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Invest in workers to keep them

Special to The Times

Dear Karen: How can I mentor my employees so they stay and move up the ladder?

Answer: Provide job training and send your employees to industry conferences and workshops. Reimburse employees who pursue higher education related to their jobs.

Meet with each employee annually to talk about career goals and job direction. You or your managers will become mentors to your newer employees through this process, said Joel Ronning, chief executive of global e-commerce outsourcing firm Digital River. “We invest a fair amount in the process of making a personal development plan for each employee, with regular follow-ups to discuss their short- and long-term goals,” he said.

Digital River also does weekly “lunch and learn” meetings, where employees talk to Ronning and consultants. “We’ve had meetings on company strategy, client communications, Excel training and multicultural differences in our international offices,” he said. The meetings, which are voluntary, typically attract 30 employees. “We promote an awful lot from within, so new employees need a lot of attention to help them develop managerial skills,” he said.

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Hone message to improve marketing

Dear Karen: What can I do to improve my marketing next year?

Answer: Start by performing a communications audit that looks at what message you’re sending out. “Gather up all the pieces produced by your organization, including letterhead, business cards, sales presentations, sales letters, press releases, websites and advertisements. Lay them all out on your conference table and make sure they follow your approved graphic standards and brand identity,” said Rodger Roeser, president of Eisen Management Group, an advertising firm.

Most companies don’t realize how much of their marketing is outdated, inconsistent and sloppy, he said. “Double-check the messages being sent. Are they hitting the mark? Does your material need refreshing? Is it easy to read and understand? If not, you’ve got some work to do.”

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Companies that think they are projecting professionalism and attention to detail sometimes find their materials are misspelled or their phone number is old. Ask an objective outsider to look at your communications and give you an honest critique, then “revamp anything that is not consistently sending the message about what makes your company unique,” Roeser said.

Summer business needs winterizing

Dear Karen: I have a successful business but it is busiest in the summer. What can we do to bring in more revenue during the off-season?

Answer: Gather your staff and mentors to brainstorm new income ideas that may be related to your core business. Also consider unrelated projects that fit with your company’s skills and your staff. Pool cleaners with trucks and crews might pick up work clearing rain gutters or cleaning and storing patio furniture for the winter, for instance.

U.S. Lawns, a corporate landscape franchise, offers winter snow removal and winterizing services for its customers in cold climates. Franchise owners stretch out projects from the summer into fall and offer discounts for winter jobs such as new landscaping design.

Paul Wolbert, U.S. Lawns vice president, said he encouraged franchise owners to market maintenance projects over the winter months. “Winter is also a good time for spring cleaning, making sure that all their equipment is cleaned, repaired and ready for the spring,” he said.

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Got a question about running or starting a small enterprise? E-mail it to ke.klein@ latimes.com or mail it to In Box, Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012

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