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Position your company to grow as the economy improves

Also: Ask direct-sales companies tough questions, and is this a good time to start a small business?

November 03, 2009|Karen E. Klein

Now, prepare your business for growth

Dear Karen: How can I build back my business as the economy improves?

Answer: This is a great time to position your company for growth, said Linda Rigano, executive director of strategic services at ThomasNet.

In the firm's recent survey of U.S. industrial companies -- about half small businesses -- respondents listed the major changes they were making for post-recession markets, Rigano said. Popular approaches included diversifying into new industries, widening their sales channels, using distributors to sell their products, expanding overseas and increasing online marketing.

"Developing new or innovative products, which will serve them well as the economy starts to rebound, is another strategy," Rigano said.

Although more than half the firms surveyed said business declined this year, three-quarters said they expected to see revenue picking up by the second quarter of 2010.

Direct-sales firms must be vetted

Dear Karen: I'm investigating direct-sales companies. Do you endorse any?

Answer: No. It's extremely important for individuals to do their own due diligence on the $30-billion direct-sales industry. Although there are good opportunities, not all direct-sales firms are legitimate and not everyone is cut out to sell, said Paul Peccianti, president of global sales for Livethesource, a direct-sales firm in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "There are companies that may not be truthful about their product or opportunity," he said.

Before you get involved in direct selling, get numerous referrals and ask tough questions.

First, is the company reputable? Research its products and management team online. Steer clear of firms that ask you for money in advance, make sales pitches at "free" seminars or generate myriad complaints from past associates.

Is selling for you? You can learn to be a great salesperson, but it may take more time than you have if you aren't a natural.

Are you excited about this opportunity? "If you believe in the product, even if you feel that you may not be a natural salesperson, your genuine enthusiasm will come forward," Peccianti said.

Bad time to start, good time to plan

Dear Karen: I have a fabulous improvement to an existing baby product. Is this a good time to start a small business?

Answer: This is a difficult time to start a company, particularly with credit remaining tight. But it's a great time to research and plan for the time when additional capital becomes available, said Jay Weiss, a consultant with JGI in Rochelle Park, N.J.

"Create strategic plans that translate to business plans, and focus on the more tactical initiatives and projects that support those plans. Now is a good time to pre-qualify vendors and consultants as necessary and to gain alignment for your company," Weiss said.

You should also take this opportunity to find out about your competitors and identify ways to differentiate your company on services, products or prices.

"Pay attention to trends that can be useful to your business in [the] future," Weiss 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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