Dear Karen: I got an official-looking $100 renewal notice for my fictitious business name statement. According to my records, my paperwork doesn't expire until January. Is this a scam?
Answer: Yes, particularly if it is dressed up to look like a government document and includes scare statements like, "Renew now or someone else will take your business name!" A fictitious business name statement expires five years from the date it is filed with the county clerk's office. Renewal costs $18 in Los Angeles County and does not require publication, as the initial application does. You can print out an application from this site: www.lavote.net/CLERK/ Business_Name.cfm. Mail it in when your statement expires early next year.
Not only is this company proposing to charge $82 to mail your application, but it's also encouraging you to renew early, cheating yourself out of time you've already paid for. The letter you got probably includes a small disclaimer stating that it is not a government notice. Unfortunately, that statement doesn't always keep busy entrepreneurs from being ripped off, said Randall Hoth, president of the Wisconsin Better Business Bureau.
"I always warn people about official-looking direct mail documents, extended warranties, business license renewals, mortgage refinance papers and other things," Hoth said. When in doubt, contact the government agency responsible for the application. And do other entrepreneurs a favor and report the scam to the Better Business Bureau at www.bbb.org.
Preventing employee fraud
Dear Karen: As my firm grows, I have more managers in my inner circle and I'm less hands-on with financial information and product ordering. How can I ensure against fraud?
Answer: The Assn. of Certified Fraud Examiners recently reported that the median loss in fraud cases at small companies was $190,000 an incident. But fraud can be minimized if management regularly reinforces clear written policies, said Charles Rettstadt, president of detective agency Research North Inc.
"Consequences should include public exposure, dismissal, prosecution and restitution," he said.
Institute internal controls on money handling, proprietary information, marketing and sales. Thoroughly screen employees for honesty, good character and proficiency. "Resume fraud is estimated at 25% nationally," Rettstadt said. Additionally, consider preventive internal audits and an anonymous fraud-reporting hotline for employees.
Getting views for your online video
Dear Karen: How can we get people to view our company marketing video online?
Answer: The most popular videos are over the top and unexpected, rather than simply clever, said Andy Leff, chief executive of the IncPlace blog. "Many people tell me they made a video showing off their product and its benefits, and they wonder why they don't get any traction. The answer is simple: The video is not unique or engaging."
Your video content doesn't have to relate directly to your business, he said. "Just create something outrageous that gets a great reaction, then tie it in loosely with your messaging at the end of the video," Leff said.
Upload your video to every video site on the Internet, including YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, Revver and VideoEgg, Leff said. Send the video link to your contact list and ask recipients to click the link.
The more clicks you get, the higher your video will be ranked by search engines, which gets you more exposure.
Got a question about running or starting a small enterprise? E-mail it to ke.klein@ latimes.com or mail it to In Box, Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012.