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The scoop on buying an ice cream franchise

November 10, 2009|Karen E. Klein

Dear Karen: How can I make a good decision about buying an ice cream franchise?

Answer: Request a document called the Uniform Franchise Offering Circular, which franchisers are required by law to provide. Next, do your own research on this opportunity.

Is it within your budget? "Food concepts are some of the more expensive franchises, but ice cream franchises are on the low end in terms of capital requirements," said Garth Snider, president of FranchiseOpportunities.com.

Do you love ice cream? Franchise success largely rests on sales volume. "You'll probably need to be there 16 hours a day. If you don't like sweets or you're lactose intolerant, this won't be your passion," he said.

Can you find the right location? Look for areas with high visibility and few competitors. Talk to other franchise owners about company relations and responsiveness. "Most franchisees say they wish they had talked to more people before they bought," Snider said.

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Shield your firm from liability

Dear Karen: I'd like to start an in-depth property inspection company, but I fear that our reports may be potential deal-killers. Any advice?

Answer: There are two issues to consider: Your technology may uncover property defects that could derail a sale. And if a breach of mortgage contract results, your firm might be named in a lawsuit, said Robert LaReddola, an attorney specializing in construction law.

Survey the real estate brokers who are likely to hire or refer your firm. Ask how they might value your commitment to reliability and independence in your inspections.

"It would be really useful to tell a prospective homeowner that a floor was improperly installed and could cause cracking of floorboards," LaReddola said. But if you go forward with your business, talk to an attorney about shielding your firm from potential liability.

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Making sales to the government

Dear Karen: What advice can you give on getting government contracts?

Answer: Lourdes Martin-Rosa, a government contracting advisor at American Express OPEN, offered some tips on promoting services to the public sector.

Focus on making contacts at and gaining in-depth understanding of a few agencies rather than responding to every request for proposals) that crops up. Introduce yourself to the proper contact people at those agencies well before they issue requests for proposals.

"The most trusted vendors are sometimes even asked to help formulate RFP guidelines, which gives them a significant advantage," Martin-Rosa said.

Listen to those contacts' needs and fine-tune your offer for them, rather than marketing with generic slide shows and print mailers. E-mail is the best communication tool: "After the anthrax scare, it became difficult to get unsolicited mail through to federal agencies," Martin-Rosa said.

Don't promise more than you can deliver. "Make sure you can back up your claims and deliver on agreements, and you'll be more likely to gain a positive reputation among government buyers," she 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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