Small Business Guides, free business planning guides - the best investment you can make for your business library.

The following Business Guides are from the Small Business Development Center.

Starting Your Own Business: How to Test Your Idea

The purpose of this Micro-Guide is to help you determine if you are prepared to start a business using your idea. It also helps you to understand what you are getting into. It offers a simple approach to test the idea.

Some might call it a feasibility study, but in plain terms it is a logical approach to determine if what you are thinking about doing with your idea makes sense for you.

There is no shortage of good business ideas. The trick is to turn one of these ideas into a viable business that satisfies your individual objectives. Before you risk any of your money or much of your time, put it to the test.

This approach encourages you to define your idea, examine your market, estimate what resources you will need to start and project the economic results you might expect.

How to Prepare a Business Plan for a Loan Request

In non-technical terms, this Micro-Guide walks you through the business planning process without forcing you to read thick books or learn complicated programs. It asks you to think like a banker and understand the loan process from the viewpoint of the banker. This will help you better prepare yourself to meet with the banker and ask for the loan needed for your business.

Whether you are a new business start-up asking for money to start a business from scratch, or are an existing business needing to borrow, this Micro-Guide will help you.

It explains how to best tell the lender about your business; how to explain what money you need and what it is needed for; and to answer the most important question any banker asks when approached for a business loan. That question is: "How will this loan be repaid?"

One of the biggest reasons people fail to get business loans is they go to the bank unprepared. They talk to their banker without good information. They fail to take with them answers to the questions bankers nearly always ask. They give a bad first impression that is difficult to overcome later.

Another common fault of business borrowers is the failure to understand the difference between consumer collateral borrowing and business borrowing. Most everyone has experience borrowing money for a new car, a house or a major appliance. Few of us have experience borrowing money for business purposes. The approach to the bank is different for business borrowing.

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Making Your New Business Legal

Starting a business in the United States is easy. Almost anybody can do it.

However, starting and operating a legal business requires some effort and knowledge. There are a few things that you must know if you are going to be in business legally. By legal it is meant conforming to the laws and rules set down by the federal, state, and local governments as they relate to business operations.

Although written mainly for Texas businesses, this Micro-Guide can be helpful in understanding how to register your business, how to obtain permits and identification numbers and how to pay business taxes. It contains phone numbers of places to call in the state of Texas for applications, forms and answers to your questions.

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Franchising: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

If you are interested in having your own business, the three alternative ways available for getting started are:

Good arguments can be made for all three methods. This Micro-Guide explores only the third type: buying a franchise.

Franchising has come a long way from its beginnings in automobile and gas station franchising. Today franchising exists in virtually every area of business. While the fast food franchises are perhaps the most visible, many other industries have adopted the franchise method for growing and spreading their business.

There are many good franchises. There are also some bad franchises. Although few in number, there are also some downright ugly franchises. Furthermore, it isn’t just the franchise itself that is good, bad or ugly. Often it is the relationship between the franchisor and the person buying the franchise that can be good, bad or ugly. An otherwise good franchise can become very ugly if the relationship between the parties is not well understood and managed.

This Micro-Guide offers a brief review of the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of franchising in America today. It is must reading for anybody considering the purchase of a franchise.

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Starting Your Business: Use the Fast Track?

What a great country is America! Where else do ordinary citizens with no special qualifications have such freedom to work and earn money in their own business? This year hundreds of thousands of people not very different from you will start their own businesses. Many of these will be the traditional businesses that are usually thought of when we think of small business: the small retail store; the restaurant; the auto repair garage; or the one or two person service business.

Many others, however, will be businesses that have only recently become popular. These include the home based businesses run from a room or garage in the home and the retirement business started after the completion of one’s regular work career. They also include the thousands of hobby businesses that are operated in every small town and big city in the country. Part-time businesses that are operated by adults of all ages to supplement other income are also numbered in this group of not-so-traditional businesses.

Yes, small business today includes all these types of activity. The freedom we have to pick any one of these forms of personal business activity is a great benefit.

As with most freedoms, there is a flip side to our freedom to start any small business we choose. This is the freedom to fail. While we can get into a small business easily and quickly, we can also fail and go out of business just as quickly.

The purpose of this Micro-Guide is to help you avoid some of the dangers that will cause your business failure.

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The Hat Trick: Your Secret to Success in Small Business

In the sport of ice hockey, there is an event called The Hat Trick. It is when a player scores three goals in a single game. It is very difficult to accomplish and does not happen often.

In small business, there is a hat trick of sorts. This hat trick refers to the three figurative hats that must be worn by the business owner in order to succeed. These are the hats of the specialist, the manager and the entrepreneur. The small business owner who can perform this hat trick can make the business the profit opportunity it has the potential to become.

Most people who decide to start a small business are specialists. They know how to do some specialized work. Usually they are working for someone else doing that task before they start their own business. Often they are good at their specialized work and feel frustrated working for someone else. "Why make someone else rich with my skills when I can work for myself?" is a common thought of this person.

An entrepreneur (another hat) is someone with a business idea or a vision about what a particular type of business should look like. It is the entrepreneurial spirit within a specialist that causes the decision to go into business.

Once in business, it is soon discovered that certain things need to be planned, organized and controlled in order for the business to work. In other words, the affairs of the business have to be managed (yet another hat).

This Micro-Guide explains how to pull off the hat trick in small business.

Luck in Business: It is More Than You May Think

Good luck, or something good happening to you for no apparent reason, is an interesting subject. Some of us believe strongly in luck and others think there is no such thing. When we use phrases like "Good Luck," "This is my lucky day," "We lucked out," and "Our luck failed us," we are expressing our inner thoughts about luck. Some of us say that "I make my own luck," but are still careful not to break a mirror or walk under a ladder.

What does luck have to do with business? Read this Micro-Guide and find out. Not only is it more important than you may think, but there are ways that we can influence our luck.

Marketing for the Very Small Business

There is probably enough written material about business marketing to fill the Grand Canyon. Part of that material simply tries to explain what marketing is, for many business owners are confused by the term. Is marketing selling? Is marketing advertising? Is it promotion? What does the cleanliness of my retail store have to do with marketing? If my delivery driver is rude or unkempt, what does this have to do with marketing?

Understanding that marketing is all of these things and more helps the business owner understand the many facets of marketing. If something in your business has an influence or impact on your customer in any way, it has to do with marketing. It sometimes helps to think of marketing as simply convincing your customers to buy.

This Micro-Guide offers a simple, pencil and paper approach to marketing that every business can do. This includes the one person business with little money, time or marketing skills.

This approach helps to avoid the "field of dreams" business syndrome: open a business and the customers will come. Too many small businesses are started with this belief that if they get open, they will have enough customers to sustain the business. This seldom happens. Some marketing effort is essential. With most businesses, continuous and serious marketing effort is necessary.

Effective marketing is not really difficult if you KISS: Keep It Simple S-----.

How Am I Doing? Understanding How Your Business is Performing

The understanding a business owner has about the business can be described as being at three levels. Level one are those business people who don’t have a clue about what is happening with their business. These folks are sometimes identified by constant fire fighting. They spend most of their time handling crises as they arise with little awareness that the crises are coming.

Level two includes those who have some knowledge and understanding about what is happening in their business, but it isn’t quantified and is often vague. They know something is wrong somewhere, but they don’t know how bad it is or exactly where it is. Owners at this level often over-react or under-react to changing business conditions. They have enough information to spot problems coming, but the size or exact nature of the problems is not identified.

Level three is made up of those who not only have information, but have some way to quantify or measure what is happening.

A tool for business control that is underrated is the simple comparison. By tracking a few comparisons or relationships in business information, effective control of the business can be realized. You don’t need a computer or special math skills. You don’t need a CPA or extra expense to do it.

All it takes is a little mental adjustment to start thinking in relative terms instead of absolute terms. By setting up one or two reference points and relating certain information to these reference points, one can gain an understanding of how their business is doing.

The good news is that this is possible even if your business records are less than perfect or you hate the thought of putting together income statements and balance sheets.

How to Fix Business Problems

If you don’t know the cause of a serious problem, you can’t fix it. If you can’t fix a serious problem, it will kill your business.

Fixing problems is part of the business game. They teach in business schools that a primary function of a manager is to solve problems. By this they mean to say: "fix things." In a small, personal business, fixing things is a major activity of the owner.

What makes this difficult is the complexity of business. There are many factors that influence the health and well-being of a business. Such things as decisions by owners and employees, attitudes of customers, economic conditions, cash flow, natural forces, skills of the owner and relationships with suppliers and bankers are just a few.

Some of these forces are controllable and some are not. Serious business problems are difficult to detect and difficult to fix. Knowing some of the early warning signs of trouble and having a simple six step approach to use in dealing with problems might make the difference between business life and death.

This Micro-Guide passes along some time-tested approaches that are simple, but effective.

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Tips on Negotiating

Our lives are filled with negotiations. We negotiate with our spouses, children and relatives. We negotiate with neighbors, trades people and occasionally with traffic police officers. At work we negotiate with our bosses, subordinates and fellow-workers. While not always considered negotiations, these human contacts often involve one person trying to persuade another to do something or to not do something.

Some of us are pretty good at doing this. Some of us have little trouble getting others to do what we want done or to see something from our viewpoint. Others of us, however, have trouble with these relationships. We often can’t get others to do what we want done. This is especially true when interacting with spouses, children and police officers.

Could these problems some of us have arise from our approach?

This brief, but profound approach to negotiations will make you a better negotiator, whether it be a business negotiation or a personal matter.

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Don't Sue and Don't Get Sued

Business people often make the mistake of believing that the law and the courts are good places to resolve disputes. They are not.

People who venture into our system of civil justice often find the result of their legal efforts worse than the original problem that drove them into the system -- and this is when they win! They discover that the lawyers, judges, rules and the need for money accumulate to leave a decidedly bad taste for winners and losers alike.

This Micro-Guide and its companion booklet, "Eclipse of Justice: Nightmare in the Courts" relate the actual experiences of a small business owner and offer advice on how to deal with legal problems.

Suggestions are given on how to handle legal business issues with little or no lawyers' fees. Suggestions are made to work out problems before they reach the courts and to settle them quickly if they do go that far. The courts are decidedly not the answer for business conflict resolution.

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