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Bookkeeping Basics for Small Business

By mbramble, Contributor
Published: December 9, 2015 Updated: December 9, 2015

Bookkeeping is vital to properly managing your business resources.  Additionally you will need these records for tax purposes. Whether you DIY or hire someone to keep track of everything you should understand the importance and the basics of bookkeeping.

Keeping good records of operations will alert you to any cash flow issues and potential legal problems as well. Here are a few basics that should always be standard practice to keep in your books.

Revenue and Expenses

Every transaction should be recorded. How much is coming in and how much is going out and where is it is all coming from and going to.

Cash

It is important to record the cash your business spends so you'll have an accurate number of expenses each year. Writing reimbursable checks and keeping detailed petty cash records are both valid methods of documenting cash expenditures.

Inventory

Maintain records of all inventory! This will help you to forecast for the upcoming year by tracking trends, prevent stealing and misplacing merchandise, keep inventory holdings to a minimum. Dates purchased, stock numbers, purchase prices, dates sold, and sale prices are all relevant information for inventory records.

Accounts Receivable and Payable

Always keep track of what customers owe you and what debts you owe others. It's prudent to record as much data as possible including invoice dates, numbers, amounts, terms, dates and amounts paid or due, balances, and client information in real time.

Employees

Hiring even one employee invokes your responsibility to file and pay forms and payroll taxes and each state has its own tax obligations.  Employers are responsible for maintaining employee forms such as the W-4 (Withholding Allowance Certification) and the I-9 (Employment Eligibility Verification). You are responsible for maintaining records on withholding, employer matching, unemployment, and worker's compensation.

If you decide to do your own bookkeeping you should consult with an expert especially at the beginning to make sure that you are on track. As your business grows you may want to bring someone on and/or deploy more sophisticated bookkeeping software.

How do you keep your books up to date and on track?

Additional Resources

About the Author:

Mariama Bramble

Contributor

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3 Tips for Taking the Stress Out of Business Planning

By bridgetwpollack, Guest Blogger
Published: December 3, 2015 Updated: December 3, 2015

If you’ve got a great small business idea, everyone will tell you that you need a business plan. But the process of creating a plan for a business that’s just a spark in your mind can be scary.

But writing a business plan isn’t like taking a test. There are no right or wrong answers, and everyone’s looks a little bit different when it’s finished. And unlike a test, your business plan can -- and should -- change over time. It’s a working document you’ll revisit over the life of your business to refine and adjust your path to growth and continued success.

It’s not a process to take lightly, but business planning doesn’t have to be a stressful experience. If you’re feeling nervous about getting started on your first business plan, remember these three tips to take the frustration out of your business planning experience.

Take your time

If you’re anxious to get your business idea off the ground, you might feel like you need to complete a business plan overnight. Working quickly can be helpful, but rushing through a business plan can leave your enterprise hurting later on.

Don’t try to complete your business plan in one sitting. Instead, spread your workload out over several days or even a week or two. Researching the competition in your target market might take a few hours to consider. Meanwhile, you might get carried away fiddling with the numbers for your financial projections, and figuring out the right combination for success in that section alone could take a few days.

By plotting out a schedule for completing the sections of your business plan, you can pace yourself to think clearly about your business goals.

Use Samples and Templates

Starting a business plan from scratch can be daunting. By using a business plan template tailored to your type of business, you can start planning with an idea of what a typical business plan looks like, how long it might be, and what type of language to use.

If math isn’t your strong suit, you’ll find financial templates to be particularly helpful. These spreadsheets already include the formulas you need to make estimates about your business costs and potential for growth.

But even if you use templates, don’t get caught up in what your business plan “should” look like. There’s no perfect business plan, and you shouldn’t expect the first draft of your plan to reflect your dream exactly.

Get Help Along the Way

You might write your business plan on your own, but you shouldn’t keep it to yourself. Share your early drafts with friends and family members who are invested in your small business success. These trusted people will ask you tough questions that will strengthen your plan -- and they may recall elements you’ve forgotten to include.

If you feel stuck on one portion of your business plan --or simply want a fresh set of eyes -- call on a SCORE mentor. These seasoned professionals have seen countless business plans and can guide you toward completing a plan you’re proud of.

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.

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How to Start a Non-Profit

Published: December 2, 2015 Updated: December 3, 2015

Starting a non-profit can be an extremely rewarding entrepreneurial experience. A non-profit gives you the ability to give back to your community and really make a difference unlike any other industry. But starting a charity or nonprofit organization is just like starting a for-profit business. And just like starting a for-profit business, there are steps that you need to take to ensure that you are successful.  Here are some tips to consider before you start and some points on generally how to start a business.

Step 1: Have a Plan & Do Your Homework

When starting a non-profit organization you have to ask yourself a few initial questions:

  • What is my objective?
  • Who am I trying to reach?
  • Do I have the resources to achieve this goal? 
  • What is my timeline?

As you begin the process of documenting your idea, mission, and vision as well as the formation path of your non-profit consider investing a good amount of time in the beginning writing a detailed business plan.  This is an important step because you will need parts of your business plan to include in your federal Form 1023 application for tax-exemption status and future fundraising. 

One of the critical elements of your business plan to determine is your initial startup costs and your future operating costs. Some of your initial startup costs may include:

State Filing Costs. You can find some information on this chart that illustrates the costs necessary to file in each state 

  • Infrastructure costs to deliver your services
  • Office space
  • Supplies
  • Potentially special licenses, permits or certifications.

To determine what you may need be sure to visit your state association of nonprofits and speak with a legal counsel that is familiar with nonprofits.  

Step 2: Incorporate Your Nonprofit & Establish Governance 

Nonprofits cannot escape the paperwork that is required in starting a business and may even require a few extra steps to obtain a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. This will be where most of your time will be focused on in the beginning. To make the process to incorporation easier and getting to 501(c)(3) faster here is a checklist:

Pick a creative and relevant name

This is important because it will be your brand, your rally cry and your identifier. Make sure whatever you choose is available by doing a name search with your Secretary of State or through nonprofit search engines

Recruit a Board of Directors

This group is very important and requires a large commitment by them because they will be legally accountable to help your organization meet its vision and mission. The requirements set upon them are different state to state, so be sure to check with your Secretary of State.

Draft your bylaws with your Board of Directors guidance. This will be your operator’s manual for your nonprofit. You will need to have a copy of this on premise at your office on record for filing your Articles of Incorporation and will need to submit these when applying for your federal tax-exemption. 

Decide on a Legal Structure

Below is a list of potential legal structures to consider. Be sure talk with legal counsel and your accountant to determine what will best work for you:

  • Nonprofit corporation (this is the most common)
  • B-Corporation
  • Nonprofit LLC
  • L3C
  • Unincorporated Nonprofit Association 
  • Trust 
  • Prepare & File Articles of Incorporation 

This is done with the State your nonprofit is headquartered in and some of the information that you will need includes:

  • Purpose of organization
  • Name of Initial directors
  • Name of incorporator 
  • Name and address of registered agent
  • Statement membership
  • Get your Federal Employer Identification Number (EIN)

You can obtain your EIN by filing out IRS Form SS_4. This can be done online at the IRS EIN Online page. 

You will need your EIN for:

  • All federal tax returns and receipts
  • Opening a bank account
  • Hiring employees
  • Get your 1023 Federal Tax-Exemption to get 501(c)3 Status

Next, you will want to do all your research to figure out if your nonprofit is eligible for any tax exemptions. What you need to include when filing for your 501(c)3 Status: 

  • Certified copy of certificate of formation from your state
  • Copy of bylaws
  • Details pro forma financial statements, including revenue and expense statement for current and three preceding fiscal years
  • Proposed budgets for the next two fiscal years; including a list of anticipated financial support
  • Narrative description of past, present and future planned activities with an emphasis on broad public benefit of organization’s activities
  • Names and addresses of director and officers
  • Annual accounting period (what is your fiscal year)
  • Statement as to whether the org is claiming status as a private foundation or public charity
  • EIN
  • Fee of $400 or $840
  • Finally register for Charitable Solicitation and Fundraising 

Many states require this registration prior to soliciting funds or hiring solicitors. 

More Resources 

  • About.com Non-Profit Portal - Covering everything from starting up, fundraising, and managing volunteers to marketing your non-profit, About.com's Non-Profit Guide is an invaluable and resource-rich Web portal.
  • Non-profit Guides - Free Web-based grant-writing tools for non-profit organizations, charitable and educational organizations, public organizations, and other community-minded groups.
  • USA.gov for Non-Profits - This site is the online version of what many companies offering CFDA assistance services use to advise their clients. It is available for FREE to all who wish to reference it. It has specific information for non-profits divided into 3 sections: grants/loans, management/operations, and tax information.

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5 Things You Need to Know About Projecting Startup Profits

By Tim Berry, Guest Blogger
Published: November 24, 2015 Updated: November 24, 2015

This year alone I’ve seen several startup business plans projecting year three profits at 40%, 50%, or more, as measured by dividing net profits into sales.  And most of these are pretty good plans as measured by potential product-market fit, scalability, and credibility of the management team. What’s wrong with this picture?

By profits, I mean net profits divided into sales, also called profits to sales. Of course there are other ways to define and compare profits, such as gross margin (sales less direct costs), earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT), and EBIT less depreciation and amortization (EBITDA). 

So why have such unrealistic profit projections? No good reason I can think of. Overly optimistic projections make a plan look worse, not better. So please, if you’re planning a startup, get a clue. Here are five things you need to know.

1. High Projections Hurt Credibility

Unrealistically high profit projections almost never mean that your startup is going to be profitable. Almost always, they mean that the people doing the business plan failed to estimate expenses.

On the other hand, you might not be alone. Browsing for background on this post, I found the public thinks the average company makes a 36% profit margin, which is about 5X too high, according to a post by Mark Perry for the American Enterprise Institute.

(Source)

As the title suggests, multiple polls of the general public indicate people think profits are way higher than the 6%-8% that is a real average.

2. Industry Averages are Available

If you’re writing a startup business plan, do your homework. Industry averages are available. Check out this page from Yahoo Finance, showing average profits for different industries. The overall average is about seven percent. There are, however, some industries that do better. According to that source, some kinds of real estate developments average more than 30%. Drug manufacture advertises 22%. And among some of the high-tech categories that attract many startups, biotechnology averages 19%, electronic technology 17%, and business software, 14%.

To find averages for your industry, do a web search. Multiple sources are available. One cluster of sources compiles averages from among publicly traded companies, divided by industry. Another cluster uses aggregated tax data from different industries, combined together to protect privacy. Search for “average profitability by industry,” “industry data,” “industry reports,” and “average financials” to turn up vendors. Look also for websites of industry associations for your startup’s industries.

Don’t be afraid to project profits at levels different from industry averages. Lots of startups have good reasons to presume profits better than averages. Maybe they have better technology, or innovations in marketing or business model. What I suggest isn’t just to follow the averages, but rather, if you are different, know what the standard is, and be able to explain how and why your startup is different.

3. Startups Need Time to Break Even

Normal startups take some time to break even. That’s part of the rationale behind the concept of break-even analysis. It’s the main reason startups need startup financing, which is generally capital that supports the business while it’s new and still growing. That comes from SBA loans, friends and family financing, founders’ personal resources and savings, or outside investors. The rule is early losses. The exception is quick profitability.

4. Inherent Conflict Between Profits and Growth

Growth costs money. It’s a matter of common knowledge among business owners, experts, and angel investors. Businesses that generate high growth rates are almost always making lots of small decisions that channel available money into spending that increases visibility, awareness, leads, and sales.

Ultimately, it comes down to a simple trade-off.  Profits are what are left over when the spending is done. Business owners who want to generate sales growth decide not to take that money home as profits, but rather to put it back into the business as marketing expense. They spend it on more web presence, advertising, promotions, lead generation, sales expense, and even product research and development to support future growth. And of course they also spend it on struggling to grow, and making mistakes.

5. Good News: An Easy Error to Fix

So now for the good news. At least in the context of angel investors looking at startups, which is a process, I’ve been involved with for several years now. If you have a good team, product-market fit, potential growth, and a good argument for barriers to entry, scalability, and a long-term prospect of an exit, you have a good investment regardless of poor financials. Most investors will help you make better estimates. I’ve heard angel investors say it too, more than once: “poor financials are the easiest problem to fix.” 

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 .

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7 Tips to Starting a Successful and Legal Child Care Business

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: November 23, 2015 Updated: December 1, 2015

Child care is a hugely important part of American life and a key contributor to the economy. According to First Research, the U.S. child care services industry is currently worth $20 billion thanks to an increase in the number of working mothers and the desire to provide young children with educational opportunities. According to the latest data from Census.gov, 25% of children are cared for in organized facilities including preschoolers (ages 0-4) and grade schoolers (ages 5-14).

If you have a passion for child care and child development but also want to enjoy the independence and responsibility of being your own boss, this small business opportunity may be for you.

So what does it take to get started? What laws and regulations must you follow, here’s what you need to know.

Understand the Demand in your Community

Do some research within your own community to gauge what child care facilities are in demand. Considerations include the number of working mothers, availability of other care facilities (and their waiting lists). This useful infographic from Census.gov breaks down some key demographic information about the profile of a typical family in need of child care. 

Demographic data can also tell you where future demand will lie. For example, if the majority of the childhood population is currently at pre-school age, then you can expect a demand for school-age child care services (such as after-school programs) to increase in future years. SBA offers a number of free market data and statistic resources that can help you with your detective work.

In addition to quantitative data, you can also get valuable information about market need by talking to parents themselves. You could post a quick poll or survey on online community message boards, parenting forums or social media groups, or browse these forums for child care related topics and discussions.

Are You Ready to be a Business Owner?

Operating a successful business is not for everyone. In addition to doing what you love, you must also deal with the universal requirements of business ownership such as staying on top of business law, managing employees, coordinating sales and marketing, and maintaining tip-top customer service.

Here are some resources and questionnaires that can help you gauge your readiness to be a business owner.

In the same vein, think about the kind of business you want to run and the kind of child care service that you want to provide. Will you be licensed? Do you want to operate out of a private residence? What kind of hours do you want to dedicate to your business?

Develop a Business Plan

A business plan is a must. It will help guide your decision making, help you map a path to success and is essential if you want to secure any kind of financing. SBA offers many planning resources that can help including this handy step-by-step business planning tool.

Understand Licensing and Zoning Laws

Whether you choose to operate your business from your home or in a commercially-leased property you will need to consider zoning laws as well as get a legal determination whether or not the property can be used for a child care business. You should also check with your state licensing agency to see how many children you can care for before you need to be licensed (smaller care providers may not need a license while larger ones almost inevitably do). Read more about child care licensing from ChildCareAware.org.

If you are looking to operate a child care business from your home, check out these tips for starting and operation a home-based business as well as the home business zoning laws that may apply. Educate yourself on the safety regulations and the child care provisions of the Disabilities Act. Be sure to have a licensing specialist visit your home before you renovate and when you complete. Their suggestions and recommendations can save you money.

Get Insured

Different types of insurance are needed for different types of businesses. It’s a good idea to get the advice of a lawyer and insurance broker to ensure you have the right coverage for your needs. Read What Kind of Business Insurance Do You Need as well as SBA’s Business Insurance guide.  

Set Your Business Up Correctly

Starting a business involves several legal, regulatory and financial decisions and steps that you’ll need to check off. For example, how will you structure your business? Which authorities and tax agencies do you need to register it with? And so on. These 10 Steps to Starting a Business can help guide you through that process.

Financing your Child Care Business

In addition to traditional bank, credit unions and other alternative finance resources, a variety of federal, state and local government funding programs provide assistance to child care operators for everything from start-up to operational costs to general business improvements. The Business.USA.gov financing tool walks you through some of these options, be sure to check “Child Care” as your industry.

 Additional Resources

  • Child Care Aware - A program of the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies (NACCRRA), Child Care Aware provides a hub of information for parents and child care providers.
  • Office of Child Care – Part of the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Administration for Children and Families, the Office of Childcare is as an information resource for the child care community and also provides information on funding opportunities for providers, assistance programs for your customers as well as other child care 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

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Resources for Veterans: Start Your Veteran-Owned Small Business

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: November 10, 2015 Updated: November 10, 2015

After years of service, more and more veterans are taking the leap into business ownership.  Veterans are 45% more likely to start their own business than their non-veteran counterparts.

In fact, the latest data from the SBA Office of Advocacy suggests that veterans make up nearly 10% of all business owners in the U.S. One in ten of these veterans operate more than one business (and are more likely to do so than their non-veteran counterparts)!

If you’ve served our country, then you’ve no doubt worn many hats – an essential skill for any small business owner. You’re also likely to be very good at delegating authority, maintaining discipline, and sticking to your goals. If you’re interested in business ownership, these attributes will stand you in good stead.

That being said, starting and running a small business requires other resources and assets. The small business failure rate, particularly during the early years is high.  

The good news is that veterans have access to a number of programs and resources that can help them pursue their mission of entrepreneurship. Here are just a few:

SBA Resources for Veterans

Here you’ll find everything you need to know about the fundamentals for starting and financing your business (including veteran-specific loan programs) plus quick links to veteran business resources. Be sure to check out your nearest Veterans Business Outreach Center. With 15 locations nationwide, these centers provide business training, counseling, mentoring and referrals for veterans in the community.

Operation Boots to Business

This is a two-step entrepreneurial training program offered by the SBA as a training track within the Department of Defense’s Transition Assistance Program. The training includes a two-day introduction to entrepreneurship and an eight-week, instructor-led online course that goes in depth on elements of a business plan and starting a business. Check out registration details and dates of upcoming courses.

Government Contracting Opportunities

Doing business with your former employer can be a lucrative endeavor. The federal government sets aside no less than 3% of the total value of all prime contract and subcontract awards for veteran-owned and service-disabled small businesses. Learn more about cracking this market in this 30-minute course in the SBA Learning Center and then take a look at these getting started tips and contracting support resources.

Entrepreneurial Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities

If you’re a post-9/11 veteran with disabilities, the EBV National Program provides cutting edge, experiential training in entrepreneurship and business management at no cost. With a strong success rate (70% of program graduates have launched their own business). The EBV is operated by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University (IVMF) in partnership with the SBA, and offers boot camps through its 10 consortium universities across the country. Graduates also receive ongoing mentoring and assistance for 12 months.

What resources or programs helped you start your veteran-owned business? Leave a comment below.

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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Boots to Business Reboot to Expand its Offering to More Veterans

By Barbara Carson, SBA Official
Published: November 2, 2015

During the third annual celebration of National Veterans Small Business Week Nov. 2-6, the Small Business Administration will host 30 Boots to Business: Reboot entrepreneurship training events nationwide.

We’re proud to announce that thanks to a partnership with First Data Corporation, The Marcus Foundation and Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF), the Boots to Business Reboot program will be able to expand. 

This coming year, the SBA will be able to present more than 100 Boots to Business: Reboot entrepreneurial training workshops.  The other big news is that for the first time, the program will be available to military veterans of all eras. This also includes service members (including members of the National Guard and reserve members) and their spouses.

The Boots to Business: Reboot curriculum will introduce veterans to the fundamentals of business ownership, including evaluating business concepts and developing a business plan. Course participants will be introduced to their local SBA resource partners, consisting of Veterans Business Outreach Centers, Women’s Business Centers, Small Business Development Centers and SCORE.

Additionally, upon completion of the introductory course, participants will be eligible to register for “Foundations of Entrepreneurship,” an eight-week, online course

taught by professors from a consortium of accredited universities, and led by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University.  The course offers in-depth instruction on the elements of a business plan and techniques, and tips for starting a business.  

Thom Besch is a proud graduate of Boots to Business: Reboot program. After retiring from the Army, Thom decided to find what he was excited about, and then build a business doing just that.  He learned all he could about renewable energy and the technical side of installing residential solar systems.  A year after starting his company Veteran Solar Systems in Albany, New York, he decided he needed training on how to grow his business. 

The local Small Business Development Center connected him to the Boots to Business: Reboot program.   There, he learned how to get financing to expand his business and the advantages of having a targeted business plan.  Being in an environment where you’re able to discuss different aspects of starting your own business—especially if you have no experience, said Thom—is what makes Boots to Business: Reboot such a  great resource.

To learn more about the Boots to Business: Reboot entrepreneurship training program, visit www.sba.gov/bootstobusinessreboot or contact the SBA district office in your local community.  

About the Author:

Barbara Carson
Barbara Carson

SBA Official

Barbara Carson is the Associate Administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Veterans Business Development.

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Woman Owned, SDVOSB, and Minority Owned: Are Business Designations Necessary?

By mbramble, Contributor
Published: October 29, 2015

There are a variety of programs to help diverse groups of business owners procure work from government and private entities. For the record, the business registration process for women, minority, and service-disabled veterans does not differ from the standard process all businesses follow. You still need to register your business, obtain pertinent certificates, licenses, and permits in order to legally operate. Here are resources for getting your business started.

While the designations are not necessary, applying for these designations can provide a wealth of additional opportunity for your business both in the government and private sectors. Certain government contracts are set aside for businesses with these designations on the federal and state levels.

For more information on how to become eligible for set-aside federal government contracts, see SBA’S Government Contracting Certification guide.

In addition to the federal government, your state government offers a wide variety of opportunities for small businesses to compete for government contracts.  See this list of state procurement agencies and information on how to register as a contractor and bid on opportunities.

It is important to note that this process is a large time investment. Requirements are very stringent and must be met entirely at the time of the application. Start the process as soon as possible! If you think you may want to get certified in the future, it is advisable that you create a binder when your company is young and start storing all the necessary documents, such as your incorporation paperwork, for the application processes.

Understanding the Federal Marketplace

Contracting Resources for Small Businesses

 

Service Disabled Veteran Owned Business (SDVOB) Eligibility

In order to be eligible for the Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Concern Program (SDVOSBC), the Service Disabled Veteran (SDV) must have a service-connected disability that has been determined by the Department of Veterans Affairs or Department of Defense. Your business must be at least 51% owned and controlled by a SDV, and the SDV must hold the highest officer position in the SDVOSBC.

Click here for more information eligibility and the application process.

 

Woman Owned Small Business Eligibility

To be eligible, your business must be at least 51% owned and controlled by one or more women. The women must be U.S. citizens. The business must be “small” in its primary industry in accordance with SBA’s size standards for that industry.

Click here for more information on eligibility and the application process.

 

Minority Owned Business Eligibility

Some minority groups are presumed to be socially and economically disadvantaged and can qualify for the 8(a) program. These groups include: African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, Alaska Native Corporations, Indian Tribes, Native Hawaiian Organizations and Community Development Corporations, Asian Pacific Americans and Subcontinent Asian Americans. Individuals who are not members of one or more of these groups can be considered for the 8(a) program, but they must provide substantial evidence and documentation that demonstrates that they have been subjected to bias or discrimination and are economically disadvantaged.

Click here for more information on eligibility and the application process.

In addition to working with government agencies, you can register your business with non-government organizations and certification agencies. Each certification body offers different benefits for those who qualify, including business fairs, networking opportunities, training programs, financing options and more.

For example, the Minority Business Development Agency directs minority business owners to the National Minority Supplier Development Council where they can register their business as a certified minority-owned business and taking advantage of the benefits.

About the Author:

Mariama Bramble

Contributor

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5 Real World Examples of Forecasting a New Product

By Tim Berry, Guest Blogger
Published: October 27, 2015 Updated: October 27, 2015

“How do I forecast a new product, with no real data to call on?” you ask. I’ve dealt with this a lot through the years. It began several decades ago when I had the job of forecasting new products for high-tech companies that were clients of the consulting firm I was with. It continued as I did business plan consulting for more than a decade, back in the 1980s and 1990s. Now I get it as questions my readers and it’s my favorite question. To this day my answer hasn’t changed.

First, it comes with the territory. Don’t think you’re not qualified because you can’t do econometric models or data smoothing, or you don’t have the MBA degree or CPA certification. You are. You know your business better than anybody else. Data analysis is all based on massaging past data, and you’re looking forward into the future. You can do it.

Second, the real goal of forecasting a new product isn’t the accuracy of a fortuneteller or a crystal ball. It’s about understanding what drives sales. Here are some specific examples:

  1. Focus on capacity. For example, you’re starting a restaurant and you want to say you have no idea what you can realistically sell. So draw a map of chairs and tables, figure out how many breakfasts, lunches, and dinners you can serve in your opening hours, then go from there to coffees and drinks based on the meals. Use realistic averages. Guess how many settings for each meal as an average, then multiply the hours and days to get months. Guess units and prices based on a reasonable sense of ramp-up.
  2. Focus on traffic, probably web traffic, but maybe auto, foot, or walk-in traffic. For example, a subscription-based web business ought to be able to project website views based on its organic search placement, pay-per-click advertising, email marketing, and related promotions. Make a projection of traffic by adding up your sources, then estimate conversion rates, and that gives you unit sales.
  3. Focus on contagion. Think of your product as a disease, in which one customer infects friends, family, and the world of word of mouth and amplified word of mouth through social media. Estimate a starting number of buyers and then how many new buyers each existing buyer will recommend (infect) each month. If each buyer infects five or 10 others, you’re happy. If each buyer infects nobody in a month, keep your day job.  
  4. Extrapolate from somebody else’s history. You may not have history, but is there somebody else’s history that tells you something? I’ve been working lately with an entrepreneur who justifies her ambitious early sales forecast with data on what happened to a somewhat similar product in a similar market a few years ago. It’s not my favorite technique, but it is convincing to see how this forecast mimics real data from the recent past.   
  5. Look at sales structure and channels. Especially for physical products that are supposed to sell through distribution channels, project how long it takes to get a distributor to carry your product, then how long it takes to get retail stores to carry it, and project the gradual increase of stores carrying it and a reasonable number of unit sales per month, per store. Getting into distribution doesn’t happen from one day to the next. The stores involved increase over time. And the direct sales process in an enterprise business-to-business launch has its structural numbers too. Think about how many deals per salesperson, how long the decision takes, how much pending business (called pipeline) at any time, and how the structure grows.

So the key, in all of these five cases, is connecting the dots. Don’t just take a wild guess; figure out the factors that drive sales. Build a sales forecast that you can use to track actual results, broken into variables like units, price per unit, stores, channels, web visits, or opening hours. Get it down at the beginning and then make sure to review once monthly to adjust your plan to accommodate ongoing actual results. You’ll be wrong at the beginning, but every month, you get closer to right. In the meantime, as you track results and make adjustments, you have managemen.

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 .

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How to Start a Consignment Business

By mbramble, Contributor
Published: October 14, 2015

Getting Started

Are you interested in opening your own consignment shop? Consignment shops can offer lower overhead cost compared to traditional retail stores, because a consigner provides your inventory and they are paid out only when the item sells. Shop owners resell items from multiple consigners and share a portion of the profits. While the business model might be slightly different than a traditional retail shop, starting a consignment business still involves planning, development, making key financial decisions, and completing a series of legal activities.

Follow these 10 steps to prepare your business.

 

How it Works

Consignment shops commonly sell clothes, shoes, and housewares, but the there is no limit to the items that you can sell. Crafts, music, toys, antiques, and cars old and new can be sold.

While the items are in your possession, legally you do not have ownership. The consigner maintains ownership until the item is sold at which point you earn a commission on the sale and pay the consigner the rest.

If the item does not sell within the timeframe allotted by your consignment agreement*, then the contract should be renegotiated or the item returned to the consigner.

Startup costs for a consignment business are often less than say thrift or pawnshops, since you do not own the items, you do not incur the cost of purchasing inventory. Additionally you are not obligated to purchase the items if they do not sell. After the agreement time is up you can return the item if you do not think it will sell. 

Understanding your customer

 

Keeping up With Your Inventory

In general retail businesses should invest in a point of sale or (POS) system. This is especially important with a consignment business because you do not own the inventory. Having documentation on the item’s description, the agreed upon price, and condition is an important part of the process.

POS systems can also help you determine what types of items you have a need for in the shop with up-to-the-date, accurate assessments of your inventory. When shopping for an inventory system you want to think of function and price; a good system should be a balance of both. You want to be able to set alerts, add new items, and print out price agreements. If your budget is a concern you can always start with a basic system and then add more robust features as your business grows.

Resources

National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops*

*Links to a non-government website

About the Author:

Mariama Bramble

Contributor

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