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Seeking help on keeping books

September 01, 2008|Karen E. Klein | Special to The Times

Dear Karen: My husband and I are starting a roofing and decking business. Where can we get help with the bookkeeping?

Answer: Get free help formulating a business plan and setting up your books from your Small Business Administration district office (sba.gov /localresources/index.html), SBA Small Business Development Center or SCORE counselor.

You can manage your monthly books with a software program such as QuickBooks, said Michael T. Hanley, an accountant with Merl & Hanley. "You may wish to turn to the Premier Contractors edition if you will be getting involved in high-end job-costing. Otherwise, the Pro edition offers everything a start-up business requires, such as managing your estimates, invoicing, accounts receivable, accounts payable and checkbook balancing," he said.

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'Cause marketing' builds your brand

Dear Karen: We're looking to overhaul an ineffective marketing plan. What tips can you give us?

Answer: Look at your existing plan and identify what worked, what didn't and why. Then set a budget based on anticipated results and expectations, said Rodger Roeser, president of Eisen Management Group.

"Set goals and benchmarks for where you are now and where you want to be in as many measurable facets of your organization as you can: overall sales, monthly sales, Web traffic, store traffic," Roeser said.

He recommended that you find a community relations outlet for your business. "There are hundreds of great causes and programs you can lend a hand to and dozens that will help strengthen and bolster your brand. Cause marketing, activities and community relations are proven to strengthen brand [and] increase sales and employee morale," he said. Pick something you believe in personally and make sponsoring it part of your plan.

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Making your site a selling machine

Dear Karen: Our website isn't performing as hoped when we spent money on it last year. How do we know what's going wrong?

Answer: Look at your website statistics. If you're not getting traffic to the site, consult with an online marketing expert who can help with search engine optimization and advertising. If customers are finding the site but not ordering there, you may get better results if you improve some features, said Erin Presseau of Web design firm SilverTech.

If customers can't complete a transaction on your website, Presseau said, "persuade them to call a customer service representative to place their order or to shop one of your stores rather than start shopping online somewhere else."

Strategic placement and graphical emphasis of store locater tools, customer service numbers and shipping and return policies are proven techniques to salvage purchases by online shoppers who are frustrated with your shopping cart.

You should also add promotions to your receipt and confirmation pages, which are the most often printed and saved parts of any e-commerce site. "Even if you do not have the website capability to integrate promotions and upsell complementary products, you can still promote universal products or seasonal items," Presseau said.

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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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