Strategic thinking is key for new firm

Dear Karen: I have just started selling VOIP (voice over Internet protocol) phone technology and aim to make my business grow exponentially. What’s the best way?

Answer: Think strategically about your sales and marketing, starting by analyzing your audience, your competitors, your value propositions and what differentiates your products in the marketplace.

Assuming you have a website, use Google analytics and other free tracking tools to determine who is visiting your site and how they are getting there.

“Spend 15 minutes or half an hour a day analyzing your site traffic,” said David Becker, president of PhilippeBecker, a branding and design firm in San Francisco. “You may find a disproportionate number of people coming from one or two places where you can increase your presence.”


Don’t forget to put out news releases to generate mentions of your firm in local media, the trade press, blogs and tech websites.

“If you can get five very important people talking about your product, that can be more important than 10,000 people without any influence talking about it,” Becker said.


SBA loan helps military and vets


Dear Karen: I’m a Vietnam veteran with a 10-year-old business. How can I get an SBA Patriot Loan for $36,000 to pay off two business credit cards and purchase a computer?

Answer: The new Patriot Express loan offers up to $500,000 to qualified small-business owners who are veterans or active-duty military personnel. Military spouses who own small businesses are also eligible.

The loans can be used for most business purposes, including start-up, expansion and working capital. Interest rates on Patriot Express loans run from 2.25% to 4.75% over prime, depending on the size and maturity of the loan.

Your goal of paying down debt and buying equipment should be a good fit, but many banks do not make small loans.

Also, your business must be creditworthy and profitable in order to qualify for any loan. Check with the SBA district office nearest you, which can be found at resources/index.html, for a list of participating local banks.


Getting edge in holiday retailing

Dear Karen: What’s the outlook for my store this holiday season?


Answer: It depends on what you’re selling, but in general the outlook is not good. The economy is showing signs of life, but many Americans are unemployed or worried about losing their jobs.

Deloitte Research predicts that 2009 holiday sales will not decline but will remain flat compared with last year’s holiday shopping season -- one of the worst in recent years.

“We have begun to see some stability and even growth in the stock market as well as some financial sectors. But consumer spending has continued to lag month after month,” said George Whalin, president of Retail Management Consultants in Carlsbad, Calif.

Because many large retailers have cut back dramatically on their inventory this year, Whalin said, there will be far less merchandise on the shelves this holiday season.

As a smaller retailer, if you can stock hot sellers, you may be able to capitalize on shortages at your big-box rivals.


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