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Mixed up? Get peers' advice

December 29, 2008|Karen E. Klein

Dear Karen: I'm so worried about my business surviving that it's tough to make decisions. How do I know what's right for my company in the long term?

Answer: This is no time to be a lone wolf entrepreneur, struggling to figure out the economy all by yourself. Seek answers from a support network of colleagues or employees who meet regularly.

"Because we're in uncharted waters, business owners are getting frozen, and sometimes they stop doing anything," said Jason Zickerman, chief executive of the Alternative Board in Denver. The firm creates and facilitates peer advisory boards where entrepreneurs share expertise.

Sharing ideas with other small-business owners can be reassuring, but meetings shouldn't be gripe fests or hand-holding exercises. Seek out a group -- formal or informal -- that emphasizes strategic thinking, creativity and long-term planning.

Attracting big rivals' employees

Dear Karen: How can I persuade employees at my larger competitors to come work for me?

Answer: An opportunity is open now for small businesses to contrast their strengths against the scandals and insecurity plaguing larger firms.

"If the mass layoffs and company implosions happening now don't break the perception that working for a big company equals security, nothing will," said Trent Overholt, managing partner of MRINetwork Management Recruiters of L.A. "The message that has to get through is that new hires can quickly have meaningful impact at a small firm."

Whereas casualties of recent corporate downsizing may be eager to interview, it'll be tougher to sell your company's value to people who are still employed. "People have become conservative. Even if they don't love their current jobs, there's so much uncertainty they're afraid. They'll require a lot more assurances that they won't be last on, first off if they join your company," Overholt said.

How to get a new business noticed

Dear Karen: How can I get the word out about my new business without spending a lot?

Answer: With the economy as tough as it is today, every dollar counts. Pursue small, targeted marketing strategies and invest in highly focused advertising that speaks directly to your potential customer, said Daniel Meyerov, who works with start-ups frequently as chief executive of design firm OnlyBusiness.com.

"Taking this focused approach will limit your market expense while reducing the cost per acquisition of each customer," he said, and you won't waste money reaching out to a larger audience that isn't looking to buy what you are selling.

Consider advertising in local trade or special-interest magazines catering to your customer.

You should also start a search engine optimization campaign using very specific keywords that capture the key nature of your business. "Don't try and capture top position for broad terms such as 'restaurant.' You'll get plenty of people but most won't be looking to buy your very specific offering," Meyerov said.

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

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