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Read up on blogs, then start your own

Special to The Times

Dear Karen: I’d like to incorporate a blogging strategy into my company’s marketing efforts but don’t know where to start. Can you suggest some resources?

Answer: Using a blog to attract and engage customers is fast becoming a popular marketing strategy. The interactive, dynamic nature of blogs -- and the informal writing style adopted by many bloggers -- can make them effective marketing tools.

Reading other blogs being published in your industry will help you decide what niche your company blog should fill. Many business owners put some personality, and sometimes even personal reflections, into their blogging. Others adopt a more professional tone, emphasizing industry news and best practices and personnel information of interest to insiders.

There are many books, websites, services and conferences to help companies understand the “blogosphere,” said Steve Broback, president and founder of the Blog Business Summit conference series.

If you want to start reading before you start blogging, Broback recommends three books, all with accompanying blogs:

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* “Naked Conversations,” by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel (scobleizer.com), provides a strategic overview of how blogs are superior to traditional websites and why companies need to take them seriously.

* “The Corporate Blogging Book,” by Debbie Weil (www.blogwriteforceos.com), presents case studies of large corporations that are blogging.

* “Publish and Prosper: Blogging for Your Business,” by Broback and D.L. Byron (www.blogbusinesssummit.com), distills advice that Broback gives to conference attendees.

Once you’ve gotten some background on blogging, it is easy to try your hand at it. There are free services, such as WordPress (wordpress.com) where you can create a simple test blog.

“We tell clients who are completely new to blogging that an hour spent creating a blog from scratch, and writing a few simple posts, will very quickly make them literate in the most essential parts of the blogging process,” Broback said.

Hiring teenagers for summer help

Dear Karen: I’d like to hire a couple of extra employees this summer to help my business catch up on some inventory. Can I hire teenagers on vacation from school?

Answer: You certainly can. Just be sure that you aren’t hiring them to perform work that would violate child labor laws.

“The starting point, with teenagers, needs to be about safety,” said John Robinson, a labor and employment lawyer with Fowler White Boggs Banker in Tampa, Fla.

“There are some jobs teenagers cannot legally do. The state and federal laws on the issue vary, but it may be illegal for teenagers under 18 to work with explosives, toxic chemicals, electricity, roofing, heavy machinery and vehicles.”

If the teens you hire are under age 16, there probably will be further restrictions on hours of work, school attendance, breaks and days per week they can work.

If you have an appropriate job in mind for a teen, make sure you’re offering minimum wage as compensation and paying overtime if necessary. In California, minimum wage is $7.50 an hour. It is scheduled to go up to $8 an hour Jan. 1.

Check with your accountant about whether to withhold payroll taxes and other deductions and contribute to Social Security for summer employees.

If your business is not incorporated and the jobs are small enough, the taxes and withholding on their compensation may not be applicable, Robinson said.

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


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