Dear Karen: My company is certified as disadvantaged and minority- and woman-owned. How do I market this?
Answer: Find corporate or government clients interested in your products or services. Next, prove that you can handle a subcontract and pass their credit check. Once you're past those hurdles, you can convince them that doing business with you would give them the added value of supplier diversity.
A certification "may be the tiebreaker if all other things are relatively equal between you and a competitor," said John W. Murray Jr., president of the Southern California Minority Business Development Council ( www.scmbdc.org).
Corporations with supplier diversity programs often have website links that give you information about procurement opportunities and whom to contact about them, Murray said. Don't forget that you must know your customers' needs and provide an effective solution. And, of course, price, quality and service are paramount.
Bartering can help launch firms
Dear Karen: What is bartering? Can I use it to start a company?
Answer: Bartering is trading goods or services for those of another person. The problem is that one party may not need or want what the other is offering.
In the last 25 years, barter networks have been organized that enable a company to sell its products or services into an account and accept the network's trade dollars in return, said Don Mardak, chief executive of International Monetary Systems, a barter network.
"IMS has hundreds of cases in which the trade exchange helped small businesses get their companies launched," Mardak said. "A few years ago, a professional indoor football team was beginning operations in Milwaukee and IMS provided them with most of their office equipment, advertising in local media and even found housing for some of the players. The football team provided game tickets and arena advertising in return."
With credit tight, start-ups may find bartering especially helpful, Mardak said: "If they join the IMS trade exchange, they may very easily qualify for an immediate credit line."
Moving higher in
Net search results
Dear Karen: I am starting an online commerce site but when I type in my product name my company doesn't show up in the search results, even after 25 pages. How do I get my site higher in the results?
Answer: There are professionals who do nothing but "optimize" websites for prominent search engine placement. If you can't afford one, here are some tips from Andrew Hazen, chief executive of Prime Visibility, a company that specializes in online optimization:
Research the keywords your potential customers enter at search engines. Use programs such as WordTracker.com, KeywordDiscovery.com or Google's free tool at: adwords .google.com/select/Keyword ToolExternal. If possible, choose a domain name that uses these words.
Use the most popular keywords to write unique title tags and "meta tags" for each of your site pages (you can find definitions and information about website tags online). Write keyword-enriched text. Finally, get relevant websites to link to your website and use the Google toolbar (toolbar.google .com/T4/index_pack_xp.html) to see how many links point to your site, Hazen 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.