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Small Business | IN BOX

Schmooze With a Strategy in Mind

October 04, 2006|Karen E. Klein | Special to The Times

Question: I'm spending a lot of precious time networking for my small company, but I don't wind up with a lot of new business. Am I doing something wrong?

Answer: Traditional networking, in which you attend a large gathering and exchange business cards with other attendees, is a time-consuming and sometimes ineffective way to improve your business.

Why? "Everyone else is just like you. They're busy on their own hamster wheel of life. When you meet them at a networking function, they're more focused on what they can get for their own company instead of what they can provide you," said Ken Potalivo, a business coach with ProGrowth Inc., based in San Juan Capistrano.

If your business depends on referrals, consider pursuing strategic relationships instead of random networking. The strategy starts when you set goals for how much you want to expand your business, over what period of time and in what new markets. Evaluate your company's strengths and resources and figure out how well they mesh with clients in those new markets.

"If you operate in the wrong market segment, you run the risk of attracting the wrong clients. They may be too small to generate the margins needed to support your efforts, or they may be too large for the resources you have within your business," Potalivo said.

Develop a presence in your target markets by doing things like writing and publishing articles, giving speeches and participating in industry functions. Forge genuine personal relationships with key players in those markets by helping them with their business goals.

"For many entrepreneurs, the old networking approach is dead because it doesn't fit in with our fast-paced world," Potalivo said. "Becoming successful requires that you not only do good work but also work at the business of building and sustaining successful relationships."

A Good Slogan Requires a Clear Sense of Brand

Q: I'd like to dream up a slogan for my company. How do I come up with a good one?

A: A good slogan extends and explains your company's "brand," which is the proposition that makes your firm unique. To pick an effective slogan, you have to first develop your brand. Are you promising the best customer service in your industry? The most unusual or functional product in your niche? Top-of-the-line consulting expertise at bottom-line prices?

List words that you'd associate with your brand and string them into clever combinations. Humor, alliteration and simile can elevate a slogan from dull to memorable. Ideally, your slogan shouldn't be more than six or seven words long.

When you have a couple of possibilities, look at your competitors and identify those that offer a similar brand "promise," suggested branding expert Steve Cecil, founder of WhereWords.

"You want to avoid inadvertently duplicating someone else's intellectual property. Revise and rewrite until your position is unique," he said. Talk to an attorney for further information on intellectual property protection.

Get feedback from employees and associates before you decide on a slogan. They may see problems that you haven't.

If your effort goes nowhere, you've got a larger problem, Cecil said. It might be that you haven't adequately identified your company brand and need to build a foundation before you put on the second floor. What's your company's vision? Its mission? Its value proposition? If you're not sure, you need more than a slogan. Cecil recommended two books, "Building Strong Brands" and "Managing Brand Equity," both by David A. Aaker, for further information.

Why does a brand matter so much in business? It's the only way you can define your company in the eyes of the world -- and your customers. "Utter fortunes rest on the difference between 'computer editing' and 'desktop publishing,' " Cecil said.

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Got a question about running or starting a small enterprise? E-mail it to karen.e.klein@latimes.com or mail it to In Box, Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012.

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