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Category Archives: Business

10 Great Home Business Ideas

Work from home

There’s no place like home, so how can you start a successful business that allows you to work from the comfort of your own abode? Working from home isn’t just a nice perk, it can also be lucrative if you break into the right line of work. In this countdown, Business News Daily takes a look at these 21 great ideas for home-based businesses to help inspire you to found the next big company right from your own living room.

Electronics recycling

Even though consumers are constantly upgrading their phones, tablets, laptops and other electronic devices, a lot of people still don’t understand how important it is to recycle their old electronics. According toDoSomething.org, 20 million to 50 million metric tons of e-waste are disposed of worldwide each year, and only 12.5 percent of e-waste is recycled. Allow people to drop off their unwanted electronics at your home, or go mobile and offer a pickup service. In addition, you could help your customers back up their files and clear sensitive information from their devices as well.

Massage therapist

Becoming a massage therapist requires proper training and licensing, but if you’re looking for a great career to pursue that you can also turn into a home-based business, massage therapy might be the right choice for you. And with a massage therapy business, you have options: You can either invite clients into your home for appointments, or make house calls for massages.

Translator

If you’re fluent in multiple languages, you can turn it into a business as a translator. Businesses that work with international partners need to make sure their documents are accurate and in order, so offer up your linguistic skills to translate their documents for them, and you can do so from the comfort of your home.

Music teacher

For the musically gifted, offering lessons to others who want to learn an instrument can be a great source of extra income. Unless you’re teaching piano, students can bring their own instruments to your home for hour-long lessons. Stock up on sheet music or songbooks in varying genres and aimed at various skill levels so you can offer a wide selection for your potential clients. Voice lessons can also bring in a lot of money if you market yourself to local high school and community theater groups.

Online course instructor

You don’t need a degree in education to teach people how to do something you know inside and out. According to Fox, online courseenrollment on the rise, you can help others enrich their lives by offering classes in an area you’re passionate about, like yoga or baking. Create instructional packets and videos for download from a website, or schedule real-time Skype lessons with clients.

Software trainer

If you’re proficient in a highly specialized software, you can get paid to pass your knowledge on to amateurs and professionals looking to expand their skill sets. Technical manuals are available for programs like QuickBooks and Final Cut Pro, but these are often expensive and difficult for the average user to get through. Schedule small group workshops or private sessions, and charge by the hour for a full tutorial of the program. Patience and a great personality are a must.

Local Internet marketing consultant

Small businesses know they have to get online, but finding the time to figure out how is proving a real challenge for small business owners of every stripe. If you’re Internet-savvy and know how local businesses can harness the power of local search, coupon pages and social media, you could be working from home helping small business owners promote their companies online. Since your client base will be local to you, your commute to clients will be close to home.

Green consultant

Consumers want to buy from companies that are making efforts to turn their operations “green,” or eco-friendly. In fact, research has shown that consumers are willing to pay more for green products. Big companies often have whole staffs and outside consulting firms dedicated to that cause. Small business owners don’t have those kinds of resources, but many would still like to find ways to be more environmentally friendly and energy efficient. A home-based green consulting business allows you to travel locally to meet with clients, review their environmental impact and make recommendations on how they can cut their energy use, waste and costs. There’s no need for an office outside the house for this business.

Billing service

During the recession, many companies, especially contractors, had to lay off office workers. And, while the economy is recovering, many still can’t afford to hire a full-time office assistant. That leaves an opportunity for entrepreneurs who want to offer invoicing, bookkeeping, human resources and other clerical services to business owners on a contractual or part-time basis. With just a laptop and a few clients, you can get the ball rolling from home.

Tips to Start Photography Business

Quality photography equipment is notoriously expensive, so you’ll want to start off with the minimum: Buying a $5,000 lens doesn’t make sense if your business isn’t making money yet. Many professional photographers say to plan on budgeting about $10,000 to start your photography business.

According to professional photographer Austen Diamond, “building slow and smart” will help you stay nimble. Allow the organic growth of your business to fund gear improvements, and avoid debt if possible, he said.

Based on interviews with professional photographers, here is a basic budget for starting your business, not including studio or office space. All prices are yearly estimates or one-time purchases.

Our expert sources offered the following advice for building your personal brand and reputation as a professional photographer.

Your person and gear: If you work with people, you are your brand. Even the little things affect your reputation, and most of your business will come by word-of-mouth referrals. When you go to a shoot, dress appropriately. Iron your shirt. Wash your car. Be organized. Bring your own water and snacks. Charge your electronics. Thank-you and referral gifts should be classy. Being ready shows respect and professionalism.

Being timely: Always arrive to the shoot early, and don’t fail to deliver your product when promised. Print out directions so you don’t get lost. Ensure that your clients understand your production schedule and how long it will be for them to receive their proofs and final product, and stick to your agreements. Answer phone calls and emails in a timely manner.

Online: Anonymity is nearly impossible these days. Many potential clients will be searching for you and your work online. The images you post online should not only be high-quality but also the kind of images you want to be taking to attract the kind of work you want to be doing. Avoid contentious social media posts, and keep your language positive. Keep your LinkedIn profile and contact information on all sites up-to-date.

Many photographers have difficulties with setting their price and determining their value. Certainly, you should never price work to result in lost money or less than minimum wage, but many do. You can research your area to see what your competitors charge, but ultimately, you’ll need to charge what you are worth.

Generally, you’ll want to estimate 3 hours of editing time for every hour of shooting. Some photographers use a gauge of roughly $50 per hour to cover standard costs. Be sure to factor in travel and preparation time. Consider your ongoing costs, such as insurance, gear, accounting services and your website.

Once you start adding up the numbers, you can see why undercutting your competitors may not always be the best strategy and may result in you losing money on a gig. If you cannot seem to make the numbers match, you’ll either have to consider whether you are OK with having an expensive hobby or if you need to branch out into a different, more profitable market.

You should also always require an upfront deposit for high-priced gigs. To avoid credit card stop payments, you should require cash, cashier’s check or bank transfer for paying the deposit.

Managing your clients’ expectations is important to your success. Your clients should know exactly what to expect of you and also what is expected of them. For weddings, timelines and group pictures should be organized in advance. For infant photos, your customers should know what clothes and accessories to bring. If you are taking corporate headshot images, people should know how to dress.

For contracts, your clients should know how much is due in advance and how to pay it. You should set terms on how far in advance you need them to commit so you can schedule. Contracts should be explained carefully, and if applicable, your customers should know how they are allowed to use the images — and that should be in writing as well. While not everyone is comfortable with legalese, your professionalism will help make this necessary part of your business agreement go as smoothly as possible. You can find free contracts online, such as model release, photo licensing, wedding agreements and other common photography contracts, on sites likeLess Accounting.

Finding your niche market not only allows you to focus on a specific skill set but also offers the opportunity to find networking prospects in a specific genre. Wedding and infant photographers are abundant. You can still book these types of gigs, but if you can offer something that others do not, you may find more work.

The product you offer may cover a specific genre, such as sports, or even a style or mood, such as humorous photos. Or perhaps you are also a writer and can create beautiful picture books with family stories. Maybe you work in the medical industry and have the knowledge to create quality educational medical photography.

With weddings, you get only one chance to do it right. If you have issues with your camera or memory card and don’t have the proper backup gear, you may miss the whole thing and damage your reputation quickly. If you are not prepared for lighting challenges or the chaos of working with emotional, opinionated family members, you will not produce your best work. Although weddings are usually profitable gigs, many experienced wedding photographers recommend that you start as a second shooter with an established wedding photographer before going solo. Many part-time or freelance photographers are trying to get in the wedding game, but there are other ways to make money while you work on your skills and purchasing the proper gear.

It’s also important to note that the wedding market is seasonal, and business will likely fluctuate in the fall and winter. If you’re getting into this market, be sure to plan ahead and save for the off-season.

Not interested in competing in the oversaturated wedding or baby market? Here are some other avenues you can explore:

Stock photography: You can start your own stock-photo website or sign up as a contributor to popular sites such as Shutterstock or iStock. Pay may be low, but licensing is managed for you, and you can sell in volume.

Contract work: Some photographers have obtained contracts that pay a set monthly amount to cover local events or to be on call. For example, perhaps your local tourism or business development department may pay you monthly to cover local events.

Commercial photography: All businesses need web images these days. You may be able to find work capturing images of their products or services, facilities, and even headshots of their board members and management team.

Real estate: Oftentimes, real estate agents will contract with photographers to capture professional images of homes, business properties and land. They may also want you to capture 360-degree or interactive video footage.

Pets: People certainly love their pets, and some pet owners want professional images of their furry companions, either as portrait-style images or on location with natural movement and action.

Boudoir or glamour: Many people like sensual pics of themselves or images taken of them with their hair and makeup professionally done. These can be done in a studio with other professional artists if you cannot do hair and makeup yourself.

Sports: A wide variety of sports organizations want professional images and video. You may even be able to obtain contract work to cover a full season or a specific event, such as a local marathon, rodeo or bike race. Keep in mind that lenses for capturing sports moments can be costly.

Local news: Local print, TV and online news sources may pay you for images of local events, weather disasters or crime scenes. It would require you to go out and cover events upfront on your dime, but it could pay off later.

Image or video editing: A busy local photographer may need assistance with his or her workload. The pay may not be ideal, but it is a good opportunity to work on your editing skills.

Product images: Many local artisans and retail businesses sell products online and need good product images for their own websites or shopping sites, such as Etsy or Amazon. The pay per image would be low, but the work is relatively easy.

Food images: Like every other business, restaurants need to have an online presence. You may find ample work in helping restaurants create online menus and promotional images.

Music: Working bands need promotional images for their websites, CDs and media packages. Some also desire video of their live performances.

Paparazzi: To some people, “paparazzi” may seem like a dirty word, but someone has to snap pics of the Kardashians in their less-than-flattering casual moments. If you live in a city such as Los Angeles, New York or Las Vegas, you may be able to make money from selling your celebrity photographs.

Prints: Some photographers have found success selling their prints. It’s a tough way to make money but worth exploring if it fits your genre. Prints can be sold online and in galleries.

Contests: If entering a photo contest is easy and doesn’t cost you anything, it may be worth trying to garner a little extra income.

8 Business Ideas for the Pet-Obsessed

Want a ready-made business concept that lets you work with dogs on a daily basis? Consider becoming a franchisee of a top-rated pet care company likeCamp Bow Wow, Dogtopia or K-9 Resorts. These doggy boarding facilities allow you oversee the care of dogs while their humans are at work or on vacation. While boarding and daycare make up the bulk of revenues, some franchises let you offer additional services like pet grooming to generate more income. Professional training is provided for franchisees, so your customers can rest assured that they’re leaving their pooches in good hands.

Don’t want to open a brick-and-mortar location, or spend the money to invest in a franchise? Spread the word to friends and neighbors that you’re available to watch their pets in your own home. People often feel more comfortable leaving their pets in the care of an individual rather than placing pets in a boarding facility, so getting referrals shouldn’t be too difficult. Some states require a pet care certification to board animals in your home, so be sure to check and comply with your local ordinances before officially opening for business. Being certified can also put pet owners’ minds at ease about leaving their animals in your care. Visit the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters for more information on turning pet sitting into a career.

Anyone with a love of dogs and a whole lot of patience can work toward becoming a dog trainer. There are currently no official state requirements to work as a trainer, so a basic education can start with reading books on the subject and getting some hands-on practice at local obedience classes with professionals. It’s also possible to apply to become a puppy trainer at a local pet store chain to help build credibility. According to the Animal Humane Society, the job of most professional trainers to teach dog owners how to train their pets, so great people skills are a must. For more information on becoming a trainer and acquiring the necessary skills to work as a professional, visit the Association of Pet Dog Trainers or the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors websites.

Know of some great pet products that aren’t carried by your local pet supply store? Open up your own retail shop and sell high-quality items made by small-scale manufacturers. Many small business owners would be thrilled to offer you a wholesale discount for carrying their products, and your customers would feel good about supporting local businesses.

In larger cities with a lot of pet owners in apartment buildings, dog-walking is a great part-time business opportunity. City dwellers don’t have yards for their dogs to play in, and if they work long and/or irregular hours, they may not always have time to take their energetic pup for his daily walk. In addition to creating a website with information on your business, put up flyers in your building and see if any of your neighbors would be willing to entrust this task to you for a small fee. It’s important to educate yourself on not only the local dog walking market but also proper animal care and handling. Dogtec offers a four-day training workshop to become a certified professional dog walker.

This business idea requires a working knowledge of animal health and anatomy, as well as training and some patience. Unsure of where to start? Gain experience bathing your own pet, then look into an educational program that properly trains you in the basics of dog grooming. From there, you can get some hands-on experience by working for an independent groomer or national pet store chain, until you feel confident enough to go out on your own. For more information on becoming a professional pet groomer, visit petMD.

The trend of healthy eating and recognizing the ingredients within food doesn’t stop at humans, people are generally more cognizant of what their pets are eating as well. If you’ve been making your own for a long time, capitalize on your talents, otherwise there are recipes for homemade treats online. They don’t require a lot of time or effort to make, and the ingredients for many of them are probably already in your kitchen. Experiment with different recipes and let your dog be the official taste tester. Once you’ve found a winner or two, you can bake them in bulk, package them and sell them online. List the ingredients on your website and packaging so pet owners can feel confident that your product is right for their dogs.

Pets often become like children to their owners, and many individuals are perfectly willing to invest in custom-made collars, food bowls, clothing and other accessories. Etsy and other e-commerce platforms are a perfect avenue to sell handmade items like these, so with some basic materials and a little time to spend on crafting, you could get this business up and running within a day or two.

6 Smart Retirees Business Ideas

Many new business ideas well-suited for retirees harness the power of the internet, as long as you don’t let technology intimidate you.

“Online businesses are truly some of the best types of businesses for people over 50, but they need to get over their fears,” said Diane Eschenbach, owner of startup consultancy firm DE Consultants and author of “How to Quickly Start a Business Online.”

One simple new business option involves researching and compiling information on websites.

“One of my favorite types of online businesses for the ‘post-50 group’ is curation sites,” said Eschenbach.

As people get older, the time invested in activities (such as a new business venture) becomes very important, said Eschenbach. She is a big fan of the idea of retirees learning to use technology because of the time saved by automated programs, but she stresses the importance of choosing a business you enjoy.

“The key to a great retirement is doing what you love and finding a way to monetize it quickly,” said Eschenbach. [See Related Story: New Business Idea? How to Test Before Launching ]

Retirees considering starting businesses should start by thinking about two areas: skills from their previous jobs and life lessons. These experiences make retirees well-positioned to share their knowledge.

“Since they have a lot of life and career experience, a consulting and coaching business suits them well as a new endeavor,” said Dolly Garlo, business coach and president of Thrive!! Inc. By capitalizing on existing knowledge, retirees can spend their time learning the ropes of running a new business.

“Retirees should focus on jobs and business opportunities that leverage the individual’s years of work and life experience, such as consulting, teaching or tutoring,” said Jamie Hopkins, Esq., assistant professor of taxation in the Retirement Income Program at The American College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, and associate director of the New York Life Center for Retirement Income.

Instead of sharing knowledge through a face-to-face business, retirees may prefer to teach or coach through a freelance writing business. “Writing and blogging can be a way for the retiree to stay engaged in an online or other community, generate some income and leverage their knowledge,” said Hopkins.

As you brainstorm new business ideas, Garlo suggests asking a few key questions. “How much time do you want to spend working? What kind of flexibility do you require? Do you want to work from a fixed location or be able to work virtually? What subject matter in particular excites you?”

Garlo says it’s also important to consider your potential business customers, and if they can afford to pay you. “This will determine whether what you provide becomes a hobby or charitable endeavor, or is an actual business,” she said.

Have you left a successful career after establishing a large network of valuable and experienced business contacts? If so, the main ingredients of your new business idea may be as close as your address book.

“[Retirees] have learned lessons that many business owners won’t learn for another 10 to 20 years,” said Tobe Brockner, author of “Mastermind Group Blueprint: How to Start, Run and Profit from Mastermind Groups” (Aloha Group Publishing, 2013). “This is why starting a mastermind group is a natural fit for retirees.”

Members of mastermind groups meet regularly to collaborate and solve the problems or issues of their members, tapping into the collected experience, skills and knowledge of the group.

“Many [retirees] already have a network that they can tap into to find excellent mastermind group members, and by being the group organizer and facilitator, they can make a nice supplemental income,” said Brockner.

Depending on the size of the area in which they live, Brockner said enterprising retirees can start and facilitate multiple mastermind groups, and charge a premium for the value of being a member.

“Mastermind group facilitators can generate between $1,500 to $3,000 per month per group for just a few hours [of] work,” he said.

Providing services has long been a popular idea for younger, active retirees who want to start their own businesses; however, familiar choices like handyman services, tutoring or pet sitting aren’t the only games in town.

“There are many options for service-based businesses, but one area particularly well-suited for retirees is to provide eldercare services,” said Nancy Collamer, career coach and author of “Second-Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit from Your Passions During Semi-Retirement” (Ten Speed Press, 2013).

“Many elderly living on their own need someone to help out with the tasks of daily living: housekeeping, shopping, errands and cooking,” said Collamer. “They also hire people to help out with special projects such as relocating, medical claims assistance and bill paying.”

As the total number of entrepreneurs increases, so does the number of entrepreneurs over the age of 50. Why not start a business catering to them? There is a tremendous opportunity for you to assist new entrepreneurs with building, managing and marketing their businesses, said Collamer. While older entrepreneurs have solid core skills from previous professions, they often fall short on the skills needed to capitalize on their expertise and turn their knowledge and talents into a profitable business.

“So think about how you can apply your skills in a small business environment,” suggested Collamer. “Are you a talented graphic designer? You might be able to design logos, brochures or menus for a new restaurant in town. Do you have strong financial skills? Perhaps you could work as a small business coach or a bookkeeper.”

Few business people have the time and know-how needed to handle all the tasks required to keep a business profitable, Collamer said. And filling this need suits aspiring business owners who are also retirees.

“Most small business people can’t afford full-time staff, so this can be a nice way to earn income on a flexible or part-time basis.”

There are many ways to take advantage of the spreading “active living” philosophy, which is especially popular among Boomers. Who better to help show them the way than a peer with the know-how to stay fit and age gracefully? One of the greatest things about starting a business focused on active living is how creative you can be about what exactly your business looks like.

“The spectrum of involvement is pretty wide,” Jonah Bliss, director of community for electric bicycle company EVELO, said. “[It could be] anything from opening up franchises for electric bike stores to being ambassadors for healthy living brands, or running tours and treks to outdoor locations.”

These types of businesses not only work well as a way to bring in some money after you retire from your career, but they also help others maintain their health as they age. Be creative and use what you know to find your niche in the growing active living marketplace.

5 Business Ideas for Fashion

Putting on a fashion show is no easy feat. Fashion event producers works with designers and models to help put together a show, and may even help coach runway models.

“You would help the designer with runway show casting and have an understanding of how clothes should be portrayed on the body and how the models should carry themselves,” said Kerry Bannigan, founder of Nolcha, a New York-based fashion event production company.

While startup costs are minimal – you won’t need employees or even an office – you will need to do some heavy self-promotion. Relationships and referrals are key for this type of work, Bannigan said. Business cards and a user-friendly website showing an online portfolio are a mus,t as well as a printed portfolio. Networking through industry websites is also essential, she said.

Before you embark on this career, you should understand fashion shows, have the ability to work with the creative-minded people and be flexible enough to deal with diverse personalities, Bannigan said. Income potential is based on the number of clients you have and how big they are.

This business is ideal for someone with a corporate background who wants to make a move into fashion. A fashion business coach helps guide design firms in all aspects of running their business – from growth plans to everyday tasks such as invoice collection and bookkeeping . It also can involve coaching the creative designer on how to perform and interact in different business settings, Bannigan said.

Startup costs for a fashion coaching business are minimal, but earning potential is significant.

“Research consultancy services with established businesses can make six-figure salaries with constant clientele,” Bannigan said.

It might be hard to believe, but influential websites such as the Sartorialist and Racked debuted as small fashion blogs. They’ve since come into their own as industry thought leaders, and they sell lots of advertising.

Not too much investment is needed in a fashion blog – website development and hosting can be quite inexpensive – but it will require lots of legwork. Whether you’re stalking the city streets in search of fashionable photo ops or following the moves of leading designers, you’ll need to be tracking changing trends at every moment.

On the plus side, a fashion blog can be a complement to your existing job, said Angie Wojak, director of career services at the School of Visual Arts.

“You can start a blog on your own while looking for job, and it doesn’t take a big outlay of cash,” Wojak said.

Photo stylists work with photographers to scout shoot locations, get clothing to shoots, buy furniture and accessories and generally make sure the photo shoot goes as planned. It requires a good sense of fashion, an understanding of fashion history, and the smarts to know where to source your products, according to Sara Petitt, coordinator of the fabric styling program at the Fashion Institute of Technology, in New York.

Successful photo stylists can come from any background. They usually make their mark by doing a good job and gaining business through word of mouth. Photo stylists can be paid hourly or by the project.

Do you love to talk your favorite designer brands up to friends and family? Are you always searching for the latest fashion news and sample sales? If so, you might consider starting your own fashion public relations business. Fashion PR is a difficult field to break into, but with the right skill set and connections, you can help designers and other fashion businesses get noticed by the media and fashionistas.

In an article on PR Couture, entrepreneur Jonathan Leger writes that there are several key components to success as a fashion PR professional. You must first be able to create a strong brand for your clients to differentiate them from other designers. You must also know how to work with fashion editors to get magazine placements, and with models and celebrities to get your clients’ work in the public eye. You should also have a keen understanding of media trends and be able to prove the value of your work.

Smart Strategies to Sartup your Dollars

Initial startup costs are some of the biggest expenses a new business owner will have to encounter. Before you turn a profit, there are many parts of the business that need to be covered up front, and entrepreneurs don’t always anticipate some of these expenses.

To reduce your startup costs and stretch your dollars a little farther, follow these tips.

A simple way to save money as a new business owner is to set spending and expense limits. However, a surprising number of business owners don’t have a formal budget, said Carissa Reiniger, founder of small business support community Thank You Small Business.

“There is so much power in knowing what is going on in your business, for better or for worse,” Reiniger told Business News Daily. “Managing the finances of my business is not something I naturally enjoy, so I’ve put rules in place to help me stay on track. I advise setting up a standard time every week or month for reviewing and managing your budget.”

Angie Segal, an ActionCOACH business coach, advised entrepreneurs to factor their own salary into the budget as soon as possible.

“When you don’t pay yourself, you take money out of the business elsewhere to cover your own expenses,” Segal said. “Giving yourself a salary forces you to make everything in your budget work.”

Thatcher Spring, CEO of GearLaunch, said entrepreneurs should always do as much as possible with what they have before they add more fixed costs.

“At my company, we only hire when there is too much for the current staff to reasonably accomplish without additional help,” he said. “I’ve also found that hiring less-experienced, smart, adaptable employees, instead of only those that are senior and highly experienced, can help keep salaries under control.”

When you created your business plan, you might have envisioned all of the latest office equipment, lavish holiday parties and enough staff to take on big projects. However, not all of those business luxuries are guaranteed.

Office Evolution founder and CEO Mark Hemmeter said small business owners can suffer from a lack of flexibility in their grand plans.

“Your ego and vanity can get in the way,” he said. “You want that car or that perfect sign, but it just isn’t a good fit for the core of the business.

Hemmeter recommended looking into short-term solutions, like using shared office spaces and hiring freelance workers, until you can afford to make long-term commitments such as acquiring private office suites and hiring full-time employees.

Spring added that business owners should always plan for every effort to take longer than expected, whether it’s launching a new website, signing up customers, sourcing new products or hiring employees.

“Make sure you always set aggressive goals, but realize that there will be unexpected terrain on the pathway to success,” he said.

Startup costs for a new business add up, but there are tips and tools for finding the best areas to spend the money and those where you can cut back a bit. Spring noted that there are numerous cost-effective, self-service tools available to small business owners who want to save money by taking care of their own branding and website development.

However, it’s wise to be wary of “free” opportunities, warned Raad Mobrem, CEO and co-founder of Lettuce Apps (acquired by Intuit).

“Free tools can be a bad idea — they’re free for a reason,” Mobrem said. “Always pay for the important things, like software. You can ask for discounts with B2B services. People understand that you’re a small business just starting out, and if they offer discounts, you’ll want to work with them in the future.”

That said, spending money on the lowest-priced items can mean getting the lowest quality. As a result, you may have to replace things multiple times, and that can be more expensive than going with a pricier option in the first place.

“It’s a huge mistake to go as cheap as you can,” Hemmeter said. “It doesn’t look very professional.”

One area where you may want to splurge is your company culture, Spring said. You can invest in small items, such as snacks and comfortable work furniture, which don’t necessarily cost a lot but produce meaningful intangible value. “Having a great office environment will improve productivity,” Spring said.

After you follow the initial tips to save money and reduce the startup costs of your new business, it’s just as important to make sure your expenses stay on track as your business grows. Seek financial advice from accountants and fellow small business owners, and then go over your expenses and try to cut back where you can.

“Find an accountant that acts as a business adviser,” Segal suggested. “Look at your profit and loss with him or her every month, and see if anything is creeping up. Be very conscious of your numbers.”

As you adjust your budget each month to save money, you’ll be able to start investing in bigger, better things for your business. Mobrem’s advice is to plan your budget in terms of stages.

The Most Affordable Cities for Startups

For the second year in a row, cities in the South give entrepreneurs the best chances to keep their startup costs low, while big cities remain among the most expensive places to start a new business, new research finds.

The study from SmartAsset revealed that nine of the 10 cheapest cities to start a new business in are in southern states, including three in Tennessee.

To find the cities with the lowest startup costs, SmartAsset collected data on the typical costs of starting and running a business in 80 of the largest cities in the United States. They calculated the total expected startup costs over the first year of operation for a company based on five factors:

  • 1,000 square feet of office space.
  • The cost of gas and electricity for a 1,000-square-foot office.
  • The average cost of filing fees for either incorporation or filing as an LLC.
  • Legal and accounting fees.
  • Payroll costs for five full-time employees, earning the city’s median annual salary.

Topping this year’s rankings of the most affordable cities for startups is Chattanooga, Tennessee. The city is attractive for entrepreneurs looking to save money because of its relatively low costs for office space and employee payroll. The research shows that it would cost $225,442 for a business owner with five employees and a 1,000-square-foot office to run a first-year startup there. That’s up about 2 percent from a year ago when the costs were $221,000.

“If you decide to start a business in the Gig City, you’ll be in good company,” the study’s authors wrote. “Many startups and accelerators operate there, including the Lamp Post Group and Gigtank 365.”

Overall, the 10 most affordable cities to launch a startup in are:

  1. Chattanooga, Tennessee: $225,442
  2. Wichita, Kansas: $232,057
  3. Greensboro, North Carolina: $232,326
  4. Columbia, South Carolina: $232,541
  5. Knoxville, Tennessee: $232,620
  6. Little Rock, Arkansas: $233,877
  7. Memphis, Tennessee: $234,524
  8. Lexington, Kentucky: $234,945
  9. Orlando, Florida: $236,513
  10. Winston-Salem, North Carolina: $237,983

Similar to a year ago, many of the 10 most expensive locations for startups are larger cities, including three in northern California: San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland.

For the second year in a row, San Jose and San Francisco are ranked as the two  costliest cities to launch a business in. San Jose, where costs rose 3.9 percent from 2015, has the most expensive payroll and legal and accounting costs of the 10 cities with the highest startup costs, while San Francisco had the third highest office space and legal and accounting costs and second highest payroll expenses.

This year’s 10 cities with the highest startup costs are:

  1. San Jose, California: $439,831
  2. San Francisco, California: $422,455
  3. Washington D.C.: $395,017
  4. New York, New York: $384,389
  5. Boston, Massachusetts: $378,436
  6. Bridgeport, Connecticut: $356,853
  7. Oakland, California: $346,241
  8. Seattle, Washington: $345,615
  9. Trenton, New Jersey: $336,611
  10. Newark, New Jersey: $328,396

While they are considerably more expensive, entrepreneurs shouldn’t necessarily rule out starting a new business in any of these cities.

“After all, many of the startups that have become household names are headquartered there,” the researchers wrote. “There’s also something to be said for the talent pools in these areas.”

7 Small Business Loan Myths

Obtaining a loan for your small business is no easy feat, but it doesn’t have to be an insurmountable challenge. Small business lending experts agree that the best way to avoid trouble is to prepare for the challenges that the application process may present.

“A lot of the frustration around obtaining small business financing can be eased by doing your due diligence,” said Michael Adam, founder and CEO of Bankmybiz, a site that connects business owners with business funders. “Be prepared, and have all your documents ready to present to lenders.”

Although low credit scores might have precluded you from getting a loan in years past, today’s lending environment is more open to subpar credit ratings.

“While traditional banks may be restrictive when it comes to obtaining credit, there are alternative options,” said Michael Kevitch, president and founder of Small Business Funding.

Alternative lending sites such as Small Business Funding tend to base lending decisions on the financial realities of a business rather than the financial history of business owners. Specifically, Kevitch said, alternative lenders take a close look at business performance, industry type, time in business and cash flow before handing out a loan.

Traditional lending institutions have been a mainstay of small business funding for many decades, and still are in some industries. But they are not the only sources of financing.

For business owners looking to borrow a relatively small sum (between $5,000 and $250,000), getting a bank loan is likely to be more trouble than it’s worth, Kevitch said. However, he noted that bank loans may still be appropriate for business owners who need to borrow a large amount of cash, over a long period, and still get a low interest rate. Kevitch advised business owners to make sure they fall under those categories before applying through a bank.

Kevitch noted that alternative lending sources often provide faster approvals; sometimes, businesses can obtain access to the funds in as little as seven days, he said.

Bank loans may not be the best option for every small business, but they’re far from the worst funding option out there. In fact, for established businesses looking to grow at a moderate rate, traditional bank funding is generally a great option, Adam said. It’s when a business doesn’t fit those criteria that business owners should consider shopping around.

“If you are a younger company, pre-revenue or low revenue — but plan to grow very quickly due to the industry that you’re in (e.g., health care, IT or software consulting) — then a traditional bank loan may actually limit your growth,” Adam said.

To decide whether a bank loan is right for your business, research both traditional loans and alternative funding sources. It’s also important to know your business inside and out.

“If you anticipate steady growth over the next few years, then a traditional bank may be best,” Adam said. “If you are growing like crazy and you know you will need to keep increasing your loan size by large increments each quarter, then entertain a nonbank lending partner, as banks may not be able to keep up with your needs.”

You may find this myth floating around online forums and perhaps even hear it from well-meaning friends and family members. It’s all right to ask for money, nonexperts will tell you; just don’t ask for too much. While this might be reasonable advice in personal circumstances, there’s not much truth to it in the business world.

According to Jess Harris, content and social manager of business lender Kabbage, a working paper from Harvard Business School revealed that banks actually prefer lending larger amounts because they make more profit from large loans in the long run. In turn, banks are cutting back on smaller loans.

Evan Singer, general manager at online Small Business Administration loan program SmartBiz Loans, said a business should apply for the amount it needs — no more and no less. He recommends considering both how much money you really need to grow your business, and how much money you can afford to pay back every month.

“Make sure that you have cash flow to make your loan payments,” Singer said. “That’s the biggest thing that a [lender] is going to check — that [the business owner] can actually afford to make their loan payments.”

There are multiple perspectives on whether a traditional business plan still has a place in the loan application process. Some funding experts believe that the method of using a business plan to measure the likely success and fundability of a business is a bit outdated. Singer said that although traditional banks might still require business plans during the loan application process, online lenders typically don’t look for it.

And although Adam agrees that most lenders won’t require a full-fledged business plan, he does think that having a plan at the ready is always a good idea.

“Every business should have some sort of business plan,” Adam said. “It’s just a good practice to anticipate growth, set milestones and keep yourself accountable. If you don’t have one, create one. You’ll be glad you did in the long run.”

Although interest rates are an important aspect to consider when choosing a lender, there are many other factors to keep in mind. Harris suggested asking how much it will cost, what the terms of the loan are, how soon you need to repay the money, and what you can use the loan for.

5 Business Plan Competitions for Entrepreneurs

 The entrepreneurial spirit is rooted in innovation and competition. Given this drive to succeed, it’s no wonder that competitions rewarding entrepreneurs for their business plans and pitches are popping up all over the country.

Throughout the year, schools and organizations allow early stage startups and aspiring entrepreneurs to present their new business ideas and plans to panels of industry-renowned judges, for a chance to win some much-needed funding. Even if these entrepreneurs don’t win the grand prize, the competitors still get the opportunity to network with leaders and innovators in their industries, and share ideas with fellow entrepreneurs and mentors.

Location: Waco, Texas

The Baylor New Business Venture Competition features current students and recent alumni of any accredited university across the nation competing in one of two tracks: consumer and internet technology companies, and nontechnology companies. Companies in the technology track must fall into categories such as internet security, social media and mobile commerce. There is a preliminary round, followed by three presentation rounds. The top teams from both tracks will compete against each other for the cash grand prize of $60,000.

Location: Savannah, Georgia

The Creative Coast’s FastPitch competition offers student entrepreneurs, service-based entrepreneurs and product-based entrepreneurs the chance to show off their innovative ideas via a 3-minute pitch. Local community leaders, academics and investors will assess the viability of each venture and provide coaching and feedback throughout the process.

Location: Austin, Texas

Since 2012, HATCH Pitch has been an official SXSW event. In 2016, it branched out to become an independent program and event. This competition is for startups using information technology to make life better. Finalists are chosen and receive coaching and mentoring leading up to their demo day, when finalists present their business plans to a prestigious judging panel of corporate, angel and venture investors. Panel members provide feedback and select winners in which they would invest a virtual $1 million.

Location: Multiple international locations

The Innovation World Cup Series is a collection of international competitions in a variety of technology categories like wearable technology (WT), theinternet of things (IoT), cloud technology and digital marketing. Entrepreneurs in each category get the chance to present their tech solutions to a panel of industry experts. With prizes worth over $300,000, the competition is designed to stimulate and inspire next-generation solutions with the potential for real marketable products. The next event is the WT Innovation World Cup, being held in Munich, Germany, in February 2017.

Location: Santa Clara, California

This Silicon Valley Boomer Venture Summit is geared toward business ideas that show potential for the baby boomer generation. Early stage entrepreneurs in all industries are welcome to submit 10-slide-deck business plans to the first round of judges at Santa Clara University. Finalists then present their slide shows in person at the summit to be considered for the top prize.

Way to Engage Your Board on Strategy

The amount of time board directors spend on strategy has been rising for at least the last decade. And most directors I work with want to commit even more time to this type of work. But in a previous post, I argued that CEOs need something other than the annual planning process and off-site to involve their directors in shaping strategies. They need what I call dynamic engagement.

Here’s how dynamic engagement works: Whether it’s monthly, bimonthly, or quarterly, the CEO and board carve out regular time to work together on an ongoing, prioritized agenda of strategy issues and opportunities. At any point in time, this entails one or more of the following:

• Deciding which particular issues and opportunities have potentially strategy-changing implications for the company, and which need to be addressed now

• Agreeing on how to frame each issue/opportunity (a well-framed statement, based on an agreed-upon set of facts, that calls for a rethink of the strategy in some important way)

• Generating alternative responses to each particular issue/opportunity (the ideal number of alternatives is two or four — an even number to prevent defaulting to a middle-of-the-road fudge, and no more than four to avoid getting bogged down when presented with too many options)

• Choosing the criteria that will guide how alternatives are evaluated

• Agreeing on whether the alternatives have been evaluated well enough

• Selecting the alternative that’s best for the company (the question is not “What is the right thing to do?” — it’s “What is the best thing to do?”)

• Deciding on how the company’s strategy and plans should change in response to the issue/opportunity, given the selected alternatives.

Working on these things together with the CEO is what it means for the directors to be actively engaged in strategy. Consistent, open discussion of each one minimizes the chances that directors and the CEO will hold different views on a company’s direction without knowing exactly why.

Dynamic engagement also operationalizes the practical reality that strategy is not a one-and-done thing. It is either dying or evolving. The right attitude is not “We set strategy and then execute like hell” — it’s “We execute like hell and never stop evolving our strategy.”

Adopting the latter attitude is critical, because technological innovations, competitive disruptions, changing customer expectations, political movements, regulatory shifts, and many other forces ensure that there will be an unyielding stream of challenges and developments that demand change to some aspect of your strategy. A strategy that is immune from such things is likely pitched at such a high level that it’s not a strategy at all, but just a series of big, sweeping statements.

Thus, the true work of strategy is never done — and it certainly doesn’t follow the tidy, annual rhythm of the typical strategic planning process and board off-sites. Strategically important issues and opportunities can occur at any time, and they can’t always wait for the next planning cycle or off-site to roll around. Nor can you do full justice to the biggest issues and opportunities within an annual planning process or off-site, given their practical limitations on time and agendas that are necessarily packed with other essential duties.

Moreover, the CEO and board’s work together on strategy should be kept separate from their all-important business on governance, compliance, finance, risk management, investor relations, compensation, succession, and other such matters. Strategy making is a creative act that benefits from an unrushed agenda with external inspiration, new insight, and collaborative iteration. It does not mix well with the typical board agenda.

Directors love the dynamic engagement approach when they experience it. They much prefer doing the real work of strategy, rather than rubber-stamping visions, mission statements, and plans. When they are actively engaged, it does amazing things for the metabolic rate of a company’s decision making and execution because of the shared commitment and understanding it produces. They recognize how it forces execution-sapping differences to the surface, makes subsequent agreements that much truer, and renders resulting decisions much less ripe for unpicking down the road.

Directors also discover that dynamic engagement creates a culture of trust and respect that fosters an environment in which they and company leaders can challenge each other in ways that move the ball forward, benefiting not only the company’s strategy, but also their other duties as a board. And as directors become increasingly involved in investor relations (thanks to growing shareholder activism), they feel much more confident communicating and supporting the company’s strategy, as well as soliciting shareholder feedback on it. Finally, an added bonus: Directors find their annual off-sites are much better because they are so deep into the company’s strategy throughout the year. And they see more clearly the essential purpose of the annual planning process, which is to plan the implementation of a dynamic, living strategy, not to create it.

To be sure, dynamic engagement demands a lot from a CEO. He or she needs an effective chairperson or independent director to help run the strategy meetings well, prepare the directors between meetings, and generally herd the cats. Even then, it’s not easy to come to your board with issues and opportunities for which there are no obvious answers. In the school of management, we are taught never to bring forward problems without a recommended solution. It’s only human to jump to a conclusion and latch on to it. It can be nerve-racking to invite critical thinking, disagreement, and creativity from your directors. And it can feel burdensome to set aside time on a regular basis for shaping the strategy with your board.

However, the best CEOs I know recognize that you get out of your board what you put into it. That strong leaders are willing to say “I don’t know” and ask “What do you think?” That having your directors actively shape the company’s strategy, versus just reviewing and approving it, greatly increases your ability to execute because of their ownership and appreciation of it. And that directors are more confident in the company’s strategy and the CEO because they are working with each other (and the CEO) in a fashion that is not only deliberate, disciplined, and decisive, but also open, dynamic, and creative.