The Complete Idiots Guide to Strategic Planning (Idiots Guides)

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For instance, you can conduct surveys at checkout counters, or Another idea is to teach employees to make note of anecdotal feedback that customers relay. For instance, if a customer says that a new display or service works really well, have a method of capturing that information. It could be as simple as a notebook in which these sorts of comments can be recorded. For more technical-savvy businesses, an e-mail report or entry into a shared database or contact management program can be more effective. Look for ways that you interact with your customers and try to integrate short, non- invasive methods of information gathering.

The key to successful gathering of feedback is to keep questionnaires and surveys to a manageable length. This varies depending on your type of business, but the general rule is that shorter is better—five to six questions is ideal. Use a format of both multiple- choice and open-ended questions for best results. Doing It Yourself or Getting Help? There are a number of business-plan writing services out there, as well as business-plan template software. Should you hire someone, or use software to write your plan for you?

The Bottom Line Booster process of writing your plan is an exercise that will If your plan needs an editorial help solidify the direction of your business. Finding Free or Low-Cost Help If you are still skittish about tackling your business plan on your own, you may want to consider getting some help. There are a number of resources to which you can turn to get that help for free or almost free. If your plan needs just a bit of a kick-start, there are plenty of low- or no-cost resources to turn to for help. These services cover marketing, financing, and much more. Visit www. Find out more at www.

Small Business Administration online at www. If you can offer a meaty assignment, you may be able to attract a business student to intern with your company in exchange for credit or a small stipend. If not, see if the college has a business club that can help. These associa- tions offer assistance, statistics, and research that can help you refine your busi- ness plan ideas. Hiring Help In addition to low-cost help, there are others who can help you write a business plan. Instead, consider hiring a freelance writer or marketing consultant, rather than a management-consulting firm.

To save even more money, write the first draft yourself and hire a copyeditor or freelance writer to polish up the grammar and language. Because business plans are proprietary, the writer may not be able to show you other plans that he or she has written.

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However, the writer should be able to produce at least two appropriate writing samples. In this case, it really pays to check references. Ask other business owners who they would use or call your local Chamber of Commerce or business association. Speak with more than one provider to get a sense of pricing and service levels. Business plans are proprietary, so the professional may not be able to share other plans be wary if he or she does. Does it suit your style? Getting Soft There are a number of business-plan software packages on the market today.

These packages will lead you step-by-step through the process of writing your plan.

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However, these pro- grams do make formatting convenient by providing step-by-step, fill-in-the-blank templates for writing a plan. The trouble is that your plan will look like that of every- one else who used the software. The choice is yours—it may save you some time, but only you will know whether the software is worth it. In this chapter, we covered the basics of why you need a plan. Hire some- one to help you clean up the prose later—for much less expense than writing it from scratch. Check out whether it will work for you before you spend your money. Undercapitalization will constrict your cash flow and limit the opportunities you have to grow your business.

You will also need enough money on the personal side to carry you through the start-up phase. Sometimes business owners run out of cash to cover their own expenses even when the business is viable. In this chapter, we address the broader strokes of making your plan appealing to financiers. Debt Debt financing means that you obtain money from a lender at a certain interest rate and term and then have to repay a set amount that includes interest and any fees that have been added to the principal amount.

When you borrow money, the lender has no ownership stake or say in the decision-making processes, and you keep control of your business. Equity Equity financing is when an investor purchases a part-ownership of your business in exchange for a certain amount of money. The investor and the business owner usually decide on the parameters of ownership rights to which the investor will be entitled. The biggest concern here is that investors usually want substantial control and input in the business to ensure that the business will be successful and get the type of return on their investments that they anticipate.

Of course the negative is that you lose con- trol over what you thought was your business. Just be careful with the negotiations. The investor usually wants a buyout point that is stated up front, because they are looking for a return on their investment over a certain period of time. The period of time can differ between businesses and industries, but frequently it is less than five years.

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These include grants, per- sonal resources, savings, credit cards, and several different types of loans. Chapter 2: Figuring Out the Financing 17Grants Despite some infomercials that tout the availability of grants for virtually any business, grants for garden-variety ventures such as hair salons or restaurants are actually rela- tively rare. Sometimes you can find special one-time grants online, if you regularly search around, but that may require more than a bit of luck. Still, if you find a grant that matches your business venture, by all means apply for it. The searching and applying can be time-consuming, however, and often grant matches are not found.

More commonly, grants are available for bio- life science and high-tech businesses, often Back Office Secrets offered through various states to cultivate Because navigating the government- those types of businesses. Both govern- the nation have consultants who can assist you with the application ment programs seek innovative and unique process. For SBDC locations near ideas. The following sections discuss some of the personal resources that bootstrapping entrepreneurs have used to start and fund their ventures.

Savings Personal savings, including money in savings and checking accounts, CDs, mutual funds, and other investment vehicles, are often tapped for new ventures. A home-equity loan is just that—a loan for a fixed amount of money against your home, up to a certain percentage of the amount of equity you have in your home. A home-equity line of credit, on the other hand, operates much like a credit card.

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You have a maximum amount that you can borrow at any given time, and you can use checks or a charge card to access the funds, which you can then repay in installments or in full, depending on your ability and inclination to do so. Both have interest rates, which are usually a bit higher than conventional mortgage rates. Credit Cards You can also access your personal credit cards to tap cash to meet your business expenses, either by using them to charge items for your business or by taking cash advances. Be aware that this is usually a very expensive way to borrow for your business, depend- ing on the interest rates on your cards, and running up big balances on multiple cards could also impact your personal credit rating.

However, if your borrowing options are limited, credit cards can provide a means to get the money and financial flexibility you need, especially for the short term. Family and Friends If all else fails, you can go hat-in-hand to your family members and friends for finan- cial assistance. The key to successfully borrowing money from family or friends is to treat the trans- action as you would with a stranger.

Draw up paperwork that spells out the terms of the deal, how much is being borrowed, and how and when the principal will be repaid. You should also agree upon a fair rate of return. Then, stick to the payment plan. Nothing will sour a relationship more quickly than a money deal with a friend or family member gone bad.

Depending on how your profile shapes up, the lender decides how much to lend you, on what terms, and at what interest rate.


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Red Zone Beyond those basics, loans start to differ. Collateral is often re- Some of the options available for financing a quired, but keep in mind that business include commercial loans, a line of IRAs, Ks, and other types of credit, micro loans, and SBA-guaranteed retirement investments are not loans. Commercial loans are granted from a bank or other lending institution.

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Fees and interest rates on loans Sometimes, closing, application, and other are often negotiable. Ask for fees are associated with these loans, so be fees to be waived and also sure to get a full disclosure of any fees and ask for a better interest rate. You could save hundreds or charges that are associated with the loan thousands of dollars. Line of Credit A line of credit, as described previously, is much like a credit card. You have a maxi- mum amount of funds that you can borrow.


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  4. You can access any of the funds or the entire amount through provided checks or an associated credit card. You then pay back a minimum amount, the total balance, or any amount in between. You accrue interest on the outstanding balance. Lines of credit offer great flexibility during low cash-flow periods.

    After you are approved for a line of credit, the money becomes available whenever you need it, but if you do not take it, you do not pay interest on it like you would with a commercial loan. Instead, the government organization guarantees loans made through lenders. If a commercial lender is balking at lending you money because your enterprise may be too risky, you can apply for an SBA guarantee of usually between 75 to 85 percent of the loan.

    This guarantee will ensure that the loan will be repaid to the lender even if you fail to do so. The lender, then, has less risk and is more likely to approve a loan. Not all banks offer SBA loans, but the vast majority of them do. Some banks have SBA preferred-lender status, meaning that the lender can approve the loan internally without processing it through the SBA, giving borrowers shorter turnaround time on the loan approval.

    The two most common SBA loan programs are the 7 a loan guarantee and the loan program. The 7 a loan is the most common SBA loan and can be used for most business purposes, such as working capital maturity of up to 10 years and fixed assets maturity of up to 25 years. These loans are usually for major fixed assets such as land and buildings. Usually 50 percent of the loan amount or project cost is from a lender, 10 percent of the loan amount is from the business itself, and 40 percent of the loan amount is from the CDC, thus lower- ing the risk to any one lender.

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      Between corporate chains, superstores, and independently run stores, the competition between retailers is at its fiercest. It takes more than low prices to attract customers—and maintain their loyalty. The new Retail Sales Associate will benefit from many of the practical examples and exercises included in the book and the seasoned Retail Associate will benefit from new insights into Customer behavior. How do I move from the Greeting to the Needs Determination stage?