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SMALL BUSINESS | IN BOX

Don't let records pile up

June 16, 2008|Karen E. Klein | Special to The Times

Dear Karen: My home office tends to be knee-deep in papers and books all the time. Should I establish some kind of quarterly schedule for organizing my records?

Answer: Don't make getting organized another item on your neglected to-do list. Instead, integrate record keeping into your daily routine by establishing consistent organizational systems for your paper, e-mail and electronic documents and then file them immediately.

Having similar structures for all your formats makes it easier to maintain the data that you need, said K.J. McCorry, an efficiency consultant based in Boulder, Colo. "Be wary of creating too many folders. Ideally, you should not have to scroll down to see your e-mail or electronic folders. If you do, consider sub-filing under general categories. For example, create a folder called 'clients,' and then create sub-files beneath that header for specific clients by name," she said.

Don't let a "to-be-filed" pile of paper or e-mails build up. "For instance, if you need to keep an e-mail message, save it in the appropriate e-mail folder for future access immediately after you have responded and there is no other action required," McCorry said. And don't create more clutter by printing e-mails and other documents unless you need a hard copy for legal reasons.

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Protecting against a family dispute

Dear Karen: I run a family-owned business and worry about it failing because of a family feud someday. Can I do anything to protect my investment in this company?

Answer: You're wise to anticipate the possibility of infighting harming your company, said Patrick Smith, vice president of estate and business planning at Hartford Financial Services Group. "It is not at all unusual for a family-owned business to fail, or for the owners to see a decrease in the value of their investment, due to family squabbles," he said.

Typically, one or two family members are responsible for instigating most of the disagreements and upheavals in a family firm, he said. To encourage everyone to invest the time and energy to work through business and personal issues constructively, some companies establish "bad-boy clauses" in their family business agreements, Smith said. The clauses state that family members who leave the business abruptly -- and must be replaced at some expense -- will pay for that action by a decrease in the valuation of their ownership stakes.

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Getting business cards printed

Dear Karen: I need business cards and brochures for my start-up, but I don't know anything about printing. Where do I start?

Answer: Printed brochures are costly and not always necessary in this age of company websites and online business transactions. But you do still need business cards to network. You could hire a graphic designer to create your cards, or you could buy business card templates or even find free templates online or in popular publishing software, said Andrew Field, president of PrintingForLess.com.

"It's not that tough to do this yourself. Printers will take a wide variety of digital file formats. Some printers might take your ideas and create the art for you for an extra charge," he said. Use high-quality paper and don't print out cards on your home computer, Field said. "Your marketing materials speak about you and your business. Amateur-looking and -feeling cards tell potential clients that you're small-time."

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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.

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