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SMALL BUSINESS / IN BOX

Personalize your pitches to potential customers

July 14, 2009|Karen Klein

Dear Karen: I'm an experienced construction scheduler who maps out timelines for complex building jobs. How do I approach contractors and architects about doing their overflow work?

Answer: Talk to a few potential clients about whether they handle scheduling in-house or plan to subcontract.

"If there is demand for your services, create a Web presence with your background, qualifications, skills and expertise," said Ben Tenn of Tenn Consulting in Los Angeles.

Tap contacts from your past work for referrals, references and suggestions on whom you should ask for at each of your potential client companies.

"For those targets where you don't have an inside track, just make the call and ask for the work," Tenn said.

But first, find out about the company, its owners and managers, what projects they specialize in and how you can fit in.

"This will allow you to personalize your pitch and come across as a true professional, worthy of serious consideration," Tenn said.

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Cloud computing has advantages

Dear Karen: What is cloud computing? Is it something a small business should adopt?

Answer: If you've used search engines, website analytics or online payment systems, you're already using cloud computing. It's just a fancy term for using Web-based products and services rather than buying, installing and managing them on your hard drive, said Daniel Meyerov, chief executive of Web consulting firm OnlyBusiness.com.

"The 'cloud' is a metaphor for the Internet," Meyerov said. "Cloud computing makes the use and value of software applications for business, particularly small business, much easier, much more flexible and functional, and often much cheaper, than in the old buy-and-install days."

The online business model provides access to software tools and services without having to invest in infrastructure, applications or specialized equipment.

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New duty for website manager?

Dear Karen: I'd like to add social networking to my marketing plan. Is this something a website manager could handle?

Answer: That depends on how great a part you expect social networking to play in your overall marketing, as well as what skills your current employee has.

Many small companies venture onto the Internet by hiring a college student or giving their youngest employee the job of setting up and maintaining a website. That person may have done a terrific job but may need help now that so much marketing and selling takes place online, said Reid Carr, president of Red Door Interactive, an online management firm in San Diego.

"Leveraging new Internet strategies requires that organizations bring their Web teams up to date in order to improve, fix and optimize the different aspects of their online business," Carr said. "That means hiring people who can work together in a strategic, coordinated effort on all aspects of Internet presence management, not just a select few."

Use free online tools such as Quantcast.com and Compete.com to get some insight into what kind of traffic your website is getting versus those of your competitors. Paid resources such as Hitwise.com can also give you details on your competition, Carr said.

"Noticeable differences in a competitor's favor should give you firm reason to rethink your Web strategy," he said.

Use this opportunity to make honest assessments of the internal skills, strengths and interests of your employees and decide whether to add another member to your IT team or outsource the online marketing.

"While your Web business currently may not be the biggest stream of your revenue, putting the right people in the right places can grow it to be among them," Carr 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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