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Tout ability to save clients money, not your small-business status

September 01, 2009|Karen E. Klein

Dear Karen: We supply Cal State University campuses with money-saving lighting, but we can't get new orders with the budget cuts. Don't they have a mandate to buy from certified small businesses?

Answer: California is in uncharted territory regarding state expenditures. In this climate, said Rohit Shukla, chief executive of Larta Institute, "mandates -- especially on set-asides for small business -- are easily forgotten, if not circumvented. You can be sure that every vendor, small or not, is being squeezed."

Your sales pitch right now is not your small-business certification but a guarantee to save the colleges specific dollar amounts. Find out who is making central buying decisions and contact that person, rather than trying to sell to individual campuses.

This is also a good time to expand your customer base and appeal to cash-strapped private companies and public agencies promoting energy efficiency.

"Get onto the Web forums and blogs and demonstrate your passion for energy-efficient lighting solutions," Shukla said.

Contact companies and agencies such as Southern California Edison, the California Energy Commission, the federal Department of Energy and the California Public Utilities Commission.

"What you do now to build this business -- your presence on the Web, your partnership with regulators, utilities and businesses -- will constitute the infrastructure of your business in the years to come," Shukla said.

Web hosting and design too tough?

Dear Karen: I'd like to start a Web design and hosting company. Any advice?

Answer: It's tough for a small firm to succeed at both Web design, which is a customer-service-focused enterprise, and site hosting, which is a commodity business that requires round-the-clock monitoring and strong information technology skills.

"Find a hosting provider and partner with them so you can focus on design and customer service and let them handle the technical" details, said Michael Weiss, chief executive of Imagistic in Westlake Village.

Web design firms starting today must add value and serve a niche clientele, because the market is saturated and individuals are increasingly using free blog templates to create attractive websites, said Jeannine Parker, an Internet consultant in Santa Monica.

"Web development has become much more specialized and highly skilled. [Clients will] want a developer's help with commerce, with usability, with databases, with driving traffic and sales to the site," she said.

Keeping spirits up after cutbacks

Dear Karen: How do I keep employees motivated after many cutbacks?

Answer: Make your employees part of the solution by motivating excellent behavior from them.

"Explain the need for the cutbacks, the importance of their work and how they can positively impact revenue growth and cost containment," said Theresa Welbourne, chief executive of EePulse Inc.

Celebrate the small things. "A few weeks ago we opened a bottle of champagne in our kitchen at 4:45 p.m., gave everyone a small bit and started talking about what was working well," Welbourne said. "Every person was recognized, and I got a lot of positive feedback."

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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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