How To Start And Fund A Consulting Business: The Step-By-Step Guide

Do you have a tendency to share your knowledge and experience with others? Do you enjoy giving advice that helps others better their businesses … or their lives? Did you know that you could get paid just for sharing your expertise?

While it may sound too good to be true, that’s exactly what a consultant does. A consultant is an expert that provides knowledge, expertise, and training to others for a fee. Consultants advise their clients on a variety of topics, from how to implement the latest technology to how to create a successful marketing campaign.

Becoming a consultant does not require special training, credentials, or education. You simply need to be an expert in your field. You also need to have passion — not just for your industry but for helping others truly find the right solutions for their problems.

Consultants are organized, know how to network, and are always willing to learn more about their field to provide the best services to their clients.

If this sounds like you, becoming a consultant may be your new career path. The great thing about consulting is that anyone with knowledge and expertise can do it. Starting your own consulting business has low overhead costs and doesn’t require a lot of capital from the get-go. In fact, you can even start your own business from your home office.

But maybe your goals are much bigger. Maybe you want to have the top consulting firm in your area. It doesn’t matter if you want to simply be your own boss and make a decent income or if you want to grow your business to epic proportions — this guide is for you.

We’ll explore the steps you need to take to get your business off the ground. From finding your niche to funding expenses and spreading the word about your business, this guide explores what it takes to open and operate a successful consulting business. Let’s jump in and get started!

Pick Your Niche

business loan reasons

We’ve all heard the saying, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” When clients are seeking a consultant, they don’t want someone that knows a little bit about everything. Instead, they want to work with a consultant that knows everything about one thing. This is why it’s so important to pick your niche.

To get started, consider your skills and knowledge. What industry are you familiar with? Clients are looking for an expert in their field, so identifying the industries you already know is important when selecting your niche.

Next, you need to consider what problems and pain points your chosen industry is facing. You can do online research to find out what challenges are common in this industry. Check out blogs and industry forums to get an idea of common complaints and problems. You can even talk directly with people in the industry to find out what obstacles and setbacks they face.

Once armed with this information, you need to identify your own skills and knowledge that could be applied to this field. For example, let’s say you’re knowledgeable about the construction industry. One of the common pain points in this industry is a lack of communications. Are you familiar with mobile and cloud-based software? Great! You could use this knowledge to help businesses streamline communications and improve efficiency.

When you start your consulting business, your goal shouldn’t just be something generic like, “I want to help other business owners.” Instead, you should have a more specific purpose in mind. “I help businesses in this industry find and implement the newest and best software solutions to grow their business in just 3 months.” This also serves as your value proposition. In other words, this is the value you offer; something that sets you apart from other consultants. Remember to effectively communicate to your clients what you can do for them.

Still unsure of where to get started? Consider one of these niches for your consulting businesses:

  • Biotech
  • Cannabis Business
  • College
  • Construction
  • Customer Service
  • Dental
  • Financial
  • Food Safety
  • Grant Writing
  • Human Resources (HR)
  • Information Technology
  • Leadership
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • Medical
  • Nutrition
  • Project Management
  • Real Estate
  • Safety
  • Sales
  • Security
  • SEO
  • Social Media
  • Supply Chain
  • Technology

After you’ve selected your niche, do your research to find out what certifications and licenses you need to legally operate your business. In most instances, you’ll find that a business license in your state of operations is all that you need to open your consulting business.

One last thing to remember is that even if you’re knowledgeable about your niche right now, industry trends and changes can occur in an instant. Make sure you stay up-to-date on what’s happening in the industry to ensure you’re always qualified to assist your clients.

Make Your Business Plan

Even if your consulting business seems pretty straightforward, it’s still necessary to have a business plan. There are a few reasons you need a business plan. The first is that your plan maps out your goals and how you plan to reach those goals. A business plan is also necessary when you seek funding through banks or other lenders.

Because every business has a different vision, no two business plans are exactly alike. However, there are a few common components that should be included in all business plans. Those components are:

  • Executive Summary: Highlights what will be discussed in your plan and summarizes what your business hopes to accomplish
  • Company Description: Includes key information about your business and the customers that you will serve
  • Competitive Analysis: Who are your competitors, and what are their strengths and weaknesses?
  • Organization & Management: An outline of the setup of your organization and names and summaries of the job responsibilities of your management team
  • Market Analysis: An analysis of your industry now and in the future
  • Marketing Plan: An outline of the marketing strategies you will use to draw clients to your business
  • Financial Projections: Your expectations for future revenue based on market research

Register Your Business

Before you launch your business, you have to register with federal, state, and local agencies. You will need to register your business name with the state in which you operate. In addition, you must register with the Internal Revenue Service to get an Employer Identification Number (EIN) if you ever plan to hire employees. It’s imperative to obtain licenses and permits to operate your business based on state and local regulations. You must register your business if you plan to seek business funding now or in the future — or if want to open a business bank account. Establishing a business is legally required, but it also makes you look more professional and legitimate to your clients.

One important step to take when registering your business is choosing your business structure. Your business structure will be important in determining what you’ll pay in taxes. Your business structure may also offer protection from personal liability for the debts and obligations of your business. The different types of business entities include:

Sole Proprietorships

This structure is the easiest to form and does not require filing with the state. With a sole proprietorship, profits and losses from the business are reported on the business owner’s personal tax return. The major drawback of this business structure is that the business owner – you – are held personally liable for the debts and obligations of the business.

Partnerships

A partnership is established by businesses with two or more owners. There are three common types of partnerships: general partnerships, limited partnerships, and limited liability partnerships.

  • General Partnership (GP): This type of partnership has the fewest ongoing requirements. These are also the easiest to form and don’t require state filing. The drawback is that partners in a GP are personally liable for the debts and obligations of the business.
  • Limited Partnership (LP): In a limited partnership, only the general partner(s) has unlimited liability. The other partners — known as limited partners – have limited liability. This simply means that personal assets can’t be used to cover the debts and liabilities of the business.
  • Limited Liability Partnership (LLP): In a limited liability partnership, all partners have limited liability. However, partners may be held liable for their personal actions. This structure is reserved for professional service businesses.

Limited Liability Companies

A limited liability company, or LLC, is independent of its owners. The personal assets of the owners are kept separate from business debts. An LLC is taxed similarly to sole proprietorships and partnerships.

Corporations

If a corporation is the right structure for your business, there are two options to consider: C corporations and S corporations.

  • C-Corporations: C-corporations are independent of their owners. There is no limit on the number of shareholders in a C-corporation. C-corporations are taxed on shareholder dividends and corporate profits.
  • S-Corporations: An S-corporation is also independent of its owners. Owners report their share of the profits and losses on their own personal income tax returns. There are limitations to the number of shareholders with this structure.

When choosing your business structure, you need to keep a few considerations in mind. If you have multiple owners, a partnership is a good route to take. If you want to protect your personal assets but don’t want a higher tax rate, consider establishing an LLC. If you plan to raise large amounts of capital in the future, a corporation might work best for you. You can learn more about what business structure best fits your needs by consulting with an attorney or accountant.

Get Business Insurance

Do I need business interruption insurance

Business insurance is critical for the protection of your business. From property insurance that protects your office building to liability insurance that safeguards you from lawsuits, there are a few different types of business insurance to consider for your consulting business.

General Liability Insurance

If you operate a brick-and-mortar business, you need general liability insurance. This protects your business in the event that something happens to a client on your property. For example, if a client slips and falls in your office, they could file a lawsuit against you. With general liability insurance, you won’t have to pay all associated costs out-of-pocket.

Professional Liability Insurance

Professional liability insurance is also known as errors and omissions (E&O) insurance. This type of insurance protects you from lawsuits that may be filed by clients. Let’s say that you consult with a client on a project, and the project ultimately ends up failing. The client believes that the failure of the project was your fault and files a lawsuit. If you have E&O insurance, attorney’s fees, settlement expenses, and court costs will be covered up to the full amount of your policy.

Worker’s Compensation

If you have employees, worker’s compensation is another type of insurance your business needs. Worker’s compensation covers the medical expenses, wages, and legal fees of an employee that is injured on the job or suffers a work-related ailment. Most states require all W2 employees to be covered under worker’s compensation insurance, but laws vary by state.

Commercial Property Insurance

If you have a commercial property for your consulting business, consider getting commercial property insurance to protect your assets. This type of insurance protects you from losses that may occur from burglary, fire, or natural disasters.

Separate Personal & Business Expenses

It may be tempting to simply use your own personal bank account and credit cards for your business. Since the business is yours, there’s no harm in mixing your business and personal finances, right?

Actually, the wisest move is to keep your business and personal finances separate. One of the most important reasons for doing this is because it will make filing your taxes much easier. Imagine that the deadline is ticking to file your return with the IRS, and you (or your accountant) are stuck spending hours separating business and personal records. If you’re audited after filing, having separate records for business and personal income/expenses will make the process go much more smoothly.

Keeping your business and personal finances separate is also helpful in limiting your liabilities from creditors. If there is no clear separation between you and the business, creditors could potentially use your personal assets for unpaid debts and obligations, even if your business is structured as a corporation or LLC.

Separation of personal and business expenses is also important for building your business credit. If you’re using your own personal credit cards, you may increase your personal credit score. However, this won’t affect your business credit history. If you plan on applying for business loans in the future, boosting your business credit profile is critical to qualifying for higher loan amounts and the best rates and terms.

The first step to separating your business and personal finances is to open a business checking account. This bank account can be used for depositing money, writing checks to vendors, making online payments, and keeping an eye on the expenses and income of your business. To open an account, you will need your EIN, Social Security Number, business address, and business license. You may also need other documentation, such as a copy of the articles of incorporation on file with your state.

Even though you can keep an eye on your finances through your business bank account, it’s also important to set up a dedicated accounting system for your business. This will allow you to closely keep track of the money coming in and going out of your business. You may opt to hire a bookkeeper for this task, or you can use accounting software to track everything yourself. We’ll go into more details on this type of software a little later.

Finally, you can apply for a business credit card to cover recurring expenses for your business, such as your lease or utility payments. Using and paying off your business credit card responsibly will help strengthen your business credit profile.

Unsure of which card is right for you? Start with these recommendations.

Chase Ink Business Cash

Chase Ink Business Cash



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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


15.49% – 21.49%, Variable

The Chase Ink Business Cash card rewards you just for using your card on business expenses. You can receive 5% cash back on internet, cable, phone services, and purchases from office supply stores. However, this is capped at the first $25,000 spent each anniversary year.

You can also earn 2% back on purchases at gas stations and restaurants. This is also capped at the first $25,000 spent per anniversary year.

For the rest of your purchases, you can take advantage of unlimited 1% cash back rewards. As a new cardholder, you can receive a bonus of $500 cash back if you spend $3,000 within 3 months of opening your account.

This credit card has a 0% introductory APR for the first 12 months. After the introductory period, interest rates are 15.49% to 21.49% based on creditworthiness. There is no annual fee associated with this card.

Additional benefits for Chase Ink Business Cash cardholders include free employee cards, purchase protection, and extended warranty protection. You must have excellent credit to qualify for this credit card.

Spark Cash Select For Business

Spark Cash Select From Capital One


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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


15.24% – 23.24%, Variable

Capital One’s Spark Cash Select for Business is designed for borrowers with excellent credit scores. One of the standout features of this card is the unlimited 1.5% cash back you receive just by using your card. You can cash out your rewards at any time.

If you become a new cardmember and spend $3,0000 within the first 3 months of opening your account, you’ll receive a $200 cash bonus.

You’ll also be able to enjoy a 0% introductory APR for the first 9 months. After the introductory period, your APR will be from 15.24% to 23.24% based on creditworthiness. This card does not have an annual fee, and you can receive employee cards at no cost.

Seek Business Funding

One of the best things about setting up your consulting business is that you may be able to get started with very little capital. Ultimately, though, this depends on the goals of your business. For example, if you plan to only consult with clients online, you can work right out of your home office. This eliminates the need for a dedicated commercial office, which comes with expenses such as monthly rent and utility payments.

On the other hand, you might want to open a brick-and-mortar business immediately. This would require more capital from the start. Even if you start small, you may later expand your business by purchasing or leasing a larger building and hiring employees.

Whether you start off big or you plan to grow in the future, you’ll need capital. In some cases, you may be able to use your revenue to fund your expenses and growth. In other instances, you’ll need a financial boost from a business lender.

Fortunately, there are many financing options out there if you know where to look. Let’s explore the types of funding available to you, along with our lender recommendations.

Personal Savings

If you would prefer to not work with a lender, using personal savings is an option available to you. If you use your own money, you don’t have to worry about making payments to a lender. You’ll also save money because you won’t pay interest or fees that are charged by a lender. On the downside, if your business isn’t successful, you risk losing your savings.

Friends & Family

Have a friend or family member with cash to invest? Pitch them your business idea and let them know why investing in you is a great idea. Have your business plan in hand and present your ideas to them just as you would any other lender. If they decide you’re worth the investment, make sure to get everything in writing to protect all parties.

There are two ways to get loans from someone you know. You can choose debt financing, which means that you’ll make payments toward your principal balance plus interest on a regularly scheduled basis, just like a traditional loan. Or you can receive money in exchange for ownership in your business – also known as equity financing. While you won’t have to repay immediately, your friend or family member will collect a share of the profits over time. Depending on your agreement, they may also have some level of control in the decision-making process of your business.

Unsure of which route to take? Learn more about debt vs. equity financing to determine which option is best for your business.

Rollovers As Business Startups (ROBS)

What if there was a way to get the capital you need to start or grow your business without taking on debt? Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? But with a rollovers as business startups (ROBS) plan, you can do just that. The only catch? You have to have a qualifying retirement plan.

Early withdrawal of your retirement funds results in penalties. However, a ROBS plan allows you to leverage your funds without having to pay these penalties.

With a ROBS plan, you set up a new C-corporation. Then, you create a retirement plan for your newly created corporation. Next, you roll over funds from your existing retirement plan. These funds can be used to purchase stock in your new business, providing you with the capital you need to start or expand your business.

The best part of a ROBS plan is that you’re using your own funds. This means no debt, no interest or fees, and no repayments to a lender. However, you are putting your retirement funds at risk if your business fails.

Recommended Option: Guidant Financial

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Pre-qualify

Many small business owners that get capital through a ROBS plan hire a ROBS provider to do the heavy lifting. Guidant Financial is a ROBS provider that can help you get started.

To set up a ROBS plan with Guidant Financial, you need to have a retirement plan or pension account with at least $50,000. Most plans qualify, including:

  • 401(k)
  • 403(b)
  • Traditional IRA
  • Keogh
  • TSP
  • SEP

Guidant Financial can help you roll over up to 100% of your account balance. In addition to having a qualifying plan, you must also meet these requirements:

  • Must be an employee of the business
  • Must have a business to fund

You can use your funds for any business purpose, whether you’re buying an existing business, funding startup costs, or paying expenses related to expansion.

To get started, you must pay a $4,995 startup fee. Since this isn’t a loan, you won’t have to make debt repayments. However, you will have to pay a monthly administration fee.

If you don’t qualify for a ROBS plan or you’re seeking other types of funding, Guidant Financial offers other options including Small Business Administration (SBA) loans, unsecured business loans, and equipment leases.

Lines Of Credit

A line of credit is one of the most flexible forms of financing. This is a type of revolving credit (similar to a credit card) that allows you to make multiple draws. As you repay your principal balance (plus fees and interest), funds will become available to use again. Fees and interest are only charged on the borrowed portion of funds.

With your line of credit, you can initiate draws as needed. Once you draw funds, they’ll be transferred to your bank account and are available to use in 1 to 3 business days in most cases.

You can spend up to and including the credit limit set by your lender. Most lines of credit can be used for any business purpose but are particularly useful for unexpected expenses, filling revenue gaps, or covering extra expenses due to a seasonal increase in business.

Recommended Option: Fundbox

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Fundbox is a lender that has lines of credit up to $100,000 for qualified small business owners. The lender charges set draw fees starting at 4.66% of the borrowing amount. You can choose to repay Fundbox over terms of 12 or 24 weeks, and payments are automatically deducted from your linked business checking account.

You can be approved instantly and put your line of credit to work for you immediately. Once you initiate a draw from your account, funds will hit your bank account within 1 to 3 business days.

Qualifying for a Fundbox line of credit is easy. The minimum requirements are:

  • Must have a business checking account
  • Must have a U.S.-based business
  • At least 2 months of activity in accounting software or at least 3 months of transactions in your business bank account
  • At least $50,000 in annual revenue

Your credit limit will be based on the performance of your business.

Equipment Loans

Whether your consulting business is home-based or you operate out of a commercial property, you will need some equipment to get started. Some equipment you may need for your business includes a computer, printer, office furniture, and computer software. If you don’t have the funds available in your bank account, consider applying for equipment financing.

Equipment financing is a type of funding used to purchase equipment, furniture, and fixtures for your business. Equipment loans can also be used to purchase a commercial vehicle if one is needed to drive to meet your clients if you don’t want to take out an auto loan. There are two types of equipment financing available: equipment loans and equipment leases.

With an equipment loan, you’ll make regularly scheduled payments to a lender over a set period of time, such as five years. Each payment will be applied to the principal – the amount you borrowed – as well as fees and interest charged by the lender. Once you’ve made all payments as scheduled, the equipment belongs to you. You can continue to put the equipment into use or sell it.

With equipment leases, you also make scheduled payments to a lender. However, your lease terms are typically a few years shorter. Once you’ve made all scheduled payments, you return the equipment and sign a new lease for new equipment. You never truly own the equipment, but this is a good option for anyone that wants to update their equipment every few years.

Recommended Option: Lendio

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Lendio isn’t a direct lender. Instead, it’s a loan aggregator that can connect you with its financing partners to help you get the best financing offer for your situation.

One of the financial products offered through Lendio is equipment financing. You may qualify for funding of $5,000 to $5 million for the purchase of your equipment. Loan terms are 1 to 5 years with interest rates starting at 7.5%.

Your funds can be used for almost any equipment purchase, including software, furniture and fixtures, and even appliances and HVAC units for your office.

To qualify, you must meet these minimum requirements:

  • Time in business of at least 12 months
  • At least $50,000 in annual revenue
  • Personal credit score of 650 or above

If you don’t meet these requirements, Lendio may still have an option for you. Just fill out a quick application to find out what you can qualify to receive. Lendio also offers additional financial solutions, including SBA loans, lines of credit, term loans, and startup loans.

Personal Loans For Business

If you’re a brand-new business, you may not qualify for other financing options. This is because lenders look at annual revenue, business credit profile, and your time in business to determine if you’re a risky borrower. If you don’t meet these qualifications, you won’t be able to get affordable small business funding.

However, there is an alternative solution. You can apply for a personal loan to use for business purposes. With this type of financing, a lender considers your personal credit history and income to determine if you qualify.

In most cases, you can use a personal loan for business for any purpose, from purchasing needed equipment to hiring new employees, using as working capital, or paying startup costs.

Recommended Option: Upstart

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Upstart personal loans are available in amounts from $1,000 to $50,000. APRs range from 7.54% to 35.99%. Repayment terms are 3 or 5 years.

Upstart’s lending partners consider more than just your credit score when determining whether to approve your loan. Your years of credit, education, area of study, and job history are also considered during the application process.

To qualify for an Upstart personal loan, you must have:

  • Personal credit score of 620 or above
  • Solid debt-to-income ratio
  • No bankruptcies or public records
  • No delinquent accounts or accounts in collections
  • Less than 6 inquiries in the last 6 months

Business Credit Cards

We’ve already discussed business credit cards earlier as part of keeping your business and personal accounts separate. Business credit cards are great to have on-hand for unexpected expenses or recurring expenses for your business.

You can even score rewards just for using your credit card. Look for a rewards card that offers cash back or points to use toward perks like travel to get the most out of your card.

Recommended Option: Spark Classic

Spark Classic From Capital One


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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


25.24%, Variable

Capital One’s Spark Classic for Business card is available to business owners with average credit. This card offers a 25.24% variable APR and no annual fee. Using your card responsibly helps build your business credit profile so you can qualify for other cards and financing offers in the future.

You can earn unlimited 1% cash back on all purchases with no minimum required to redeem. Other benefits include fraud coverage and alerts and employee cards at no additional cost.

Choose Business Software

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Choosing the right business software can help you run your consulting business more efficiently. The first type of software you should invest in is accounting software or an online bookkeeping system. This allows you to keep track of your income and expenses, run financial reports, send invoices, and access your financials for tax purposes. As your business grows, you may opt to hire a bookkeeper or accountant, but in the beginning, you may be able to tackle this task yourself using the right accounting software.

New to accounting? Download our free ebook, The Beginner’s Guide to Accounting, to get a handle on the basics.

You’ll also need software that’s used for managing clients — from keeping updated contact information all in one place to setting and tracking appointments. There are programs designed specifically for consultants that offer client management, project management, tasks, and other features.

To accept payments other than cash, you’ll also need payment processing software. This software communicates between your bank and the bank of your client, allowing you to accept debit cards, credit cards, and other forms of payment. If your business is going to be based solely online, you can sign up for an online payment solution.

Finally, if you plan to do online consulting, you must invest in video conferencing software. There are multiple options available — some at no cost and others that charge a monthly fee.

Set Your Rates

In order for your business to be successful, you have to have revenue. Without revenue, you won’t be able to pay your expenses or the salaries of yourself or your employees. Without revenue, you also won’t be able to grow your business.

To make sure your business is successful and profitable, you need to set your rates. This can be a balancing act for most consultants. If you set your rates too high, it may scare away potential clients. If you shortchange yourself and set your rates too low, clients may not take you seriously or you might not bring in enough revenue to cover your expenses.

To set your rates, first decide how your pay structure will look. You have three options: per project, hourly rates, and retainers.

If you charge per project, you will need to figure out how long the project will be, what expenses may be incurred, and other factors. You may choose to bill for the entire project or break it down into monthly payments.

You can also charge an hourly rate. Take a look at your expenses and determine how much you would need to charge to be profitable. Also, be aware that the higher your rate is, the more your clients will expect from you. If you have the credentials, training, and education to justify charging $500 per hour, your clients will have high expectations of what you’ll provide.

Finally, you can also work on a retainer basis. With a retainer, you will work a specific number of hours for one set monthly fee.

When calculating your rates, make sure to list all of the expenses of your business. You will need to make at least enough revenue to cover these costs.

You also need to find out what your competitors are charging for their services. You can do this by going online to their websites, checking out their brochures, or making a quick phone call. Unless you have an obvious advantage over other consultants in your area, you want to make sure that your fees are competitive.

Bolster Your Web Presence

webbased

Prospective clients are going to have a difficult time finding you if you don’t have a web presence. This doesn’t mean that you have to invest thousands of dollars in setting up a fancy new website. However, you do need to have at least a basic website and social media profiles to provide clients with critical information about your business.

You can get started by setting up free social media pages on sites including Facebook and Twitter. Your pages should include your contact information, the services you offer, and office hours. As your business grows, you can post news and updates, videos, photos, and other media to draw in clients.

You also need to set up a company website. You could pay a web designer, but at this stage, you can certainly tackle the task yourself. Easy website builders make it simple to set up your website in just minutes, even if you’ve never created a website before. Make sure that you include your contact information, areas served, and the services you offer. If you have any credentials or training, add that information to your website, as well.

Later, you can add additional features to your website, such as videos, online appointment scheduling, and client testimonials.

If you want to learn more tips and tricks, check out our article on creating and maintaining your online presence.

Market Your Business

business loans for HVAC

Building your web presence is one way to get your name out to the public, but you should also implement a marketing and advertising campaign to further boost your business. The strategy you choose is based on a number of factors, including your marketing budget and your goals for the campaign.

One great way to market your business is through Facebook ads. You can easily set your budget and select your target audience. It only takes a few minutes to get your Facebook ads up and running. Learn more about social media marketing for your business.

Another advertising method you can use is a newsletter. Your newsletter doesn’t need an over-the-top design. Instead, a simple newsletter with important information is most effective. Use your newsletter to discuss current industry trends, current news about your business, and other relevant information. You can send a physical newsletter by mail, but this comes with costs including paper and envelopes, printing, and postage. A more affordable option is to offer an email newsletter. Make sure to include a sign-up option on your website and social media pages.

Another idea is to print up brochures for your business. Your brochure should include your services, your value proposition, the industries you serve, and biographical information, such as your credentials or training.

You can also take your knowledge and leverage it as a guest speaker at an event. You can speak at dinners, luncheons, and other functions for industry events or service organizations. If you don’t want to be a public speaker, you can attend industry events and network with potential clients. Networking is key to running a successful consulting business.

Cold-calling is also a way to attract new clients. Prepare your script before calling local businesses that could use your services. The goal of cold-calling is to get a meeting with the decisionmaker to sell yourself and your services to gain a new client.

Finally, word-of-mouth advertising is one of the easiest ways to bring in business. Satisfied clients that tell their friends, family, and colleagues about you or who take the time to write a referral or testimonial that you can use on your website can help drive more clients to your business.

Final Thoughts

Sharing your knowledge and expertise with others can be extremely lucrative if you know how to set up your consulting business. With careful planning — selecting your niche, setting your fees, and effectively marketing your business — you’ll have a better chance of reaching new clients and meeting your financial goals. Good luck!

The post How To Start And Fund A Consulting Business: The Step-By-Step Guide appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Yahoo! Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

Yahoo! Website Builder Review_ Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

Yahoo! Small Business Website Builder is known as an all-inclusive website builder that’s tailored to helping small business owners get up and running online quickly and easily. They’re also known for offering responsive websites, which means the site fits on any device (i.e. a tablet, phone, computer).

See Yahoo’s Current Plans & Pricing

Recently, I gave Yahoo! a try for a full Yahoo! review. But before I get into the pros and cons of my Yahoo! Website Builder review, let’s dive into an overview about tools to build a website.

There are so many considerations to take into account when choosing a website builder — and really, there are a thousand ways to get what you want in the end in terms of functionality, convenience, pricing, etc. The thing to remember is: whether you’re building a simple personal website or running a business, the way you build your site has a lot of consequences.

In the long-term, it affects your versatility, functionality, and, of course, your brand. In the short-term, it can certainly add/take away a lot of headaches. That said, just like choosing a physical house or office, there is no such thing as an absolute “best” or “top” choice. There’s only the right choice relative to your goals, experience, and circumstances.

What Is Yahoo! Website Builder?

On the wide spectrum of website building solutions, Yahoo! lives on the end that is all-inclusive and provides everything you need to get started and grow your website. It contrasts with solutions where you buy, install, and manage all the “pieces” of your website separately.

Using Yahoo! is sort of like leasing and customizing an apartment in a really classy development instead of buying and owning your own house. You’re still in control of decor, cleaning, and everything living-wise – but you leave the construction, plumbing, security, and infrastructure to the property owner. That point is key because there’s usually a direct tradeoff between convenience and control.

Everything may fit together just right with a website builder like Yahoo!, but that may or may not be what you’re looking for.

As far as competition, Yahoo! competes with all-inclusive website builders like GoDaddy, Wix, Squarespace, Jimdo, and WordPress.com  (and Shopify for online stores).

Compared to their direct competition, they focus on speed, ease of use, and responsive design (again, web jargon for making your website mobile device-friendly). Yahoo! offers several website templates you can customize, and it also allows you to build your own pages from scratch using their premade sections that you can drop onto the page.

One other quick aside – a disclosure – I receive referral fees from all the companies mentioned in this post. My opinions & research are based on my experiences as either a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.

Pros of Using Yahoo! Website Builder

Here’s what I found to be the pros of using Yahoo! website builder — not just in comparison to direct competitors like GoDaddy and Wix, but as an overall website solution.

Straightforward Sign Up Process

One of the biggest pros of using Yahoo! Sitebuilder is how easy it is to get up and running on the platform. It’s basically just two steps — pick your theme, enter your information to create your account, and you’re in! Yahoo! automatically sets you up with their free plan, so you don’t even have to pull out a credit card.

Yahoo Sign Up Process

This is great for DIYers who want to get up and running as quickly as possible without the hassle of creating a detailed account, selecting a niche, etc.

Template Design / Functionality

Yahoo! also offers a wide selection of template designs that are responsive (AKA they look good on a mobile device, tablet, and computer). There are a wide variety of options to choose from, and all of the templates are really well designed.

Yahoo Website Options

Yahoo! Site Builder isn’t technically drag-and-drop (you choose from premade sections and “drop” those onto your page), but it is fairy intuitive to use. You can customize the styles on the page (like fonts and colors), and you can add premade sections and blocks, but you don’t get the ability to add elements willy nilly.

I did like how the software automatically matches a new “section” to your overall theme for you, so you don’t have to worry about changing the fonts and colors to match what you already have.

Yahoo Apply Website Style

The whole setup is like painting by numbers.

There are obvious drawbacks to this setup, which I will cover in the disadvantages, but it is a real advantage to having limited but accessible design options. It makes Yahoo! Site Builder a great option for small business owners / DIY-ers who want a website that looks professionally designed without having to hire someone to build something custom or spend much time tweaking the design themselves.

Free Starter Plan

Another benefit Yahoo! Site Builder is their free starter plan. In comparison to their direct competitors, Yahoo!’s free plan is fairly extensive.

While some website builders cap your pages or even your access to support with a free plan, Yahoo! offers unlimited pages, support, and even built-in SEO functionality on a page-by-page basis.

Yahoo SEO Elements

There are some cons with the free plan, such as limited storage, having to use a subdomain (ex: yourname.yahoosites.com), and extremely limited integrations — but if you’re looking for a simple site for a short-term project, this could be a solid option.

Some Product Integration

Another benefit of Yahoo! Site Builder is their product integrations. Aside from offering DNS and hosting services, Yahoo! also offers email functionality in their paid plans.

Yahoo Plan Options

You can also get ecommerce functionality, but Yahoo! separates ecommerce websites into an entirely different category (“stores” instead of “websites”) with their own unique pricing plans — which we’ll touch more on in a bit!

Cons

Of course, no review would be complete without looking at the downsides. Every piece of software will have complaints. Let’s look at the specific cons I found with using Yahoo! as your website builder.

Pricing + Plans

While Yahoo! is fairly easy and convenient for DIYers and small businesses, they do leave a lot to be desired when it comes to pricing. All of their plans come with storage caps, which means you’re limited to the photos, documents, files, etc. you store on your website.

It’s confusing to having ecommerce websites in an entirely different category. These websites come with different pricing plans, functionality, and specifications.

On the one hand, this is fine if you know that you want to build a shop from the get-go. But if you wanted to start with a website then add on ecommerce functionality, this structure makes it more complicated.

Yahoo Ecommerce

Limited Feature Set – Design

With any technology product, there is almost always a trade-off between convenience and control (think Android vs. iOS)

And you can really see this trade-off with the Yahoo! website builder. The convenience of their design setup is great. It’s straightforward and fast, and puts your focus on getting your content into a premade template. You can add pages and sections based on your specific needs, but for the most part, it’s got everything you need.

However, if you want to go anywhere beyond the basics of design, you are limited with the builder. You can’t add anything within the premade sections, you can’t create your own sections, and the elements you can change on the overall template are fairly limited.

Yahoo Design Functions Limited

If your website is growing, or becoming a bigger part of your business, the design limitations can be crippling. And unlike other website builders that attempt to solve this issue through apps, extensions, or access to the website code or HTML, there is no outlet for a Yahoo! website builder website (in fact, it reminds me a bit of Google Sites).

Limited Feature Set – Technical

The limitations on design also bleed over into technical limitations.

Technical limitations are features that you don’t know that you want until you want them, and then you find out you can’t have them.

These are things like integrations with Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Google Ads, social sharing options, blogging, and a whole host of every intermediate to advanced marketing tools on the internet. Now, as I mentioned above, Yahoo! does give some integrations, like DNS / hosting services and email on their paid plans. They also allow you to insert code into the header of your website for things like analytics tracking (even on their free plan).

Yahoo Site Header Code

However, there are a ton of technical features that Yahoo doesn’t provide or that are extremely limited.

For example, let’s look at Yahoo’s SEO features. I can edit the page title, description, and keywords for the site, as well as edit the visibility. But aside from that, I’m pretty locked in to what I have. There’s no options for sitemaps, Schema, Open Graph settings – much less highly advanced options.

Yahoo SEO Limits

Even the additional add-0n products are limited. There’s not much to address marketing your site, aside from adding code for Google Analytics and Facebook Analytics or putting code into the header of your website.

Ultimately, Yahoo! leaves much to be desired when it comes to product integrations and additional technical features that can help you better market your website.

Ownership & Company Structure

My team, my clients and I have seen and worked with a lot of different software companies. One thing that I’ve noticed over the years is that companies have to follow not only the demands of their current customers, but also the demands of their business model. A company might be “good” or “bad” right now, but to know how they’ll be in a few years, it pays to spend a couple minutes thinking about their business model and how they’ll evolve to meet customer and market demands.

For example, anyone who understands that Facebook’s customers are their advertisers, not their users, can understand how & why they do the things they do. There is no inherently “bad” or “good” business model. Every model has tradeoffs. It just pays to know where you, the customer, fit in the picture, especially when you are building something as critical to your business as your website.

Yahoo! Small Business is a division of Oath, now called VerizonMedia. During the break-up and sale of Yahoo! in 2017, Yahoo! Small Business was bundled with other Yahoo! properties like Tumblr, Yahoo! Mail and bought out by Verizon, the American telecommunications giant.

In other words, Yahoo! Website Builder is a product of a division of a subsidiary of one of the largest corporations in the world.

That makes the 5 year outlook of Yahoo! Website Builder…complicated.

The potential upside is that if Verizon gives Yahoo! Small Business budget, resources, autonomy and a super-smart leader…Yahoo! Small Business could have the best products and best pricing on the Internet.

The huge downside is that if Yahoo! Small Business gets lost in the shuffle of corporate bureaucracy, then they could end up like Tumblr (another VerizonMedia property) where they’ve bled engineers, killed brand equity, and sent users fleeing for other solutions.

But in all likelihood, Yahoo! Small Business will probably end up like Blogger. A fine product, but one that is treading water within a much larger organization, especially compared with direct competitors who are either publicly-traded & focused on the SMB market (like Wix or Gator) or private & founder-driven like WordPress.com or Website Creator.

Yahoo! Review Conclusion

Yahoo certainly makes getting a website up and running easy, and given how intuitive it is to use, it makes the platform an okay choice for small business owners who need something that’s simple.

Check out Yahoo’s plans here.

However, like most all-inclusive website builders, there does come a point where there’s a tradeoff between convenience and control, especially when you factor in price. Yahoo’s pricing leaves something to be desired, especially when you get into the higher priced plans and take into account the technical limitations, even with the higher priced options. If you’re looking for something that offers more control and scalability, you’re better off elsewhere.

Not sure Yahoo fits your needs? Check out my quiz to find what the best website builder is for you based on your preferences.

The post Yahoo! Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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How To Start And Fund A T-Shirt Business

In the world of fashion, trends come and go, but a few select pieces stand the test of time. One piece of clothing that’s found in almost any wardrobe is the t-shirt. From comfy shirts made for the gym to shirts with trendy designs worn for a night out with friends, t-shirts are a staple for men, women, and children.

T-shirts are here to stay, so why not capitalize on this fashion staple? Whether you have a degree in fashion design or you just want to become an entrepreneur, starting your own t-shirt business could be the opportunity you’ve been looking for.

In this guide, we’ll take a look at what it takes to get your own t-shirt business off the ground. We’ll start with basics such as designing and printing your shirts. We’ll discuss the importance of registering your business. Then, we’ll look at startup costs, as well as how you can get the capital you need to start your business and keep it operating. Finally, we’ll look at ways you can advertise your business to bring in customers and revenue.

Ready to take the leap into entrepreneurship? Read on to find more.

Design Your Shirts

Before you begin selling t-shirts to the masses, you have to create designs that people want to buy. The first step is identifying your target market. Are you going to sell t-shirts to men, women, children, or a combination of the three? Are your t-shirts going to be more fashionable, or are they better suited for lounging around the house or hitting up the gym?

Once you’ve identified your target market, it’s time to think about the designs you’ll use. Let’s say that your t-shirts are aimed at the active man or woman. Your designs should incorporate fitness or motivational graphics. You can also determine other features of your shirts based on your target audience, such as the type of material used. If your shirts are designed for the fitness-minded consumer, for example, select a moisture-wicking fabric.

Your t-shirt designs don’t have to be overcomplicated as long as they appeal to your target audience. The key, though, is to make sure your designs are completely original. Not only does ripping off other designs make you look like a copycat, but you could face some serious legal issues if you use the artwork or designs of others without permission.

It’s also important to remember that sometimes a design may be a complete flop. Even the most well-known fashion designers in the world have released items that weren’t a hit with their devoted fans. If one design isn’t doing the job, try something else until you find what works best for your target audience.

Also, it doesn’t matter whether or not you have any design experience. As long as you have some ideas, you can hire a designer to bring your visions to life.

Decide How To Print Your Shirts

Once you have your designs, it’s time to think about how you’re going to bring the design from your computer or tablet screen to the front of a t-shirt. In other words, you need to decide how to print your shirts.

First, you’ll need to determine the method you’ll use to print your shirts. Screen printing is one option; it is a tried-and-true method that allows you to add long-lasting graphics to t-shirts. Screen printing is best for creating large batches of shirts since the initial setup is so time-consuming. Printing smaller batches is not cost-efficient with this method.

Another thing to note is that screen printing is best for very simple designs. Complex designs or multiple colors in one design can be problematic. If you have a more complicated design or pattern, consider direct-to-garment printing.

Direct-to-garment printing works similar to your color printer at home or at the office. The DTG printer prints directly on the t-shirt. With this method, you can use multiple colors and print complicated designs and patterns. Shirts printed with a DTG printer can be extremely detailed.

Setting up a DTG printer isn’t difficult or time-consuming. However, the actual printing process does take some time, so this method is best for smaller batches of t-shirts.

Another option to consider for printing your t-shirts is using a heat transfer machine. These machines transfer designs from heat transfer paper to the t-shirt. Full-color images can be printed using the heat transfer method, and you can easily print shirts on-demand. However, the quality is often lower and the design far less durable than using the other printing methods.

Regardless of which method you choose, there are two ways you can go about printing your shirts. You can use a third-party printing service or you can purchase the equipment and do it yourself. Let’s review the benefits and drawbacks of each.

Hiring A Third-Party Printer

Many t-shirt businesses do not do the printing themselves. Instead, these businesses hire a third-party service to handle the printing for them. There are a few benefits to hiring a third party to print your shirts. The first is that you won’t have to make an upfront investment in expensive printing equipment. You also won’t have to learn how to use the equipment or spend time running it.

However, there are some drawbacks to using a third party. You’ll have to shop around to find a printing company that provides high-quality workmanship. You don’t want your customers receiving t-shirts with graphics that fade or crack or that fall apart after the first wash. Many companies offer low-cost samples so you can check the quality before placing a larger order.

You also need to shop around and compare the pricing of different t-shirt printing companies. Some companies only fill bulk orders, which could put you at a disadvantage if you want smaller batches.

If you plan to only sell your designs online, you can work with an on-demand dropshipper. Once an order is placed on your website, the dropshipper will print and ship out the order to your customer. Before choosing a dropshipper, it’s necessary to place your own order to check out the quality of the shirts. You also need to evaluate pricing to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck. The major disadvantage to using a dropshipper is that if an order is wrong, slow to ship, or not printed correctly, the blame will fall on your shoulders, even if you don’t have control over any of these issues.

Purchasing Your Own Equipment

The alternative is to purchase equipment and print your own t-shirts. The advantage of this is that you have total control over both the quality and the number of shirts that are printed.

The major drawback, of course, is that t-shirt printing equipment is very expensive. Expect to spend at least a few hundred dollars for a heat transfer machine. If you want a DTG printer, expect to pay tens of thousands of dollars. You will have to pay for ink and maintenance of your machine. In some instances, you may be able to lease equipment to save on upfront costs.

You also have to take the time to learn how to properly use the equipment or train someone else to take on the job.

Decide How To Sell Your Shirts

Now that you’re closer to getting your shirts designed and printed, it’s time to decide how you plan to sell your items. You can set up an online shop, open your own brick-and-mortar store, or bring your designs to local stores in your area. You may also maximize profits by combining these selling tactics.

One of the easiest sales methods is to open an online shop. Customers can browse your designs and make their purchases directly online. You can ship out the orders yourself, or you can work with a dropshipper to make t-shirts on-demand when an order is placed. This option has low startup and overhead costs.

You can also open your own brick-and-mortar store. While you’ll be able to reach customers in your local area, this option has much higher startup and operating costs. Expenses may include rent for your commercial property, utilities, fees for business licenses and permits, and equipment. You’ll also have to purchase inventory to keep in stock. If you go this route, make sure to consider your local area. For example, if you live in a remote area, you may not have a large customer base. However, if you live in a thriving city or popular tourist destination, opening your own brick-and-mortar store may be a profitable venture.

The third option is to print out smaller batches of your t-shirts and network with local boutique and business owners in your area. With this method, you won’t have to pay for your own commercial space, but you will have to give the business owner a cut of your profits.

To determine what is right for your business, keep a few things in mind. Is this going to be your full-time job, or are you just trying to make a little extra money on the side? If you don’t plan on devoting yourself full time to your t-shirt business, stick to an online shop or sell your t-shirts through other businesses and boutiques.

Calculate Startup Costs

Once you have an idea of the direction you want your t-shirt business to take, you can start thinking about startup costs. The route you’ve chosen with your business will determine how much your startup costs will be.

If you plan to open a brick-and-mortar business, you’ll have expenses including a rent or lease payment, equipment and furnishings, utilities, a point-of-sale system, and inventory. Unless you plan to do all of the work yourself, you also have to hire employees. If your business will be based solely online, your costs will be much lower — think shipping costs, plus the price of a website, software, and ecommerce platform subscription fees.

Startup costs vary significantly based on the goals of your business. You can start big with a brick-and-mortar shop and may pay tens (or even hundreds) of thousands of dollars to launch your business. Start a smaller online shop, and you can get started for as little as a few hundred dollars to launch your website and register your business.

Register Your Business

You’ve started laying the groundwork for your t-shirt business, and now it’s time to make everything legal. The first step is to determine what type of business structure you will form. The business structure you select will determine how much you pay in taxes, as well as whether or not you will be personally liable for the debts and obligations of the business.

Sole Proprietorship

Sole proprietorships have one owner. These are the fastest and most inexpensive business entities to form and do not require registering with the state. The drawback is that sole proprietorships are not separate legal entities, so you will be personally responsible for the liabilities of the business. It may also be difficult to obtain a loan or raise capital as a sole proprietor.

Partnership

A partnership has two or more owners. A general partnership is the simplest form and does not require registration. General partners will be held liable for the debts, obligations, and liabilities of the business.

You may also consider starting a limited partnership, which has a general partner and limited partners. Limited partners are not responsible for the liabilities of the business.

Finally, you may choose a limited liability partnership, where all partners are limited partners and are not responsible for the liabilities of the business.

Corporation

A corporation is the most complex business structure. As a corporation, you will pay taxes at the corporate rate. Shareholders also pay taxes on dividends, resulting in double taxation. Corporations have ongoing requirements, such as electing a board of directors and holding annual meetings.

While a corporation is more expensive and complicated to form, this is the best structure if you see a large expansion in your future. As a corporation, you can sell stock to shareholders to raise large amounts of capital.

Limited Liability Company

A limited liability company, or LLC, combines benefits of different business entities. Like a corporation, business owners in an LLC are not personally liable for the debts and obligations of the business. However, LLCs do not have to pay corporate tax rates or face double taxation. LLCs also do not have ongoing requirements like corporations.

The type of business structure you select ultimately depends on the needs of your business and your future plans for growth. If you want to build a clothing brand that’s known around the world, choose a corporation or LLC structure. If you just want a smaller online shop that helps pay your bills, a sole proprietorship may be the way to go.

Once you’ve determined your business structure, you may be required to register with your state. Sole proprietorships and partnerships may file for a DBA (“doing business as”) under a fictitious name known as a trade name.

Depending on the type of t-shirt business you plan to operate, you may be required to obtain business licenses and/or permits from state and local agencies. Fees and requirements vary by state. You can contact local agencies including your City Clerk, Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, and state Department of Revenue to learn more about the business licenses and permits required for your business.

Finally, you also need to register for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the Internal Revenue Service. This is required if you plan to hire employees now or in the future. Many business lenders may also require an EIN when you apply for funding. If you’re a sole proprietor, you may opt to use your Social Security Number in lieu of an EIN.

Seek Business Funding

“It takes money to make money,” as the old saying goes. As the owner of a t-shirt business, the amount of money you need to start and operate your business will vary according to your business model. If you have a small online shop, for example, your funding needs won’t be as great as if you’re operating a brick-and-mortar store.

Even if you have startup costs covered, there may come a time when you need additional capital for emergencies or operating expenses. If you can’t fund these costs out-of-pocket, it’s time to apply for small business funding. Whether you turn to someone you know or apply with an online lender, there are several financing options available for your business.

Friends & Family

Know a friend, family member, or colleague looking to invest in a new business? Pitch them your business idea. Prepare your presentation carefully to let them know why your idea is a winner. In general, you have two options for getting funded by someone you know. The first is to take out a loan. Your friend or family member provides you with a set sum of money that is repaid over a period of time — along with interest. This is known as debt financing.

The next option is a strategy known as equity financing. With equity financing, an investor provides you with the capital you need to cover startup costs or operational expenses. In exchange, the investor receives ownership in your business. While you may not be required to immediately pay back the investor’s capital, they will be able to take a portion of the profits over time. They may also have some level of control when it comes to important business decisions.

No matter which route you take, always make sure everything is in writing and signed by all parties. Then, uphold your end of the bargain. Nothing can make a good relationship go south faster than a business deal gone wrong.

Small Business Loans

With a small business loan, you can receive a lump sum of money that you repay over time. In addition to repaying your principal loan balance, you’ll also pay the lender interest and/or fees. You’ll make regular payments to the lender, which may be daily, weekly, monthly, or on another schedule.

Small business loans can be used for any business purpose, including funding an expansion, purchasing equipment for your business, or for use as working capital.

Recommended Option: LoanBuilder

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You can fully customize your small business loan when you work with LoanBuilder. The LoanBuilder Configurator allows you to adjust your repayment terms and borrowing amount to create the right loan for your business.

Through LoanBuilder, you may be eligible to borrow up to $500,000. All loans come with one single fixed fee of 2.9% to 18.72% of the borrowing amount. Your fee is determined by the performance of your business and your credit history. Loans are repaid weekly over terms of 13 to 52 weeks.

To qualify for a LoanBuilder loan, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Time in business of at least 9 months
  • At least $42,000 in annual revenue
  • Personal credit score of 550 or above

Vendor Financing

As you build your t-shirt business, you’ll establish relationships with vendors and suppliers. In an ideal world, you’d always have money in your bank account to cover the costs of your inventory and supplies. However, this isn’t always the case. An emergency expense that depleted your account, a seasonal uptick in sales, or some other challenge may leave you struggling to pay your vendors upfront.

Many vendors do not offer their own credit programs, but there are lenders that offer vendor financing. With vendor financing, your vendors will be paid the full amount for their products or services while you’re able to pay off the expense over time. This prevents you from having to pay the full cost out-of-pocket for the inventory, supplies, and services you need to keep your business running smoothly.

Recommended Option: Behalf

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Behalf provides vendor financing of up to $50,000 to qualified borrowers. You can repay your loan on a weekly or monthly schedule for up to 6 months.

Behalf charges a monthly fee for its service. Fees start at 1% and are based on the creditworthiness of the borrower. There are no additional fees to receive financing through Behalf.

There are no minimum credit scores, annual revenues, or time in business requirements, although a soft inquiry will be performed when you apply. You must have a U.S.-based business and a U.S. business bank account to qualify. Funds from Behalf can’t be used to fund existing debt, such as credit card bills or payroll.

Lines Of Credit

A line of credit is a flexible financing option that allows you to access capital on demand. Instead of receiving one lump sum, a lender sets a credit limit. You can initiate multiple draws up to and including this credit limit. Once a draw is initiated, the lender will transfer the funds to your business bank account. Then, you will repay the money over time, along with any fees and/or interest charged by the lender.

Since a line of credit is a revolving form of credit, funds will be replenished as you pay off your balance. This allows you to have continuous access to capital when it’s needed. A line of credit can be used for any business purpose, including funding emergency expenses, purchasing inventory, or using as working capital.

Recommended Option: Lendio

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Lendio is a loan aggregator that gives you access to over 75 small business lenders with just one application. One of the financing options available through Lendio is a business line of credit.

Through Lendio, you may qualify for a line of credit from $1,000 to $500,000. Rates range from 8% to 24%. You could receive funds in as little as one week after you submit your application.

To qualify for a line of credit, you must meet these requirements:

  • Time in business of at least 6 months
  • At least $50,000 in annual revenue
  • Personal credit score of 560 or above

If a line of credit isn’t what you’re looking for, Lendio offers additional financing options, including:

  • Short-Term Loans
  • Equipment Financing
  • Business Credit Cards
  • Commercial Mortgages
  • Merchant Cash Advances
  • Startup Loans

Merchant Financing

If you need working capital and you use a service like PayPal to receive your payments, you may qualify for merchant financing.

Merchant financing is a short-term loan option for ecommerce businesses. Typically, qualifying is based on the performance of your business. The lender will provide you with a loan that is repaid over time with interest and/or fees.

Funds can be used for nearly any business purpose, from covering an emergency expense to buying more inventory or using as working capital.

Recommended Option: PayPal Working Capital

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If you accept payments through PayPal, you may qualify for the PayPal Working Capital program. Through this program, you can receive up to 35% of your annual PayPal sales as a loan. Your first loan can be up to $125,000.

PayPal Working Capital charges one set fee based on your sales history, the repayment percentage of your choice, and the loan amount. On days when no sales are made, no payments will be deducted. However, you must pay at least 5% to 10% of your total loan amount every 90 days.

To qualify for PayPal Working Capital, you must meet these requirements:

  • Have a PayPal Business or Premier account for at least 3 months
  • At least $20,000 in annual PayPal sales for Premier accounts or at least $15,000 in annual PayPal sales for Business accounts
  • No more than $20 million in annual PayPal sales

Business Credit Cards

Business credit cards work exactly like personal credit cards. The lender provides you with a set credit limit. You can use your card anywhere credit cards are accepted up to and including the credit limit.

The lender charges interest and fees on your balance until it is paid off. You do not have to pay off your balance in order to continue using the card provided you haven’t met your credit limit. A business credit card is a revolving form of credit, so as you pay down your balance, funds become available to use again.

Business credit cards give you on-demand access to capital whenever you need it. You can use business credit cards to pay for an emergency, purchase inventory, or buy equipment. You can also use your credit card to pay for recurring expenses, such as utility bills or software subscription fees.

Recommended Option: American Express SimplyCash Plus

SimplyCash Plus Business Credit Card from American Express



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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


14.49% – 21.49%, Variable

The American Express SimplyCash Plus card puts a new spin on credit cards. This is because this card allows you to spend over your credit limit without any fees. You can also receive cash back on all purchases – even if you’re over your limit.

The amount you can spend over your credit limit is based on your usage of the card, payment history, credit profile, and other factors. If you go over your limit, you simply need to pay the amount over the credit limit each month as part of your minimum payment. There are no fees for exceeding your credit limit.

With the SimplyCash Plus card, you can receive up to 5% cash back on your purchases. Wireless phone services and office supply store purchases yield 5% cash back on the first $50,000 spent each calendar year. You can also choose one category to receive 3% cash back on, such as advertising, shipping, hardware, or software purchases for the first $50,000 spent each calendar year. All other purchases receive 1% cash back.

There is no annual fee associated with this card. You’ll also receive a 0% introductory rate for the first 9 months. After that, variable APRs range from 14.49% to 24.19% and are based on creditworthiness.

To qualify for the American Express SimplyCash Plus card, you must have excellent credit.

Recommended Option: Spark Classic For Business

Spark Classic From Capital One


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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


25.24%, Variable

Don’t have perfect credit? Consider applying for Capital One’s Spark Classic for Business credit card. This rewards card gives you unlimited 1% cash back on all of your business purchases. There is no annual fee, and the card has a variable APR of 25.24%.

Additional benefits of Spark Classic for Business include free employee cards, fraud coverage, and extended warranty protection. This card also allows you to build your business credit so you can qualify for additional financing options in the future.

Applicants must have a fair credit score to qualify for the Spark Classic for Business card.

Choose Business Software

You’re one step closer to launching your business. Now, it’s time to choose the software you need to run your business effectively and efficiently. Some of the business software programs you may need for your t-shirt business include:

Bookkeeping Software

Bookkeeping software allows you to keep an eye on the financials of your business. With this software, you can easily track your business expenses, accounts receivable, and payroll. Many bookkeeping programs also allow you to track other aspects of your business, such as inventory.

With bookkeeping software, you’ll always know where your business stands financially. You’ll be able to run and print reports as needed, which may be required when you apply for business financing. Having all transactions reported in bookkeeping software can also help you prevent headaches when tax time rolls around.

No accounting experience? No problem! Check out The Beginner’s Guide to Accounting.

Payment Processing Software

If you plan to accept credit cards or other methods of payment, you will need payment processing software. Your payment processor will act as the communicator between your bank and the bank of your customers, allowing you to process credit cards, debit cards, and other forms of payment.

Point-Of-Sale System

If you want a more sophisticated way to manage your sales, you’ll need a point-of-sale (POS) system. A POS system not only includes credit card processing, but it also offers additional features including barcode scanning, inventory tracking, printing receipts, and reports and analytics.

Mobile POS systems allow you to use your app or smartphone to accept payments and keep your business running efficiently. There are also more advanced systems that include hardware such as monitors, keyboards, printers, cash drawers, and scanners.

Advertise Your Business

You’re almost to the finish line and ready to open your doors … or your online business. Before you launch, though, it’s time to think about advertising. After all, if no one knows about your t-shirt business, how are you going to make any sales? Don’t wait until after you launch to spread the word about your business — start right now with these advertising tactics.

Social Media

From middle schoolers to your own grandparents, it seems like everyone is on social media these days. Use this to your advantage to let potential customers know about your t-shirt business.

The great thing about social media is that setting up your profiles is absolutely free. You can also get started in just minutes. Set up pages for your business on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and/or Pinterest. Include critical information about your business on each profile including your contact information, website and/or online shop link, and photos of your t-shirts. Later, you can use your profile to share news about your business and new products, advertise sales, or host giveaways.

You can also look into advertising on social media. You can purchase ads for any budget and customize your target audience to get your name out to potential customers.

Another option to consider is talking to social media influencers. Social media influencers recommend products to thousands of followers, helping companies drum up new business. If an influencer wears your shirt and links to your website, you could see an influx of customers.

Some businesses will send a free sample of their products to social media influencers. While this does mean some out-of-pocket costs for you, the exposure you could receive could be well worth the small expense.

Want to learn how to take your social media marketing to the next level? Learn more in our Guide to Social Media Marketing.

Build Your Website

In addition to your social media profiles, you also need a website to build your web presence. Website builders make it easier than ever for you to create your own professional website. You can also easily build an online shop with today’s modern ecommerce platforms.

When you build your website, make sure that it is designed to appeal to your target audience. Don’t forget to include information on your website such as contact info, details on your products, and clear photos of what your business offers. As you build up your website, you can include additional information and features such as online chat options, FAQs, news and updates, and reviews and testimonials.

Word Of Mouth

Never underestimate the power of word-of-mouth advertising. The trick to this one is simple: provide high-quality products and exceptional customer service. If someone buys one of your t-shirts and is pleased with the quality, they’ll be proud to wear it and tell others about your business. If the shirt was poorly made or customer service was lacking, they’ll also tell others.

Word of mouth advertising is an easy and free way to get the word out about your new business. And don’t be afraid to toot your own horn. If someone gave a great review, share it on social media and your website. Don’t be afraid to ask customers to give their feedback, but don’t be pushy. Also, learn to accept criticism. Not all of your reviews and feedback will be glowing. Instead of taking offense, learn from it. Where is your business lacking? How can you make sure that each customer that purchases your t-shirts is fully satisfied? Never stop trying to improve your business, and always provide the best products and customer service to keep your customers coming back for more.

Final Thoughts

Owning and operating your own t-shirt business can be fun, exciting, and lucrative, but don’t be fooled … a lot of hard work is necessary to make your business a success. Don’t rush the process. Instead, take the time to plan out your business, create unique designs, and provide high-quality products and service that will draw customers to your business.

Want to learn more about starting your own business? Download our small business guides for the information and tips you need to launch your business venture.

The post How To Start And Fund A T-Shirt Business appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Vistaprint Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

When you think of Vistaprint, you probably think of business cards — which is what the company is known for and has been since their founding in 1995. But did you know Vistaprint offers other marketing materials for small business owners — like a website builder?

Actually…

You probably do know that, because you are likely in the middle of checking out and got their website builder offer. And you thought “is the Vistaprint website builder actually good?” And so, you stumbled on this post.

Well I thought the same thing while buying a few business cards. So, I went ahead and gave Vistaprint a try for a small project for a full Vistaprint Website Builder Review.

But before I get into the pros and cons of my review, let’s get a bit of background on building a website in general.

Check out Vistaprint’s Current Plans & Pricing

There are so many considerations to take into account when choosing a website builder — and really, there are a thousand ways to get what you want in the end in terms of functionality, convenience, pricing, etc.

The thing to remember is: whether you’re building a simple personal website or running a business, the way you build your site has a lot of consequences.

In the long-term, it affects your versatility, functionality, and, of course, your brand. In the short-term, it can certainly add/take away a lot of headaches. That said, just like choosing a physical house or office, there is no such thing as an absolute “best” or “top” choice. There’s only the right choice relative to your goals, experience, and circumstances.

What Is Vistaprint Website Builder?

On the wide spectrum of website building solutions, VistaPrint lives on the end that is all-inclusive and provides everything you need to get started and grow your website. It contrasts with solutions where you buy, install, and manage all the “pieces” of your website (ie, domain, hosting, software) separately. I wrote a post on Website Builders, Explained for more background.

Using Vistaprint is sort of like leasing and customizing an apartment in a really classy development instead of buying and owning your own house. You’re still in control of decor, cleaning, and everything living-wise – but you leave the construction, plumbing, security, and infrastructure to the property owner. That point is key because there’s usually a direct tradeoff between convenience and control with all software, but especially with website builders.

Everything may fit together just right with a website builder like Vistaprint, but that may or may not be what you’re looking for.

As far as competition, Vistaprint competes with all-inclusive hosted website builders like GoDaddy, Site123, Weebly, Wix, Squarespace, Gator, WordPress.com, and others.

Compared to their direct competition, they focus on speed and ease-of-use to cater to small business owners with little website experience, and rely heavily on their existing customer base when promoting their website builder product through customized marketing (more on that in a bit!).

Instead of operating like a traditional drag-and-drop website builder, Vistaprint uses website “blocks” that you can drag and drop into your template to customize it.  They also offer a “done-for-you” service where they’ll handle creating your website for you. It’s an incredibly intuitive platform, making it a great choice for DIYers who need to create a website quickly without having any website experience.

Continue reading “Vistaprint Website Builder Review: Pros, Cons, and Alternatives”

How To Start And Fund A Catering Business: The Step-By-Step Guide

Does serving delicious food to a crowd of partygoers sound like a dream? Do you want to take your love of desserts to weddings and other special events? If so, becoming a professional caterer could be the right career path for you.

Sure, you could search your local job listings to find a catering position, but wouldn’t it be great to be your own boss? If creating your own menu and serving up delicious food and beverages at events interests you, why not start your own catering business?

Maybe it’s been a lifelong dream to operate your own catering business. Or maybe you just love to cook and want to turn it into a career. Whether you’ve already taken steps to launch your own business or you don’t know quite where to start, this post is for you.

In this article, we’re going to explore exactly what it takes to start and fund your own catering business. We’ll start by discussing how to create a business plan and why a plan is a necessity for a successful business. Then, we’ll delve into the expenses you’ll encounter and how you can cover those costs. We’ll also talk about choosing your business structure, building your web presence, and advertising methods that can bring in new customers.

Ready to go? Let’s get started on your path to entrepreneurship!

Create Your Business Plan

What Information to Bring Accountant for Small Business Taxes

Starting a business without a detailed business plan is similar to taking a cross-country trip without a GPS or a map. In short, it’s not a wise move. Your business plan should not only include details about your business in the present — your management team and your mission statement, for example– but it should also serve as an outline for how your business will hit future targets.

Your business plan acts as a blueprint, outlining how your company will become successful and profitable. For that reason, your business plan won’t look exactly like the plan of another business — even one within the same industry. However, even though details may vary, there are a few common sections that can be found in all business plans. Those include:

  • Executive Summary: Describes the content of the business plan
  • Overview: Includes background of the business, legal structure, and other key details
  • Industry Analysis: Overview of the industry, including the size, nature, and any current trends
  • Competitive Analysis: Overview of your competition
  • Marketing: An outline of your marketing strategy and how you’ll reach customers
  • Operations Plan: Description of the operations of your business
  • Management: Bios and skills of your management team
  • Financials: An overview of current and future revenues

Your business plan not only helps you hit your goals, but it’s also critical when it’s time to obtain financing. Banks, nonprofit lenders, and even some alternative lenders may require a business plan as part of a loan application, especially for startup loans.

Pick Your Niche

While it may be tempting to try to cater for every event in your area, you’re going to stretch yourself thin … and likely set yourself up for failure. Instead of trying to offer services to everyone, pick a niche.

You may already have an idea in mind. For example, maybe it’s always been your dream to be a wedding caterer. Be sure to also consider the type of food you like to make. If you prefer to make salads, sandwiches, and other lighter fare, consider catering for business or school functions, luncheons, and other daytime events. If you prefer to serve fancier entrees, consider catering for weddings and special events.

Another step to take before selecting your niche is to do some market research in your local area. Where are there gaps in catering availability? What niche is overcrowded with the competition? You may find that there a large number of wedding caterers already in your area. Unless you can bring something new to the table (being the only caterer to serve Southern-style barbecue, for example), you might want to consider filling a different customer need.

There are a wide variety of catering niches to consider, including:

  • Weddings
  • Corporate Events
  • Adult Parties
  • School Events
  • Children’s Parties
  • Festivals
  • Sports Events

With an idea of your niche and the type of food you need to prepare, you can move into the next step: planning your menu.

Create Your Menu

KDS Kitchen Display System

Once you have a niche in mind, you’ll be able to narrow down your menu choices. Let’s face it — if you’re planning to focus on children’s parties or school functions, you won’t exactly need filet mignon on the menu.

You also want to consider what type of food you’re experienced at making. While you can certainly test out new ideas in the future, you want to put your best foot forward when starting out. You also want to offer a variety of options while keeping your menu at a manageable size. Having a menu with too many items or items that contain ingredients that are difficult to source could cause unnecessary stress for you and your clients.

It’s also important to remember those with dietary restrictions. Consider adding a few options to your menu that are vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, or dairy-free to help expand your customer base.

Performing a test run or two can help you further improve your menu. Once you have your menu in place, test it out on a few friends and family members. Get their honest feedback on where you excel, as well as where you fall flat. Tweak recipes as needed, change techniques to become more efficient, and be honest with yourself about what works and what doesn’t. Then, alter your menu accordingly.

Source Your Ingredients

After you create your menu, you’ll have a better idea of the ingredients needed to prepare your food. When you first get your business off the ground, you may be able to get the ingredients you need by purchasing from a wholesale club in your area. However, as your business grows larger and you have more events to cater, you’ll want to purchase your ingredients from other sources.

You can get fresh produce from local farmers. Start building these relationships by visiting your local farmers’ market. You can also build relationships with restaurant suppliers and food service vendors to purchase bulk ingredients at reduced prices.

Calculate Startup Costs

In many states, you will be unable to use a residential kitchen to prepare your food. If you plan to cater from home, you must contact the health department in your area to find out more about the regulations of home-based catering businesses, including inspection and permit requirements.

In most cases, you’ll need to rent space for your kitchen. There are two ways to go about this.

The first is renting your own commercial space. This is the more expensive option but is a necessity if you plan to cater full time.

If you only plan to cater events occasionally or on weekends, you may be able to rent a commercial kitchen for a few hours on the days when you need it. This is a more affordable option since you won’t have to invest in equipment, but it’s not ideal for full-time caterers.

If you aren’t renting space in a kitchen that’s already stocked, you’ll also need industrial equipment that is used to prepare your food. Some of the items you’ll need include:

  • Commercial Ovens
  • Stoves
  • Deep Fryers
  • Sinks
  • Refrigerators
  • Walk-In Freezers
  • Mixers & Blenders
  • Pots & Pans
  • Knives
  • Cooking Utensils & Tools
  • Storage Containers
  • Dishwasher

You’ll also need equipment that you’ll bring on-site for serving and keeping food at the optimum temperature, including:

  • Serving Dishes & Trays
  • Serving Utensils
  • Chafing Dishes
  • Carving Stations
  • Grills
  • Heat Lamps
  • Soup Kettles
  • Beverage Dispensers
  • Coffee Station

An additional cost to add to your list is a catering van. This van will be used to transport your food and equipment to venues. You may save money initially by purchasing a used vehicle. However, you need to ensure that you know the complete history of the vehicle. You may also incur additional costs if your used vehicle needs repairs soon after purchasing it.

Some caterers also provide table settings, glassware, and utensils, but this adds to your initial investment. You may also provide additional items for your events, including chairs and/or chair covers, tablecloths, and centerpieces, but again, this will add to your startup costs.

Before starting your business, sit down and make a list of your total expenses. You can tailor the list to your own business. For example, if you don’t serve fried food, you won’t have to invest in deep fryers. If you specialize in only desserts, you may have pastry tools, cake displays and stands, and bakeware sets on your list.

Once you’ve made your list, start shopping around to get an idea of costs. Check out prices online or visit local commercial kitchen equipment and supply stores. Once you have an idea of how much funding you need, it’s a smart idea to add about 30% to those costs to prepare for the unexpected. For example, if you’ve priced everything at $100,000, apply for a loan of $130,000 to make sure all of your bases are covered.

Register Your Business

Before you begin catering to clients, you need to register your business with federal, state, and local agencies.

First, you need to think of a business name. Brainstorm ideas to find a name that’s catchy and is a reflection of your brand. When you’ve come up with a great name, check your Secretary of State’s website to ensure that this name is not already being used by another business.

Next, you will need to select your business structure. This is an important step because your business structure determines how your business is taxed and your personal liability for debts incurred by the business. The types of business structures include:

Sole Proprietorship

This business is owned and operated by one person. This is the easiest business structure and does not require registration. Setting up a sole proprietorship is easy. However, this structure does not provide you with any protection against the debts and liabilities of your business.

General Partnership

This type of legal structure is made for businesses with two or more owners. These are the easiest to create, have a low cost of operation, and the fewest requirements. No state filing is required for a general partnership.

Limited Partnership

This is another type of structure for businesses with more than one owner. General partners in a limited partnership have unlimited liability. The remaining partners – limited partners – have limited liability. In most cases, the personal assets of limited partners are protected from being used to satisfy the liabilities and debts of the business.

Limited Liability Partnership

This type of structure is designed for professional service businesses. Personal assets of any partner can’t be used to cover the debts and liabilities of the business. However, all partners in an LLP are liable for their own acts, such as medical malpractice.

Limited Liability Company

An LLC is separate from its owners. This type of legal structure protects owners from personal liability without the higher tax rates and stricter requirements of corporations.

Corporation

Owners in a corporation are protected from personal liability for the debts of the business. Corporations are the most difficult to set up. However, it is necessary to choose this business structure if you plan to sell stock or raise large amounts of capital in the future.

The type of business structure you choose for your catering business will vary based on the number of owners and your plans for the future. Consult with an accountant or attorney to learn more about your options and which is best for you.

After you choose your business structure, you will need to register with the state where you will operate. You can register through your state’s Secretary of State website. Application and fee requirements vary by state. If you plan to offer services in more than one state, you will need to register with each state.

Another important step in registering your business is obtaining an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS. This is a necessary step if your business will have employees now or in the future.

Get Permits & Licenses

After registering your business, it’s time to apply for the permits that you need to legally operate your business. It’s necessary to do this early in the game, as it may take weeks or even months to receive your required permits.

State and local laws surrounding permit and license requirements vary. Some of the permits and licenses you may need to legally operate your business include:

  • Business Licenses
  • Health Permits
  • Food-Handling Licenses
  • Liquor Licenses

You can contact the local health department, the state Alcoholic Beverage Control board, and other state and local agencies to learn more about the licenses required in your area, how to apply, and any applicable fees.

When working with food, you also face inspections from your local health department. The temperature of prepared and stored food, waste disposal, and the safety and condition of your cooking equipment are just a few of the things that will be inspected periodically.

Get Business Insurance

Protecting your catering business is important, and there’s no better way to protect yourself and your business than with business insurance. As a caterer, there are multiple insurance options to consider.

General liability insurance protects you from lawsuits that occur during events. This type of insurance covers physical injuries, property damage, and even damage to your reputation.

Another type of insurance to consider is errors and omission insurance, also known as E&O insurance. This insurance protects you from lawsuits that may be filed if a mistake is made. For example, if a client warns of an allergen and you include an ingredient that triggers an allergic reaction, this insurance would protect you from a potential lawsuit.

Property insurance should also be a consideration. This insurance protects your equipment, fixtures, and other property from damage or theft.

If you have employees, you will also need worker’s compensation insurance. This covers medical costs and lost wages from employees when they are injured or become sick. This also protects your business from lawsuits as a result of injuries.

If your business serves alcohol, you may also be required to carry liquor liability insurance, which protects your company from alcohol-related lawsuits.

Insurance requirements vary by state. Talk to your local insurance agent to find out more about the laws in your state and to create a personalized insurance policy for your new catering business.

Seek Business Funding

We’ve already reviewed many of the costs you’ll encounter when opening your own catering business. Now, it’s time to determine how to pay for those costs. Whether you have money in the bank or your bank account is looking a little slim, there are financing options available for you. Start your search with these options.

Personal Savings

If you’ve been putting away money into a savings account, now may be the perfect time to withdraw your funds. The great thing about personal savings is that you won’t take on debt with a lender. This means no payments, fees, or interest. The downside, though, is that if your business goes downhill, it may take your savings with it.

Friends & Family

Consider taking a loan from a friend or family member that’s willing to invest in a potentially lucrative new opportunity. Prepare your presentation, have your business plan in hand, and explain why your opportunity is worth investing in.

If you come to a mutual agreement, make sure to get everything in writing. It also goes without saying that this friend or family member should be treated like any other lender. That means paying back your loan as scheduled.

Instead of a loan, you may consider equity financing. In this scenario, your friend or family member would own part of your business. The major benefit is that you wouldn’t have to immediately start making loan payments. However, you would give over some ownership (and a slice of your future profits) and control over your business if you go this route. Undecided? Learn more about the pros and cons of debt vs. equity financing.

ROBS

If you have a retirement account, you may be able to leverage these funds for your new venture. Normally, if you withdraw before you reach a certain age, an early withdrawal penalty and income tax penalties apply. However, you can avoid these costs through a rollover as business startups (ROBS) plan.

A ROBS plan allows you to use your retirement funds for starting or expanding your business. Four steps are required to access your funds. First, a C-corporation is created. The next step is to create a retirement plan for the new C-corp. Then, you can roll over funds from your existing retirement account into your newly created plan. Finally, you will use these funds to purchase stock in your C-corporation, giving you access to the capital you need for your new business.

The process isn’t complicated, but there are rules you have to follow to ensure you maintain compliance. To take the guesswork out of ROBS, many aspiring business owners work with a ROBS provider. For a fee, ROBS providers will set up your ROBS account for you and will maintain it to ensure everything is done by the book.

Using your ROBS is a great way to fund startup costs. Other than a setup fee and a monthly maintenance fee charged by your ROBS provider, you do not pay additional fees. After all, you’re using your own money. However, if your business fails, you put your retirement funds at risk.

Recommended Option: Guidant Financial

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Guidant Financial can help you roll over your retirement funds into capital you can use for your catering business. In about three weeks, you can have the funds you need to start or grow your business with Guidant Financial’s ROBS plans.

To qualify, you must have a retirement account worth at least $50,000. Most retirement plans qualify, including:

  • 401(k)
  • 403(b)
  • Traditional IRA
  • TSP
  • SEP
  • Keogh

There are no credit score, time in business, or annual revenue requirements to qualify. However, you must have a business to fund, and you also must be an employee of that business in order to set up your ROBS plan.

Since you’re using your own funds, you don’t have to worry about monthly loan payments. However, you will have to pay a one-time setup fee of $4,995 followed by a maintenance fee of $139 per month to maintain your account.

In addition to ROBS plans, Guidant Financial also offers additional small business loan options including Small Business Administration loans and unsecured business loans.

Equipment Financing

As we discussed earlier, there is a lot of expensive equipment needed to start your catering business, from a catering vehicle to commercial kitchen equipment. A financing option to consider when you need new equipment is equipment financing.

With equipment financing, you can take possession of the equipment you need without paying the full cost up front. Instead, you’ll pay a down payment (typically 10% to 20% of the purchase price), then repay a lender in smaller, more affordable payments over time.

There are two main types of equipment financing to consider: equipment loans and equipment leases. With a loan, you’ll make a small down payment, then put the equipment into use immediately. You’ll make regular payments to the lender that are applied to the principal balance as well as interest and fees. Once you’ve repaid the loan as agreed, the equipment is yours to keep, sell, or trade.

The other type of equipment financing is an equipment lease. You’ll also pay a down payment and regular payments. However, at the end of your lease, you return the equipment. At this time, you can sign another lease for new equipment. This is a better option if you plan to upgrade your equipment frequently, although this option can be more expensive over the long term.

With equipment financing, you typically do not have to put up collateral. Instead, the equipment being financed is the collateral and can be seized by the lender if you don’t make your payments as agreed.

Recommended Option: Lendio

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Lendio’s network of over 75 lenders can provide you with up to $5 million to finance your equipment. Loan terms are between 1 to 5 years with rates starting at 7.5% for the most qualified borrowers. With some lenders, you can get your funding in as little as 24 hours. Some applicants may even qualify for 0% down financing.

To qualify for equipment financing, you must meet the following requirements:

  • At least $50,000 in annual revenue
  • Personal credit score of 650 or above
  • Time in business of at least 12 months

If you have credit challenges, you may still qualify provided you have proof of solid cash flow and revenue for at least 3 months.

The funds can be used to purchase the equipment you need for your catering business, including but not limited to commercial kitchen equipment, office furniture and fixtures, software, appliances, and commercial vehicles.

If you don’t qualify for equipment financing through Lendio’s network, you can shop around for other financing options. Through Lendio, you can apply for financial products including SBA loans, business credit cards, lines of credit, and startup loans.

Lines Of Credit

Running your own catering business comes with its challenges. Some challenges are expected — rushing around to cater a big wedding, for example — while others come when you least expect it. Whether it’s a slow season that has impacted your incoming cash flow, equipment that needs repairs, or an unforeseen emergency, even the most successful business face the unexpected.

For these times, it’s great to have a backup plan, like a flexible line of credit. A line of credit is different from a traditional loan because you don’t receive one lump sum that you immediately start repaying. Instead, a lender assigns you a credit limit — much like a credit card — and you can withdraw money from your line as needed.

Your line of credit is ready to use whenever you need it. You don’t have to immediately draw funds if there’s no need, and most lenders don’t charge fees if you don’t use your line of credit. When you do use your line of credit, you’ll repay your balance plus any fees and interest charged by the lender. Since this is a revolving form of credit, funds will be replenished and available to use again as you pay off your balance.

Recommended Option: Fundbox

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Fundbox offers lines of credit that can be used for any business purpose. One of the standout features of Fundbox is that the lender looks at the performance of your business — not just your credit score. Even if you’ve been turned down by other lenders in the past, you may still qualify for a Fundbox line of credit.

Through Fundbox, you may qualify for up to $100,000. Once approved, you can immediately make draws on your account. Repayment terms are 12 or 24 weeks, and rates start at just 4.66% of the draw amount. Weekly repayments are automatically deducted from your business checking account. There are no prepayment penalties, all remaining fees are waived if you pay off early, and there are never any fees if you don’t make a draw.

To qualify, you must meet the following minimum requirements:

  • At least $50,000 in annual revenue
  • Holder of a business checking account
  • At least 2 months of activity in accounting software OR at least 3 months of transactions in a business bank account

Business Credit Card

Another source of financing that’s great for covering unexpected expenses is a business credit card. A business credit card works just like your personal card. You can use your card online and in stores to make purchases anywhere credit cards are accepted. When you use your card, the lender charges interest on the borrowed portion of funds. If you don’t use your card, you aren’t required to pay interest. However, annual fees and other charges may apply.

Business credit cards are great for emergencies or for quickly resolving cash flow issues. You can also use your credit card for recurring expenses, such as gas for your catering van. If you go this route, apply for a low-interest rewards card that gives you cash back or other perks just for using your card.

Recommended Option: Chase Ink Business Cash

Chase Ink Business Cash



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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


15.49% – 21.49%, Variable

With Chase Ink Business Cash, you can earn rewards just for using your card to pay for your business expenses. Using this card gets you 5% cash back on the first $25,000 spent at office supply stores and on internet, cable, and phone services. You can earn 2% cash back on the first $25,000 used at gas stations and restaurants. These offers renew each year on your account anniversary. For all other purchases, you can earn unlimited 1% cash back.

New cardmembers can take advantage of a $500 cash back bonus offer when $3,000 is spent within 3 months of opening an account. This card also comes with additional benefits including purchase protection, extended warranty protection, and free employee cards.

There is no annual fee for the Ink Business Cash credit card, and it comes with a 0% introductory APR for the first 12 months. After the introductory period, the card has a variable APR of 15.49% to 21.49%.

This card is recommended for borrowers with good to excellent credit scores.

Vendor Financing

As a caterer, you’ll establish relationships with vendors. You’ll purchase your ingredients, supplies, and other necessary items from these vendors. Many times, you’ll purchase these items up front. Other times, however, you may need a little help in the form of vendor financing.

With vendor financing, a lender will pay your vendors up front so you can get the supplies necessary for running your business. You’ll then be able to spread your purchase out over several smaller payments. Like other financial products, you’ll pay fees and/or interest for the convenience. While the cost of borrowing may be higher than making a purchase up front, the extra expense may be well worth the cost if you’re in a financial bind.

Recommended Option: Behalf

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You can pay your vendors immediately without putting up the money up front by working with Behalf. Through Behalf, you can get up to $50,000 to pay your vendors. Then, you have up to 6 months to repay the lender.

Monthly fees start at 1% of the borrowing amount and are based on your creditworthiness. There are no origination fees, membership fees, or other hidden costs to borrow from Behalf.

There are no time in business, annual revenue, or credit score requirements to qualify. However, Behalf will perform a hard pull on your credit once you submit your application.

Personal Loans For Business

You have a solid credit score, but small business lenders won’t even give you a second glance. What gives?

Many small business loans have time in business and annual revenue requirements. This is fine when your business is already operating, but what do you do when you need a loan before you even open your doors? Try applying for a personal loan for business.

As a startup, you may find it challenging to qualify for a small business loan. However, you can use your own personal credit score and income to qualify for a personal loan that is used for business expenses.

These loans don’t have time in business, annual revenue, or business credit score requirements, so you can qualify even if you’ve not yet catered a single event. Personal loans are available for a wide range of credit scores. However, having a high credit score can help you qualify for the best interest rates and terms.

Recommended Option: LendingPoint

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LendingPoint specializes in personal loans, offering qualified borrowers $2,000 to $25,000. Rates range from 9.99% to 35.99% with repayment terms of 24 to 48 months. An origination fee of 0% to 6% of the borrowing amount may apply. Payments are made twice per month.

You can quickly and easily qualify for a LendingPoint personal loan. To receive an offer in just minutes, you need:

  • Proof of employment & income
  • Bank statements
  • Voided check
  • Driver’s license or government-issued ID

To qualify for a loan, you must:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Have a social security number
  • Have at least $20,000 in annual income
  • Have a verifiable bank account
  • Live in a state serviced by LendingPoint
  • Have a credit score of at least 585

Choose The Right Software

pos with raw ingredient tracking

From keeping track of events to accepting credit cards, the right software can help you do it all. As a caterer, there are several types of software you should consider investing in to keep operations running efficiently.

Accounting Software

This software allows you to perform functions such as tracking expenses, sending invoices to clients, managing payroll, and keeping up with inventory. With accounting software, you can keep up with your financials and run reports, which is especially helpful when you’re seeking financing from a bank or traditional lender. Accounting software also makes it easier for your business when tax time rolls around.

New to accounting? Download our free eBook, The Beginner’s Guide to Accounting.

Catering Software

There are specific software programs designed to help caterers manage all aspects of their businesses. Features include invoicing, billing, employee scheduling, event bookings, and other tools to keep your catering business on track.

Payment Processing Software

Not all of your clients will have cash, especially when they’re paying off large bills for their catering expenses. To make payments easier for your clients, invest in payment processing software. This software acts as the communicator between your bank and your customer’s bank, allowing you to accept debit cards, credit cards, and other methods of payment. Most payment processing software comes with monthly subscription fees, and some companies even offer free hardware that makes it easier than ever to accept multiple forms of payment.

Hire Employees

When you first start your business, you may be a one-man operation until you start bringing in revenue. However, you will eventually need to hire employees if you want to grow and scale. If you’re like many caterers, you may opt to hire an employee or two right from the start.

Employees that you may hire for your business — either now or in the future — include:

  • Chef: Your chef will be in charge of preparing the food. For large events, consider hiring sou chefs for additional assistance.
  • Servers: Bring food and drinks to guests
  • Bartenders: Serve alcoholic beverages to guests
  • Busboys: Responsible for clearing off tables
  • Host/Hostess: Help guests find their seats
  • Event Planner: Meets with the client to discuss details about the event
  • Supervisor: Ensures that other staff members are doing their jobs efficiently

Until your business grows and brings in revenue, you may opt to hire just a few staff members, such as a chef and a server. As your business gains more customers and becomes profitable, you can add additional employees to your staff.

Do your research to get an idea of the average pay range in your area for each position. It’s also important to remember that other expenses come with hiring staff, including workman’s compensation insurance, training costs, and benefits.

To find employees for your business, ask friends, family members, and colleagues for referrals. You may also post a job advertisement on online job boards. You can even contact local temporary agencies to find the help you need.

Bolster Your Web Presence

Your plans for a catering business are coming together, so now it’s time to start thinking about how you’re going to bring in clients. There’s no better place to start than the internet.

Just think about it. If you’re looking for a local company to work with, where is one of the first places you look? The internet, of course.

You can quickly build your web presence with these easy steps.

Launch Your Social Media Profiles

Social media is a great way to reach new customers, and best of all, setting up your profiles is free! Create business pages on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and/or Pinterest. Make sure to include critical details such as your contact information, service areas, and types of events catered. You can build up your profiles to include information such as menus, pricing lists, and photos of your food and past events.

An added bonus on social media is that you can communicate with potential customers through comments or direct messaging.

As you begin to grow your business, you can later invest in social media ads, but in the beginning, focus on getting your profiles up and running.

Want to get the most out of your social media profiles? Check out our Guide to Social Media Marketing.

Build Your Website

In addition to your social media profiles, you also need to build a website. This doesn’t have to be overly complicated. In fact, there are lots of website builders that make it easy to choose a template, customize your font and colors, and drag and drop images, text boxes, and tools — no design experience required.

Make sure that the design of your website reflects your branding. You also want to include important details, including the name of your business and contact details. You can also add additional features and information, including a live chat option, photo galleries, and reviews and testimonials.

Advertise Your Business

Boosting your web presence is a great start to advertising your business, but make sure that you don’t stop there. There are several ways that you can advertise your business — both online and off.

Fliers

Pass out or hang flyers advertising your catering services throughout your area. Make sure that you understand the regulations in your area surrounding posting and/or distributing flyers.

Online Ads

Purchase ad space on Facebook, pay-per-click ads on search engines, or even post advertisements on local online forums and social media groups.

Newspaper Ads

This is an oldie but goodie: pay for ad space in your local newspaper.

Attend Wedding Shows

Many cities and towns have bridal shows where vendors can advertise their services. Research events in your area, rent booth space, and advertise your business in-person to newly engaged couples.

Wedding & Event Websites

Submit your business information to wedding and event websites to draw in new customers.

Word-Of-Mouth

Word-of-mouth advertising is the best form of advertising. Ask your past customers for testimonials and reviews, and always make sure to go above and beyond to provide exceptional service.

Final Thoughts

Starting your own catering business is exciting but venturing out on your own can also be a little scary, especially if you lack business experience. However, you can be on track to owning and operating a successful catering business with careful planning, preparation, and strategic borrowing. Good luck!

The post How To Start And Fund A Catering Business: The Step-By-Step Guide appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Jimdo Review: Pros & Cons of Using Jimdo Website Builder

Jimdo Website Builder Review

Jimdo is known as an easy-to-use, all-inclusive website builder that is designed for people with no coding knowledge. They offer two options for website owners: a DIY builder that puts you in control of choosing a template and customizing it, or an AI website builder that uses artificial intelligence to build a template for you, then walks you through the various tweaks you can make.

See Jimdo’s Current Plans & Pricing

Recently, I gave Jimdo a try for a full Jimdo review. But before I get into the pros and cons of my Jimdo review, let’s dive into an overview about tools to build a website.

There are so many considerations to take into account when choosing a website builder — and really, there are a thousand ways to get what you want in the end in terms of functionality, convenience, pricing, etc. The thing to remember is: whether you’re building a simple personal website or running a business, the way you build your site has a lot of consequences.

In the long-term, it affects your versatility, functionality, and, of course, your brand. In the short-term, it can certainly add/take away a lot of headaches. That said, just like choosing a physical house or office, there is no such thing as an absolute “best” or “top” choice. There’s only the right choice relative to your goals, experience, and circumstances.

What Is Jimdo?

On the wide spectrum of website building solutions, Jimdo lives on the end that is all-inclusive and provides everything you need to get started and grow your website. It contrasts with solutions where you buy, install, and manage all the “pieces” of your website separately (ie, you buy a domain, hosting, and website software separately.).

Using Jimdo is sort of like leasing and customizing an apartment in a really classy development instead of buying and owning your own house. You’re still in control of decor, cleaning, and everything living-wise – but you leave the construction, plumbing, security, and infrastructure to the property owner. That point is key because there’s usually a direct tradeoff between convenience and control.

Everything may fit together just right with a website builder like Jimdo, but that may or may not be what you’re looking for.

As far as competition, Jimdo competes with all-inclusive website builders like Weebly, Wix, Squarespace, and WordPress.com.

Compared to their direct competition, they focus on using AI to create done-for-you templates and designs so you can focus on plugging in your content and getting up and running quickly.

They also offer a more traditional drag-and-drop builder for those who have more experience, making Jimdo appeal to beginners who have no design or development experience (think DIY-ers who need to create a website ASAP without having any website experience) and those who have a bit of website knowledge and want more customization abilities.

One other quick aside – a disclosure – I receive referral fees from all the companies mentioned in this post. My opinions & research are based on my experiences as either a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.

Pros of Using Jimdo Website Builder

Here’s what I found to be the pros of using Jimdo — not just in comparison to popular website builders like Weebly and Wix, but as an overall website solution.

Straightforward Sign Up Process

One of Jimdo’s best features is how quickly you can get up and running. Signing up for the platform is a simple process that involves creating an account, verifying your details through your email, and then choosing which website builder you’d like to use.

Jimdo Product Options

One thing to note here — if you’re looking for the easiest, most hands-off way to create your website, the AI web designer is probably your best option. It goes through a series of questions and then creates your website for you, but follows the process up with a detailed, step-by-step tutorial of how to customize your base template. It’s perfect for DIYers who are brand new to building a website.

Jimdo Tutorial

Simplicity

Jimdo is also seriously simple to use, which makes it hard to mess up your website design. Once you choose a template (or have one created for you with the AI builder), you’re pretty much locked in to the layout provided.

The DIY website builder is drag and drop, but it has it’s limitation — you can add new elements to the page, but only within the template structure you’re already given (and limited to the elements provided — but more on that in a bit).

Jimdo Editor

And if you’re using the AI builder, you’re given even more structure (with that comes limitations, but again — we’ll get there). With this option, you have less drag-and-drop and more choose from what they give you. You can customize the styles on the page (like fonts and colors), and you can add premade sections and blocks, but you don’t get the ability to add elements willy nilly.

AI Editor Jimdo

The whole setup is like painting by numbers.

There are obvious drawbacks to this setup, which I will cover in the disadvantages, but it is a real advantage to having limited but accessible design options.

Website Builder Options

Part of what makes Jimdo unique is they offer two design routes — you can either use their AI website builder, which gathers information for you and creates a template based on your answers to questions like “what is your website for?” and “what is your preferred design style?”. From there, Jimdo walks you through a step-by-step tutorial for customizing your assigned website template.

Jimdo AI Set Up

Or, you can take the DIY-approach. In this approach, you select your industry and are provided with a selection of website templates to choose from. Then, you can customize the template with Jimdo’s drag and drop editor. This method is slightly more advanced, but still straightforward and controlled enough to keep newbies in check.

DIY Jimdo

One thing to note if you’re going the DIY route — I found that your industry selection doesn’t matter. I was given the same templates to choose from whether I chose business or healthcare or skipped the industry question all together.

*One additional note here. When using Jimdo for the purposes of this review, I created an additional Jimdo account through a new browser window to go through the sign up process again, and was automatically assigned to the AI website builder. Of course, there’s always a chance for user error, but as a brand new, inexperienced customer to the platform… it was confusing. It’s a potential con for using the platform, but not because of the actual user experience of the builder — it’s just a bit confusing and unclear when signing up.

Some Product Integration

Another benefit of Jimbdo is their product integrations. Aside from offering DNS and hosting services, Jimdo also offers ecommerce functionality with their paid plan (one thing to note — in order to get ecommerce functionality, you do need to choose between the two higher-priced tiers.)

Jimdo Ecommerce

We’ll talk more about pricing in a moment, but just know that you could get the same (or better) functionality for less elsewhere.

European Presence

For U.S. users, this isn’t really a pro or a con, but for those in the EU, Jimdo’s European presence makes it a strong competitor.

Jimdo is a German company and operates data centers in Europe. As a European company, this means that Jimdo’s data protection and privacy standards are much stronger thanks to the EU’s new laws on data and privacy.

Additionally, if you are a US company who needs an EU microsite for an EU audience, Jimdo makes GDPR a bit easier than some website builders focused on the US market.

Cons

But of course, no review would be complete without looking at the downsides. Every piece of software will have complaints. Let’s look at 3 specific cons I found.

Plans + Pricing

Jimdo’s pricing and plan structure is a bit confusing. When first signing up, You can see that paid plans start at $9/month paid annually, which includes your own domain, free hosting but only a 10 page limit.

Jimdo Pricing

However, if you choose a free plan and want to upgrade (which I did), the pricing options appear differently from inside your account.

Jimdo Pricing Part Two

Aside from the convoluted information, the actual competitiveness of the plans and pricing structure leaves something to be desired (err, actually a *lot* to be desired).

Compared to competitors like Wix, Gator, and Weebly, Jimdo is more expensive and has more restrictive limits.

Their free plan doesn’t even offer mobile-friendly site design (a pretty standard design feature in today’s world), and you can’t get basic Search Engine Optimization features until their mid-tier plans. Even the mid-tier Grow plans has hard limits on the number of pages and on bandwidth usage (which to me seems like a double-limit). And I’m all for over-delivering on low expectations, but the support options are seriously deficient.

Plus, there’s no option to may monthly, so you’re locked in for a year.

In short, using Jimdo is going to be more expensive than going with a competitor and more restrictive due to the design and technical limitations (more on that shortly), regardless of whether you’re using it for a year or just a few months.

Limited Feature Set – Design

With any technology product, there is almost always a trade-off between convenience and control (think Android vs. iOS)

And you can really see this trade-off with the Jimbdo website builder. The convenience of their design setup is great. It’s straightforward, fast, and not confusing at all. It puts your focus solely on getting your content onto the premade template and adding additional elements within the template that may enhance your design / user experience.

However, if you want to go anywhere beyond the basics of design, you are limited with Jimdo. In the DIY website builder, you can edit the color, the font, and the general ‘feel’ of the design. You can also choose from a few variations of the template, which essentially just have different navigation styles.

Jimdo Template Variations

With pages, you can delete and add sections and move them around, but you cannot add a page unless you add it to the navigation. You can alter the layout, but you certainly cannot edit the CSS, much less add any other design element outside of the pieces they give you.

And if you’re using the AI website builder, you’re limited even further. As I mentioned above, you can add sections and elements based on pre-built blocks, but that’s about it.

The best way to describe it is a ‘paint-by-numbers’ set up. It’s great to have the basics, but if you want to do anything extra or outside of bounds, then you’re out of luck.

If your website is growing, or becoming a bigger part of your business, the design limitations can be crippling.And unlike other website builders that attempt to solve this issue through apps, extensions, or access to the website code or HTML, there is no outlet for a Jimdo website builder website.

Limited Feature Set – Technical

The limitations on design also bleed over into technical limitations.

Technical limitations are features that you don’t know that you want until you want them, and then you find out you can’t have them.

These are things like integrations with Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Google Ads, social sharing options, blogging, and a whole host of every intermediate to advanced marketing tools on the internet. Now, as I mentioned above, Jimdo does give some integrations, like ecommerce and DNS/hosting services. However, there are a ton of technical features that Jimdo doesn’t provide or that are extremely limited.

For example, let’s look at Jimdo’s SEO features. I can edit the page title and description for individual pages, as well as assign noindex, nofollow, or noarchive settings. But aside from that, I’m pretty locked in to what I have aside from editing the HTML in text sections on the page. There’s no options for sitemaps, Schema, Open Graph settings – much less highly advanced options.

Jimdo SEO Options

Even the additional add-0n products are limited. There’s not much to address marketing your site, aside from adding code for Google Analytics and Facebook Analytics.

Jimdo Analtyics

Ultimately, Jimdo leaves much to be desired when it comes to product integrations and additional technical features that can help you better market your website.

Jimdo Review Conclusion

Jimdo certainly makes getting a website up and running easy, especially if you need something that’s done-for-you and requires little customization (just choose their AI website builder). They have a straightforward user-experience and easy-to-use editor/customizer that makes getting your content out there a breeze.

Check out Jimdo’s plans here.

However, there are trade-offs to consider with an all-inclusive website builder — specifically functionality, customization, and control. And this is where Jimdo falls short when compared to other all-inclusive website builders. They’re severely limited when it comes to technical features and integrations, which means if you’re looking to create a website with a base template but still have some flexibility over functionality and enhancements, Jimdo may not be the best option for you.

Not sure Jimdo fits your needs? Check out my quiz to find what the best website builder is for you based on your preferences.

The post Jimdo Review: Pros & Cons of Using Jimdo Website Builder appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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The Step-By-Step Guide To Starting And Funding A Tutoring Business

The news cycle is full of hype about the “knowledge economy” but often light on details about how the average person can catch a piece of the tutoring action. Do you have a skill you’ve carefully honed over the years — or even one you have accidentally cultivated through repetition at your job? Don’t have state certification and six years of college handy? No worries; you don’t have to have an MA in education to be an effective teacher. One of the more accessible points of entry to a career in education is to teach those skills to other people via the increasingly lucrative tutoring industry.

Have you considered starting a tutoring business? Tutoring may be one of the easier avenues to make a little cash in the knowledge-selling economy, but expanding a part-time coaching gig to full-time, lucrative business can take a surprising amount of planning and resources. Not sure where to start? We’ll walk you through a step-by-step process for planning your tutoring business. We’ll also give you some ideas for where you can turn for funding when you need it.

Ready? Let’s go!

Pick A Tutoring Niche

Life is full of paradoxes, but one key part of thinking big is to narrow your focus. Creativity is as informed by limitation as it is by possibility.

As you would when starting any kind of business, think about where you can add value and what problems your skill set can solve. Are people in your area already doing what you’re planning to do? Is there an X-factor you could offer? A different spin on the familiar? Or is there a niche that’s unserved or under-served, particularly in your local area? For that matter, does your area have needs for specific skill sets?

Don’t have the skills or the local demand to create a flute tutoring business?

You can always fall back on subjects that are in high demand. Languages. Writing. Math. Science. And remember, each of these subjects can be broken down farther into sub-categories like algebra, chemistry, conversational Spanish, etc.

Another safe approach is to tutor students who are studying for standardized tests like the SATs, GREs, and LSATs or even trade certification tests like CompTIA A+ for IT technicians. The possibilities aren’t quite endless, but they are numerous.

Choose A Business Location

One of the great things about tutoring is that you can do it just about anywhere: at a dedicated business site, at a college library, at a coffee shop, at your home, or remotely over the internet.

Early on, your choice of location may not be critical–you can tailor your work environment to meet your own needs and the needs of your clients. Obviously, some of those options will disappear once your business gets large enough–your local coffee shop may or may not appreciate you using their space to run your business–so you’ll want to have a growth strategy in mind if you’re planning on turning your business into a tutoring empire down the road.

At the same time, you’ll want to avoid spending more on overhead than your business strategy requires. If you don’t need a brick and mortar space or a fancy interactive website right away, it may be best to hold off on those investments while you build your brand and reputation.

You’ll also want to consider the demographics of your clientele. Are they easily distracted teenagers who may have a hard time concentrating with a lot of background noise? Are they older adults who aren’t as tech-savvy as you are? Are they dependent on public transportation or parents to get to you? Does your subject matter require extra space for demonstrations? Are you working with clients with learning or physical disabilities? Are you going to need WiFi?

Keep all of these factors in mind when you’re considering a location for your tutoring business.

Create A Business Plan (If You’re Going Big)

If you’re going to be tutoring as a side gig, you can probably skip this part, but it’s not a bad exercise for anyone to try, even if they aren’t planning to incorporate anytime soon.

A business plan is simply a written, organized description of your planned business and business strategy. It’s your vision of how your business will develop, operate, and finance itself. It can also help show prospective financiers and grant-money sources that you’re organized and serious about your operation.

You can find a lot of guidance online about how to organize your business plan. Likewise, your local chamber of commerce and government economic development agencies (and similar organizations) often have resources you can tap.

A typical business plan includes the following:

  • Executive Summary
  • Company Description
  • Market Overview
  • Sales & Marketing Strategy
  • Operating Plan
  • Organizations & Management Team
  • Financials

Calculate Starting Costs

Once you have a basic idea of how your business will operate, it’s time to calculate your starting costs. Does your subject require materials, teaching aids, or similar items? Are you renting a workspace? Are you paying employees or subcontractors? Shelling out for a web host? Purchasing hardware or software? Buying insurance?

Some of these costs may be trivial enough to finance out of pocket, while others may require additional effort. As a new business owner, finding funding can be especially challenging. Many traditional sources of funding, bank loans in particular, usually aren’t available to businesses that are newer than two years old.

Funding Options For Tutoring Businesses

So what do you do if you need money? Here are some options:

Personal Savings

Obvious? Maybe, but tapping your personal savings has distinct advantages over going into debt. You may be accessing your rainy funds, but you won’t be losing additional money on interest payments.

Of course, you are taking a risk using your own money to finance your business. If your business fails, you’ve effectively lost that money. For that reason, and as a general best practice, it’s a good idea to separate your business finances from your personal ones.

Tap Your Support Network

Another option, especially if you don’t have much in personal savings, is to ask friends and family for a loan. Unlike a private lender, your support system probably isn’t trying to make a profit off of you.

Keep in mind that this comes with its own risks. You may stress your relationships, especially if you aren’t able to pay back these so-called friendly loans quickly. One way to avoid this is to formalize any agreements you make with friends and family so that everyone fully understands what they’re getting into and what the expectations are. You may even want to draw up a formal contract that outlines any expected payments and return on investment.

Credit Cards

One of the easier–and riskier–ways to fund your startup expenses is with personal or business credit cards (you don’t actually have to own a business to get a business credit card). Credit cards offer a lot of flexibility and convenience when it comes to making purchases. Even better, many credit cards offer reward programs that can actually save judicious users money.

However, keep in mind that credit cards carry very high interest rates on any balances you carry from month to month. Most business credit cards — and all personal credit cards — offer a grace period of at least 21 days. Purchases that you pay off within that window do not accrue interest. This makes credit cards ideal for purchases you can pay off quickly, and problematic for ones that you can’t.

Note: Avoid taking out cash advances on your cards unless absolutely necessary. They come at a very high cost.

Recommended Option: Chase Ink Business Cash

Chase Ink Business Cash



Apply Now

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


15.49% – 21.49%, Variable

Business credit cards often have aggressive rewards programs, but rarely will you find one that offers 5 percent cash back on qualified purchases. And since that includes office supplies, the card’s not a bad fit for tutoring.

There’s a $25,000 cap on the higher rates of return, but with no annual fee, it’s quite a bargain.

Recommended Option: Capital One Spark Classic

Capital One Spark Classic For Business


Compare

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


24.74%, Variable

If you don’t qualify for the Chase Ink Business Cash, Capital One’s Spark Classic is an easy-to-qualify-for, no-frills cash back card that can help you save money on purchases while building up your credit.

You’re only getting 1 percent back on purchases, but it’s not a bad place to start if you’re coming off a year or two of hard luck.

Personal Loans

Traditional business loans may not be an option for new businesses, but you can often use personal loans to cover some of your startup expenses. Since you don’t have to worry about business-oriented qualifying factors like the amount of time you’ve been in business, these loans can be easier to get when you’re first starting out.

The downside is you won’t have the liability protection you’d theoretically have if you applied as a business. You may also be more limited in terms of the amount of money you can take out.

Still, if you need a little money to get started and don’t have funds on hand, it’s not a bad option.

Recommended Option: Lending Club Personal Loans

lending club logo

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Lending Club is a good option for individuals who may not have the strongest credit, but have a good debt-to-income ratio. The borrowing range is fairly narrow at $1k to $40k, but when you’re just starting out you don’t want to go too deeply into debt anyway. You’ll have three-to-five years to pay it off, which makes it fairly manageable when you’re first starting out.

Recommended Option: Lendio

Review

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If you’re just entering the alternative loan market for the first time, it can be pretty overwhelming. Lendio takes some of that burden off of you by allowing you to effectively apply to their whole network of lenders with one application.

Recommended Option: Upstart

upstart logo

Review

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Another solid option for non-traditional borrowers is Upstart. So long as you have fair credit (620+), a stable source of income, and live in a state other than West Virginia or Iowa, there’s a pretty good chance Upstart will work with you.

Flexibility is the name of Upstart’s game. How so? They’ll use non-traditional means to get a picture of your credit worthiness and they’ll allow you to select between different payment schedules. And with three to five years to settle your loan, you won’t have to worry about paying it off right away.

Need more options? Check out our feature on startup loans.

Grants

Nothing’s better than “free” money, and grants might be the closest thing to that in the real world. Grants usually require a fairly involved application/writing process and, as you might expect, are often highly competitive. So while you may not have to worry about interest with grants, you do want to factor in the amount of time you have to spend trying to get a grant, especially considering there’s a high chance that you won’t be selected for the grant.

On the other hand, being awarded a grant comes with some prestige that you can then use in your marketing efforts. And it is “free” money, after all.

If you need some help figuring out where to look for grants, check out our feature on the topic.

ROBS

Not your neighbor-with-the-nice-car Rob, but Rollovers as Business Startups. If you haven’t heard of ROBS, don’t feel bad. They’re extremely niche products for entrepreneurs with retirement accounts like 401(k)s.

For a fee, a ROBS provider allows you to use money from your retirement account to pay for startup costs without incurring the tax penalty you normally would by tapping those funds early.

As is the case with personal savings, you are risking your own money.

ROBS will be overkill for most new tutoring businesses, but if your startup costs look like they’re going to pile up, keep them in mind.

Recommended Option: Guidant Financial

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If you’re in the market for a ROBS, it’s worth checking out Guidant Financial. If your retirement account has at least $40k in it, you can roll over up to 100 percent of your funds.

Register Your Business

blogging

This part is technically optional, but if you’re planning to build your tutoring business into more than an occasional source of freelance income, you should probably register your business.

If you do nothing at all, your business will default to a sole proprietorship (or a partnership, if you’re starting it with someone else). This essentially means that you’ve started a business with your own name. Sole proprietorships have the advantage of being cheap and easy to start. Your taxes will also be easier to file (and lower) than they would generally be with other forms of incorporation. Keep in mind, however, that for liability purposes, sole proprietorships and the individuals behind them are essentially one and the same. While it won’t separate your personal and business finances, you should consider filing a DBA (Doing Business As) with your local county clerk. This will allow you to legally operate your business under its own name (Uber Math Works as opposed to Barry Holgram, for example).

Other forms of incorporation will require a bit more work and come with their own advantages and disadvantages. This is where the business plan we talked about earlier will come in handy, because you’ll need one if you’re going to incorporate. Keep in mind that incorporation comes with costs and additional responsibilities, so make sure you’re at the point where it makes sense for your business.

Here are the most popular ways to incorporate:

  • Limited Liability Corporations (LLCs): If you’ve seen LLC after a corporation’s name, you’re dealing with this type of company. LLCs offer limited liability protection for their owners without the full complexity of a corporation. Each state has its own rules for how to start and maintain an LLC, and you don’t necessarily have to register your LLC in the state where you’re doing business (although you’ll generally want to). LLC owners report their business earnings and losses on their personal taxes.
  • C-Corp: This is the “basic,” default form of incorporation. Shareholders are considered the owner(s) of the company and receive limited liability protection; however, the business decisions are made by corporate officers who may or may not be shareholders. The corporation is taxed separately and shareholders pay income tax on dividends. To form a C-corp, you’ll file articles of incorporation with your state.
  • S-Corp: S-corps are similar to C-corps in most ways, but come with a few additional restrictions: you have to have fewer than 100 shareholders and they have to all be U.S. citizens or residents. Unlike C-corps, profits and losses are reported on personal taxes, not unlike an LLC. In addition to filing articles of incorporation, you’ll also need to file IRS Form 2553.

Separate Personal And Business Finances

Even if you’re going to run your tutoring business as a sole proprietorship, you should take steps to separate your business finances from your personal ones. A separate business checking and/or savings account can save you a ton of headache when it’s time to pay your taxes. And even for your own edification, it will make your profits and losses much easier to track.

Choose An Hourly Rate

Get your merchant funds fast. Image description: Clock with money underneath it

Figuring out how much to charge for your tutoring services can be one of the more challenging parts of getting your business up and running.

A good place to start is to do some research on the prevailing rate for similar services in your area and then figure out a strategy for your business. Are you going to try to undersell the competition? Charge more but offer something your competitors don’t? You can glean this information often from your competitors’ websites or by checking out third-party sites that do regional salary comparisons for different industries. You may also want to speak to local colleges and schools about how they handle independent tutors.

It sounds obvious, but you don’t want to charge so little that you’re breaking even, or even losing money, on your gig. Take into account the transportation costs of meeting your clients, any money you’re spending on coffee, etc. And be sure to deduct those expenses when it comes time to pay your self-employment taxes!

Bolster Your Web Presence

Word of mouth can still go a long way in the tutoring business, but these days there’s really no way to avoid the necessity of building a strong digital presence.

It never hurts to have a sleek, attractive website. Indeed, it can make your operation look professional as well as help build hype for your services. Luckily there are user-friendly and cost-effective ways to build a website.

That said, a website is not the only way to use the internet to build up your tutoring business.

Remember that the web is, itself, a medium for instruction and tutoring. You may want to consider offering some freebies on YouTube, for example, to build up your reputation. In addition, free services can function as advertisements for your paid services. Just make sure you don’t make your paid services extraneous.

Social media strategy is too complex to go into in great depth here, but making posts that are fun to read and interact with is a good place to start.

Advertise Your Business

In addition to what we covered above in web presence, you’ll also want to get your name out there in other ways. If you’re just starting out, you’re probably not looking at expensive media buys on TV, radio, or even your local newspaper.

Let your network know what you’re up to so they can spread the word about your new tutoring. Make a Facebook page. Get yourself a Twitter account. Offer free consultations with curious parties. Even cheap, low-tech solution like flyers with tear-off tags can be powerful if you post them in the right places.

Final Thoughts

Does helping someone grow and learn while earning money sound like a dream job? Tutoring can be one of the more rewarding and flexible businesses you can get into. But while the demand for expertise is often high, you’ll still want to approach the industry with a strategic mindset. Take your time, narrow down your niche, and build your reputation and tutoring can turn into so much more than just a side gig.

The post The Step-By-Step Guide To Starting And Funding A Tutoring Business appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Site123 Review: Pros & Cons of using Site123 Website Builder

Site123 Review

Site123 is a fast-growing, independently-owned, website builder based in Israel focused exclusively on DIYers. They claim to be “the most intuitive and easy to use website builder on the market”.

Check out Site123’s Current Plans & Pricing

Recently, I gave Site 123 a try for a small project after receiving a few reader questions. But before I get into the pros and cons of my Site 23 review, let’s consider a bit of background on building a website in general.

There are so many considerations to take into account when choosing a website builder — and really, there are a thousand ways to get what you want in the end in terms of functionality, convenience, pricing, etc. The thing to remember is: whether you’re building a simple personal website or running a business, the way you build your site has a lot of consequences.

In the long-term, it affects your versatility, functionality, and, of course, your brand. In the short-term, it can certainly add/take away a lot of headaches. That said, just like choosing a physical house or office, there is no such thing as an absolute “best” or “top” choice. There’s only the right choice relative to your goals, experience, and circumstances.

What Is Site123?

On the wide spectrum of website building solutions, Site123 lives on the end that is all-inclusive and provides everything you need to get started and grow your website. It contrasts with solutions where you buy, install, and manage all the “pieces” of your website separately. I wrote a post on Website Builders, Explained for more background.

Using Site123 is sort of like leasing and customizing an apartment in a really classy development instead of buying and owning your own house. You’re still in control of decor, cleaning, and everything living-wise – but you leave the construction, plumbing, security, and infrastructure to the property owner. That point is key because there’s usually a direct tradeoff between convenience and control with all software, but especially with website builders.

Everything may fit together just right with a website builder like Site123, but that may or may not be what you’re looking for.

As far as competition, Site123 competes with all-inclusive hosted website builders like Weebly, Wix, Squarespace, Gator, and WordPress.com.

Compared to their direct competition, they focus on speed and ease by providing done-for-you templates and designs so you can focus solely on content.

Instead of operating like a traditional drag-and-drop website builder, Site123 has you pick your niche and then customize a curated template based on that niche, which appeals to beginners who have no design or development experience (think DIY-ers who need to create a website ASAP without having any website experience).

One other quick aside – a disclosure – I receive referral fees from all the companies mentioned in this post. My opinions & research are based on my experiences as either a paying customer or consultant to a paying customer.

Pros of Using Site123 Website Builder

Here’s what I found to be the pros of using Site123 — not just in comparison to other website builders, but as an overall website solution.

Straightforward Signup Process

One of Site123’s best features is how quickly you can get up and running. Signing up for the platform is a simple, three step process (hence the name Site123), and it’s straightforward, easy to understand, and efficient.

Site123 Set Up

Plus, Site123 builds in education through a simple, step-by-step tutorial that walks you through how to customize your assigned theme and add content to your website, which is an excellent feature for users who haven’t customized / built a website before.

Site123 Tutorial

Simplicity

Site123 is also seriously simple to use. As I mentioned before, Site123 provides you with a template based on your selected industry and type of business/website within that industry.

Site123 Template Selection

While the website builder is not drag and drop, you can choose from a menu of page elements to change the design within your selected theme.

Site123 Select Page Elements

The whole setup is like painting by numbers.

There are obvious drawbacks to this setup, which I will cover in the disadvantages, but it is a real advantage to having limited but accessible design options.

The site layout is mobile-friendly and maintains an acceptable look/design no matter what you do to the design options.

Product Integration

Another benefit of Site123 is their extensive list of product integrations. Aside from offering DNS and hosting services, Site123 also offers several plugins (software that you can “plug in” to your website to get additional functionality). From advertising software to analytics tools to marketing + support, their library is extensive.

Site123 Product Integration

Site123 also offers ecommerce functionality. One thing to note here though — to use the integrations, you have to have a paid plan.

And to get ecommerce functionality, you have have to choose between the two higher-priced tiers. We’ll talk more about pricing in a moment, but just know that you could get the same (or better) functionality for less elsewhere.

Cons

But of course, no review would be complete without looking at the downsides. Every piece of software will have complaints. Here are the cons I found with using Site123

Pricing

Site123’s paid plans start at $10.80/month, which includes a free domain for a year/the ability to connect your domain, 10 GB of storage, 5 GB of bandwidth, and the ability to send 100 email messages (side note – who counts email messages?) to your mailing list per month. It also removes the Site123 branding that comes with the free plan.

Site123 Pricing

But compared to their direct competitors like Wix and Weebly, Site123 is much more expensive and offers much less. At each stage, Site123 doesn’t even allow unlimited bandwidth or storage.

And compared to self-hosting (piecing domains, hosting, and email separately) – it’s not a good value at all.

If you’re using Site123 for more than a few months, it’s going to be more expensive than going with a competitor (and more restricting due to the design and technical limitations – more on that shortly).

Limited Feature Set – Design

With any technology product, there is almost always a trade-off between convenience and control.

And you can really see this trade-off with the Site123 website builder. The convenience of their design setup is great. It’s straightforward, fast, and not confusing. It puts your focus solely on getting your content onto the premade template by generating a curated template for you.

But here’s the thing — if you don’t like the template you’re given, changing it up is a pain. If you want to go anywhere beyond the basics of design, you are very limited with Site123.

For your theme, you can edit the color, the font, and the general ‘feel’/structure of the design.

Site123 Theme editing

With pages, you can choose certain layouts from pre-made choices.

Site123 Page Layout Editing

But you cannot change the layout. You cannot drag and drop. And you certainly cannot edit the HTML and CSS, much less add any other design element.

Site123 Page Editing Example 2

It’s even difficult and near impossible to edit the menu without changing other design elements on the website.

Site123 Menu

The best way to describe it is a ‘paint-by-numbers’ set up. It’s great to have the basics, but if you want to do anything extra or outside of bounds, then you’re out of luck.

If your website is growing, or becoming a bigger part of your business, the design limitations can be crippling. And unlike other website builders that attempt to solve this issue through apps, extensions, or access to the website code or HTML, there is no outlet for a Site123 website builder website.

Limited Feature Set – Technical

The limitations on design also bleed over into technical limitations. Technical limitations are features and functionality that you don’t know that you want until you want them, and then you find out you can’t have them.

These are things like integrations with Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Google Ads, social sharing options, blogging, and a whole host of every intermediate to advanced marketing tools on the internet. Now as I mentioned above, Site123 does offer additional features through plugins and apps, but due to the control you give up with the website, you’re fairly limited in how much you can integrate, add on, or even edit within the tools provided.

For example, let’s look at simply editing SEO elements on a page. With the Site123, I can add in a meta description and site slogan, but that’s about all I can do aside from adding header tags inside the content editor. Even basic SEO needs more than that.

Think of it like the difference between cooking in your own kitchen and building your own burrito at a fast food restaurant.

With Site123, you can certainly choose the ingredients that go into your burrito, but your choice is really an illusion because you’re limited to the ingredients that are offered by the restaurant. Like the design, that can be a good thing if you need something simple, and will always need something simple. But if you ever need to upgrade or do something unique or custom, it can be very limiting.

Culture & Lock-in

After looking at a lot of companies across domains, hosting, VPNs, website builders, ecommerce, and more – I’ve noticed that company culture, structure, and policies can speak more about a customer’s long-term experience than a feature matrix.

A website builder is inherently a global business. Every Internet company has remote employees and worldwide data centers. But I’m never a fan of companies not sharing their story or what they are all about. Site123 is incredibly vague about their story, their policies and your relationship to them as a customer.

For example – here’s their about page.

Site123 About Page

It’s a sales page. Here’s a couple answers to FAQs –

Site123 Data Export

Site123 Moneyback

Now – I get that they are a free, hosted website builder. Most website builders have trouble with website export. But their messaging is quite stark with no offer of help scraping or downloading even image files and text.

And the cancellation policy is very odd because it conflicts directly with the purported difficulty of providing a website download. A hosted website builder service should be able to be cancelled at a click of a button. There should be no manual reviews of forms.

Again – this point isn’t meant to raise a potential non-issue for no reason. Site123 might provide a fantastic long-term experience. However, difficult cancellation policies and vague about pages tend to correlate with less than ideal long-term experiences.

Site123 Review Conclusion

Site123 certainly makes getting a website up and running easy, especially if you need something that’s done-for-you and requires little customization. They have a straightforward user-experience and easy-to-use editor that makes getting your content out there a breeze.

Check out Site123’s plans here.

However, there are trade-offs to consider with an all-inclusive website builder — specifically functionality, customization, and control. And this is where Site123 falls short when compared to other all-inclusive website builders. If you’re looking to create a website with a base template but still have some flexibility over design and functionality, Site123 may not be the best option for you.

Not sure Site123 fits your needs? Check out my quiz to find what the best website builder is for you based on your preferences.

The post Site123 Review: Pros & Cons of using Site123 Website Builder appeared first on ShivarWeb.

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How To Start And Finance An Auto Body Shop Business

You’re an experienced mechanic that’s been working for someone else for your entire career. You’re ready to spread your wings and fly (or drive) right to your own auto body shop. Sound like you? If you’ve been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, then maybe it’s time to set out on your own.

Even if you’re the best at what you do, venturing out into the small business world can be scary. If you’re an employee at a collision center, you probably feel like you have some stability. Why risk a “sure thing” to start your own shop, especially if you don’t have any previous experience running your own business?

Starting your own business is risky and it takes hard work (and a lot of it). But opening your own auto collision shop can be an extremely lucrative venture. The automotive collision repair market brings in billions of dollars in revenue each year, and studies show that revenue will only continue to grow in the years ahead. Isn’t it time you got your share?

If you’re thinking about starting your own auto body shop, this guide is for you. We’ll go through all of the steps of starting your own business, from creating a business plan to finding the right lender. We’ll review potential costs, hiring employees, and other critical steps to building a successful business. If you’re ready to take the next step into entrepreneurship, read on to find out how to get started.

Create A Business Plan

You’ve made up your mind: you’re ready to open your own collision or auto body center and you have an idea of how to do it. That’s good enough, right? Actually, you need to be more prepared before you even begin to move on to other steps in building your business. The best way to be prepared? Create a detailed business plan.

Let’s illustrate the importance of a business plan with an example. You’re going on a hike in the woods. There are lots of paths to choose from. Some of these paths may bring you out of the woods — your end goal — but there may be additional challenges along the way, like steep terrain. Some paths may be wrong altogether … and you’ll have to backtrack to right your course. In short, you can enter the woods without a map and risk getting lost. Or you can get a map ahead of time, plot out your course, and set out only after you’ve planned your route and know what to expect.

A business plan works in the same way. A good business plan outlines how to get from your starting point (launching your business) to your goal. Every entrepreneur has a different goal. Maybe yours is to run a successful local business that sets your family up for life. Maybe you have bigger goals — starting your own chain of auto body shops, for example. The most important thing is to set a concrete goal and create a map of how to get there.

Not only will a business plan keep you on the right track, but you must have a plan to present to investors or lenders when you’re seeking capital.

New to writing a business plan? At a minimum, here’s what you should include:

  • Executive Summary: A concise summary detailing each section of your business plan
  • Overview: A description of your business, including the legal structure, location, and type of business
  • Market Analysis: An overview of your market and a definition of your target market
  • Competitive Analysis: Strength and weaknesses of your competition
  • Management Team: The members of your management team and their responsibilities within your organization
  • Financial Projections: A forecast of the financial future of your business

Find A Location

As realtors say, “Location, location, location!” As you plan your own body shop, location is key, but there are a few other considerations to weigh before you put your name on that lease or mortgage.

You want to make sure that you purchase or lease the best location you can afford. Sure, that commercial property on the outskirts of town is much cheaper, but your customers have to be able to find you. Find a property that’s convenient for your customers and is located in a high-traffic area or at least off of a major road.

Another consideration is whether you’re going to buy an existing business or start from scratch. Buying an existing business comes with definite perks, including an established clientele, equipment, and even licenses and permits. However, there are a few drawbacks. This is one of the most expensive options, especially if the business is successful. You may also have to put additional costs into the business for renovations, like replacing outdated equipment.

If you start from scratch, you’ll rack up costs with the price of equipment, licenses, and building renovations.
Unsure of which to choose? Build a business plan looking at both options, calculate costs, and determine which makes the most sense financially, both in the short- and long-term.

Another option to consider is opening a franchise. With a franchise, you have less flexibility in terms of designing your brand and shop. However, you’ll have a working business model that takes a lot of the guesswork out of owning your own business.

Register Your Business

Before you open your auto body shop to the public, you need to register your business. Not only will you be seen as a legitimate business by your customers, but registering is also required when you want to hire employees, protect your assets, or seek capital from investors.

To register your business, you need to first determine what form of business entity to establish. There are several structures to choose from, including:

Sole Proprietorship

A sole proprietorship is the simplest business structure. This is best for businesses with just one owner. Sole proprietors can file their business profits and losses on their personal income tax returns. No paperwork is required to register as a sole proprietorship. However, this structure isn’t without its drawbacks. Raising money as a sole proprietorship is difficult, and you are personally responsible for the liabilities of your business.

Partnership

A partnership is a good choice for companies that will be owned and operated by two or more people. There are several different partnership types to consider:

  • General Partnership: Doesn’t require filing with the state and has few requirements
  • Limited Partnership (LP): One partner has unlimited liability and the others have limited liability. The personal assets of the limited partners can’t be used to satisfy the debts and liabilities of the business.
  • Limited Liability Partnership (LLP): Used by professional service businesses, this type of partnership offers personal asset protection for all partners.

Limited Liability Company (LLC)

An LLC has several benefits for business owners. With an LLC, a business owner will receive liability protection without paying the high tax requirements of corporations.

Corporation

This is the most complex and expensive business structure. More regulations and tax requirements are put in place for corporations. This structure is best for businesses that plan to raise capital through the sale of stock.

The type of structure you select for your business varies by the number of owners that you have and the future plans for your business. In most cases, however, single owners of auto body shops lean toward LLCs, while businesses with more than one partner select the partnership business structure. Before choosing your business structure, talk to your accountant and/or lawyer to find out which makes the most sense for your business.

Once you’ve determined your business structure, you’ll need to select a name for your business. Choose a name that reflects your brand and the services you offer. You also want to choose something that’s catchy and/or easy for customers to remember.

Your business will need to be registered with city, state, and federal governments. You’ll need to sign up for an employer ID number through the Internal Revenue Service if you plan to hire employees. To learn about the specific business license and permit requirements in your area, contact your local Chamber of Commerce, Department of Revenue, or Small Business Administration office to learn more.

Calculate Your Startup Costs

Every new business has one thing in common: the need for capital. In order to start your own collision center, you need money. The big question, though, is how much do you need?

One of the first steps to starting your own business is to calculate your startup costs. In order to do that, begin by making a list of everything you need for your business.

One of the biggest expenses for your new business will be equipment and tools. While your list may look a little different, some of the most common equipment and tools in this industry include:

  • Hydraulic Lifts
  • Hand Tools
  • Pneumatic Tools (Air Tools)
  • Air Compressors
  • Diagnostic Machines
  • Wheel Balancers
  • Paint Guns

Additional startup costs to consider include your business licenses and certifications, insurance, hiring employees, and shop rental or mortgage fees. You should expect to spend at least $50,000 to get your shop up and running. However, as you make a list of your costs and research pricing, this number could potentially rise.

Before you seek funding for your business, a good rule of thumb is to always overestimate your costs by about 30 percent. For example, if you calculate that your expenses will be $200,000, plan to seek $260,000 in funding. In other words, always plan for the unexpected.

Seek Funding

Now that you’ve calculated your startup costs, it’s time to figure out how to pay for it all. If your bank account looks a little low, don’t worry. Most entrepreneurs don’t have the funds to cover these costs out-of-pocket. Instead, they turn to a lender to get the financing they need. Consider these loans and other funding options when you need capital to start your new body shop.

And if you can’t find the option you’re looking for here? Check out more recommendations in the post, Business Loans For Auto Repair Shops.

Personal Savings

If you have money in a savings account, consider using these funds to pay your startup costs. There are several benefits to using your own money. You won’t be indebted to a lender, so there are no monthly or weekly payments to worry about. You also won’t have to pay interest or fees. On the downside, though, if your business fails, you risk losing your savings.

Friends & Family

If you have a friend or family member with extra money to invest, consider pitching your business to them. Present your business plan and tell them why they should invest in you.

There are two ways to go about this. You can stick with traditional debt financing. This means that you would take a loan from your friend, family member, or colleague and pay it back over a set period of time, along with interest and fees.

You may also consider equity financing. Instead of taking out a loan, you’d receive capital in exchange for ownership in your business. The investor would get their money back over time through a share of your profits. While the risk falls on the investor and you wouldn’t have to begin paying back money immediately, you would have to share your profits and lose some control over your business.

Unsure of which option is right for you? Learn more about debt financing vs. equity financing.

Personal Loans For Business

One of the biggest challenges a new business owner faces is meeting the requirements for a business loan. Many lenders – especially the ones with the lowest rates and best terms – want to work with established businesses with high revenues and solid business and personal credit histories. If you haven’t even opened your doors to a single customer, meeting these requirements is impossible.

However, if you have a high personal credit score, you can take out a personal loan to use for your startup costs. Time in business, annual revenue, and business credit history aren’t required to qualify for personal loans. Instead, you use your personal credit score and your own income to qualify.

If you choose this option, it’s important to make sure that your lender doesn’t have any restrictions prohibiting you from using funds to pay startup costs or other business expenses. Most personal loans don’t have restrictions and can be used to purchase equipment, hire employees, pay operating costs, or use as working capital.

Recommended Option: Lending Club Personal Loans

lending club logo

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Lending Club is a peer-to-peer lender that provides personal loans up to $40,000 to qualified borrowers. Repayment terms are 3 years or 5 years with APRs starting at 6.95% for the most creditworthy applicants. APRs for less creditworthy borrowers go up to 35.89%.

To qualify for a Lending Club personal loan, you must meet these minimum requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or live in the U.S. on a long-term visa
  • Have a verifiable bank account
  • Have a personal credit score of at least 600

In some cases, Lending Club may recommend adding a co-borrower to increase your chances for approval. If you meet all requirements, you can get funded in as little as 7 days.

As you grow a more established business, you can later take advantage of Lending Club’s business loans. Lending Club offers up to $300,000 in business funding with terms of up to 5 years and fixed monthly payments.

Lines Of Credit

A line of credit is a form of financing you should consider if you want instant access to cash without having to wait for lender approvals. Once you’ve been approved for a line of credit, you can make draws as needed to inject cash into your business.

Here’s how it works. You apply for a line of credit with a lender. The lender looks at a number of factors, such as your personal credit score or business performance, when determining whether to approve your application. These factors will also be considered when setting your credit limit.

Once you’ve been approved, you can initiate as many draws as you’d like from your line of credit up to and including the credit limit. Funds are typically transferred to your bank account immediately, and you can access the money in 1 to 3 business days with most lenders.

As you repay the borrowed funds plus fees and interest charged by the lender, the funds replenish and become available to use again.

Lines of credit are useful for unexpected expenses, emergencies, or to fill revenue gaps. Having a line of credit allows you to access money when you need it without having to go through the application and approval process over and over again.

Recommended Option: Fundbox

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Fundbox offers lines of credit up to $100,000 for qualified businesses. The lender charges a one-time fee for each draw that starts at just 4.66% of the draw amount. Terms of 12 weeks or 24 weeks are available, and automatic payments are drawn from your bank account each week. You can save by paying your loan off early, as Fundbox will waive all remaining fees.

There are two ways to qualify for a Fundbox line of credit. The first is by linking your business bank account or submitting bank statements. These will be used by the lender to evaluate the performance of your business. If you have unpaid accounts receivables, you can use these to qualify. All you have to do is link your supported accounting software.

Minimum requirements to receive a Fundbox line of credit are:

  • Business checking account
  • U.S.-based business
  • At least $50,000 in annual revenue
  • At least 3 months of transactions in a business bank account OR at least 2 months of activity in accounting software

Once you’ve filled out Fundbox’s quick application and have linked your accounts or submitted documentation, you can be approved in just minutes. Then, you can instantly put your line of credit to work for your business.

Business Credit Cards

Another option for fast funding is a business credit card. Once you’ve been approved for a business credit card, you can use it any time. You can use your card as often as you wish provided you stay within your set credit limit.

Business credit cards can be used anywhere credit cards are accepted. You can make purchases online or in-person. You can also use your card for recurring payments, such as utility bills, which is even smarter when you use a rewards card that gives cash back or other perks.

Like lines of credit, business credit cards are revolving forms of credit. This means that as you pay down your principal balance and interest, funds will become available to use again. Once you’re approved for a business credit card, your card is ready to use immediately whenever you need it. This makes it a great payment option for emergency expenses, purchasing supplies or inventory, or for paying recurring expenses.

Recommended Option: Chase Ink Preferred

Chase Ink Business Preferred



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Annual Fee:


$95

 

Purchase APR:


18.24% – 23.24%, Variable

If you have excellent credit, consider applying for the Chase Ink Preferred card. With this rewards card, you can receive 3 points for every dollar spent on combined purchases in travel, shipping, cable, internet, phone services, and advertising. Even though earning three points on these purchases is capped at $150,000 per year, you can still earn one point per dollar spent with no limitations on all purchases.

If you’re approved for the Chase Ink Preferred card and spend $5,000 within 3 months of opening your account, you’ll receive an additional 80,000 bonus points. Points can be redeemed for rewards including vacation packages, gift cards, Amazon purchases, and cash back.

This credit card comes with a variable APR of 18.24% to 23.24%. A $95 annual membership fee is required.

To qualify for Chase Ink Business Preferred, you must have good to excellent personal credit.

Rollovers As Business Startups (ROBS)

Withdrawing retirement funds may be tempting, but who wants to pay penalties and taxes for early withdrawal? Luckily, there’s a way that you can leverage these funds to put capital into your new business. This method is known as rollovers as business startups, or ROBS.

How does ROBS work? The first step is to create a C-corporation. Then, a new retirement plan is created for the C-corp. Next, the funds from your existing retirement plan are rolled over into the new plan. These funds are used to purchase stock in the new C-corp, giving you access to the capital you need to get your business running.

Sound too complicated for you? Then consider working with a ROBS provider. A ROBS provider will get everything set up for you legally and ensure you maintain compliance. In exchange, you’ll pay a one-time setup fee and a monthly maintenance fee with most ROBS providers.

When you use this type of financing to fuel your business, you don’t have to worry about repaying a lender. After all, you’re using your own funds. However, be aware that if your business is unsuccessful, you risk losing your retirement funds.

Recommended Option: Guidant Financial

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Guidant Financial is a ROBS provider that can help you leverage your retirement funds. All you need is a qualifying retirement or pension account. Qualifying accounts include:

  • 401(k)
  • 403(b)
  • Traditional IRA
  • TSP
  • SEP
  • Keogh

Qualifying accounts must have a minimum of $50,000. You must also be an employee of the business.
By working with Guidant Financial, you can receive funds in as little as 3 weeks. The setup fee is $4,995. You must also pay a Plan Administration fee of $139 per month.

Unsure if a ROBS plan is right for you? Don’t worry — Guidant Financial offers other business financing options including:

  • SBA 7(a) Loans
  • SBA Working Capital Loans
  • Unsecured Business Loans
  • Equipment Leases

Purchase Financing

If you’re looking for a way to pay your vendors that frees up some of your cash flow, purchase financing might be the solution you’re looking for. With purchase financing, your vendor gets paid immediately for your purchases – think tools, fluids, and other critical shop supplies. In the meantime, you’ll get additional time to pay. Instead of paying off the full balance of your purchase up front, you’ll be able to split it into more affordable regular payments.

Purchase financing gives you more control over your cash flow, freeing up funds and allowing you to pay back on a schedule that works best for your business. Of course, like with other financing, you do have to pay interest and fees for this service.

Recommended Option: Behalf

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Behalf offers purchase financing of $300 up to $50,000. You’ll receive up to 6 months to repay the lender and can choose between weekly or monthly payments.

Monthly fees for the service start at 1% and are based on creditworthiness. There are no additional fees for using Behalf’s financing.

There are no time in business or revenue requirements to qualify. However, Behalf performs a hard pull on your credit, considers business credit history, and looks at other business performance factors to determine if you are eligible for financing.

Choose Business Software

Small Business Online Accounting Software

To keep operations flowing smoothly, you need to pick the right business software for your repair shop. Business software helps you more efficiently run your business, from keeping up with customers to tracking your finances for tax purposes.

Accounting Software

Accounting software allows you to perform various accounting functions so that you can track and record all financial transactions. With accounting software, you can track accounts receivable and accounts payable. Most modern accounting software also offers additional tools including bill payment, payroll, and invoicing. You can purchase accounting software or pay a fee to subscribe to an online service.

Accounting software not only allows you to keep track of your finances at any time, but it also can be used to run financial reports that may be required to receive financing. These reports will also serve you well when it comes time to do your taxes.

No experience in accounting? Don’t worry — we have you covered. Check out our free eBook “The Beginner’s Guide to Accounting” that breaks complicated accounting concepts into ones that are easy to understand.

Auto Repair Invoice Software

Accounting software often has a feature that allows you to create and send invoices. However, you might want to invest in specialty software for auto body repair shops.

Auto repair invoice software includes a variety of tools that can be used to track service requests, create invoices and estimates, track leads, and manage inventory and orders.

Payment Processing Software

No longer do we live in a cash-only world. Now, customers almost always make their purchases using debit cards, credit cards, and even smartphones.

In order to be able to accept these forms of payment, you’re going to need a payment processing service. The payment processor serves as the communicator between your customer’s bank and your own bank, allowing you to process credit, debit, and other forms of payment.

For your auto collision business, you might want to consider getting a point-of-sale system. With POS software, you’ll be able to process credit cards, scan barcodes, print receipts, track inventory, run reports, and perform other functions. For a fee, your business can receive the software and hardware needed to best serve your customers.

Hire Employees

While you may start your collision center as a one-man operation, you have to hire employees if you want to grow.

One of the first hires you’ll make is a mechanic that will work on repairing vehicles. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, mechanics make approximately $39,550 per year. An auto body and glass repairer averages around $40,580 annually.

As you bring in more employees, you’ll also want to hire a manager to oversee them all. Salaries for managers vary widely based on experience and how many employees they will be overseeing. Managers may bring in anywhere from $45,000 upwards of $60,000 per year.

Eventually, you may also want to hire a front-desk receptionist. The role of the receptionist is to greet customers, answer the phone, and make appointments. This employee may also take payments from customers and handle some of the company’s bookkeeping. The average salary of a receptionist is around $27,000 per year.

Do some research to find out more about salaries in your area, as these numbers can vary. You also need to take into consideration that there are additional expenses associated with hiring employees including:

  • Onboarding & Training
  • Background Checks
  • Drug Testing
  • Taxes
  • Benefits

When you’re ready to hire an employee, there are a few ways you can find quality candidates. The first is to ask for referrals. If you know someone in the industry, ask if they know of any potential employees. Even if you don’t have connections with anyone in the industry, ask around among your friends, family members, and colleagues.

You can also post your jobs on online job boards. Make sure that your job listing has an overview of responsibilities and requirements for all candidates. As resumes hit your inbox, you can set up interviews and hire new employees for your business.

Bolster Your Web Presence

Before you even hold your grand opening, you need to start your marketing efforts. The best place to start is the internet. When researching new businesses, most people use their laptops or smartphones. If you don’t have a web presence, how will your customers find you?

Getting your business online is easy. Start with these simple steps.

Create Social Media Profiles

It seems like everyone’s on social media these days, from your teenage nephew to your grandmother. Social media doesn’t just connect friends and family members, either. It’s also a great place for users to find new brands and businesses.

Setting up your social media profiles is free and easy. Consider starting with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Add your logo, contact details, and important information like services provided and hours of operation. As you build your business, you can update your profiles with specials, coupons, photos of your completed work, and other information.

Create A Website

You also want to make sure that you have a website that provides important details to your customers such as your shop hours, specials, and services provided.

No web design experience? No problem. These days, any small business owner can create a professional website with easy web builders that feature templates, drag-and-drop design, and other tools to create a website in just minutes.

Your website should be a reflection of your brand, so make sure to choose templates, photos, and colors that best represent your shop. Your domain name should also represent your brand, so make sure it’s easy to remember and avoid numbers, symbols, or very long URLs.

Your website shouldn’t be overly complicated, and it should be easy to navigate. You don’t have to load down your site with lots of information. Start off by including key info such as hours of operation, services performed, and contact information. Also make sure to highlight any features that make your shop stand out, such as certifications, free estimates, or rental car/shuttle services offered to your customers. In the future, you can add additional features such as a signup option for email newsletters or online scheduling.

This is all just the tip of the iceberg. Learn more about creating and maintaining an online web presence for your business.

Advertise Your Business

Your website and social media profiles are a great way to start advertising your business, but in order to grow and scale, you can’t stop there. You need to plan a marketing and advertising campaign to get the word out about your business.

Consider paying for social media ads or pay-per-click ads on search engines, or sign up with Yelp For Business. These options can be affordable for new businesses and are easy to set up.

You can also look beyond the internet to advertise your business. Consider placing flyers or door hangers in the area around your business to bring in new customers. Before you take this route, though, make sure to understand the local laws in your area regarding the posting of flyers on public and private property.

As your business grows and becomes more successful, you can explore options including radio and TV advertisements and mailers. However, these ads are typically quite expensive, so hold off on these options until your business is bringing in steady revenue.

One of the most important things to remember here is that word-of-mouth advertising is one of the best forms of advertising. If you perform a great service, your customers will tell others about your business. Keep customer satisfaction high to increase those referrals and draw in more revenue for your body shop.

Final Thoughts

While you may be itching to get your auto body shop off the ground immediately, a business isn’t born overnight. Take the time to plan out your business, and you’ll increase your chances for success. The hard work doesn’t stop after your grand opening, either. You’ll need to continue working hard to bring in customers, increase your revenue, and become a successful entrepreneur.

The post How To Start And Finance An Auto Body Shop Business appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Start A Lawn Care Business

Can you picture making a profit by keeping the lawns of homes and businesses in your area looking their best? You’re not alone. For many aspiring entrepreneurs, starting a lawn care business sounds like a practical and achievable way to make money and be their own boss — a dream come true, in other words. If you’re reading this, you’re ready to take the next step toward making that dream a reality.

Starting a lawn care business seems easy. Just grab up some lawn equipment, find a couple of guys willing to do physical labor, and get started, right? Not exactly.

Like any other small business, building a successful lawn care business takes careful planning and hard work. You have to be willing to put in the time, effort, and money required to start and grow your business. A lawn care business may have low overhead and lower initial risk than other types of businesses, but it isn’t a cake walk. However, over time, you’ll begin to see the fruits of your labor through the beautiful lawns in your city or town and the profits sitting in your bank account.

In this guide, we’ll break down the steps for starting your own lawn care business. We’ll start off with the importance of your business plan and what it should include. We’ll go over what you need to get started — and it’s more than just lawn equipment. We’ll talk about the costs you’ll encounter and how to get the financing to cover those costs. We’ll also discuss ways to bring in customers … and profits.

Let’s get started!

Create A Business Plan

Every business is different, but all businesses need one thing to be successful: a business plan. Your future lawn care business is no exception. Even if your business concept seems simple, having a solid business plan in place is a necessity.

Think of your business plan as a roadmap of your business. You wouldn’t go on a long trip without a map or GPS, or put together a complicated piece of furniture without instructions, right? View your business in the same light.

Your business plan outlines your goals for the future. In other words, how will you get from where you are now — a startup business — to your goal? Every entrepreneur has a different goal. Maybe yours is to make $1 million in revenue within five years. Maybe it’s to expand throughout your state. Maybe you want to build a franchise that will go nationwide. No matter what your goals are, they need to be outlined in a solid business plan.

All business plans are different, but there are a few key sections that should be included in all plans. Those include:

  • Executive Summary: A short summary of your business plan and the value proposition of your business
  • Business Description: What does your business do? Include your mission statement and when your business was formed.
  • Organization: Who are your team members and what do they do within the organization?
  • Market Analysis: Include information about the market and your competition
  • Marketing Strategies: How do you plan to market your business to draw in customers and bring in profits?
  • Financial Projections: Use revenue growth and market trends to project the financial outlook of your business

Not only is your business plan critical to the growth of your company, but it’s also an absolute necessity if you plan to seek funding from outside sources — such as investors or banks — in the future.

Determine What Equipment You Need

Selecting equipment

To operate a lawn care business, you need to have the right tools and equipment for the job. While you may start off small and add to your inventory as your business grows, there are a few critical pieces of equipment you need to get started. For most lawn care businesses, major equipment includes:

  • Riding Lawnmower
  • Push Lawnmower
  • Edger
  • Hedge Trimmer
  • Leaf Blower
  • Truck
  • Equipment Trailer

For your business, you’ll also need equipment that’s less expensive but just as critical to operations. This includes:

  • Lawn Tools
  • Hand Tools
  • Lawn Bags
  • Eye/Ear Protection
  • Gloves
  • Gas Cans
  • Oil
  • Garden Hoses

You should expect to spend approximately $30,000 to $40,000 for the equipment you need to start your business. As your business grows, of course, you’ll need additional capital for the purchase of more equipment. For example, you may have just one truck, trailer, and mower for now, but if you have additional crews taking on jobs all over the area, you’ll need more equipment.

You may even opt to offer additional services — installing sod, laying mulch, or planting flowers — all of which require additional equipment and supplies. For now, however, focus on the equipment listed above. Those items will be most critical to getting your business off the ground.

Calculate Startup Costs

With an idea of the type of equipment you need to launch your business, you can now begin calculating startup costs. This will include the cost of your equipment, plus other necessary expenses to keep your business operating smoothly.

Your equipment will make up the bulk of your costs, and you should budget approximately $30,000 to $40,000 for these purchases. You may be able to get started with a smaller investment by purchasing used equipment. However, purchasing used does come with its risks. Older trucks can break down and previously-owned lawn equipment may immediately require servicing or repairs. While you can save money in the short term by buying used equipment, you may rack up additional expenses over the long term, so consider your purchases carefully.

When purchasing your equipment, shop around. Look online and visit local retailers to get estimates of costs. Determine what equipment you really need now and what you could add as your business grows. You may even consider starting with basic equipment (do you actually need that fully-loaded riding mower right this minute?) and upgrading your equipment when your business starts bringing in revenue.

Beyond the equipment we’ve already discussed, you’ll need additional supplies for your business. This may include chemical weed killers, pesticides, fertilizer, and other supplies. You may purchase these supplies upfront, or you may purchase them when needed. If you plan to keep inventory, you may incur additional costs if you rent storage for your supplies and equipment.

Another big startup cost to consider is the cost of insurance. You will need to have auto insurance on your truck. You will also be required to carry liability insurance. If you hire employees now, additional costs may include workman’s comp insurance and payroll taxes. Other startup costs include fees for permits and licenses. We’ll discuss obtaining licenses and permits a little more in the next section.

If you’re starting small as a one-person operation, your primary startup costs will be your equipment, supplies, insurance, and marketing costs. Just remember to take your time to do your research, plan, and budget to keep startup costs under control.

Register Your Business

Before you begin operating, you’ll need to register your business. There are several steps required to register a new business:

Choose & Register Your Business Name

While you may choose to operate your business under your own name, most small business owners choose a trade name. This name will need to be registered in the state where you will operate.

When choosing your name, you want to select one that is a reflection of your brand. You will also need to make sure that you select a name that is not registered by someone else in your state. You can find your state’s registration database with a quick online search.

Choose Your Legal Structure

One of the first steps in setting up your business is determining your legal structure. Your legal structure determines how much you pay in taxes and your personal liability for your business. Legal structures include:

  • Sole Proprietorship: This gives you full control over your business. You do not have to register this type of entity, so you skip over all the paperwork. However, this structure does not separate your personal assets and liabilities from those of your business. This means that you can be held personally liable for all debts and obligations of your business.
  • Partnership: This structure is the simplest structure for businesses that have two or more owners. A limited partnership (LP) gives one partner unlimited liability, while other owners have limited liability and limited control over the company. A limited liability partnership (LLP) gives limited liability to all owners, protecting each against the debts of the business and the actions of other partners.
  • Limited Liability Company: A limited liability company (LLC) protects you from personal liability from business debts and obligations. For example, your house, vehicle, or savings accounts will be untouchable if your business faces a lawsuit or files for bankruptcy.
  • Corporation: Corporations pay higher taxes and are more expensive to form. However, corporations can also raise money through the sale of stock. This structure is best for businesses that need to raise high amounts of capital or want to go public in the future.

Most lawn care business owners will register as a sole proprietorship or LLC, but consider the number of owners you have, protecting yourself from personal liability, and the future goals of your business before you make your decision.

Register With The IRS & State Revenue Agency

If you plan to have employees now or in the future, you will need to register for an Employer Identification Number. You’ll also request estimated tax vouchers from both the IRS and your state revenue office to file with your quarterly tax payments.

Obtain Licenses & Permits

The licenses and permits that you need for your business are based upon the laws of your municipality and what your business will do. For example, simply mowing lawns only requires a standard business license in most areas. However, if you plan to spray chemical herbicides, an additional license may be required. You can find out more about license and permit requirements by contacting your state’s Department of Commerce.

Seek Funding

We’ve already discussed the potential expenses you’ll encounter when opening your own lawn care business. Now, the big question is: how do you pay for it all? Like most aspiring entrepreneurs, your personal bank account likely isn’t bursting at the seams with more money than you know what to do with.

If you’re scratching your head trying to figure out finances, you’re certainly not alone. Most small business owners don’t have the funds needed to start and operate a new business. This is where small business funding plays a role.
There are more lenders than ever that are ready to give you the money you need to get your business off the ground. The trick is knowing what type of funding is best for your business and exactly where to find it.

Personal Savings

If you’ve socked away money in personal savings through the years, this money could be used to fund your new business venture. The best thing about using your own money is that you aren’t indebted to anyone. You don’t have to worry about loan payments, fees, and high interest rates. On the downside, if your business fails, it takes your savings with it.

Friends & Family

If you have a friend, family member, or colleague with money to invest, consider pitching your idea to them. Present them with your business plan and give a presentation just as you would give to a banker or other lender.

There are a few ways you can go about getting capital from someone you know. The first is a loan. Agree to rates, terms, and the borrowing amount and get it all in writing. Then, you’ll repay the borrowed funds plus interest over a set period of time, just as you would any other loan.

Another option is equity financing. You’d receive capital for your business and in exchange, your investor would own part of your company. You wouldn’t pay back the money immediately like you would a loan, but the investor would be able to take a share of your profits at a later time. Learn more about debt financing vs. equity financing.

No matter which way you go, keep everything professional and make sure everything is in writing. One thing that can sour a good relationship fast is a business deal gone bad.

Personal Loans

As a new business owner, walking into your bank to get a business loan is pretty tough … if not impossible. Banks look at your business and personal credit score, annual revenues, and your time in business. These lenders want to work with small businesses that are established and have the lowest risk. If you’re new to the game, many lenders won’t give you a second look.

This doesn’t mean that you’re only stuck with high-interest, short-term loan options. If you want a long-term loan with low rates, consider a personal loan for business. With these loans, you can qualify based on your personal income and credit score – no business information required.

You can apply for a personal loan for business through your bank, credit union, or an online lender. The most creditworthy borrowers will qualify for the best rates and terms and highest borrowing limits. A personal loan for business is a great option for larger purchases that you’d like to pay off over a longer period of time, like expensive equipment.

Recommended Option: Upstart

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Through Upstart, you can receive a personal loan of $1,000 up to $50,000 to use for your startup costs. APRs range from 8.09% to 35.99%. Your loan will be repaid over a period of 3 to 5 years.

Upstart is different from other lenders in that they look at more than just your credit score. While the lender does consider your credit score, education, years of credit, and job history are also factors used to determine if you qualify for a personal loan.

To qualify for an Upstart loan, you must:

  • Have a personal credit score of at least 620
  • Live in a state serviced by the lender
  • Have a regular source of income
  • Have a bank account 

Equipment Financing

Equipment financing is a type of funding used to purchase equipment. Instead of paying the full cost of your equipment up front, you’ll make a smaller down payment. A lender will cover the rest of the cost, which you’ll pay back over time along with fees and interest.

There are two different types of equipment financing: equipment loans and equipment leases. If you take out an equipment loan, you’ll typically pay 10% to 20% of the total purchase price as a down payment. Borrowers with high credit scores may qualify for 0% down financing. Once the down payment is paid and the loan is in place, you’ll be able to immediately take possession of your equipment. You’ll pay for the total purchase price of the equipment plus interest over a set period of time — typically around 5 years. Once you’ve made all payments as agreed, the equipment is yours to keep, trade in, or sell.

An equipment lease is more like renting. You’ll pay a down payment and take immediate possession of the equipment. You’ll make payments to your lender over a shorter period of time, usually 2 years. Once your lease period ends, you’ll return the equipment and sign another lease for newer equipment. Some lenders may allow you to pay off your balance if you want to keep the equipment you’ve been using.

Learn more about equipment loans and leases and which is right for you.

One of the best things about equipment financing is that you don’t have to put up collateral to secure your loan. Instead, the equipment itself serves as the collateral and can be repossessed if you default on your loan or lease.

With equipment financing, you can purchase any type of equipment you need for your business, including lawnmowers, edgers, trimmers, or even a commercial vehicle.

Recommended Option: Lendio

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Lendio is a loan aggregator that connects you with multiple lenders with just one application. Through Lendio, you can apply for equipment financing from $5,000 to $5 million with repayment terms of 1 to 5 years. Interest rates start at 7.5%.

To qualify for equipment financing, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Annual revenue of at least $50,000
  • Personal credit score of 650 or higher
  • Time in business of at least 12 months

If your credit score falls below the 650 minimum, you may be able to qualify with proof of solid cash flow and revenue for the last 3 to 6 months.

Even if you don’t meet these requirements, you could still qualify with certain lenders. Simply fill out Lendio’s free application or contact a personal funding manager. If you don’t qualify for equipment financing or have other financial needs, you can also apply for Small Business Administration loans, short-term loans, startup loans, and Lendio’s other financial products.

Lines Of Credit

If you want a flexible form of financing, a line of credit might be right up your alley. You’ll be able to initiate draws from your line of credit, and the lender sends the funds immediately to your bank account. You can make one or more draws from your line of credit up to and including your set credit limit.

Since a line of credit is revolving, your funds will become available to use again as you pay down your balance. Interest and/or fees are charged on the borrowed portion of funds. If you don’t use your line of credit, you won’t pay interest to the lender. Many lenders also won’t charge any fees if you haven’t used your funds.

A line of credit is a good option when you need immediate access to cash, such as to purchase supplies or to pay for an unexpected expense, like repairs to your vehicle or equipment.

Recommended Option: Fundbox

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You can qualify for up to $100,000 when you apply for a Fundbox line of credit. Fundbox fees start at 4.66% of the borrowing amount. You only pay when you use your funds, and you can save by repaying early. Payments are made weekly over a period of 12 or 24 weeks. You may receive a line of credit based on the performance of your business or for your unpaid invoices.

To qualify for a Fundbox line of credit, you must meet the following minimum requirements:

  • Be a U.S.-based business
  • Own a business checking account
  • Have at least $50,000 in annual revenue
  • Have a bank account with transactions for at least 3 months OR at least 2 months of activity in supported accounting software

Qualifying through Fundbox takes just minutes. If approved, you’ll be able to initiate draws on your line of credit immediately for deposit in your account as quickly as the next business day.

Rollovers As Business Startups (ROBS)

Do you have a retirement account? If so, you may qualify for a unique type of funding known as Rollovers as Business Startups (ROBS). You probably already know that early withdrawal from your retirement account results in penalties. But there is a way to access these funds without being penalized, and yes, it’s completely legal.

A ROBS plan allows you to roll over your qualifying retirement funds into capital for your new business. Here’s how it works:

  • A new C-corporation is created
  • A new retirement plan is created for the C-corp
  • Funds are rolled over from your existing retirement plan to the new retirement plan
  • These funds are used to purchase stock in the C-corp, giving you the capital you need to start or grow your business

Even though it’s just four steps, there are some legal issues to be aware of. This is why entrepreneurs that leverage their retirement funds in this way turn to a ROBS provider. A ROBS provider will handle everything for you, from setting up the new C-corp to maintaining compliance. In exchange, you pay a setup fee and a monthly maintenance fee.

Funds from your ROBS plan can be used for any business purpose. One of the best things about a ROBS plan is that you won’t be making payments with interest to a lender. You also don’t have to worry about traditional borrower requirements like personal credit score or annual revenues. As long as you have a qualifying retirement plan, you can set up a ROBS plan. The main drawback, however, is that if your business fails, you lose your retirement funds, so be aware of this risk before setting up your plan.

Recommended Option: Benetrends

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Benetrends is the creator of the innovative Rainmaker Plan, the original ROBS plan. Benetrends can get the funding you need for your business in as little as 10 days. You will have access to your retirement funds with no penalties with Benetrends’ easy four-step process.

There are no credit score, time in business, or revenue requirements. Most retirement plans with at least $50,000 qualify.

A setup fee of $4,995 is required to start your ROBS plan. After paying this initial cost, you must pay a service fee of $130 per month. This fee covers compliance, audit protection, and other services.

Purchase Financing

When you start your lawn care business, you’ll likely develop relationships with vendors. You can pay these vendors out of pocket when you receive your invoice, or you can break your purchase down into smaller, more manageable payments with purchase financing.

With purchase financing, a lender will pay your vendor up front. You’ll repay the lender the borrowed amount plus fees and/or interest through smaller payments made over a longer period of time. This is an excellent way to purchase supplies and other items critical for the success of your business when you’re facing cash flow issues or just need a little extra time to pay.

Recommended Option: Behalf

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Behalf offers purchase financing, allowing you to pay any merchant with terms up to 6 months. With Behalf, you can borrow between $300 and $50,000. Monthly fees start at just 1%, and there are no origination fees, membership fees, prepayment fees, or maintenance fees.

There are no minimum time in business, revenue, or personal credit score requirements. However, a hard pull of your credit is performed by the lender and will be used to determine if you’re eligible to receive funding, as well as your monthly fee.

Business Credit Cards

A business credit card is a great way to cover expenses or make purchases without waiting for approval from a lender. Once you’re approved for a credit card, you’ll be able to spend up to and including your credit limit anywhere credit cards are accepted.

Once you’ve made a purchase using your credit card, you’ll be required to make a monthly payment until you repay your balance, plus interest charged by the credit card issuer. This is a type of revolving credit, so as you repay, funds will be available to use again. Once you’re approved for a credit card, you don’t have to wait for approval to make a purchase. You can make one or multiple purchases up to and including the credit limit set by the lender.

You can cover an emergency expense or purchase supplies using a business credit card. You can also use credit cards for recurring expenses, such as gas for your truck and machines. With a rewards card, you can even get cash back or perks just for using your card.

If you don’t qualify for a business credit card, consider applying for a personal credit card to use for business expenses.

Recommended Option: Spark Cash For Business

Capital One Spark Cash For Business


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Annual Fee:


$95 ($0 the first year)

 

Purchase APR:


18.74%, Variable

The Spark Cash card from Capital One offers unlimited 2% cash back that you can redeem anytime. New cardholders can earn a $500 cash bonus just for spending $4,500 within the first 3 months of opening their accounts. This business credit card has a 19.24% variable APR. There is no annual fee for one year, and the fee is $95 after the first year. Employee cards are available at no additional cost.

To qualify for this credit card, you must meet these requirements:

  • Excellent personal credit score
  • No bankruptcies
  • No defaults on loans
  • No payments over 60 days late on a credit card, loan, or medical bill for the last year
  • A loan or credit card for at least 3 years with a credit limit above $5,000

Recommended Option: Chase Ink Preferred

Chase Ink Business Preferred



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Annual Fee:


$95

 

Purchase APR:


18.24% – 23.24%, Variable

Another business credit card to consider is the Chase Ink Business Preferred card. With this card, you’ll be able to rack up points just by making purchases for your business. All travel, shipping, advertising, internet, cable, and phone purchases yield three points for every dollar spent for the first $150,000 spent annually. You’ll receive one point for every dollar spent on all other business purchases with no limitations.

You’ll also be eligible to receive a bonus offer of 80,000 bonus points if you spend $5,000 within 3 months of opening your account. Points can be redeemed toward cash, gift cards, or other products and services.

Chase Ink Business Preferred has a variable interest rate of 18.24% to 23.24%. The card has an annual fee of $95. Other benefits are also provided for cardholders, including cell phone protection and free employee cards.

To qualify for this card, you must have good to excellent credit.

Bolster Your Web Presence

web builder template

The internet has made life easier than ever for small business owners. After all, you can do your accounting online, shop for supplies and equipment, and communicate with customers. Perhaps most importantly, you can market your business online. Bolstering your web presence is a quick and easy way to reach your target market, helping you bring in new customers and boost your profit potential.

Set Up Social Media Profiles

Social media has morphed into something much bigger than just chatting with family and friends. These days, people are using social media to find and connect with new brands and businesses. Shouldn’t your new business be included?

One of the best things about social media is that it’s free to set up your profiles. Add your business to Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn, Yelp, and/or Pinterest. With these social media profiles, you can share information about your business such as operating hours and services provided, post photos of completed jobs, promote specials, or share news about your business. On sites like Facebook, satisfied customers can even post reviews and ratings.

Want to learn how to get the most out of your social media pages? Take a look at our Guide to Social Media Marketing.

Build Your Website

Most people turn to the internet when they’re looking for a service provider, which is why it’s so important to have a website. No experience with web design? Don’t worry — there are a variety of web builders that do the hard work for you. Check out some of our top picks.

Your website doesn’t have to be complicated. Make sure that your design fits your brand and provides the most relevant information that customers need, including a list of services provided, your service area, and your contact information. You can even take it a few steps further by adding photos of jobs you’ve successfully completed, price lists, special promotions, and news and updates.

One last thing to note is that when you choose a domain name, make sure that it reflects your brand and includes your business name. However, you also want to make sure that it’s short and easy to remember. Avoid using symbols and numbers to make it easier for current and future customers to find you online.

Check out more tips and tricks for creating and maintaining your web presence.

Choose Business Software

Small Business Online Accounting Software

Every business — including your new lawn care business — needs business software to keep operations running smoothly. You can use business software to keep track of appointments, store customer data, process payments, create invoices, and keep up with your financials. Let’s explore a few types that would be useful for your lawn care business.

Accounting Software

Managing your finances is one of the most important aspects of running a business. Accounting software makes it easier than ever to track your finances. With this type of software, you’ll be able to keep up-to-date on the money that you receive, what is owed to you, and what you owe. In addition, using accounting software also makes it easier for you to run important financial statements and file your taxes.

Today’s accounting software comes with more features than ever, including cloud-based storage, online invoicing, automatic payment reminders, and mobile apps for tracking on the go. Unsure of which software is best for you? Check out some of our recommendations. If you’re new to accounting or need a refresher, make sure to download our eBook, The Beginner’s Guide to Accounting.

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A great choice for freelancers needing some extra help managing their business

Payment Processing Apps

Very few businesses today are “cash only.” This is because credit cards, debit cards, and even mobile devices make it easier than ever for consumers to pay for their purchases. To make payments more convenient for your customers, consider using a payment processing app.

Payment processing software transmits data between you, your bank, and your customer’s bank, allowing you to accept credit cards, debit cards, and other forms of payment. Many payment processors also include the hardware needed to accept these methods of payments. This hardware may be included in your subscription cost or for an additional fee.

Worried about bulky hardware? Don’t be. There are devices that easily affix to a mobile phone or tablet, so you can take payments anywhere — from your own office to your customer’s front yard.

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Field Service Management Software

Another type of software to consider purchasing for your business is field service management software. This software allows you to keep up with everything from your customers to your employees. There are even programs that are specific to lawn care companies.

With this type of software, you can keep up-to-date records on your customers, from their contact information to their history of appointments. With this software, you can easily schedule new appointments and dispatch employees. Other features may include automatic invoicing, route optimization, easy estimates, and GPS tracking.

Advertise Your Business

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In order to make your business successful and profitable, you have to have customers. And you have to reach customers by spreading the word about your business.

While bolstering your web presence is a good first step, don’t stop there. Consider purchasing paid ad space on social media platforms or search engines to reach a broader audience. Yelp for Business is an excellent way to advertise yourself while gaining street cred with potential clients.

You can also utilize free online sites like Craigslist to advertise your business. Just remember to follow the rules before posting and avoid spamming the website.

Moving beyond the web, never underestimate the power of “old school” marketing techniques like flyers and door hangers. Post flyers in areas that get a lot of foot traffic, such as retail shopping centers, and put door hangers around your neighborhood and surrounding areas. You can design and print these yourself, or you can pay an additional fee to a professional printer. Either way you go, this is a very affordable way to market your lawn care business. Before you use this method of advertising, contact your city government office to learn about any restrictions and always make sure to get the permission of the property owner before distributing flyers on private property.

You can also use your work truck to advertise your business. Make sure that your business name, telephone number, and/or URL are prominently displayed and easy to read. Online printers can create custom vinyl decals featuring your logo, name, and contact information at a very affordable price.

Finally, word-of-mouth advertising is one of the most effective methods of advertising in this industry. If your customer likes your service, they’ll tell their friends, family members, neighbors, and colleagues about your service when recommendations are needed. They may give you a glowing review on your website or social media page, which could lure in additional customers. Always make sure to provide the best service to your customers so they’ll refer you to new customers in the future.

Final Thoughts

Your new lawn care business won’t be up and running overnight, but taking the time to go through each step ensures a better chance for success. Every business is different, and you may need to tweak some of these steps to better fit the vision for your lawn care business. Maybe taking the steps in a different order makes more sense for your business, or maybe there’s a step that isn’t relevant to your future goals.

No matter how you picture your future, you’re now armed with the knowledge of what it takes to start your own lawn care business. Now, it’s up to you to determine what steps you’ll take next to become a successful entrepreneur.

The post How To Start A Lawn Care Business appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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