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Monday, February 23, 2009

Ask an Expert: Tap into the power of community

By Steve Strauss for USA TODAY

Q: I own an Italian market in New York. I would like to expand, even if the conventional wisdom says it's not the right time. That said, getting a loan is hard and I'm not sure I have the resources to do it without some help. What should I do? — Max

A: Well, if it's help you need to grow your business, then you should get some. What if I told you there was an easy way to get that help, and it won't cost you hardly a cent? And what if I further told you this method is incredibly powerful and historically successful?

I thought you might be interested.

Think for a moment about all of the immigrants who have come to this country, be it Irish Catholics, Eastern European Jews, Asians, whomever. When you hear their success stories, usually it's because they were industrious, hard-working, entrepreneurial, thrifty, and so on.

They also tapped the power of their community.

Historically, when an immigrant starts a new business in this country, their first taste of success comes when members of the community begin to frequent the business. Word gets around, other members of the group start to show up, and the fledgling business takes root. If the business is really good, then the word of mouth continues to grow, and the business expands organically, seemingly effortlessly.

But it's not just new immigrants who can tap the power of community, almost any business can.

Sophy Khut and her family escaped Cambodia after the war and moved to the Portland, Oregon in 1976 when she was about 10 years old. As she became a young woman, needing to help her family, she began to work in an aunt's restaurant, doing everything from washing dishes and mopping floors to cleaning up and bussing tables. She opened her own restaurant just a year later — when she was but 22. But with the help of the local Cambodian community, it started strong. Their continued support helped the restaurant grow.

Buoyed by her success, Sophy looked around and realized that a golden opportunity lay not far away: Long Beach, Calif., has the largest Cambodian community anywhere in the world outside of Cambodia. As she told me, "it was a great opportunity and a ready market." So she up and moved to California, by herself, and started another restaurant, from scratch.

Sure, it sounds intimidating, but Sophy knew the secret: Help the community and they will help you.

So she opened Sophy's Thai and Cambodian Cuisine and immediately began tapping into the vast Cambodian community that surrounded her. She knew that a great restaurant, serving delicious, home-cooked food should be a winner.

She was right.

Sophy's is now one of the very best Cambodian restaurants in all of Southern California. Nobody does it better than Sophy's, and the mass of satisfied customers every night attest to that. That she just moved to a restaurant three-times the size, and it's already full every night, is further proof.

And how about this: It's all word of mouth. Sophy does not advertise. That's the power of community (and having a great business).

Here's Sophy's secrets to having your community support your business:

"Give, rather than take": Sophy explains that giving actually has two meanings:

• First, you have to give your customers a great product or service. Give them more than they expect.

• Second, give in the traditional sense. For instance, the Cambodian community in L.A. has a foundation called Hearts Without Boundaries, whereby they bring needy Cambodian children who have congenital heart defects to the U.S. and give them surgery and all of the medical help they need – for free. Sophy is a big a participant in the group, and in fact the team meets in her restaurant regularly.

"Get involved": In Sophy's case, she helps out every year with the Cambodian New Year parade. She has food booths at fairs and expos. She opens the restaurant up to different groups. She donates to non-profits.

All of this gets the word of Sophy's Restaurant out there. And then, when people show up, her great food and friendly restaurant makes them want to come back.

So the lesson is clear: Get involved in your community. Befriend them. Be thankful for their patronage. Help out. Just take it from Sophy: "Support your community and they will support you!"

Today's tip: Do you bill by the hour for different clients and customers? If so, you might be interested in some great software I recently learned about. Fast, easy, online, and affordable, Bill4Time can help you focus on your work, not your billing. Check it out here.

Ask an Expert appears Mondays. You can e-mail Steve Strauss at: you can click here to see previous columns. Steven D. Strauss is a lawyer, author and speaker who specializes in small business and entrepreneurship. His latest book is The Small Business Bible. You can sign up for his free newsletter, "Small Business Success Secrets!" at his website —

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Cambodia drafts sub-decree for better resettlement in development projects

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia has started drafting a sub-decree on addressing social-economic impacts caused by the development projects on implementation of involuntary resettlement, a government official said here on Monday.

"In the current context of Cambodia, we are lacking legal norms and legislations to support resettlement implementation, including limited awareness of people on law and weak enforcement of land law and other regulations," said Chhorn Sopheap, deputy secretary general of the Supreme National Economic Council and director of the resettlement department of the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

"We continue to further revise the sub-decree to cover all important issues in conformity with other laws and regulations, and to ensure efficient implementation," he said in the opening remarks of the five-day regional workshop of involuntary resettlement implementation and management, which also attracted participants from Vietnam, Laos and Indonesia.

The government is preparing this crucial sub-decree as policy guidelines for a better resettlement implementation, he said.

The project implementation is even more difficult and complicated if a third party causes problems behind because resettlement implementation is not only related to socio-economic side of affected people but also sometimes related to people's mind, especially political issues, he said.

"There were some problems occurring during the project implementation due to lack of adequate policy measures as well as experience, but we have to maintain a balance between people's rights of interest and general or public interest represented by prerogatives of public power," he said.

"We believe that good resettlement can prevent impoverishment and poverty of the affected people by turning displacement into development opportunities," he added.
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ASEAN Agrees to Boost Regional Fund by $40 Billion

Asian finance ministers pledged to uphold free trade and investment in the midst of the global economic slowdown and said they would allocate an additional $40 billion to protect falling currencies.

The ministers from 10 Southeast Asian nations as well as China, Japan and South Korea agreed to boost funding for the Chiang Mai Initiative -- an arrangement forged after the 1997 Asian financial crisis to address foreign reserve deficits through bilateral currency swaps -- from $80 billion to $120 billion.

The 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will provide 20 percent of funding, with 80 percent from China, Japan and South Korea.

The plan is expected to be approved at an ASEAN summit in Hua Hin, Thailand, from Feb. 27 to March 1.

"We reaffirm our determination to dedicate ourselves to increasing the free flow of trade and investment, to standing firm against protectionist measures which would worsen the economic downturn," the ministers said in a statement.

The commitment to free trade echoed comments made earlier in the day by Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

"I hope that ASEAN will send a signal that in this economic downturn it will not favor protectionism," Abhisit said. "ASEAN will not survive alone while causing trouble to other countries."

In October, ASEAN finance ministers expressed confidence that the group would weather the global downturn, noting its economic fundamentals remained sound even though growth might not match last year's 6.7 percent.

But in recent months, many countries have begun to feel the effects of the downturn on their export-driven economies.

Thailand reported Thursday that exports posted their steepest fall in 12 years in January as demand for the country's cars, hard drives and electrical goods evaporated amid the global slump.

Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines have all announced multibillion-dollar stimulus packages that include a mix of infrastructure projects, cash handouts or tax cuts aimed at creating jobs and boosting consumer demand.

ASEAN was founded during the Cold War as an anti-communist political coalition, later evolving into a trade bloc. It consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Read more!