Tuesday, December 13, 2011

How to Write a Business Plan

business plan

By Jeanette Mulvey, BusinessNewsDaily Managing Editor

While it may sound complicated, a business plan is nothing more than an organized outline of your idea of how your business is going to function. And experts agree: you need one.

“A business plan is like a road map,” explained James Jacobs, the retired president of a Dallas-based financial services firm and a SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) advisor. “It’s a road map that helps you identify where you want to go and how to get from point A to point B.”

A business plan should include a variety of pieces and some will be more detailed than others depending on the kind of business you’re running and your reason for writing the business plan.

There are certain pieces of the business plan that are must-haves:

Executive Profiles
Business Summary
Marketing Plan
Income and Expense Projections

There are several resources available to assist you in creating a business plan. Business plan templates abound on the Internet, many for free.  SCORE offers a comprehensive, free plan on its web site.

There are also a variety of books on the subject available at the bookstore, library or from your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC).

There are also business plan software programs — starting at round $100 — that will walk you through the process by asking you questions and generating a formal business report. The software is particularly useful for the financial portions of the plan.

“Unless you have a background in finance, that part of the business plan can be most difficult,” said Dolores Stammer, Regional Director of the New Jersey SBDC at Centenary College in Hackettstown, N.J.

Stammer strongly advised that future business owners approach the financial part of the business plan by breaking down their total sales expectations into individual sales.

“Once they see how many of something they need to sell in a week, they often realize their total revenue projection is impossible,” she said.

Knowing why you’re writing your business plan is also important, Stammer said.

“If you’re writing it because you’re going to apply for a loan, then you need to be very specific in the financials,” Stammer told BusinessNewsDaily. “If you’re writing it to keep yourself focused on your goals, then you should be clear about what those goals are.”

Regardless of who will eventually read your business plan, it’s essential that you know it intimately,” Jacobs added. “Be confident. Know your plan inside and out. And, don’t just do it once. You should be reviewing your business’ strengths, weaknesses, opponents and threats [what business strategists call SWOT] once a year

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Monday, December 12, 2011

3 Big Expenses Your Small Business Can Cut Today

There are three big ways your company can start cutting costs now: marketing, payroll, health insurance. It’s easier to save a dollar than to make a dollar.
By Patrick Egan, BusinessNewsDaily Contributor

Money, as they say, does not grow on trees. In business — as in life — it’s a lot easier to save a dollar than to earn one.  Here are three big ways you can cut your budget and increase your bottom line.

Marketing—Getting your dollar’s worth

There’s no end to the number of ways you can publicize your business’s name and products. But not all expenditures yield the same return, and small businesses need to recognize that.

“No enterprise is immune to advertising mistakes,” said Dan Weinbach, executive vice president with the Weinbach Group, a marketing and public relations firm based in Miami.  “But the impact these mistakes have on smaller organizations is more severe, as their dollars are limited.”

Weinbach recommends that small businesses think twice before spending money on sponsorships, congratulatory ads, one-time mailings and holiday cards.

[For more: 5 Marketing Costs You Should Cut Today]

Payroll costs — Finding the right person

When looking to cut waste, it’s a safe bet to start with your biggest expense: payroll. And the first step to cutting payroll expenses may simply be getting the person with the right skills into the job.

That’s because the cost of filling a position can run anywhere from 20 percent to 150 percent of the job’s salary. Those figures include far more than the cost of some ads and new business cards. Every minute of training and orientation and interviews saps precious time from the business. And that is a price of hiring, said Richard Deems, founder of WorkLife Design, an organizational consulting firm.

Making sure you hire the right person for the job will ultimately save you money.

“We hear all the time, ‘I’m not attracting the people that I want,’” Deems told BusinessNewsDaily. “Words are crucial to getting the right people,” he added, explaining that help wanted ads too often don’t get the job done.

Crafting an effective ad seems pretty simple, according to Deems’ business partner and wife, Sandra Deems.

“What do I want to get off my desk and onto someone else’s?” Sandra recommends using bullet points, not prose, to make sure you’re clear.

Once you’ve got quality people in-house, you have to pay attention to worker retention. While all workers appreciate a fatter paycheck, the real challenge is keeping your employees motivated.

Benefits — Attracting better employees

Offering benefits will help you attract better employees. However, you should be prudent about how you spend your benefits dollars.

“When businesses boom, they spend a lot of money on perks,” said Janet Boulter, founder of the Center Consulting Group. “They think that’s what they need to do to retain employees.” But she says that’s not true.

The biggest, and most delicate, employee benefit is health insurance. Boulter suggests transparency in discussing the subject with employees. Tell them exactly how much it costs.

“Employees get this perception that businesses can afford it. They believe it’s an entitlement,” Boulter said. By letting employees know the costs and having some input on what’s important, businesses can save money by tailoring their insurance to the needs of their employees.

Done properly, a conservative approach to benefits can save money today and help avoid layoffs when times get tough. It is also important to make sure you apply for for the health insurance tax credits mandated with health care reform. The credits begin in 2011.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

5 Ways to Grow Your Business (On a Budget)

Credit: Dreamstime.com

Now that your company is up and running, it's time to expand. Growth is every business owner's goal, but expanding your business is not always easy. Luckily, building your business doesn't necessarily have to break your budget.

According to Steve Smith, business coach at GrowthSource Consulting, growth starts with a discovery process.

"Sit down and look at the three primary areas where growth will occur. There are a lot of things you can do on a one-time basis, but before they can work, you need to ask yourself what you want this business to be. Have a vision that's real," Smith said.

Here are five ways to grow your business – inexpensively.

Give something away. — No matter what kind of business you're operating, take a look at your competitors and see how you are unique. Jessica Swanson, founder of Shoestring Marketing, encourages small business owners to tap into your unique selling propositions.

"It's very important that you begin to grow an email list, so offer an incentive. If you sign up, you get a freebie. That way, you also give readers information about what your company is all about," Swanson said.

Giving away a freebie, even from your website, is a great way to reach out to prospects.

"If you're not marketing-savvy, your best bet is to make sure the freebie is of interest to your prospects. Then, you can also upsell inside of that freebie by offering related items," Swanson said.

Get smart about your online presence. — It's time to take a serious look at your business website. Laura Posey, small business growth expert at Dancing Elephants Achievement Group, encourages small business to go beyond a basic page.

"It's not enough in today's market to be lazy about your website. You need a way for people to bring their business to you," Posey said.

Posey encourages business owners to entice their site visitors with a call to action.

"Whether visitors can purchase online, download something or contact you, it's important that every page on the website has an action to take," Posey said.

Consider a joint venture partnership. — Once you've established the ideal client you want to go after, the next thing to do is find other business that are trying to serve the same end user.

"First, you'll have a partner to share your marketing costs with. If you can find two or three partners, you have expanded your network for prospects," Smith said.

Looking for a collaborative relationship will also help you hone in on your niche market.

"As you expand your network, figure out your niche and market to that. Make sure that your message is consistent and is going to people who need it," Smith said.

Reach out to your target market. — Social media is a huge component of marketing, but what about the basics? According to Jim Hunter, founder of Foursight Consulting, you can spend a lot of time on social media and not get the results that you need.

"Most people rely on passive word of mouth — hoping that the message will get across. Small business owners need to be proactive by getting out and meeting prospects, learning about them and creating relationships," Hunter said.

Hunter recommends going to places where your target market is, such as conferences or networking events.

"The only reason to go out and market is to get a return. Get clear on who is most likely to buy from you right now," Hunter said.

For example, Hunter worked with an insurance agent that was trying to reach a minority group. He researched the neighborhood, purchased inexpensive door hangers and hired high school students to leave the hangers.

"That's how he launched into his target market. Now, he's very successful in that area," Hunter said.

Ask for referrals. — Set up an incentive program to offer current customers a reward, cash or gift for any customer they can refer.

"Offer the program in a postcard or direct mail piece, a flyer that is handed to the customer when they make a purchase, as a link on your website, or in your invoices," Hunter said.

This is a positive cash flow way of investing in that no money is spent on marketing until the customer is sold and a sale is created.

"It's a great way to grow if you have existing customers," Hunter said.

By Jennifer Vishnevsky, BusinessNewsDaily Contributor

Monday, December 5, 2011

5 Mistakes Female Business Owners Make

Female business owners have a lot going for them. For one, women are starting new businesses one-and-half times faster than men. They are also leaders in using their businesses to give back to the community. Still, there are many unique challenges to running a business and some key pitfalls female business owners, especially, should avoid.

Sales specialist Julie Steelman has some advice on how women can avoid these common mistakes. She is author of a new book, "The Effortless Yes: Get the Sales You Want and Make All You'll Ever Need" (Franklin-Green Publishing, 2011), which features a seven-step approach to help sales-averse entrepreneurs to learn a new way of selling.

Steelman shares her solutions to the top five business mistakes women make. 

Mistake 1: Running your business impulsively
It's great to have heart, intuition and creativity. But those don't necessarily lead to profit and profit growth. If you're averse to numbers, think of your financial statement as a garden. Your money needs care, watering, weeding, fertilizing and pruning. Don't avoid looking at your sales numbers or how much you've spent. Money is the life force of your business. Tend to it.

Mistake 2: Setting prices too low
Some female owners set their prices according to what they think their customers will pay — and then resent them for paying too little. Instead, come up with a price that takes into account the percentage you want to make on each sale, how much your costs are, "invisibles" such as the things you do above and beyond the call of duty for customers, and how much your competitors are charging. Consider whether you'll focus on volume selling or selling less at a higher price. Find a price that feels right to you, one that you can broadcast with 100 percent confidence.

Mistake 3: Avoiding sales and selling
Here's something many female owners don't know: Women are natural-born salespeople. Being a masterful salesperson requires many of the traits women possess innately, such as great communication, a strong conscience, and the desire to serve. It's time to rethink selling, because you can't run a successful company if you don't have robust and growing sales. Think of selling as a conversation. Be enthusiastic and genuine. Share stories about how you and others were transformed by using your products and services. Help your customers solve a problem.

Mistake 4: Underutilizing social media
Do your eyes glaze over when you hear the phrase social media? Change the way you think about it. Think of social media as a way to help others and provide value to your customers and potential customers. If you post blogs, videos and podcasts, that's fine. But those one-way communiqués don't start conversations. Instead, host interactive events, chats and conversations that engage your customers and serve their needs. If you're a social media novice, it's time to learn how to really take advantage of it and hire someone to help you do it.

Mistake 5: Getting by instead of getting ahead
When you start using some of the smart tools that the big boys of business use, you'll find all the money you'll ever need. Female business owners sometimes feel that making payroll and earning a small profit is good enough. You deserve much more, and you can get there by mapping out a plan for this year that increases last year's revenue by 25 percent. Figure out how many sales you need in each month, taking natural fluctuations into account. For low sales months, plan promotions that will help you meet your sales quota for that month. Having the goal of increasing your business by 25 percent each year will change the way you feel about yourself and your business.

By BusinessNewsDaily Staff

Thursday, December 1, 2011

5 Things You Should Do Now to Ride Out the Recession

Credit: Brett Critchley | Dreamstime.com

The latest developments in the economy are enough to make anyone nervous. For a small-business owner, the uncertainty can keep you up all night. You can't control Wall Street's roller coaster ride, but there are some things you can do to ride out this latest wave of economic turbulence.

Malcolm McRoberts, senior vice president of small-business services at Deluxe, has some advice for small-business owners. Deluxe is a company that provides small-business services and products such as Web design, Web hosting, and forms and checks. Here are five tips from McRoberts:

Rise above the negativity. Many argue that Standard & Poor's recent downgrade of the nation's credit rating was politically driven rather than based on the country's inability to manage debt. Some argue the U.S. economy has been growing slowly and consumer spending habits are steadily rising. Now is a good time to revisit your company's business plan and have an open discussion with customers and employees on next steps for the remainder of the year.

Turn to current customers. Now is the time to focus on your current customer base, its needs and what has worked in the past. Consider revisiting or instituting a customer rewards campaign or a referral program offering discounts on future products or services.

Focus on affordable marketing. Small-business owners do not need to spend a fortune on marketing. For less than $5,000, you can refine your search engine marketing (SEM), redesign your online ads to better showcase your company's products, design a new logo and more.

Hold off on hiring. Given the unpredictable economic climate, it's probably best to hold off on any major staffing increases unless your revenue truly warrants it.

Examine your cash flow and find a financial adviser. Talk to your accountant or bookkeeper and come up with a plan in the event of a dramatic dip in sales. Investigate loan options now, just in case you need one. Find an experienced business mentor, someone who is a third party, who is able to offer you financial advice.

Deluxe is currently running a contest called Project REV 2012 in which small-business owners and entrepreneurs can enter to win $15,000 in Deluxe marketing products and services.

Monday, November 28, 2011

5 Ways to Grow Your Business During the Recession

Credit: Dreamstime.com
While most companies are focused on surviving the recession, smart companies are making efforts to grow during the recession. 

Thor Harris, small business wealth expert and president of Percepture, a marketing, branding and strategic media relations company, gives  BusinessNewsDaily readers advice on how to expand your business while others around you are floundering.

Expand your sphere of influence. Networking is key. Set a goal of attending an outside event where you can make new business contacts two nights a week. Do not attend industry-focused networking events. There are too many similar people looking for the same potential clients at these kinds of events.

Cut the fat out of your current budget. Look at everything you can trim that is nonessential and reevaluate your entire budget.

Tap in to your attorneys and accountants for business referrals. Remind your contacts that you will give them a percent of any new business they throw your way.  Same with your current clients, ask them for recommendations and referrals.

Use social media tools. LinkedIn is an excellent way to tap into new prospects, but most people don't use it or know how to. Learn how to use LinkedIn.

Take a break. Running your own business is hard. Take one full day off a week and turn everything off. Recharging your personal batteries is a must.  

Harris has managed public relations and innovative marketing programs for some of the world's largest companies and best-known brands —  including Daimler-Chrysler, Sony, Foot Locker, The Islands Of The Bahamas, Ingersoll Rand, Konica Minolta, Century 21 and ChevronTexaco. He sits on the Board Member of the American Red Cross, Business Marketing Association, and the New Jersey Entrepreneur Network and is a member of the NJ Technology Council and the American Chemical Society.

By BusinessNewsDaily Staff

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Small Business Matters

Do you have the mindset to be an entrepreneur? Many of our veterans do.

In fact, of the 24 million military veterans in the U.S, four million are small business owners.

Moreover, statistics show that the success rate of these veteran-owned businesses is higher than other startups - perhaps a reflection of the discipline, skills, and leadership experience acquired in military service.

Providing further help, there are a number of tools and services from the SBA, VetBiz and other non-profit organizations specifically designed to help veterans with the formation and expansion of their business ventures.

This following list summarizes some of the general business guides, financing options, incentives, and other resources available to help veteran-owned businesses succeed.

Getting General Business Advice

If you are a current or prospective veteran business owner, familiarize yourself with the SBA’s Office of Veterans Business Development (OVBD) Web site - here you can find assistance, outreach and support for veterans interested in starting or expanding a small business.

Financing for the Veteran-Owned Small Business

In the past 20 months, the SBA approved more than $250 million in loan guarantees to more than 2,800 veterans and their spouses.

Much of this funding comes from the SBA’s Patriot Express Pilot Loan. Launched in June 2007, the program is a streamlined loan product based on the agency’s SBA Express Program, but enhanced with guaranty and interest rate characteristics.

Loans are available up to $500,000 and qualify for SBA’s maximum guaranty of up to 85 percent for loans of $150,000 or less, and up to 75 percent for loans over $150,000 (up to $500,000).
The loan can be used for business purposes, including start-up, expansion, equipment purchases, working capital, inventory or business-related real estate purchases.

For more information about the loan, qualification criteria, and how to get started visit the Patriot Express home page here.

For information about other available loans from the federal government as well as programs in your state, use this government-developed Loans and Grants Search Tool.

Franchising Incentives for Veteran Entrepreneurs

If you want to be your own boss but are wary of the startup risks, buying a franchise offers an appealing alternative.

For veterans considering buying a franchise there are also added incentives. The VetFran program, started by the International Franchise Association, provides financial incentives to veteran franchise buyers that are not available to civilian franchise investors. Some of the 200 participating franchisors waive training fees, others discount franchise fees, but all agree to offer incentives for veterans.

A current list of participating companies and the discounts these franchise systems offer is available on this Web site, www.franchise.org, under 'VetFran Directory.'

If you like the idea of a franchise, make sure to do your research first. This guide provides helpful advice on buying and evaluating a franchise and also includes information on how to avoid common scams.

For more click here