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BUSINESS
June 27, 2011 | By Karen E. Klein
Dear Karen: I own a transportation company. Where do I find out about obtaining government contracts? Answer: Start with Federal Business Opportunities, at http://www.fbo.gov . It lists most opportunities over $25,000 and includes navigation instructions. Next, introduce your company to prime contractors who might buy your products or services. They can include you as a subcontractor within their existing contracts or on jobs they are bidding, said John C. Lauderdale III, author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting Government Contracts.
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BUSINESS
July 4, 2011 | By Karen E. Klein
Dear Karen: Our business always has a backlog of payments due. How can we cut it? Answer: Offer incentives to decrease collection time. You might try giving a 2% discount for payments received within 10 days of invoicing, said John Formento Jr., an analyst at Sageworks, a financial information company. Examine your customers' payment history and contact slow-paying customers to work out a schedule. "If necessary, decline further credit offerings to them," Formento said.
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BUSINESS
November 22, 2010 | By Karen E. Klein
Dear Karen: How much cash should a small business set aside as a reserve fund? Answer: Because economic recessions are cyclical, having an adequate capital reserve is imperative for small businesses. It's also important to hedge against seasonal downturns and family emergencies or health problems. Just as individuals are advised to save enough to meet personal expenses for three to six months, companies should do the same, said Jim Sharvin, a CPA in Torrance. "Put that savings in a money market fund or a short-term CD. Don't put it at risk at all," he said.
BUSINESS
June 27, 2011 | By Karen E. Klein
Dear Karen: I own a transportation company. Where do I find out about obtaining government contracts? Answer: Start with Federal Business Opportunities, at http://www.fbo.gov . It lists most opportunities over $25,000 and includes navigation instructions. Next, introduce your company to prime contractors who might buy your products or services. They can include you as a subcontractor within their existing contracts or on jobs they are bidding, said John C. Lauderdale III, author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting Government Contracts.
BUSINESS
March 21, 2011 | By Karen E. Klein
Dear Karen: How do I keep my most productive employees from pursuing other jobs? Answer: As employment picks up, small companies often see high turnover. Surveys show 54% of U.S. employees want to look for new jobs when the economy improves, said Kevin Sheridan, chief engagement officer of HR Solutions International Inc. in Chicago. "Don't be complacent; find out what's making your people disengaged and what can be done to retain them," Sheridan said. His research shows that recognition, career development and relationships with managers are key factors.
BUSINESS
September 5, 2010 | By Karen E. Klein
Dear Karen: How can I get better data on my competitors? Answer: Join professional groups, attend trade shows and subscribe to industry publications. Such organizations often publish surveys and trend reports that will give you insights on what others in your field are doing. But don't spend too much time studying your competition when you should be focusing on your customers, said Seena Sharp, author of "Competitive Intelligence Advantage. " "Customers are looking for companies that solve their problems or give them what they want," she said.
BUSINESS
April 19, 2010 | By Karen E. Klein
Dear Karen: Can you give me some tips for starting a gardening business? Answer: Make sure you are passionate about gardening and knowledgeable about the industry. Be persistent in setting and meeting start-up goals. "Change can only occur when you make a conscious decision to make it happen," said Tamara Monosoff, author of a new book, "Your Million Dollar Dream." Research the top issues for gardening businesses, and write down how you will approach each one. This will be the beginning of your business plan, which you should formalize before you start.
BUSINESS
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.
BUSINESS
December 20, 2010 | By Karen E. Klein
Dear Karen: I'm not good at negotiating contracts. Do you have any advice? Answer: Follow these techniques from Roger Dawson, author of "Secrets of Power Negotiating," and see whether your skills improve. If you're soliciting bids, never accept an initial offer: It makes the other party think it could have done better. If you're bidding, make your initial offer higher than what you expect to get. If the party across the table agrees to your offer, you'll come out way ahead.
BUSINESS
May 16, 2011 | Karen E. Klein
Dear Karen: Can you explain the new use-tax law for small businesses? Answer: Use tax is not new, said Brad Graves, an accountant and partner at Haskell & White in Irvine. Longstanding tax law requires consumers to report and pay use tax on goods purchased from out-of-state vendors, such as online retailers, who do not collect California sales tax. What is new is the 2010 requirement that taxpayers with more than $100,000 in business gross receipts register with the state's Board of Equalization.
BUSINESS
May 23, 2011 | By Karen E. Klein
Dear Karen: I'm starting a business. What can I do myself and when do I need a lawyer? Answer: Many small businesses start out as sole proprietorships. When you are ready for a formal business structure, there are do-it-yourself options for incorporating or forming an limited liability company. You can also download legal forms such as contracts and confidentiality agreements and complete them yourself. Make sure you keep such records secure, said Charley Moore, the founder and chairman of Rocket Lawyer, a legal website.
BUSINESS
May 16, 2011 | Karen E. Klein
Dear Karen: Can you explain the new use-tax law for small businesses? Answer: Use tax is not new, said Brad Graves, an accountant and partner at Haskell & White in Irvine. Longstanding tax law requires consumers to report and pay use tax on goods purchased from out-of-state vendors, such as online retailers, who do not collect California sales tax. What is new is the 2010 requirement that taxpayers with more than $100,000 in business gross receipts register with the state's Board of Equalization.
BUSINESS
April 18, 2011 | By Karen E. Klein
Dear Karen: I have an accountant who keeps good financial records for my company. Do I need a chief financial officer? Answer: An accountant records business transactions and produces financial documents, which is adequate for many small companies. As you grow, you may consider a CFO, who will not only crunch the numbers, but interpret them strategically. "While an accounting manager may be proficient at accurately recording the daily business transactions, a CFO will analyze that data to help you direct your efforts to your most profitable business segments," said Jess Meyers, project manager of Lyndon Group, an accounting and technology outsourcing firm in Orange County.
BUSINESS
March 21, 2011 | By Karen E. Klein
Dear Karen: How do I keep my most productive employees from pursuing other jobs? Answer: As employment picks up, small companies often see high turnover. Surveys show 54% of U.S. employees want to look for new jobs when the economy improves, said Kevin Sheridan, chief engagement officer of HR Solutions International Inc. in Chicago. "Don't be complacent; find out what's making your people disengaged and what can be done to retain them," Sheridan said. His research shows that recognition, career development and relationships with managers are key factors.
BUSINESS
March 14, 2011 | By Karen E. Klein
Dear Karen: How can I save for retirement? Answer: There are simple retirement plans designed for entrepreneurs. You set them up and deduct contributions yourself, without a plan administrator or complex tax reporting, said Margaret A. Kruse, assistant vice president of Allianz Life Insurance Co. of North America. SEP- and SIMPLE-IRAs are tax-advantaged retirement plans. If you have employees, you can contribute amounts equaling up to 25% of their compensation into the SEP-IRAs.
BUSINESS
February 28, 2011 | By Karen E. Klein
Dear Karen: Can I reduce my salary as a small-business owner? Answer: Tax law requires business owners to pay themselves, but their salaries can be reduced or eliminated in a start-up or during a business downturn, said Frank Stokes of SPA Entrepreneur Consultants in Los Angeles. "If your current salary is a burden to the business, that's a good reason to reduce your salary until revenue and profitability increase," he said. "Give yourself a regular paycheck. Each year, reset your monthly salary based on the month you earned the least during the previous year," he said.
BUSINESS
May 9, 2010 | Karen E. Klein
Dear Karen: How can we improve sales? Answer: Track sales performance. See where your sales leads originate and which ones are most effective. You can't identify what's working if you're not monitoring it closely. "Identify the real drivers of your business, and stop throwing away money on what's not working," said Jeff Solomon of Leads360, a Los Angeles software firm. "Chances are, one or two sources generate the bulk of your revenue." Instruct your sales staff to respond to inquiries within five minutes, send follow-up e-mail and stay in touch with potential customers.
BUSINESS
November 3, 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 firms -- 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.
BUSINESS
February 13, 2011 | By Karen E. Klein
Dear Karen: I don't know who can build my website. Suggestions? Answer: Start right and hire a professional rather than a moonlighting student, said Erin Presseau of New England digital marketing agency SilverTech. "Think about what website you envision for your new company and put your initial requirements on a list," she said. If you'll rely on the Web company to formulate business concepts, look for a "digital or interactive agency," Presseau said. If you simply want someone to build a website to your specifications, look for website design and development firms.
BUSINESS
January 31, 2011 | By Karen E. Klein
Dear Karen: I'm 20, and no one takes my business seriously. What can I do? Answer: Overcome negative perceptions about your youth by running your company in a professional and serious manner. Don't cut corners on things such as licensing or legal agreements. You may be tempted to design your own website to save money, but unless you can produce high quality, don't. "I would say it's twice as hard, at least, to be considered a legitimate and stable business" when you are a young entrepreneur, said Andi Enns, a college student and marketing consultant in Kansas City, Mo. She recommended that you present your youth as an advantage by including compelling stories about your journey into entrepreneurship in your marketing campaign and on your website.
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