Dear Karen: I want to start a greeting card company using designs from my paintings. How do I get started?
Answer: Test the market for your designs by making high-quality digital images of your paintings and printing sample cards that you can sell to friends and colleagues, said Sarah Shaw, a start-up business coach and founder of Entreprenette.com. Get customer feedback at low-overhead venues such as flea markets and street fairs.
"If the response is really great, go to high-end stores like Papyrus, Paper Source and museum gift shops, and research. What cards are they selling? What does their packaging look like?" she said. She suggested Papermart.com as a source for packaging materials.
Price your cards competitively, but "crunch the numbers and make sure you are making money on each sale," Shaw said. Once you have initial inventory, create a website to sell your cards and approach locally owned boutiques, bookstores and card and gift shops about carrying your line.
See your city's business development department to set up the business side of your company. Also talk to a business attorney about establishing a legal entity and protecting your designs.
Adjusting tax withholding rates
Dear Karen: How do I comply with the employee tax cuts from the stimulus bill?
Answer: Talk to your accountant or bookkeeper about implementing the Making Work Pay provision of the stimulus, which goes into effect Wednesday. If you do your own payroll, search for "making work pay tax credit" at the IRS website, at www.irs.gov.
Employers who use automated programs, such as QuickBooks, should have received downloadable updates to their software that will automatically revise withholding rates in line with the new provision, said Luis Campos, a regional vice president of Priority Pay Payroll.
Keeping workers in difficult times
Dear Karen: I can't afford pay raises for my employees this year. How do I keep retention high?
Answer: Explain compensation packages fully, invest in training your managers and assure your employees that their benefits will continue, said Jack Midgley, vice president of products at TriNet, a San Leandro, Calif., human resources firm.
Its recent survey of 400 companies with 20 or fewer employees showed that only 17% had reduced employee health coverage. "They understand that employees will leave to get better benefits," Midgley said.
He recommended cutting employees who are nonessential rather than putting some on unpaid leave or reducing work hours. "Bite the bullet and take the reduction in head count so you have a group of people to get your firm through the recession," he said. The survey showed that one-third of companies had downsized and a quarter more were planning to do so.
"Take time to explain to your employees the full value of their compensation so they understand what you're paying for benefits. And focus on leadership by spending a little more to keep your good leaders and make them more effective," he said.
"People don't quit companies, they quit bosses."