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SMALL BUSINESS | SMALL TALK / KAREN E. KLEIN

Medical Service's New Prescription: Expand Market Beyond the Internet

May 13, 1997|KAREN E. KLEIN

Q: I am a medical resident who has started a medical data search service that provides computer searches on the latest medical breakthroughs, clinical trials listings and centers, and the most current treatment choices for patients. My question is how to advertise for my services. I have tried different medical news groups on the Internet and did get a few responses, but I wondered if you would have any better suggestions. My financial resources are limited.

--Dr. Farid Eghbali, Los Angeles

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A: First, decide what customers you will target--physicians or patients. People with certain health problems, such as prostate cancer, might be interested in finding out about the latest treatments. They sometimes belong to support groups or associations, which you could contact to find out if their members would be interested in your service.

Also, decide whether you will market your services nationally or locally. If you want to reach a large local audience concerned with medical issues, try calling a local radio medical talk show. There are several in the Los Angeles area.

There is a commercial publication called California Medicine. You might try placing an ad there or interesting the staff in doing a story about your service. You should also contact the Los Angeles County Medical Assn. and ask if there is a way to let its members know about your service.

The problem with the Internet is that only a very narrow slice of people will see your notice there. Direct mail, which can be very effective, is unfortunately very expensive for start-ups.

What you are doing sounds like a service that could be not only valuable to patients but socially responsible as well.

--Dr. Vincent Riccardi

President, American Medical Consumers, La Crescenta

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Q: I am starting a greeting card business. I have printed fliers and order forms, received my seller's permit and applied for a business license. I am planning to print some of the three dozen cards I have produced. I need some advice on where to market and distribute these cards. Are there various shows I can attend?

--Randi Hill, String o' Pearls, Hollywood

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A: If your cards have not been test-marketed, I would recommend starting out as cheaply and simply as possible: Every neighborhood has community bazaars, fairs and art shows where you can buy a space for as little as $100. That way, you'll get lots of objective reactions to your designs. You need the cold, hard evaluations of the general public before you know whether these cards are going to sell.

If you get positive feedback and brisk sales at several fairs, then it is time to contact independent card shops to see if you can show them your cards. A marketing consultant could help you with this step, if only because the amount of cold-calling you must do and rejection you will inevitably face can be very discouraging.

Finally, if all has gone well, you should attend trade shows that cater to the owners of card and gift shops. But this step is also the most expensive, and it should be considered only after you are convinced you have a hot item.

If your cards are outstanding, you may attract the attention of a larger company. It has happened: Shoebox was an independent card producer until Hallmark got a look at its cards and liked them so much they bought out the company.

--Lynn Sarkany, founder

Marketfinders, Glendale

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Q: Do financial institutions or the Small Business Administration use applicants' criminal records in determining whether to make a small-business loan? I hope you will consider answering this question, because it will give so many hope who are reluctant to even consider a small-business option.

--Johnny Stewart, California Rehabilitation Center

Norco

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A: There is no regulation prohibiting borrowing money from a bank even if you are a convicted felon. If a former inmate can convince a bank he or she is a good credit risk, they could qualify for a loan like anybody else. After all, a bank is in business to sell money; it wants to loan to you, provided it can count on you paying back the money with interest. Banks base their decision on whether you have security for the loan (usually a house or car) and on whether you are a person of good character.

That said, financial institutions can and do deny loans based on the borrower's credit history, trustworthiness and character. If your status as a former felon makes a bank believe you are not trustworthy and therefore not a good credit risk, it can deny the loan on that basis and you probably would not have grounds for a lawsuit against the bank.

--A. Barry Cappello

Trial lawyer specializing in lender liability

Santa Barbara

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A: Individuals currently incarcerated, on probation or on parole are not eligible to participate in the SBA Loan Guarantee Program. When an applicant has a criminal record, they must be cleared in writing by the SBA before the loan can be processed. Even at the processing stage, the applicant must demonstrate good character before the loan is approved, as honesty, responsibility and determination to succeed are fundamental requirements in SBA loan-making.

--Excerpt from SBA regulations

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If you have a question about how to start or operate a small business, please mail it to Karen E. Klein in care of the Los Angeles Times, 1333 S. Mayflower Ave., Suite 100, Monrovia, CA 91016, or e-mail business@latimes.com. Include your name, address and telephone number. The column is designed to answer questions of general interest. It should not be construed as legal advice.

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* LEARNING CURVE: An entrepreneur comes out of retirement to get the creative juices flowing again. D2

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