Question: My business is in sporting goods. Our business plan had projected that by the end of 1998 we would have an international presence. Of course, our timing couldn't be worse with the troubles in South America and Asia. But we still want to go ahead as planned. One of our marketing issues is, how best to get into these markets in the first place?

Answer: Hopefully, when you originally wrote your business plan and targeted an international market, you had done your homework.

Unlike marketing to Americans, when you market on a global basis you must consider each territory's culture, people, economics, and needs. Even Europe is not one single territory, it's many different diverse countries and customs. England does business very differently from France and Germany, for example. And for Japanese buyers, it is common to dismiss American products that do not meet their high standards of quality and durability.

When producing products for and providing services to foreign countries, you must first be able to offer something that is not currently available in that territory or at least it must have an intrinsic value higher than what is currently available there. Keep in mind how Japanese cars took America by storm only a few decades ago. They totally changed an industry.

An excellent vehicle for marketing your products internationally is an ISO 9000 certification. This is like getting a Good Housekeeping stamp of approval for global markets.

The International Organization of Standardization in Geneva created this certification back in 1979. Today is recognized in about 100 countries. The ISO 9000 relates to certain standards that have been established for quality management and assurance.

It will probably cost your business about $10,000 to become certified. You must install quality-control procedures, document them, and train your employees to utilize them in almost every aspect of operation.

For more information, you can contact American Society for Quality at (800) 248-1946. Or you can find books, journals and software programs about ISO programs and seminars by calling the American National Standards Institute at (212) 672-4900.

Q: For years I ran my own restaurant. I love to cook, but the restaurant business is tough, especially in Southern California very trendy and very competitive. I've been offered many jobs by chains and other great restaurant owners, but I'm not too thrilled about working for someone else. Do I have any other choice?

A: I read an article recently about a young woman who had her own restaurant for many years, but like you got tired of managing it. She traveled around awhile working for others (which may not be a bad idea just to keep busy and check out how other successful restaurants operate), and then she came up with an interesting concept: teaching people how to cook!

If you love what you do, and don't want to work for someone else, this might be an interesting option. You can develop courses either on your own or with a training/seminar organization. You can market yourself as well as help others. You might even want to write a book!

Here in Southern California, healthy cooking might be a great idea for those of us who are constantly on a diet (and eating healthy).

Whatever you decide to do later on in your career, teaching is always a great option that you can do wherever you end up.

Q: As a small-business owner, trying to market my product is the hardest part of my business. Do you have any "secrets?"

A: Yeah, try to keep your product one. Using secrecy is a great way to get people to want to know more about what you're offering. Some of the best billboard ads involved that type of strategy, particularly new automobile ads.

After you create a buzz about what is coming next, you'll want to pre-sell the product by creating a "waiting list." I can remember when Mercedes Benz came out with their new sports car back in the early 1990s. They built (or distributed) a limited number of cars, and everyone was clamoring to get on the "list," even though the cost was absolutely exorbitant. But that's the marketing hype.

If you can afford to, think about marketing on television. Local cable channels are probably affordable even for a small-business owner. TV creates a buzz that very few other media can create. So, if at all possible, test a few commercials out and decide for yourself.

Then there's the "cool factor." This is very important to consider when marketing your product. Everyone wants to be cool and wants to buy what's cool.

Keep yourself in the loop, especially with young people. Do some of your homework by checking out high schools and college kids. Go into urban communities. Everyone either wants to be young or hip. You need to get your product in front of a young audience. Some of the greatest hits have come from a buzz out of the streets.

In today's competitive marketplace, you must stay on top of your game. And creative marketing is one of your best bets to getting the results you desire.

Q: It's so hard to keep a client's attention when making a sales call, either in person or on the phone. What might be a way to get their attention and keep it?

A: Take them out for a meal breakfast, lunch, or dinner, it doesn't really matter, although dinner is much more personal and you can invite the client's spouse or significant other and really bond.

There is no better way to keep your clients' attention than to take them away from the phones and other office distractions by inviting them out for a meal. It also puts you both on neutral territory.

If you've done the inviting out, make sure you've established yourself as the host. Coordinate a convenient time and place with your client's assistant and make reservations at a place that is comfortable and convenient for your guest.

You might want to spend some time during the meal getting better acquainted. Leave the "hard" sell for dessert and coffee. Besides, it's really hard to make a sales pitch while trying to chew your food. If you're on a tight schedule, you probably should forget about your own meal and make your presentation while your client is eating. Not a bad strategy, because she'll be chewing and you can have a "captive" audience.

Remember some basic etiquette for mealtime meetings: let your guest order first, turn your cellular phone off so you won't be rudely distracted, don't drink too much (or at all), and so on. You get the picture.

Remember, sometimes it may be even more important to develop a personal relationship than just to make the sale.

Lorraine Spurge is a personal finance advisor, author of "Money Clips: 365 Tips That Will Pay One Day at a Time," and business news commentator. She can be reached at (818) 705-3740 or by e-mail at lspurge@spurgeink.com.

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