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What’s a Small Business for Tax Rules?

By BarbaraWeltman, Guest Blogger
Published: February 28, 2013

The SBA uses a number of definitions for “small business,” depending on the industry. So, too, does the tax law, which has various definitions of “small business” for different tax breaks. These definitions are based on employees, revenues, expenditures and assets. Confusing? You bet! Here’s a list to help you.

Employee-based definitions

  • DbK retirement plan. This type of qualified retirement plan, which has yet to be utilized because of lack of IRS guidance, combines a pension with a contributory element (like a 401(k) plan). It is limited to companies with 500 or fewer employees.
  • Disabled access credit. A tax credit of 50% of costs between $250 and $10,250 (maximum credit of $5,000) can be claimed for the cost of making a company more accessible to the disabled. The company can have no more than 30 full-time employees during the preceding year; there is also a gross receipts (revenue) test explained later.
  • Employer wage differential credit for activated reservists. Employers with fewer than 50 employees can claim a tax credit for continuing to pay wages to employees called to active duty.
  • Retirement plan start-up credit. A tax credit of up to $500 for the administrative costs of starting a qualified retirement plan can be claimed by a company with no more than 100 employees who have compensation over $5,000 in the preceding year.
  • Savings incentive match plans for employees (SIMPLE) plans. These are retirement plans to which employees and employers both contribute. SIMPLE plans can be used by a business with 100 or fewer employees who received compensation over $5,000 in the preceding year.
  • Simple cafeteria plans. Cafeteria plans are used to offer a menu of fringe benefits to employees. A simple version, which avoids the need for testing for discrimination, can be used for a company with 100 or fewer employees on business days during either of the two preceding years.
  • Small employer health insurance credit. A credit of up to 35% of premiums paid in 2013 by employers can be claimed by a company with no more than 25 full-time equivalent employees (FTEs) with average wages of less than $50,000. The full credit applies for up to 10 FTEs; a reduced credit is allowed for 11 to 25 FTEs.

Revenue-based definitions

  • Accrual method exception for small inventory-based businesses. While, most firms with inventory must use the accrual method of accounting to report their income and expenses, “small” firms can use the cash method. Small firms are those with average annual gross receipts of no more than $10 million in the three prior years (fewer years if the company hasn’t been in business for three years).
  • Bad debts deduction. Small businesses performing services in certain fields (e.g., law, accounting) can write off bad debts on the non-accrual experience method, which means they don’t accrue service-related income expected to be uncollectible. This accounting rule applies only to companies with average annual gross receipts for the three prior years of no more than $5 million.
  • Corporate AMT exemption. Small C corporations are exempt from the alternative minimum tax. This exemption applies only to those with average annual gross receipts of no more than $7 million ($5 million for the first three-year period).
  • Disabled access credit. The credit described earlier can be claimed by a company with gross receipts of no more than $1 million in the preceding year (see the employee definition above).
  • Late filing penalties for certain information returns. Businesses must report certain payments to the IRS by set dates. Reduced penalties for the failure to meet this obligation apply to companies with average annual gross receipts of no more than $5 million for a three-year period.
  • UNICAP rules. These rules impact when expenses can be deducted. There is a small reseller exception for property acquired for resale; the exception applies to companies with average annual gross receipts of no more than $10 million for a three-year period. There is a simplified dollar value last-in, first out (LIFO) method for applying the UNICAP rules; the method applies only to companies with average annual gross receipts of no more than $5 million for a three-year period.

Expenditure-related definition

  • First-year expensing. The cost of machinery and equipment can be deducted upfront rather than depreciated over a number of years if total annual investments in these assets do not exceed a dollar limit. For 2013, the full expensing deduction of up to $500,000 can be claimed as long as purchases don’t exceed $2 million. This dollar limit is reduced for excess purchases; no deduction applies once purchases for the year exceed $2.5 million.

Asset-related definitions

  • Shifting the burden of proof to the IRS. Whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor or whether compensation is “reasonable” can be shifted to the IRS for a business with a net worth not in excess of $7 million.
  • Small business stock. Gain on the sale of qualified small business stock in certain C corporations acquired after September 27, 2010, and before January 1, 2014, is not taxable if the stock is held more than five years (a partial break applies for stock acquired before or after these dates). The stock is “qualified” only if the corporation’s gross assets do not exceed $50 million when the stock is issued and immediately thereafter.

Conclusion

There are many tax breaks exclusively for small companies. Knowing whether you are eligible for a particular one depends on the tax law’s definition. If you’re unsure, talk with your tax advisor.

About the Author:

BarbaraWeltman
Barbara Weltman

Guest Blogger

Barbara Weltman is an attorney, prolific author with such titles as J.K. Lasser's Small Business Taxes, J.K. Lasser's Guide to Self-Employment, and Smooth Failing as well as a trusted professional advocate for small businesses and entrepreneurs. She is also the publisher of Idea of the Day® and monthly e-newsletter Big Ideas for Small Business® and host of Build Your Business Radio. She has been included in the List of 100 Small Business Influencers for three years in a row. Follow her on Twitter: @BigIdeas4SB or at www.BigIdeasforSmallBusiness.com

7 Quick Tips for Better Business Communications

By Tim Berry, Guest Blogger
Published: February 27, 2013

It used to be that most of the business world understood that simple, clear business writing was a powerful skill. We needed to communicate, explain and convince people in memos, proposals, plans and reports. Simple sentences worked better. Clear and concise worked better.

Maybe I care more about writing than the next person because I’ve spent so much of my career dealing with business plans: writing them for years, then getting them funded and, more recently, reading them. I read more than 100 business plans a year. They’re shorter than they used to be, for sure; but the qualities that make something readable—including good writing, spelling and grammar, are as important as ever.

But writing has been diluted, for sure, with the forward march of email, websites—and now Facebook and Twitter and text and rushed communications with two thumbs while trying not to bonk the other people sharing the sidewalk. So writing, spelling and grammar seem out of style; but still, some writing comes up all the time. The business plan is just the most obvious example. Beyond that:

  1. In email
  2. In blog posts
  3. In comments to blog posts
  4. In social media updates
  5. Plans, memos, reports
  6. In text or sms messages? I’m not sure about that one. What do you think? The obvious abbreviations are so tempting ... but does that have to spread into the rest of our writing. I forgive “idk” in a text but not in a memo (it stands for I don’t know). 

So here are some of my suggestions for minding the writing without ignoring that it’s relegated to many kinds of in-between and compromise contexts, like text and on smartphones. And with business plans too, of course.

  1. Use short simple sentences. Use periods more often to end sentences. Separate your points into shorter sentences.
  2. Get to the point fast. Put the headline first—then explain. People skim emails and memos. Don’t bury the main point in a dumpling-like mass of explanations.
  3. Stop using apostrophes to show plural. Apostrophes are for contraction (don’t) or possession (Ralph’s or Mary’s opinion). Stop putting an apostrophe every time you have a plural noun. It’s balls and bats, not ball’s and bat’s.
  4. Then and than have different meanings. Then is time and sequence, as in first we do this and then that. Than is comparison, like more than and less than.
  5. Simple words are better. Avoid jargon and buzzwords. Don’t incentivize people when you can motivate or encourage them instead. Use things; don’t utilize them. The phrase “outside the box” is inside the box. Are we really all engaging all the time?
  6. Although it does take an extra effort to hold down two fingers at once or add a keystroke to capitalize words, it looks better. Capitalize your words like you learned in second grade.
  7. Don’t write long emails with multiple topics and points. Make each email have its own topic and subject line. Your recipients will get your point faster and better than way.

While it’s apparently true that we live in a world of video, and books and print media are in a decline, technology has also put writing into almost every obscure corner and extra little piece of time in our lives. Not just for business plans. In all cases, let’s do it well.

About the Author:

Tim Berry
Tim Berry

Guest Blogger

Founder and Chairman of Palo Alto Software and bplans.com, on twitter as Timberry, blogging at timberry.bplans.com. His collected posts are at blog.timberry.com. Stanford MBA. Married 46 years, father of 5. Author of business plan software Business Plan Pro and www.liveplan.com and books including his latest, 'Lean Business Planning,' 2015, Motivational Press. Contents of that book are available for web browsing free at leanplan.com .

Sole Proprietorship—Is this Popular Business Structure Right for You?

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: February 27, 2013 Updated: February 27, 2013

If you’re starting a business, you may be wondering how to legally structure it. Should you incorporate, become an LLC, or operate as a sole proprietor?

Over 70 percent of U.S. businesses are owned and operated by sole proprietors or sole traders.

But what does being a sole proprietor involve and is it the right structure for your small business? Here’s what you need to know about the advantages and disadvantages of being a sole proprietor.

What is a Sole Proprietor?

A sole proprietorship is basically an unincorporated business owned and run by one individual (no partners are involved), with no distinction between the business and its owner. As a sole proprietor, you are entitled to all profits and are responsible for all your business’s debts, losses and liabilities.

A sole proprietorship is the easiest business structure to form (you only need to get a license or permit and register your business with your local government) (hence its popularity). It is also a simple structure to maintain with few forms and little business administration needed. Many freelancers, consultants and independent contractors operate as sole proprietors for ease and convenience.

SBA’s Sole Proprietor Guide offers more details about the process of starting a business as a sole proprietor and the steps you’ll need to follow.

What Are the Advantages of Being a Sole Proprietor?

As mentioned above, the ease of starting and operating a sole proprietorship is one of the reasons this business structure is hugely popular. Also, sole proprietors are relatively unencumbered by government regulations and can run their business autonomously without the need to report to partners, shareholders and board members. You control all your own decisions and the money you make.

Sole proprietors have the benefit of reporting tax on any income earned through their own personal tax return, rather than filing separately as a business – which can save time and hassle. You also won’t need to prepare a balance sheet for your company.

Sole proprietors also have a lot of flexibility when it comes to their careers. You can easily close your business without too much bureaucracy, or work on a full or part-time basis for another employer without worrying about answering to anyone about your own business affairs (aside from your clients, of course) – another reason this is a popular option for freelancers, many of whom hold down two jobs!

What About the Disadvantages?

One of the reasons many new business owners seek to incorporate instead of being a sole proprietor is the liability issue.

You may not think now that you need protection against liability, but what if a client holds you in breach of contract or threatens to sue you? Can you afford to put your personal assets at risk to satisfy any claims against your business? As a sole proprietor, there is no legal distinction between the owner and the business. This means that you are personally liable for all business losses and debts. Business incorporation can limit your liability as a business owner, essentially putting your personal assets off limits if anyone brings a judgment against you. So sole proprietors are inherently exposed to risk that incorporating as a corporation or limited liability company can help alleviate. 

Other disadvantages can potentially impact your bottom line and growth plans. For example, banks typically require that businesses incorporate before they’ll lend them money, leaving you to rely on savings, credit cards and other sources of capital. Then there’s the perception issue – being an incorporated business can give you a more professional appearance to potential clients.

Finally, because you aren’t required to produce financial statements or a balance sheet, your financial controls might not be as sharp as the need to be and this could be detrimental in the long term.

The Bottom Line

If you are starting a business, operating it as a sole proprietor can afford many benefits:

  • Ease of start-up (from an administrative perspective)
  • Lower start-up costs (incorporation involves forms, fees and sometimes legal advice)
  • Quicker and simpler tax preparation
  • Autonomy of business decisions and control of profits

Then again, it’s important to consider the downsides.

  • Liability – If you run a business that could expose you to risk in the form of debt or lawsuits (e.g., industries such as a child care or a food service business), then operating as a sole proprietor could leave your personal assets vulnerable.
  • Raising capital can be hard
  • Lack of financial controls
  • Lack of professionalism

If you still have questions, there are a number of counseling resources in your community that can help, including Small Business Development Centers. Find them here.

Additional Resources

For a complete guide to your available business structure options and how to set them up refer to SBA’s Choosing a Business Structure guide.

If you think incorporation might be right for your small business, check out this recent blog: Top 10 Questions about Small Business Incorporation Answered.

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

SBA Small Business Learning Center: Training, Tools and Answers via Your Desktop

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: February 25, 2013 Updated: August 27, 2015

Starting or growing a business? Owning a small business can be a fulfilling endeavor, but as you probably already know or are just finding out – it requires that you wear many hats. This of course leaves you with little time to take a deep dive into the many aspects of starting and growing a business. Instead, many business owners turn to search engines for answers when questions come up.Learning Center

But what if you had access to a small business classroom that provided informed, accurate and always-available access to the advice and guidance you need?

Welcome to the SBA Small Business Learning Center.

Online Training and Tools for Small Business Owners

Launched in late 2012, the SBA Small Business Learning Center is an online portal that hosts a variety of self-paced online training courses, quick videos, web chats and more to help small business owners explore and learn about the many aspects of business ownership.

Content is filtered by topic, so no matter the stage of your business, or the kind of insight you need, you can quickly get answers.

For example, if you’re wondering how SBA loan programs work or just need a primer in accounting or small business taxes, check out these self-paced online financing courses and short videos. Or explore tips from the pros in these archived SBA Web Chats.

Other topics covered include starting a business as a young entrepreneur, an introduction to franchising, taking your business global with exporting, marketing 101, selling to the U.S. government, and much more. 

Get More Help Offline

And if you can’t find the training or advice that you need, use the “Get Local Assistance” interactive map to find one of many small business counseling, assistance and mentoring organizations in your community.

Browse around, and let us know what you think about the SBA Small Business Learning Center!

Learning Center

A Guide to SBA Loan Programs - Just one of the self-paced online courses available in the new SBA Learning Center

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

4 Factors to Consider When Deciding About Financing

By bridgetwpollack, Guest Blogger
Published: February 21, 2013 Updated: July 20, 2016

If you are looking to make any major improvements in your business, whether it is a second location, new equipment, or an additional product line, you most likely need business financing. But getting financing for your business can be intimidating. Despite this economic downturn, banks are still lending. However, the way banks are lending to small businesses has changed pretty significantly and they are more cautious about where the money is going, especially when considering a loan to new businesses with no track record. As a result, you may need to consider a number of options to get the money you need, whether you are looking to launch a business or need additional financing for an existing enterprise. However, before you look into alternative financing, talk to a SCORE mentor about the various factors that influence which financing option will suit your needs:

Business Impact

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, factors financing institutions take into consideration include determining the specific uses for which you need the money, whether your business is seasonal or cyclical, and whether you plan to expand. Work with your SCORE mentor to create a written business plan that will help you clarify your financing needs.

Types of Financing

Common types of financing include bank loans, SBA loans, crowdfunding, receiving funds from a venture capitalist (in which you take on investors in exchange for providing them with an ownership stake), or borrowing from friends and family members. If your small business is engaged in scientific research and development (R&D), you may qualify for federal grants under the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. You may need to solicit funds from all of these sources to obtain the amount of money you need. You could also tap into personal savings or even take out a second mortgage on your home.

Pros and Cons

Each type of financing offers certain benefits and pitfalls. For example, grant money, venture capital funds and your own money do not have to be repaid, so you won't incur additional debt. If you borrow from family and friends, you may receive a low interest rate as well as flexibility in payment terms. If you borrow from a bank, you may have more stability, avoid using your own money, as well as avoiding the potential tough situation of approaching people you know to ask for money.

If you borrow from friends and family, you need to consider what would happen to your relationship if your business fails and you cannot repay them. If you default on a bank loan, you could lose your business and need to file bankruptcy. If you work with venture capitalists, you may need to relinquish some control of your operation.

Potential

Whatever method of financing you decide to pursue, your ability to sell your business concept for starting or growing successfully will increase the potential of obtaining financing when asking for money. Factors that will help you sell your idea include a solid business plan, the ability to demonstrate the need for your business in the marketplace, and any successful business experience you had in the past. Talk to your SCORE mentor today to get started with your financing planning needs.

About the Author:

bridgetwpollack
Bridget Weston Pollack

Guest Blogger

Bridget Weston Pollack is the Vice President of Marketing and Communications at the SCORE Association. She is responsible for all branding, marketing, PR, and communication efforts. She focuses on implementing marketing plans and strategies to facilitate the growth of SCORE’s mentoring and trainings services. She collaborates with SCORE volunteers and develops SCORE’s online marketing strategy.

How to Break Through 5 Common Barriers to Small Business Growth

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: February 21, 2013

Trying to grow your business, but thwarted at every turn by problems within your own organization or by external factors such as broken supply chains?

For many businesses, the biggest obstacle to growth isn’t poor sales, financing or tough competition; it’s often the business itself!

So, if you find yourself operationally ill prepared to grow, what can you do about it? Here are some strategies that can help you break through some of the common barriers to growth that many small businesses experience.

1. Watch the indicators for growth

Before you embark on any growth strategy, step back and take a look at some key business indicators to help you decide whether you are actually ready for growth!

Are you successful in a current market and want to open a new location? Are you about to clinch a big sales deal? Is your sales pipeline full? Is product development success opening the door to new opportunities?

These are all important indicators that will drive growth and should be constantly monitored to ensure you are able to effectively prepare for that growth. Study your pipeline, conversion rates and market trends in dashboard form every day.

2. Keep one eye on your competition, but always think big picture

Underpinning any growth strategy should be a deep knowledge of where you stand against your competition. A simple SWOT analysis, reviewed quarterly, can help you determine where you fit in relation to your competitors and areas of opportunity to exploit your strengths and their weaknesses. Likewise, it will give you a good view of any threats to your growth and guide you towards developing a plan to fix or compensate for these.

Then take a look at your market – your potential customers. Do some market analysis to find out how your customers view your business and what they see in the competition that would make them buy from them instead of you.

Look for ways to differentiate yourself – how does your competition position itself in the marketplace relative to your business? How does your business/product/service contrast with theirs? Why would a customer buy from you and not them? The answers to these questions will help you see your strengths, exploit market opportunities, and execute a tactical plan to get ahead in areas that you don’t measure up to the competition.

3. Always be recruiting talent

Setting the stage for growth has to involve superstar employees. Even if you can’t afford to right now – keep looking for talent and bring them on part-time or on a contract or hourly basis. Another option that can help guide your growth is to work with an organization like SCORE. SCORE provides free business mentoring services and can partner you with someone with business management experience to help you steer your business on a path to growth. Whether you need help across the entire business, or are looking for help with functions such as business planning or marketing, SCORE can pair you with a mentor for free.

Get more tips in 6 Options for Staffing your Growing Business.

4. Constantly assess risk

If there’s one thing being a manager or business owner teaches us all, it’s that we must always anticipate and manage risk. Look ahead—what variables could occur that might compromise or damage your growth plans? These could be supply chain issues, hiring and training problems, competitive activity, cash flow, or patent infringements. Include these in your SWOT analysis and develop a plan to prevent or manage any issues.

5. The bottom line

If there’s a common thread here, it’s the importance of being prepared. This, of course, means having a plan. Never embark on a growth strategy without a plan. It doesn’t have to be encyclopedic, but it should contain the key elements discussed above.  Break your plan down into chunks – have one strategic plan that contains your market findings and helps inform where you are and where you want to be. Then assemble smaller plans. For example, have a day-to-day operations plan, a hiring plan and a marketing plan, each of which lay out the tactics for using your business resources to accomplish your strategy.

If you don’t have a business plan, check out SBA’s Build your Business Plan Tool. This step-by-step online tool guides you through the process of creating an actionable plan.

 

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

6 Ways to Market to Penny-Pinching Customers

By Rieva Lesonsky, Guest Blogger
Published: February 19, 2013 Updated: February 19, 2013

The Great Recession technically ended back in 2009, but you wouldn’t know it from the way Americans are spending (and saving) these days. Despite some natural post-election optimism, issues such as rising food and energy prices, Congress’ “fiscal cliff” and debt ceiling struggles, and the rise in the payroll tax mean Americans are still clutching their wallets tight. With many Americans widely feeling that “we’re not out of the woods yet,” how can your small business develop marketing messages that resonate with penny-pinching prospects?

Start by understanding what your customers and prospects are worried about so you can tailor your marketing message accordingly:

  • A Gallup poll conducted last month reports that for consumers with incomes under $24,000, the costs of food and energy were the biggest concerns (cited by 81 and 80 percent, respectively), with healthcare costs (70 percent) and taxes (67 percent) close behind. Lower-income and middle-income consumers are being hit hard by the expiration of the payroll tax cuts in January, which cut about $1,000 in take-home pay from someone making $50,000.
  • Upper-income consumers (with incomes of $90,000 and up) were more likely than lower-income consumers to be worried about longer-term issues such as taxes (cited by 79 percent) and the federal debt ceiling (66 percent).
  • If you’re a B2B business selling to small business owners, know that they’re worried about the same costs consumers are. A recent Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index survey found small business owners say taxes, energy costs and healthcare costs are hurting their businesses more than anything else.

So what kinds of marketing approaches will resonate with each of these groups?

Lower and middle-income consumers are worried about the short term. Their paychecks just got smaller while their cost of living is rising. As a result, they’ll be responsive to marketing that offers:

  • Immediate discounts. Draw them in with sales, coupons, stock-up-and-save specials or two-for-one offers.
  • The ability to stretch a dollar. Position your business as an advocate, helping them save for what’s important to their households. That could include offering flexible payment plans or layaway programs to help them afford bigger purchases.
  • Understanding. Emotion is important in purchasing decisions. Your marketing should appeal to these customers’ desire to provide for their families, treat themselves and have fun without breaking the bank.

While upper-income consumers have some of the same short-term concerns, they are more focused on long-term issues such as how taxes and government regulations will affect their future income and savings. As a result, they’ll be responsive to marketing that offers:

  • Flexibility. Upper-income consumers want to splurge when they can, but to do this they also need to save when possible. The three-tiered pricing strategy works well with this group. Develop a silver, gold and platinum package in the low, mid-priced and high-end range. Often, customers who might normally go for the lower price will be more open to buying a midrange package when there’s a higher-priced option, because they feel like they’re still saving money.
  • Value. Your product or service doesn't need to be rock-bottom priced if you can convey its ultimate value. In other words, is what you sell worth the cost because it saves time, saves money in the long run or will last 20 years?
  • Understanding. For this group, focus on the longer-term benefits your product or service offers, such as how it protects their investments in their homes, helps them become better at their jobs so they have more job security, or helps them create lasting family memories.

 

 

About the Author:

Rieva Lesonsky
Rieva Lesonsky

Guest Blogger

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and President of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Follow Rieva at Twitter.com/Rieva and visit SmallBizDaily.com to sign up for her free TrendCast reports. She's been covering small business and entrepreneurial issues for more than 30 years, is the author of several books about entrepreneurship and was the editorial director of Entrepreneur magazine for over two decades

5 Tips for Successfully Navigating the SBA Loan Application Process

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: February 19, 2013 Updated: September 3, 2015

In the market for a business loan? Heard about SBA loans but not really sure how they work or how to go about applying for one?

The following are common questions that small business owners have about SBA loan programs and the loan application process.

1. How do SBA loans work?

While the SBA does offer numerous loan programs to help small business owners finance their businesses, it doesn’t actually lend businesses the money. Instead, a bank makes the loan, which is backed by the SBA. This allows the bank to take a little more risk than they otherwise might.

So this means that if you are seeking a business loan and don’t qualify for a traditional bank loan, perhaps because you don’t have the collateral or years in business to justify the loan, the government can help – although you still need to work primarily with a bank.

2. Who makes the decision that an SBA loan is right for my business?

If you’ve been turned down for a traditional bank loan, or are curious about SBA loan programs, where should you start? Should you go to the bank and ask for an SBA loan, or would they instinctively guide you towards one?

While your local SBA district office can help explain the available loan programs and determine your eligibility for them, you’ll need to find a local SBA lender to kick-start the application process. These banks and financial institutions can help you determine which loan program might be right for you, whether it’s a traditional bank loan or an SBA-backed loan. They are also your point of contact for processing your loan application.

3. How do I determine which SBA loan is right for me?

The SBA offers numerous loan programs depending on your business profile, financing needs, growth plans and so on. There are a number of ways to identify the right loan program for your business.

If you are in the early stages of exploring your financing options, check out the SBA’s Online Loans and Grants Search Tool. Answer a few quick questions about your business and the tool will suggest government financing programs for which you might qualify.

Once you’ve done your research, consult your local SBA District Office and ask them to steer you towards a few SBA lenders in your area so that you can be sure you’re getting the right loan program for your business – and the right bank!

4. How should I prepare for my meeting with the bank?

Preparation is key and it’s important to understand some of the criteria that might influence your eligibility for an SBA loan. These include credit factors – such as making timely debt payments (payment on existing credit relationships, both business and personal, is considered an indicator of your ability to repay a loan), cash flow projections and your debt-to-worth ratio. Collateral and working capital are other factors that may impact eligibility.

SBA offers guidance on all the factors that lenders look at here.

You’ll also need to ensure you are in good standing with your state treasury and the IRS (i.e., you’ve paid all taxes owed).

And don’t forget the most important document – your business plan with at least three years of financial projections; a view of what you’ll do with the proceeds of the loan; and solid proof that you know your industry and target market. This is particularly important for start-ups that don’t have a financial history. The bank will base its decision on your industry experience and future plans.

If you don’t have a business plan, check out SBA’s Build your Business Plan Tool – a step-by-step guide to help you get started. You can save the plan as you go and download it when you’re done.

5. What do I need to complete my SBA loan application?

An incomplete loan application won’t do you any favors with the bank and could slow down the entire loan process. Familiarize yourself in advance with the key components of the loan application – from the right forms, to the necessary background information. Refer to this SBA Loan Application Checklist to ensure you have all your i’s dotted and t’s crossed. SBA also offers a free online training course: How to Prepare a Loan Package.

Additional Resources

 

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

How a Virtual Office Creates a Professional Corporate Image

By Marco Carbajo, Guest Blogger
Published: February 14, 2013

During the initial stages of the business credit building process, I’m sure you have heard about the importance of setting up a commercial office location. A physical location that is zoned for business speaks volumes for your company and its operation.

If you decide to use your home address for your company’s business address, keep in mind that some lenders may not extend credit to a “home-based” business. However, you still have many credit opportunities with a home-based business; so don’t let that stop you.

If you do decide to use your home address, make sure you designate a specific area in your home where you can run your business in order to allow for the proper home office tax deductions.

But, if you’re adamant about having a commercial address but renting office space is out of the question, then you may want to consider a virtual office address.

Some companies offer a turnkey corporate image with all the tools you need to not only run a business, but to meet the business credit building requirements.

For a flat monthly fee, you get a business phone number, a live receptionist answering phone calls, a corporate business address for all your mailing and packages, personalized voice mail box that converts to email, and even a fax number that will convert to email.

It is an excellent solution for start-ups and small businesses looking to keep costs low while gaining all the resources of a professional corporate image.

If you are searching for a virtual office, consider one that includes the following:

  • Dedicated business phone number
  • Professional live receptionist answering calls in your business name
  • Corporate mailing address
  • Business fax number
  • Fax forwarding to email
  • Voice mail forwarding to email
  • Corporate voice mail boxes
  • Call forwarding to multiple phone numbers

While there are many companies offering virtual office services that can accommodate your business, it’s important to utilize the most cost effective solution as a startup company. There are companies that offer this type of service at an affordable price so you can establish a corporate image with all the resources already in place.

Keep in mind if you decide to set up a virtual office, make sure that all of the information you supply is identical to the information you have on your corporate documents. This includes things like the spelling of your company name to the description of your business operation.

Remember, there should be no differences in your company information across all business documents, registrations and listings.

Give your business the professional image you require to get ahead of the competition while you meet the compliance demands from creditors, suppliers and lenders.

About the Author:

Marco Carbajo
Marco Carbajo

Guest Blogger

Marco Carbajo is a business credit expert, author, speaker, and founder of the Business Credit Insiders Circle. He is a business credit blogger for Dun and Bradstreet Credibility Corp, the SBA.gov Community, About.com and All Business.com. His articles and blog; Business Credit Blogger.com, have been featured in 'Fox Small Business','American Express Small Business', 'Business Week', 'The Washington Post', 'The New York Times', 'The San Francisco Tribune',‘Alltop’, and ‘Entrepreneur Connect’.

3 Simple Ways To Improve Customer Satisfaction Today

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: February 14, 2013

As business owners, we’d all like to think of ourselves as providers of great customer service. As small business owners in particular, it’s quite possibly your biggest differentiator. After all, how often is it that you walk into a national chain restaurant and are greeted by name, handed your favorite drink and made to feel like part of the family?

But great customer service is also about knowing how to handle problems, responding to and resolving issues—something at which agile small businesses can often excel.

If customer satisfaction is your goal, then great customer service will get you there.

Here are three simple things you can do to embed customer service into your business philosophy and day-to-day operations:

Listen and Learn

Listening is key to effective customer service and it can also help boost your profitability. Here are two ways to prove to your customers that you are listening–and tips on how to make it count:

  • Everyday Customer Interaction – Show you are listening to your customers by taking notes or repeating back what your customer has said. Listen to their words and tone. Observe their body language. Provide them clear and concise communication. Ask clarifying questions to gain understanding before you provide a response. If you can’t respond immediately, be sure to provide a timeline for response and make a note in your calendar to do so. Follow up, confirm the resolution and check for customer satisfaction and completion.
  • Facilitating Feedback – If you don’t have a reason for face-to-face interaction with a customer, look for ways to stay in touch and show you are listening and eager to keep the lines of communication open. For example, follow up with a customer after a sale to prove to your customers that you want to hear from them. Hand out in-store or post-sale surveys to find out what they’d like to see from your brand—and stay active on social media (more on this below). Customer service is, after all, about meeting the needs and expectations of the customer as defined by the customer. By soliciting feedback and using that information to inform your business you will find new ways to ensure your business is relevant to them and hopefully open new lines of profitable opportunity.

In order to have effective customer service, you must know what your customers want, provide it to them on a consistent basis and ask them how you are doing.

Look For Ways to Treat Customers As You Would Like To Be Treated

Remember, how you and your staff communicate with your customers is just as important as what you communicate. Remember that your customer wants to see the sunny side of you and your business, so have your filter on and put yourself in their shoes.

A good way to instill this attitude among your staff is to do some simple role play in which they act out a few scenarios that involve both easy-going and difficult customers. Observe how they handle the situation and coach them on areas to improve.

For example:

  • How are customers being greeted? — Put them at ease and make them feel comfortable!  This sets the tone for the rest of the transaction.
  • Demonstrate that your customers are valued Let them know you think they are important.  Your sincerity makes them feel good about you and the organization.
  • Ask how to help your customers Find out what they want. It is important that each customer encounter makes them feel satisfied.
  • Don’t challenge disgruntled customers — Listen, reassure them that you’ll escalate or act on their complaint and follow through until resolution.
  • Help customers Help them get what they want. Make it easy for customers to locate or obtain the information they need. Answer their questions in a timely manner.

Carry Customer Service Across All Your Customer Touch Points

Remember to carry through on your customer service goals wherever your business has a presence. This means both online and offline. More than ever, social media is a systematic part of your customer service model, so if you have a presence on sites like Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, and so on, be sure you are actively listening, engaging, monitoring and responding to your customers online. This blog offers some tips that can help: How to Use Social Media to Do a Better Job of Customer Service.

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

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