Dear Karen: I've purchased a small company that needs an image update. How do I reposition without alienating long-time customers?
Answer: Over time, even strong companies can suffer benign neglect, and a beloved brand can become diluted.
Your task is to redefine -- or rediscover -- your company's brand. "Think of a brand as your organization's universal pulse or hum. It needs to be fine-tuned for the signal to become stronger and clearer, ultimately aiding in your audience's reception, retention and comprehension," said Eric Swartz, founder of Byline Group, based in San Mateo.
Examine your company's history and figure out how it was branded in the past. Then revitalize the original message, putting your own twist on it. Reemphasizing the message that inspired and unified your firm's original customers won't alienate them.
But if the old brand is no longer tenable, don't be afraid to change it. Define a new brand that reflects your company's singular claim of distinction, and stick with it. "Unsuccessful companies tend to skip the brand development process, which is a corporate initiative, and not just a marketing one," said Jim Hughes, founder of the Brand Establishment, an organization that provides training and certification in brand development.
Balancing kids, home business
Dear Karen: I run a home-based business. How do I stay focused on work now that my children are out of school?
Answer: Home-based entrepreneurs have to balance work and family continuously, and the juggling is most intense during summer vacation. It's not easy to project a professional image and complete projects on time while simultaneously caring for children who are home all day, said Kathy Austin, a consultant for Jexbo.com and a home-based business owner.
"Summer camps and programs, favorite activities and swapping off supervision of the kids with friends' parents helped. As they got older, they were encouraged to work with me in the business," she said.
It helps to plan events that your children can look forward to enjoying with you on specific days. "There isn't any one-size-fits-all answer," Austin said.
Professional help with marketing
Dear Karen: I need new website and marketing materials. Should I write the sales pitch myself or is it worth it to hire someone else to do it?
Answer: If you're a confident writer and have prepared marketing materials in the past, try it yourself. If not, outsource the writing and put your time to better use.
"It takes research, time and experience to produce well-written copy that caters to the needs of your customers and produces results," said Melanie Rembrandt, chief executive of Rembrandt Communications in Redondo Beach. "While you concentrate on core business activities, a professional copywriter can create the specific copy and online architecture necessary to obtain new customers, optimize conversion rates, build awareness and reach your other, targeted business goals."
You can get referrals to copywriters from associates and trade groups such as the Direct Marketing Assn., at www.the-dma.org/index.php.
Check references and review work samples from potential candidates. "Discuss specific deadlines, goals and fees upfront, to avoid negative surprises later," Rembrandt said.
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.