Dear Karen: I'd like to buy a franchise, but how do I choose one?
Answer: Narrow the possibilities to businesses you understand and would enjoy running. Rick Staley, who owns several Quiznos outlets in Houston, rejected franchise opportunities outside his comfort zone.
"There's no way I'd franchise a Goodyear or Firestone store because I'm not handy with fixing cars," Staley said.
When he began looking at buying a franchise 12 years ago, he considered many possibilities. "You should have confidence in the product that you would be selling. I first visited a Quiznos restaurant in Denver, and I truly enjoyed it. I found something I could get behind," he said.
You must also do your homework. Staley visited five Quiznos franchises in Dallas while considering a purchase. "I talked to all the owners about their experiences, what they liked, what they didn't and what advice they would give a new owner," he said.
Make website client-friendly
Dear Karen: My daughter, a computer studies major, is creating our company website. How can we make it look as professional as possible?
Answer: Avoid the pitfalls that are giveaways for amateur site design, including messiness and disorganization. Remember the "less is more" design adage, said Daniel Meyerov, chief executive of design firm OnlyBusiness.com. "When a site is cluttered with too much information, content and graphics, it looks confusing and unprofessional," he said.
You should also make sure that the site answers your clients' needs. "A site can look beautiful, but if it doesn't speak to the consumer, it's of little value," Meyerov said.
Finally, a site should convey a clear sense of direction that users can navigate through easily, and include full contact information.
"If a site owner presents no contact information other than an e-mail address, this is often a warning sign to Web users that they may not have recourse to any post-purchase issues that may arise," he said.
Protecting against ID theft at work
Dear Karen: I've been reading about identity theft problems at large retailers and wonder whether my boutique could be vulnerable as well.
Answer: Every year millions of Americans have their identity stolen, and experts believe that millions more probably experience a breach but never report it. If your employees' or customers' private financial data are stolen through your store, you could be liable for damages, said Jim Edholm, a business benefits expert.
"A Michigan State University study says 51% of all identity thefts occur in the workplace, usually by employees doing low-level tasks like data entry, and often by temporary employees," Edholm said.
He recommends several steps to reduce risk:
Develop written policies protecting non-public information. Conduct mandatory security training for employees who handle sensitive information such as payroll. Destroy all personal information before you discard it. Conduct background checks on your employees, even temporary and part-time workers. Use code numbers, not Social Security numbers, to identify employees.
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.