Q. My firm deals with many South American clients. How can I ensure that I don't make any cultural gaffes when I entertain them.

Virginia A. Edwards, a Sarasota-based etiquette and protocol consultant, answers: Understanding that successful business relationships begin and develop as personal relationships is paramount. Your client must feel comfortable with you as a person to be trusted. Do not expect to have a business deal consummated on the first or even fourth meeting. South Americans are people-oriented so spend the first few moments' conversation on personal issues. Business can be discussed over lunch; however, dinner is considered a social occasion. When dining, remember to keep both hands on the table, not in your lap. While Americans are expected to be on time for meetings, do not be surprised if your South American counterpart is late. South Americans' personal space is much smaller than Americans. Avoid backing away during a conversation and always maintain eye contact. Avoid acronyms in written and spoken communication. Avoid gestures, since each country interrupts gestures differently. Giving gifts is customary. High-quality products from the USA or logo gifts are appropriate. Virginia A. Edwards may be reached at (941) 923-7031 and virginiaedwards@comcast.net.

Q: Should I build my own Web site for my business or outsource?

Pedro Pérez, president of Merging Point Design, Inc., says: Outsourcing may cost you more money up front, but it will save you in the long run. You'll gain the knowledge of a team of developers rather than one employee. Since Web development is their principal focus, design firms can also provide better access to new technologies. Outsourcing can also relieve top management from the distracting of managing another staff position.

When choosing a Web design firm, make sure you are a proper fit. Establishing a solid project scope and proper milestone meetings are essential to a smooth venture. Meet with the firm, discuss your needs both short and long-term; chances are they'll have something to add that maybe you didn't consider. Pedro Pérez may be reached at pedro@mpdi.net or phone, (941) 752-4433.

Q. I'm just starting out and don't have the money to hire an ad agency. What are the ABCs of a good press release?

Peter Baxter, owner of Business Solution Group and president of the Advertising Federation of the Suncoast, the professional organization of advertising and marketing professionals in Sarasota and Manatee, answers:

To get your press release published, put interesting, accurate and timely information into the right hands.

Editors always need items that amuse, educate or motivate their audience. Take the trouble to find-and study-those interested in your subject. After you've done your homework, an introductory call is OK. Explain (briefly!) how your widget fits with their editorial mission and ask their preferences for hearing from you. Their answers will guide you in distributing as well as writing the release.

Find an angle to your story that fits with what you learned. Like a resume, the press release is designed primarily to get you the interview. Answer the editor's question, "Why should my audience care?" Begin with an attention-grabbing summary paragraph outlining the "who, what, when, where, why and how?" of your message. Follow with a series of paragraphs that go into increasing-but not excruciating-detail. Releases should be as brief as possible, seldom over two or three pages double-spaced.

Write vivid, short, declarative sentences. Spell, capitalize and punctuate correctly. Format your release according to conventional rules. Consult the library, Internet or an expert for help. Above all, don't lie, exaggerate or get facts wrong! You'll only get away with it once. Peter Baxter may be reached at Business Solution Group at pgbaxter@businesssolutiongroup.com and (941) 378-2489/fax 377-9438.

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