Q: I have an international trading company that exports California wines to Asia. This is a seasonal business because in Asia wine is consumed mostly at holiday times. I would like to get involved in manufacturing and distributing products domestically during my "off-season." Where can I go for help on manufacturing and selling in the United States, which is so dominated by big companies?
--Lily Chang, Janus Pacific, West Los Angeles
A: Our agency is affiliated with 70 centers across the country that offer help to manufacturers with 500 or fewer employees. We have five offices in Southern California with a staff of 109 technical and business professionals who have extensive experience in manufacturing, marketing, business plans, distribution and exporting.
We currently have some consultants working with wineries, so we do have some expertise in that industry.
Generally, however, we target the metalworking, plastics, food-processing, electronics, paper and printing, medical technology, furniture, aerospace, automobile, instrumentation and apparel industries. We can and do help small manufacturers outside those areas as well, however.
We are funded by the Commerce Department, the state of California's trade and commerce agency and through fees we charge for our services.
Since 80% of our funding comes from government sources, our fees are well below market rates. When you get started with us, we offer four initial hours of consulting at no charge.
Give us a call and we can set up an appointment for one of our consultants to get some preliminary information from you and visit your facility to take a look around and help you come up with some plans. We also sponsor 12 to 15 seminars each month that are of interest to small manufacturers. You can reach us at (800) 300-2682 or write to 13430 Hawthorne Blvd., Hawthorne, CA 90250.
--Bob Bishop, communications manager,
California Manufacturing Technology Center
Q: I have a small business and have recently begun to hire employees. I believe it is a good idea to create an employee policy manual to define paydays, holidays, benefits, etc. Is there a software package that could assist me in creating such a document?
--Debra M. Johansen, Presentation Systems, Costa Mesa
A: An employee handbook can serve as an effective communication tool, allowing you to convey vital information about your company's philosophy, work hours, performance expectations, benefits, rules and consequences for employees who violate those rules or whose performance is not acceptable.
There is software available to help you create your handbook. The California Chamber of Commerce [(800) 331-8877] has employee handbook software, as does HR Direct, which sells Policies Now software from Knowledge Point [(800) 346-1231.]
You can attempt to tailor policies contained in such software packages to your company's needs, but make sure you understand not only the intent and the language of the policies in the software, but also your legal compliance obligations under state and federal law. When you have created a draft of your handbook, it would be a good idea to have it reviewed by a human resources expert.
Finally, and most important, make sure you are 100% prepared to follow through on your policies and procedures in a fair and consistent manner with all your employees.
--Laurie Dea Owyang, president, Humanasaurus Human Resources Consultants, Los Angeles
If you have a question about how to start or operate a small business, mail it to Karen E. Klein, c/o The Los Angeles Times, 1333 S. Mayflower Ave., Suite 100, Monrovia 91016, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your name, address and telephone number. The column is designed to answer questions of general interest. It should not be construed as legal advice.