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It's all in the mind.

iffyIn a sluggish economy, the entrepreneurs who suffer least adjust their repertoire to a shifting marketplace. Find out which skill related to your current services is still in demand in your community. By developing this skill, you can offer it as a new service.

A classic way to hone a new capacity is by taking a course. But you can also diversify through pro bono work for a nonprofit organization you admire. Offer your talents for a project that will showcase the skill you want to refine. When the owner of a market-research firm in a small town in California needed experience working with children, she donated her services to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

While donating your services to a non-profit agency, you may meet its board members, usually successful business executives. It can’t hurt to have them know who you are–and they’ll appreciate your contribution to their pet charity.

TURNING YOUR COMPANY INTO A FRANCHISE

Q: I want to franchise my business. Where can I get information on the legalities, duties, and responsibilities involved in selling franchises?

A: America has about 3,100 franchises in 65 industries, according to Patrick J. Boroian, president of Francorp, a 16-year-old franchise-consulting firm based in Olympia Fields, Illinois. Distributorships and businesses that perform sales, business consulting, and tax preparation, computer, and business services are good franchise prospects, Boroian says.

To get information about franchising your business, call (800) 877-1103 for Francorp’s basic information packet. When you call, you’ll learn what you need to do to become ready for franchising. “Many business owners think they have a business that can be turned into a franchise but don’t know how to begin. We give business owners a professional opinion on how to start a franchise, providing alternatives for those who are not ready to franchise,” Boroian explains.

When you call, a Francorp analyst will ask you a series of questions about your company, and evaluate the information you provide, at no charge. If your business has potential as a franchise, you can opt for a three-hour consultation with a Francorp senior consultant to discuss the feasibility of franchising your company, the size of the market, competition, nature of the business, and its likely success or profitability. The consultation fee is $500. (The consultation site nearest you is in Los Angeles.)

If Francorp finds franchising feasible, they’ll advise you on exactly what steps to take to start your franchise, how long it will take, and what it will cost. Setting up a franchise takes about five months to a year and can cost $50,000 to $150,000.

The analyst may recommend attending one of the 36 full-day seminars Francorp runs each year throughout the United States (the cost is $145). For a 2015 seminar schedule, call Francorp’s 800-number.

REDIRECTING A BUSINESS

Q: Our home-based computer-services business is failing. We provide bookkeeping, mailing lists, databases, and computer training for local residents. We also use our computer to create party banners, invitations, and holiday cards. How can we redirect our services to build a client base?

A: Businesses fail for many reasons. But to succeed, any small business has to do these three things: Identify a specific need; get a clear sales message to its target customers; and offer something customers want at a price they will pay.

To redirect your service profitably, you have to do some basic market research. Study local business publications and attend meetings of some professional groups, keeping alert for any mention of problems your equipment can solve. Make an appointment for free counseling at the nearest Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) office, where a seasoned business veteran might be able to steer you in some promising directions. Find SCORE by calling the SBA Hotline at (800) 827-5722.

You’ll need to get a profile of your target customer and a clear view of the competition. When you can define your service precisely in 25 words or less, you are ready to write a simple business plan as a blueprint for your first-year operations.

PERMITS AND LICENSES

Q: I want to start a bill-consolidation firm that handles clients’ accounts payable. Do I need a small-business license? If so, how do I obtain one?

A: In different locations, certain types of businesses need a permit or license. Ask the district office of the State Taxation Department to determine whether your firm will require what Ohio calls a Service Vendor’s License.

License or not, you’ll need to register your business. Start the procedure by calling the One-Stop Business Permit Center in Columbus ([614]) 466-4232). They’ll send a detailed packet of forms and information to answer all you questions. Registering a new sole proprietorship in Ohio costs $10 to $20. Before you register, you’ll have to make sure the name you want does not belong to another business.

In any state, the office or agency that handles small-business registration can steer owners to the source for advice on whether a license is required.


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