, "Is that how the men do it?"

No, Sir... "They usually ride the camel into town to where the girls are."

This column is about my personal search for the perfect investment. I don't give investment advice. For that you have to be registered with regulatory authorities, which I am not. I am a reporter and an investor. I make my daily column -- Monday through Friday -- freely available for three reasons: Writing is good for sorting things out in my brain. Second, the column is research for a book I'm writing called "In Search of the Perfect Investment." Third, I encourage my readers to send me their ideas, concerns and experiences. That way we can all learn together. My email address is . You can't click on my email address. You have to re-type it . This protects me from software scanning the Internet for email addresses to spam. I have no role in choosing the Google ads on this site. Thus I cannot endorse, though some look interesting. If you click on a link, Google may send me money. Please note I'm not suggesting you do. That money, if there is any, may help pay Michael's business school tuition. Read more about Google AdSense, click here and here.