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Dear Karen

BUSINESS
January 3, 2011 | By Karen E. Klein
Dear Karen: I want to make more overseas sales in 2011. Do I need a foreign distributor? Answer: It certainly helps, said Kathleen Brush, an international business consultant based in Seattle. "Finding a good local partner in the country you're targeting will help you understand business and legal details you would have tripped over," she said. Brush recommended using the Gold Key Matching Service offered by the U.S. Commercial Service. "They do credit checks, criminal checks, they walk you through the distribution process and advise you about what you need to look for" in any country where you want to start selling, she said.
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BUSINESS
December 27, 2010 | By Karen E. Klein
Dear Karen: Is the tax credit for hiring formerly unemployed people going to stay in effect for 2011? Answer: The Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act, or HIRE Act, was signed in March as part of President Obama's $18-billion jobs bill, but it expires at the end of this year, said Brandon Edwards, chief executive of the Tax Credit Co. in Los Angeles. The act provides businesses with an exemption from Social Security payroll taxes for every worker hired this year who had been unemployed for at least 60 days before the hiring.
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
December 13, 2010 | By Karen E. Klein
Dear Karen: My business is struggling. Must I do performance appraisals this year? Answer: Most small businesses don't perform employee appraisals often enough. "It seems like a lot of work, but employees want to know how they are doing. It would be smart to have a verbal appraisal every three months and a more formal written appraisal at least once a year," said Ken Keller, president of Business Owner Coaching in Valencia. "Companies that don't hold people accountable tend to underperform.
BUSINESS
December 6, 2010 | By Karen E. Klein
Dear Karen: I have a small family business that sells earthquake-preparedness devices. We want newspaper and television exposure. Suggestions? Answer: Position yourself as a disaster preparedness expert, said Michael Olguin, president of Formula, a public relations firm in San Diego. "Pitch yourself as a third-party expert that electronic and print media can call on during annual drills and preparedness events and after there's a quake anywhere in the world," Olguin said.
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
November 15, 2010 | By Karen E. Klein
Dear Karen: I'm planning to open an online advertising business. Can you give me some suggestions? Answer: It's important to prove your concept: Can you make a profit as an online ad broker? What are your expenses and startup costs? When will you break even? Use Freecycle and Craigslist to find equipment and supplies, said Dal LaMagna, founder of Tweezerman. "Don't buy anything new and don't spend any money if you don't absolutely have to," he said. "The key to launching a micro-business is to keep expenses under control and fully accounted for," he said.
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
June 21, 2010 | By Karen E. Klein
Dear Karen: I'm looking for venture capital funding for a biotech firm. Any suggestions? Answer: Don't waste your time approaching generic investment firms. "There are venture capital funding groups devoted specifically to life sciences endeavors, and such funding groups are a good starting point for biotech start-ups seeking investment dollars," said Eva Jack, managing director of venture capital firm MedImmune Ventures. And be persistent. U.S. venture capital investment fell by nearly half last year compared with 2008, according to the MoneyTree Report, a study from the National Venture Capital Assn.
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