New Kid On The Block
Q: My small business recently relocated, and after meeting several prospective clients in the new area, I find they don't take me seriously. How can I compete with larger firms?
Fortunately, your task is easier than if you were starting from scratch; you have a record of previous experience and can ask past clients to serve as references. The next time you meet with potential clients, have testimonial letters from former clients on hand to address the prospects' concerns. You'll also want to review all your marketing practices to make sure you're enhancing your credibility every step of the way. Here are some important credibility builders:
1. Communicate like a pro. Get your business listed in your local directory as soon as possible. Answer all calls professionally, and have a reliable way to take calls when you're not in the office: an answering machine, voice mail or an answering service. Return calls promptly--preferably the same day you receive them, but no more than 48 hours later. You should also be able to send and receive faxes and e-mail.
2. Reevaluate your promotional pieces. Your logo, business cards, letterhead, envelopes and any other promotional materials should look top-notch. Work with a graphic designer to spiff up your image. And make sure your promotional pieces are as well-written as they are well-designed.
3. Join a professional association. Virtually every industry has its own association. Find yours by looking through the Encyclopedia of Associations (Gale Publishing), available at most public libraries. Membership helps you stay abreast of trends in your field, and referrals from other members are often a good source of business.
4. Write an article. Demonstrate your expertise by writing a short informational piece for a local business journal, an association newsletter or a neighborhood newspaper. Make copies of your article and mail them to potential clients.
If prospects remain cool to you, reevaluate your prospect list. You might want to target a different group of businesses; consider marketing to other new or small companies.
Q: I'm getting ready to start a low-cost business. Do I need a business license? If so, where do I obtain one?
A:?b>Provided by Robert Sullivan, author of The Small Business Start-Up Guide, $16.95, and United States Government--New Customer!, $27.95 (Information International, 800-375-8439).
Depending on your type of business, you may need local, county, state or federal licensing. To determine local licensing requirements, contact your city or county government offices. Nearly all businesses need a county or city license, which is easy to obtain and normally requires only a short visit to the local courthouse. Fees, if any, are minimal.
If you intend to operate from home, be sure to check local zoning requirements and property covenants (again, at the courthouse). Zoning requirements regulate how property can be used and may restrict various activities.
Certain businesses and professions also require a state license. Examples include barbers, contractors and most businesses serving food. Each state has an agency dealing with these types of businesses. Contact your local government offices to see if your particular business requires a state license. Another good source of state-specific licensing information is your local library. Inquire at the reference desk.
For a very few businesses, federal licensing is required. Examples would be a business providing investment advice or dealing with firearms. In general, federal licensing is required if the business is highly regulated by the government. In such cases, it's best to consult an attorney.