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Monthly Archives: November 2016

Business Plan Tools for Startups and Small Businesses

Figuring out how to do this correctly is hard enough, but there are several tools available to make this arduous task a little bit easier for would-be entrepreneurs. Instead of starting from scratch, here are a collection of business plan templates, software, apps and services to help you start a business the right way with a professional business plan.

Business plan templates show you exactly what a business plan is supposed to look like and what goes in each section. You can find them as downloadable sample business plans that you can copy and modify to fit your business, or as fill-in-the-blank or question-and-answer forms. There are also different types of business plans: simple business plans that cover the essentials, comprehensive ones that cover every aspect of a business, and those designed for a specific purpose, such as to raise funding or find business partners. Here are some business plan templates worth considering.

The $100 Startup One-Page Business Plan. One-page business plans take the fuss out creating a business plan by getting down to the basics of what your business is about and how you intend to meet its goals. Think of it like writing down your business on a napkin, but with a purpose. The $100 Startup’s One-Page Business Plan is one such business plan template. Simply answer a few questions like “What will you sell?” “What will you charge?” and “How will customers learn about your business?” in a couple sentences and you’re good to go.

SCORE Business Plan Templates. Small business resource SCORE has a collection of free PDF and Word business plan templates for startups, established businesses and even nonprofits. The organization also offers additional types of business planning resources and templates, such as financial projections, market research, sales forecasts, SWOT analysis and more. Once your business plan is finished, you can meet with a SCORE mentor for feedback and guidance.

Bplans.com. Looking for free sample business plans? Bplans.com offers a wide range of them for all types of businesses, including retailers, online businesses, service providers, restaurants and more. These sample templates come complete with a table of contents and sections like executive summary, company summary, products and services, financial planning, market analysis and other standard business plan sections. Bplans.com offers more than 500 sample business plans that can be downloaded as Word, PDF and other file formats.

Rocket Lawyer. If you need to make your business plan a legal document, check out Rocket Lawyer. Rocket Lawyer lets you create your own legal documents and provides access to various legal services. Its business plans section lets you create business plans in three steps: build, save and sign. You can also print and share your business plans for easy access. Rocket Lawyer business plans come with standard parts of a business plan, as well as sections for funding requests and appendix for supporting documents.

Find more using our list of free business plan templates for small businesses.

You don’t have to be glued to your desk to create a business plan. There are several business plan mobile apps that will let you write a business plan anytime, anywhere right on your smartphone or tablet. Here are two worth checking out.

StartPad. Recognized by Entrepreneur and Forbes, StartPad is one of the top business plan apps available for the iPad. This app offers a wide range of business planning resources, such as strategic business planning tutorials, professionally made sample business plans, financial projections and other reports. Business plans created on StartPad can also be exported as high-resolution PDFs or printed out. The basic version of StartPad is free to download and use, but requires in-app purchases for additional features. Get StartPad from the Apple App Store.

Business Plan & Start Startup. Are you an Android user? Business Plan & Start Startup is the app for you. This app isn’t just for creating a business plan, however. It also aims to do three things for entrepreneurs: help start a business the right way with a well-crafted business plan; keep them motivated and on track; and provide a community of fellow entrepreneurs, small business owners and experts to help guide users in creating their business plan and running their businesses. Business Plan & Start Startup can be downloaded from the Google Play marketplace

Don’t want to use any of the above? Try an online business plan service, which guides you throughout the business plan writing process. The services offer similar tools as business plan software — such as document collections and chart generators — with the difference being that they typically offer business and legal specialists who can help you better understand complex aspects of your business and business plan. Two online business plan services to consider are LivePlan and the SBA Business Plan Tool.

Bizplan.com. Need funding? Check out startup.co’s business plan service, bizplan.com. This web-based business plan comes with a step-by-step guide to help you build your business plan and optimize it for investors. Business plans can also be completely tailored to your business with logos, graphics, layouts and custom designs to fit your brand. After building your business plan, you can share and publish it on startup.co’s crowdfunding site, fundable.com, where you can connect with investors and add elements like photos and videos to highlight your business.

LivePlan. LivePlan is a cloud-based business plan service that offers everything from document generation to planning tools, financial calculators, guidance resources and more. The service guides you through each component of the business plan and provides step-by-step instructions and advice based on the objective of your business plan (starting a business, business development, funding, etc.)

SBA Business Plan Tool. The U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Business Plan Tool covers everything from executive summary and company description to market research, product line, marketing and sales, and financial projections in detail. You can also personalize your business plan with your company logo, as well as save, print and update your business plan as needed.

What’s the Best Legal Structure for Your Freelance Business?

 When you’re a freelancer, you’re also running a small business. Being self-employed inevitably makes tax season complicated. That’s why many freelancers have chosen to establish their own businesses legally.

There are three types of business structures most freelancers register under: sole proprietor, LLC and S corp. There are advantages and disadvantages to all, such as better tax breaks or filing a separate tax return. Each situation allows you to deduct for business costs, such as internet or travel.

Although many professionals who freelance on the side simply report their earnings as “miscellaneous income” via the Schedule C (1040) form on their personal tax return, full-time self-employed individuals may find it beneficial to create a legal business entity.

Lauren Saccone, freelance writer and social media consultant, recently established an LLC called Pitchbow at the end of 2016. After freelancing part-time for nearly a decade, she has been a full-time freelancer based in New Jersey for the past two years.

Saccone’s tipping point was filing her taxes for 2015.

“I didn’t know anything about filing as a freelancer,” she said. “I had to figure it all out myself at the last minute, and it was an informative experience, but (it was) stressful.”

Sole proprietorship is one of the most straightforward types of business classifications. It’s also the most common and simplest, because it doesn’t require formal action. If you’re already a freelance writer, like myself, you’re already a sole proprietor of your own business. This makes it easy to prepare for tax season.

There are a few important drawbacks freelancers should be aware of. According to the Small Business Administration, there is an unlimited amount of personal liability. If a company wants to take legal action against your work, they can legally take action against you specifically. You’re also held personally responsible for business-related debts and financial burdens.

Since Saccone offers social media services and isn’t exclusively writing for publications, the LLC structure was the best choice for her. LegalZoom, an online legal service for business owners, helped her find the best fit and guided her through all the difficult paperwork.

Another reason she chose LLC was legal safety, which sole proprietorship specifically doesn’t provide.

“If I wrote something someone didn’t like, they would previously go after me personally, but now, it’d be through my business,” Saccone said. “It provides a security net.

For instance, late payments are always a nightmare for freelancers. Under an established name and company, Saccone feels more confident chasing down payments than she did before. Pitchbow provides her an added blanket of agency.

Saccone previously considered sole proprietorship, but the category wasn’t inclusive of her overall services. An LLC encompasses her business’s wide range of services.

“One day, I’ll be pitching stories, another I’m writing Instagram posts, and the next I’m working on content marketing,” Saccone said.

LegalZoom explains that an LLC, as opposed to a sole proprietorship, allows business owners to raise money, not take personal responsibility for a company’s debt and easily transfer ownership. An LLC requires more paperwork and costs more, but both types of businesses are taxed similarly. Although Saccone doesn’t employ anyone but herself, as her workload continues to grow, she’s optimistic about the possibilities her business’s legal structure allows.

Of course, self-employment taxes are a huge drawback. The Small Business Administration also mentions the limited lifespan of an LLC, which is contingent upon its members. If someone leaves, the business is dissolved.

What about S corporations? Freelancers Union reports that an S corp helps you dodge paying both personal and corporate taxes. S corps have much stricter guidelines for taxes, though, because owners are paid based on salary and receive dividends from any additional profits the business may earn. Rather than filing a personal tax return, you must file a specific business return.

S corps also require business owners to pay their partners fairly. The Small Business Administration points out shareholders must receive adequate compensation. Otherwise, the IRS can flag you for unfair salary distribution.

If all this seems daunting to you, just remember that your freelance business can still be legitimate without the legal structure, especially if you’re just starting out.

8 Small Business Trends and Predictions for 2017

Entrepreneurial confidence in the economy could spur new investments

“In 2017, increased confidence among small business owners regarding the economy and their overall performance could lead to trends in business investment. Both the economy and stock market have shown signs of strength during the final weeks of 2016, and this helps increase business owner optimism.” – Carla Freberg, Director of Sales, Vendor Services Group, Balboa Capital

Niche companies will find success

“Business success wil come from further focusing on smaller, very specific audiences. Going extremely deep with customized messages and specialized platforms to a highly receptive and loyal audience will replace wide approach “shot gun” marketing. [We’ll see] more soft or no ask/call to action marketing focused on community building, experiences and lifestyle over product specific messaging.” – Kyle Golding, chief strategic idealist at The Golding Group

Crowdfunding will play a key role in financing small business

“Crowdfunding will continue to be an invaluable resource for entrepreneurs. Crowdfunding platforms allow entrepreneure to easily validate and fund a new product or service all while growing their customer base.”  – Michael Banks, founder of FortunateInvestor.com

Investment assets will shift to reflect an uncertain market

“We’ll see more money go into cryptocurrencies, probably Bitcoin as it’s still the leader, and potentially precious metals. Stocks, bonds and real estate are all in bubbles of one sort or another. One of the consequences of central bank intervention with money printing is that all the mainstream asset classes are tightly correlated. So with the economy worldwide looking precarious right now, we’ll see people managing risk by shifting capital from over-valued asset classes into an under-valued class. When all the major asset classes are in bubbles, there is no ‘cheaper’ asset class to shift capital into, so it has to go elsewhere. I can see gold and cryptocurrencies absorbing that money and rising appropriately.” – Brandon Ackroyd, head of customer insight at Tiger Mobiles

Money will no longer flow freely to new tech startups

“While investment dollars and market opportunities in the tech sector are still plentiful, the era of adoration and adulation of the world of startups seems to be drawing to a close. This is as much a result of high profile flops … as it is by the sheer volume of startup activity.” – Matt Harrigan, co-founder of Grand Central Tech

The art of “house-flipping” is back in vogue

“Last year, due to a lack of inventory, the housing market could not keep up with buyer demand and we definitely noticed an influx of home loan requests. Home-flipping is making a comeback and big bank lenders are starting to extend credit lines to companies specializing in home-flipping. From what we can predict, the housing market will continue to stay strong in 2017, especially in commercial real estate and home-flipping.” – Dean Sioukas, founder of Magille Loans

On-demand business models will become more common, even in B2B spaces

“[We] were one of the earliest pioneers in the crowdsourcing and sharing economy movement. We have watched as the marketplace business model has expanded and grown, and I don’t see any of that momentum letting up. In fact, as the use of these marketplace apps and sites like Airbnb, Uber, Lyft and Taskrabbit become so mainstream among consumers, it’s driving even more momentum in the corporate and B2B space.” – Patrick Lewellyn, CEO of99designs

Support services will emerge around a growing freelance workforce

“2017 will herald a lot of additional services and products that will enable freelancers specifically to have access to credit or additional payment options. If I were an entrepreneur with a service or product that could be tailored to freelancers, I would be looking at how best to service this growing segment of the economy. This segment will only continue to grow and represents the most disruptive segment in terms of growth and innovation.” – Keisha Blair, co-founder of Aspier-Canada

AI use will grow amongst small businesses

“Businesses are rapidly embracing artificial intelligence to gain a competitive edge and stay relevant to consumers as brand engagement will be reimagined next year. But you should decide if you want to be B2B or B2C, because it is very difficult to scale if your try to do both.” – Jana Eggers, CEO of Nara Logics

Lay a Strong Foundation for Your Startup

 Although getting a startup up and running is an immensely challenging task, taking it to the next level can be even more difficult.

A study recently published in Business Horizons found that the transition period between the startup and scaling phases can be a demanding time for entrepreneurs and one that must be navigated successfully in order for a business to grow.

Joseph Picken, the study’s author and founder of the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Texas at Dallas, said past research has identified the most common reasons for failure or CEO replacement, but nobody has told the entrepreneur what to do to succeed.

“During transition, the founder and team must impose essential structures and discipline, and lay the foundation for a scalable business,” Picken said in a statement. “The failure to do so will result either in the failure of the venture or the replacement of the founder by a more experienced CEO.”

The study shows that in the startup phase, new ventures are best served by having a loosely structured, flexible, and informal organization, while the rapid growth and scaling phase requires structure, process, and discipline. [See Related Story: 3 Steps to Successfully Scaling a Startup]

Picken said as startups enter this transition period between the two stages, founders must evaluate the business’s needs, assess their personal capabilities and limitations, expand their skill set, and adopt the management practices and leadership behaviors essential to retaining the top job.

In the study, Picken outlines the transition hurdles that have to cleared when evolving from a startup to an organization that’s capable of having sustained and profitable growth:

  1. Setting a direction and maintaining focus
  2. Positioning products/services in an expanded market
  3. Maintaining customer/market responsiveness
  4. Building an organization and management team
  5. Developing effective processes and infrastructures
  6. Building financial capability
  7. Developing an appropriate culture
  8. Managing risks and vulnerabilities

When the time comes for startups to grow up, the entrepreneur also has to grow and learn all the skills to be a CEO, according to Picken.

“If you’re in a large, established organization, you may be groomed for 10, 15 or 20 years before you assume the broader responsibilities of CEO,” Picken said. “An entrepreneur has only a couple of years to do that.”

In order for entrepreneurs to successfully shift from being a founder to a CEO, Picken offers these tips:

  • Shift your attention and focus. Entrepreneurs need to adopt a broader external perspective.
  • Extend the time horizon. Instead of reacting to circumstances, it is critical to start anticipating what’s coming next.
  • Learn new skills. Being a CEO isn’t the same as being a company founder. Entrepreneurs looking to transition into the CEO role need to broaden their functional skills and expertise. They also need to expand their personal skill sets and adopt new leadership styles.
  • Be flexible. When transitioning to a growth stage, entrepreneurs need to be open to new ideas and leverage the experience of others.

Picken said that although it’s hard to do, entrepreneurs have to grow in all these areas simultaneously. He said many people don’t have the perspective or ability to do all of that in a short period of time.

“It’s a tough challenge for a young, inexperienced entrepreneur who has not been there and done that,” Picken said. “You have to recognize you don’t know it all and get a lot of help from mentors and advisors.”