Q: I have some ideas regarding an import-export business, but don’t know how to start and operate a small business, how and where to register it and what type of documents I’d need.
A: You need to realize that the international trade business requires a great amount of commitment, persistence and patience. The first step is for you to take an educational class that gives an overview of international business and what is involved in it.
There are several classes and programs available in Los Angeles covering the basics of international trade as well as specific topics such as licensing, documentation, freight forwarding, etc.
To get an overview of all programs and classes being offered in the greater Los Angeles area, I’d suggest you contact the Southern California Coordinating Council at the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. The number is (213) 580-7565.
Two organizations that provide monthly programs are the Export Small Business Development Centers, at (213) 892-1111, and the Centers for International Trade Development, at (909) 629-2253.
You can also get a listing of seminars through the Internet by visiting LA Trade’s Web site at https://www.tradeport.org. Tradeport is an online compendium of market research and economic data that also provides trade leads for exporting companies. When your company is export-ready, call us at LA Trade for assistance in growing your international trade business. We’re at (213) 580-7528.
--Jennifer Soto Perque
Trade manager, LA Trade, Los
Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce
Q: I have survived for years with an old XT-style computer operating with DOS. Now I plan to start a business publishing a trade newsletter. How can I learn what might be the most likely computer software and hardware combination to best support my endeavor?
A: I would suggest you get the current copy and some back issues of Home Office Computing, a monthly magazine aimed at small businesses that not only gives help on software and hardware but also on everyday business issues. They regularly rate all the software and hardware on the market and list the best deals for the best prices. The publication is written without a lot of the technical lingo that many people find hard to follow.
The same magazine maintains a Web site where you can ask specific questions of an expert.
A second option would be to go into a computer store and find a knowledgeable salesperson who can give you some recommendations.
This can be difficult, however, because generally speaking the salespeople are college students or young people just out of college who are not likely to have had a lot of business experience.
A third option is to take a class at a community college, adult school or local university that will teach you about different software applications.
Many of these classes are offered for free or for a reasonable fee and the advantage would be that you would get to try out the software and actually use it yourself before making a purchase.
President, Web Marketing Plus,
Q: How can I effectively screen prospective employees in ways that respect their integrity and value but confirm that what they say is what they can do? Should I develop a test for simple filing procedures, math and writing abilities? Also, what questions should I ask their business and personal references?
San Fernando Valley
A: Before you interview a prospective employee, make a list of specific questions designed to elicit detailed information about work experience and skills, such as, “Tell me what your specific responsibilities were at XYZ company and how you performed each of those tasks.” Make sure you know legally what you can and cannot ask applicants.
Use a well-designed employment application that allows the applicant to give you lots of relevant information about his or her past work experiences and duties. It should contain appropriate releases allowing you to check references.
During the interview, listen carefully and take notes. Be aware of “We did this” versus “I did this.” You can create simple tests to assess specific skills (i.e., filing, typing, math, writing, computer proficiency).
Administer the tests to current employees and see how they perform before giving them to serious contenders for employment.
Always check references and have predesigned questions ready. Although past employers may be reluctant to give references in light of recent court rulings, make those reference calls anyway. Talk not only to supervisors but also to co-workers and subordinates to get a full picture of past job performance, skill levels and interpersonal abilities. During the conversation, ask if you can quickly read from the applicant’s application or resume to fully verify work accomplishments. Ask if they would rehire this person. Be careful if the reference seems reluctant to say much--most will readily say good things about someone’s performance if he or she was a good employee.
Do not bother calling personal references. Would your mom or best friend say anything negative about you to your prospective boss?
--Laurie Dea Owyang
President, Humanasaurus human
resources consultants, Los Angeles
If you have a question about how to start or operate a small business, please mail it to Karen E. Klein in care of Los Angeles Times, 1333 S. Mayflower Ave., Suite 100, Monrovia, CA 91016 or e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your name and address. The column is designed to answer questions of general interest. It should not be construed as legal advice.