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Culinary Businesses

The restaurant business isn’t the only entrepreneurial option for food lovers. The desire to offer people a unique culinary experience has spawned interesting food trucks, subscription services and green eateries, to name a few.

These 10 businesses have succeeded because of their off-the-beaten-path approach and delicious delicacies.

Philadelphia is known as the City of Brotherly Love, and Philly pizza joint Rosa’s Fresh Pizza truly lives up to its hometown’s name. The restaurant is decorated with a wall of colorful sticky notes worth $1 (or one slice), which feeds its homeless visitors.

“One day, a customer asked to buy forward a slice for a homeless person,” Mason Wartman, the owner of the shop, said in a video for the Ellen DeGeneres show. He then purchased sticky notes, which now cover the wall of the restaurant. “Then a homeless person takes a sticky note and trades it in for a slice of pizza.”

According to the video, Rosa’s feeds approximately 40 homeless persons a day. Visit for a slice of pizza and the gift of giving back. If you’re not in the Philly area but still wish to help out, the restaurant has set up a donation page.

Since the growth of subscription services, items for dogs (made by the humans obsessed with them) have gotten really popular. The Farmer’s Dog is a subscription service which delivers healthy farm-to-dog bowl dishes carefully formulated for your dog’s breed.

Answer a questionnaire about their breed (mixed or otherwise) weight, activity level, current dog food, and The Farmer’s Dog suggests the perfect combination of healthy ingredients, all of which are sourced from restaurant suppliers and human food purveyors. According to the site, the dog food is never frozen and delivered days after it is cooked. Furthermore, the recipes are tested on humans, for a happier and healthier pup.

If basic, store-bought ice cream isn’t unique enough for you, Mix ‘n’ Match Creamery will likely meet expectations. Mix ‘n’ Match Creamery is an Oregon-based ice cream parlor that serves liquid nitrogen ice cream, and every order is custom, so you can have any flavor you want.

According to the company’s website, the liquid nitrogen “freezes everything so fast that ice crystals don’t form,” making its ice cream extra smooth and creamy. Customers choose a base — premium milk, nonfat sugar-free milk, or vegan coconut milk — then from more than 30 different flavors like caramel, cheesecake, coffee, gingerbread, and mint. From there, customers can choose from dozens of different mix-ins like almonds, bacon, cereal and chocolate chips. Mix ‘n’ Match makes the ice cream right there in front of you, with a blast of liquid nitrogen.

Opaque, a restaurant in California, promises to change your view of going out to eat by wining and dining you in the dark. And yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like—you eat your meal in a pitch black dining room.

When you arrive at Opaque, customers look through the menu in a lighted lounge and order food. The restaurant’s staff will then check coats and bags, and lead you to your seat. According to the restaurant’s website, Opaque is staffed by blind and visually impaired servers who have been specially trained to serve food in the dark.

Dining in the dark may seem like a strange concept, but according to Opaque’s website, it’s all about having a more in-depth sensory experience with your food. Opaque has multiple locations in California.

The food truck trend has hit its stride. Popular trucks in major cities have long lines of eager customers waiting outside on their lunch breaks. But Drive Change, a hybrid profit/nonprofit organization, is taking food trucks to a new, socially-responsible level by giving back to the community.

The organization hires, trains and mentors formerly incarcerated young adults, and the food trucks serve as a form of transitional employment with the ultimate goal of preparing these young people to go back to school or start full-time employment.

Drive Change currently operates only one food truck, located in New York and called Snowday. It farm-fresh foods prepared in their kitchen in Brooklyn and served at the truck. Drive Change plans to open more food trucks in the future, and each truck “employs and empowers 24 young people per year.” All food truck sales go back into the organization’s re-entry program to help more former inmates get on the right track.

Back to the Roots was started by two college students who were inspired by something they learned in a class: You can grow mushrooms using recycled coffee grounds. Co-founders Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez wrote of their experience, “After watching hours of how-to videos and turning our fraternity kitchen into a big science experiment, we eventually decided to give up our corporate job offers to instead become full-time mushroom farmers.”

In an effort to get people more connected with their food, Back to the Roots created an easy, 10-day grow-your-own organic-mushroom kit. Their organic mushroom farm comes in a small box (the mushrooms grow right out of the box) and simply requires watering twice a day.

The company also sells a “garden in a can” product that makes growing organic herbs at home even easier, a self-sufficient water-garden aquarium (the fish feed the plants and the plants keep the water clean), and ready-to-eat organic cereals.

Do you love cheese? Bet you don’t like it as much as Sarah “The Cheese Lady” Kaufmann, who makes her living as a traveling cheese sculptor.

She creates cheddar-cheese carvings for grocery stores, sporting events, festivals, photo shoots, and any other business or event that needs a giant hunk of cheese. Kaufmann has carved everything from a scene of the first moon landing to the Chicago skyline.

Though she makes most of her money carving cheese, Kaufmann also hosts seminars, where she informs audiences about the art and traditions of cheese making.

Want a little wine to go with that cheese sculpture? If you still haven’t found your favorite go-to bottle, Tasting Room can help.

Tasting Room is a wine club subscription, but unlike similar services that send you whichever bottles they want, this service allows you to taste various wines to find the ones you like before you buy, so that you only get shipments of wine you know you’ll enjoy.

How does it work? When you sign up, you’ll receive a tasting kit complete with six different wines in special mini bottles. Simply log in to your Tasting Room account and follow the instructions; the site will generate a “wine profile” for you that tells you more about the types of wine you like, such as where they come from and what foods pair well with them. After that, you’ll receive shipments of wines you like (and if you get one you hate, just tell them and they’ll replace it or give you a refund).

J&D’s Foods makes a huge variety of edible products — mayonnaise, popcorn, croutons — and all of these products have one thing in common: They taste like bacon.

Founded in 2007, J&D’s was started by two friends whose mutual love of bacon led them to the logical conclusion that everything in life should taste like this savory meat product.

They started by creating a bacon-flavored salt that could be added to nearly any food to lend it that distinct, cured-meat flavor. Since then, J&D’s has expanded its offerings to include much weirder products, such as bacon-flavored lip balm and sunscreen and, of course, its highly popular Mmmvelopes (that’s right: bacon-flavored envelopes) though they are currently out of production.

What do you give to those who have recently lost a loved one? You’re probably thinking flowers. But although flowers are pretty, they’re ultimately useless to mourners. This is why David Storke, a former funeral director from Virginia, founded MealGifts.

Storke’s company delivers family-style meals to grievers all over the United States. So, if you want to send a little comfort food to someone far away, there’s no need to cook and ship your famous lasagna. Whether it’s a full pot roast or some vegetable stir-fry, MealGifts delivers all the goodness of a home-cooked meal without requiring any of the home cooking.

Things to Do Before Opening a Salon

For many beauty-industry professionals, owning a salon is a dream come true. If you’ve got the styling skills and the capital needed to start your business, you’re already halfway there. However, just like with any other industry, opening your own business can be challenging, and it comes with a lot of tasks and responsibilities to complete.

Thinking about putting your beauty skills to the test and opening your own salon? Make sure you follow these 10 expert tips first.

“A business plan is key to starting a salon. The plan offers a road map for salon owners to follow and helps entrepreneurs consider all areas of the business. A business plan makes sure you set up a metric for success and consider the financials before you invest huge amounts of time and money in a new salon.” – Ali Ryan, owner, The Dry House

“With salons on every corner, even in small towns, entering into the market with a specialty or service niche can dramatically increase buzz and press about your opening. Most salons try to please everyone, offering a huge menu of services. But this does nothing to differentiate you in the market. Even if you do offer many services, promoting a niche or specialty service will help you attract not only a very loyal client base, but will [also] instantly lend credibility to your salon as the experts in your niche space.” – Pamela Jeschonek, owner, Everyday Esthetics Eyebrow Studio

“Do your research. Ensure that you are complying with the state laws and regulations. If you have to make some adjustments to your plan because of regulations and laws, do so early so that you can avoid potentially having to stop your operation later or [having to pay] a fine. This will save you time and money.” – Shanell Jett, owner and stylist, JettSet Mobile Studio

“Get in touch with major product distributors like Redken, Paul Mitchell, etc. Some of them offer support services such as training [and] consultants to salon owners and staff. ” – Tom Justin, author and business consultant

“My number-one tip for aspiring entrepreneurs before they open up a salon is to have a number of professional clients of your own that will cover your overhead. Salon employees have an independent mind-set and will try to make power plays. With a solid client base of your own, you’ll be in a better position to call the shots.” – Sandra LaMorgese, speaker and entrepreneur

“Secure a solid location with plenty of parking. If you make it convenient for clients to visit your salon, you’ll have more customers, which in turn means more revenue to pay off your initial loan and to put toward growth expenses.” – Jim Salmon, president of business services, Navy Federal Credit Union

“I would advise any new salons to invest time in the training and motivation of the staff. Now, any technician is going to know their trade. However, they might need help with the selling and customer-retention side. Your salon will be built around your stylists and technicians, [so] ensuring they are comfortable with up-selling products and other treatments across the brand is the difference between success and failure. Spending time before launch training your key staff to learn these key skills and learn how to teach them to new employees will pay dividends once the salon is running, and will go a long way to help with the smooth operation of a successful business.” – Jennifer Quinn, client relations and Web content executive, Phorest

“Create a vision for how you want clients to feel, what you want them to experience and what adjectives clients will use when describing their experience. This will help in developing a look, feel and atmosphere.” – Samira Far, founder, Bellacures

“Work with a designer or space planner to ensure you are maximizing your revenue potential for the space. Keep in mind any plumbing needs, and take advantage of space in the center of the salon with double-sided stations or other uses. Know the dimensions you have for each area, so you can shop for salon equipment to fit the space or have it custom-ordered. If construction work is needed, try to negotiate those costs in your lease agreement.” – Miriam Deckert, marketing director, SalonSmart

“Don’t go and see what others are charging in your area, because you don’t know anything about them or their skill set. I charged $60 a haircut when I first opened in a town where the most expensive haircut was $38. I had 25 years of training and education to get here. Some people thought I was crazy and wouldn’t get it — not only did I get it, [but] I have since raised [prices] to $70 and keep billing. If you are great at what you do, people will pay for it.”– Sheryl Miller, owner, Fringe Hair Art

Business Models for the Digital Age

Digitization, which is of course happening all around us, is opening up a whole new spectrum of opportunities to create value. But how do you navigate this new horizontal world?

Peter Weill and Stephanie Woerner offer some useful insights on these challenges in their 2015 Sloan Management Review article, “Thriving in an Increasingly Digital Ecosystem.” In exploring these insights, and some of their implications, leaders can gain a fuller understanding of the landscape they face.

Opportunities for companies in every industry are occurring on two critical dimensions: knowledge of the end customer and business design, i.e., breadth of product and service offerings. These dimensions combine to form four business models for creating value (see exhibit): Suppliers, Multichannel Businesses, Modular Producers, and Ecosystem Drivers.

Suppliers, in the lower left quadrant, have little direct knowledge of the preferences of their end customers, and may or may not have a direct relationship with them. These companies sell their products and services to distributors in the value chain. Due to the ease of digital search, they are vulnerable to pricing pressures and commoditization as customers look for less expensive alternatives. Washing-machine manufacturers are a good example of Suppliers, as are companies that create mutual funds sold by someone else.

If you are a Supplier, you need to make sure your operations are as efficient as possible, but that’s only the first step. As digitization continues, end customers will increasingly expect you to cater to their likes and needs. So if you don’t know much about your end customers and aren’t intent on solving their problems, you’ll need to find other ways to ward off commoditization. That means making sure that your product is highly differentiated or that it goes through a distribution channel other than one controlled by an Ecosystem Driver, another of the business models, which has a broad supply base. Otherwise, you risk losing all the value your enterprise has created.

Haier, the world’s largest manufacturer of white goods, has deployed various strategies to differentiate itself from competitors. It has developed a variety of niche products, including washing machines that accommodate the long gowns worn by women in Pakistan, and freezers that can keep food frozen for 30 hours in the event of a power outage in Nigeria. More recently, Haier used the Internet to open up its innovation process to people outside the company, enabling an unprecedented level of customization.

Multichannel Businesses, in the upper left quadrant, have deep knowledge of their consumers because they enjoy a direct relationship with them. Companies in this category provide access to their products in various digital and physical channels to ensure the seamless experience their end customers have come to expect. Many banks and brokerage houses are Multichannel Businesses, as are some retailers and insurance companies.

If you are an Multichannel Business, there’s no such thing as too much customer knowledge. Broadening your understanding your customers’ life-event needs is essential for building out the integrated experience that will retain existing consumers and attract new ones.

IKEA, the world’s largest furniture company, is an example of an Multichannel Business that continues to find ways to enhance the range of offerings within its value chain. Building upon its global presence — currently more than 300 stores in 41 countries — IKEA used its extensive knowledge of its customers (gleaned through visits to homes, for example) to develop “products for an everyday life” — from bedroom furniture to prepared food, all under IKEA’s iconic brand. After decades of focus on the customer experience in its stores, IKEA recently launched online shopping, making the purchasing experience truly seamless and gaining a way to learn even more about its customers.

Modular Producers, in the lower right quadrant, offer a distinct capability that spans the ecosystem, but they have little direct knowledge of the end customer. Their plug-and-play offerings can work with any number of channels or partners, but they rely on others for distribution as well as for guidance on what the customer needs. A good example is payment companies that enable the consumer to pay for a wide range of goods and services, such as groceries and college tuition.

If you are a Modular Producer, you need to be the best at everything. As is the case with Suppliers, competition is fierce, so your offerings need to be innovative and well priced.

Square Inc. fits the profile of a Modular Producer. Founded in 2009, the B2B payments company has continuously launched innovative software and hardware products that are ecosystem-agnostic. Square’s point-of-sale, payroll, employee management, and appointment apps can be used on Apple and Android devices alike, as can its chip and magstrip readers.

Ecosystem Drivers, in the upper right quadrant, have the best of both worlds: deep end-customer knowledge and a broad supply base. They leverage these dimensions to provide consumers with a seamless experience, selling not only their own proprietary products and services but also those from providers across the entire ecosystem. Thus, they create value for themselves while extracting rent from others. Large internet retailers in the U.S. and China are good examples of Ecosystem Drivers, as are some healthcare providers.

If you are an Ecosystem Driver, you’ll want to keep pushing the boundaries in both dimensions, increasing your knowledge of end customers and the breadth of offerings available to them.

As Weill and Woerner’s research demonstrates, the prospects for creating value are greatest for companies that participate in ecosystems rather than in value chains, so Ecosystem Drivers have the greatest potential for value creation and Suppliers the smallest. All four paths are viable routes to enduring success, provided you are clear on what your generic strategy is and what that strategy requires. If, however, you are losing customers or growing more slowly than your market, you should consider moving to a different quadrant, either by expanding your knowledge of your end customers or by becoming more of an ecosystem.

Or even by doing both: GE is moving from being a Supplier of industrial products to an Ecosystem Driver in the Industrial Internet of Things, with the help of Predix, the cloud-based operating system it launched last year. Serving as a platform for services provided by third-party vendors as well as GE business units, Predix helps companies collect, analyze, and leverage operational data so they can optimize the performance of their entire system. As Predix’s customer base grows, so will GE’s status as an Ecosystem Driver.

As digital becomes the new normal, the paths to success are there for the taking. But be sure you know your destination before setting out.

Start a T-Shirt Business

Thanks to online marketplaces and the many shoppers looking to buy products over the web, selling online is easier than ever. One of the possible avenues for entrepreneurs, especially those looking for a design-oriented or artistic business, is the T-shirt market.

If you’re an entrepreneur looking to start an online T-shirt business, you could purchase an expensive T-shirt printer or screen printing equipment. But you don’t have to; you can get your business off the ground with minimal startup capital — as low as $50, according to some experts. Compared to other types of startups, an online T-shirt company is low-priced and simple to launch, and you don’t even have to manage order fulfillment.

Your t-shirts can contain simple words, fully printed designs or a combination of both. Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop can be great tools to help you create your designs. Adobe offers low-priced monthly subscriptions; Adobe single apps are available for $19.99 per month. Adobe and online education companies such as Lynda.com offer a wide variety of Adobe classes to help you develop your design skills.

If you have ideas but don’t have the skills to produce your designs, you may find affordable graphic-design freelancers through sites such as Guru, Fiverr and Upwork. Rates are often affordable and negotiable. If you want to start designing without Photoshop, T-Shirt Magazine contributor Ana Gonzalez recommended Placeit, which offers clothing mock-ups for as little as $29 per month for nine images.

Whatever your idea is, do your best to make sure you are not infringing on another designer’s ideas. You can do this by conducting an online search of trademark databases like U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and/or hiring a patent lawyer to help you determine whether your design is similar to one that has been copyrighted or trademarked.

Printing equipment can be expensive and requires you to purchase inventory. You may ultimately want to do your own printing, but when you are first starting out, you can use an on-demand T-shirt printing company, such as Printful, Print Aura, Scalable Press, Teespring and Amplifier — all you need to do is submit your designs and they’ll take care of the rest. Many printers, including these five, offer order fulfillment services, so you never have to worry about inventory and shipping.

Most of these types of services offer features specifically for small businesses, including no minimum purchases, no inventory requirements, no monthly fees, volume discounts and mock-up generators. Based on our research, other factors to consider when choosing a printer include t-shirt selection (colors, sizes, styles), print quality, turnaround time, cost, integrations with e-commerce platforms and return policies.

You can easily create an e-commerce website using a service such as Shopify, WooCommerce, Etsy, Square Space, Big Cartel or Amazon. Many of these services will allow you to use your own domain for an additional cost, and many will work with the print company of your choice. You’ll want to verify how well the printer works with your website or shopping site technology before you purchase.

Besides the basic business website standards like your company logo, product listings and contact information, you’ll also want to include specifics such as sizing charges and fit information. Your customers will want to see detailed color variations as well. When you are first starting out, you’ll likely just start with T-shirt mock-ups and then evolve to real-life images using models as you grow.

Lindsay Craig, a social growth expert at Spaces, a website builder offered by Shopify, said most of the initial planning and creation process of starting a T-shirt business is free. The first expense you may incur is buying your custom domain. Google charges $12 per year for a domain, Square Space is $20 and Shopify starts at $13 per year. Using Shopify’s Spaces, you can build an online shop for free and then upgrade it starting for $4 per month.

Craig suggested you start with three to five T-shirt designs. If you are not a designer, you can use royalty-free fonts from 1001 Fonts and low-priced artwork from The Noun Project to get started. T-shirt templates are available so you can create realistic images of your designs rather easily. If you do not have access to Adobe Creative Suite, you can start using free applications such as GIMP to create your designs.

Once you have some designs created, you’ll want to order some sample product so you can see the quality of the shirt and printing. Craig noted that is one of the larger expenses and will cost you around $20. All of those expenses add up to less than $50. However, keep in mind that you’ll need to purchase a business license, and prices for those vary greatly depending on your area.

When you are first starting out, you won’t need much. Minimal sales are simple to track using a free spreadsheet such as Google Sheets. But as your business grows, you may want to consider a few additional solutions. Here are a few good ones to try:

  • Accounting software: QuickBooks Online, FreshBooks and Xero are low-priced online services that provide invoicing and standard accounting features.
  • Tax services: Some business owners prefer to do their own taxes with a product such as TurboTax, but you may want to consider hiring an accountant.
  • Payment processing: Many services, such as Shopify and Square, will handle credit card processing for you. Other services allow you to connect your own payment processor. Generally, these to cost you roughly 2.75 percent per transaction.

Don’t become discouraged if your business doesn’t take off right away. Because of its minimal time commitment (once your designs are completed), an online T-shirt company makes a great side business, so you can keep your full-time job while you wait for your business to become successful. Just start with your idea, and see where it takes you.

Places to Find Businesses For Sale Online

Want to be an entrepreneur? You don’t necessarily have to start and build your own brand-new business; sometimes the best move is to buy and grow an already-established company.

Aspiring owners who don’t know where to start should consider looking into websites, which direct you to the best businesses and properties for sale. From there, you can decide which best fits your entrepreneurial goals and budget.

Here are seven companies to find a business to take over:

BizBuySell.com boasts that it is “the Internet’s largest business for sale marketplace” and offers users options to buy a business, buy a franchise, sell a business, get help with financing and more. Users can search for businesses by category, state and country, and even set a minimum and maximum price. You can also search franchises by type, state, and amount of capital you have available to invest. Or, you can search for a business broker near you.

Search on BizQuest.com for your desired businesses, franchises or business brokers by location and business type or industry. And perks for sellers are good, too: BizQuest.com allows you to post ads in just five minutes. The ads are then shared on the company’s partner websites, like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. BizQuest.com also gives you the option to browse listings in top cities as well as the most popular franchises and industries.

BusinessBroker.net has more than 30,000 business-for-sale listings just waiting for you to sift through. As with the other websites, you can search for businesses and franchises, find brokers and see listings by industry and location. BusinessBroker.net also has a finance and loan center that offers professional help to guide you in your business purchasing decisions.

MergerNetwork.com has more than 15,000 active business-for-sale listings around the world. It allows sellers to post ads for their business for free and connect with over 14,000 entrepreneurs, investment bankers and business brokers.

This website currently has more than 62,000 business listings in the United States and around the world, including available franchises. Users can search by business sector and location to find the perfect business for them. BusinessesForSale.com also has features like email alerts and a services directory for those who need accountants, brokers, lawyers and more.

With more than 800,000 listings available, it’s easy to understand why LoopNet.com is a reliable resource for discovering businesses for sale in your region. If you’re already a business owner or an entrepreneur with a busy schedule, LoopNet is available in app form (on Google Play and in the App Store) to peruse listings on your schedule, from wherever.

Additionally, the site is partners with commercial real estate firms like Century21, Chusman & Wakefield, CBRE, Sperry Van Ness, and Re/Max Commercial.

On the other end of it? If you’re looking to sell your current business, LoopNet provides the opportunity to list your business.

BusinessMart.com, like many of the other websites, has both businesses and franchises available as well as resources and services to help you get funding. It also allows you to search by location and business category, or search franchises by your available capital.

PDF Business Plan Templates

Business plan templates come in all forms, shapes and sizes. The beauty of PDF business plan templates, however, is that users can create their own business plans while having a guide or reference point readily available in front of them. Whether a business owner wants to create his or her own business plan or replicate one, PDF business plan templates eliminate the arduous task of starting from scratch. Below are 10 PDF business plan templates to help you get started.

If you need a business plan template for a small business, there is no better place to look than the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). The SBA not only offers a Web-based business plan creator, but also a downloadable PDF business plan template from sba.gov’s 8(a) Business Development Program. This no-fuss, straightforward business plan template hashes out the details of a business, with more than 50 prompts to help users answer the questions needed for a complete business plan.

Another government organization, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), also provides useful resources for starting a business. In addition to offering a business plan template and financial projections charts, the VA’s Writing a Business Plan PDF contains information on why an entrepreneur should create a business plan, basic business plan guidelines and tips on the do’s and don’ts of writing a business plan.

Used as the official business plan for the New York StartUP! 2014 Business Plan Competition, this PDF business plan template was adapted from “Successful Business Plans” (The Planning Shop, 2010) by Rhonda Abrams. Each of the 12 sections of this business plan template includes instructions explaining what type of information to enter, as well as chapter references so you can look up more details. In addition, the template includes a SWOT analysis and optional technology plan.

Need a quick and painless, albeit unconventional, business plan? Try the Business & Entrepreneurship Center’s (BEC) elevator pitch business plan. Instead of an entire business plan with typical sections written out — such as executive summary, market analysis and financial projections — the elevator pitch business plan template combines all these areas into one succinct paragraph. Find examples at the BEC’s downloadable PDF elevator pitch small business plan template.

Hate the idea of writing out an entire essay for a business plan? The One Page Business Plan Company offers a one-page business plan separated into several sections — vision, mission, objectives, strategies and action plans. You can answer all of these sections using keywords and short phrases. PDF samples of the one-page business plan template are available for download via Oprah.com.

Business plans don’t have to be complicated. The $100 Startup’s One-Page Business Plan template helps users craft a business plan by answering several short questions. You can answer each question in one or two sentences. This PDF one-page template covers everything from an overview of your business to marketing, money matters and obstacle projections.

Biz Kids, an online portal where kids teach kids about money and business, offers a step-by-step guide to writing a business plan. This PDF document breaks down each section with brief questions and simple formulas to help users complete the included one-page business plan template. Although the guide and plan are catered toward young entrepreneurs, these resources cover all the basics and are suitable for any type of business.

Thinking about starting a consulting business? Check out Rowan University’s sample consulting business plan template. Part of the university’s Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship 2013 Rohrer Business Plan Competition, this 30-page PDF business plan template is a comprehensive example of what a consulting business plan entails, complete with financial charts and balance sheets.

IPlanner.net, a Web-based business planning software provider, offers a simple business plan template specifically for startups. The downloadable PDF business plan template includes instructions and tips for completing each section, as well as sample charts to help users complete the financial areas of the business plan.

If you want to cover all of your bases, look no further than the Seneca Nation of Indians Economic Development Company’s (SNIEDC) PDF fill-in-the-blank business plan template. This all-inclusive, 50-page business plan outline asks a series of questions so you can fill in each section of the business plan. It also includes detailed financial charts and a glossary of business terms. The SNIEDC is a Salamanca, N.Y.-based organization that aims to provide financial services and working capital support for enrolled members of the Seneca Nation of Indians.

Business Plan Software

Is a business plan really necessary? If you want your business to have the best shot at succeeding, a well-crafted business plan is the way to go. Having the right business-plan software can help you get there. Business-plan software takes the legwork out of writing a business plan by simplifying the process and eliminating the need to start from scratch.

Business plans serve many purposes. Before starting a business, a simple business plan enables would-be entrepreneurs to flesh out their ideas and lay out their vision. When it comes to seeking funding or planning for expansion, a comprehensive business plan is almost always a must. And when it comes to problems down the road, business plans help business owners foresee issues, make adjustments and plan their attack.

“A business that operates without a business plan is a business that is on the road to financial failure,” said Joe Geiger, president and CEO of First Nonprofit Foundation and an adjunct professor at Duquesne University’s Graduate Program for Leadership and Ethics.

Of the several million startups that launch each year, the vast majority fail within the first few years, he said. “The primary reason for all of these failures is that they run out of money,” Geiger said. “The fundamental reason for their financial problems is lack of planning.”

Some of these failures could have been prevented by having a business plan. Yearly business plans with cash-flow forecasts enable businesses to discover their impending cash shortages months, if not years, before they run short of money, Geiger said.

To create a well-crafted business plan, your chosen business-plan software should cover the two critical parts of a business plan. The first part outlines the business’s goals in the coming years and how they will be accomplished, Geiger said. “Who is going to accomplish the goals? What are the milestones on the path to accomplishing the goals? And what people, tools and funds will be needed?” he said.

The second part is a cash-flow forecast, which typically covers a three-year span — the first year includes monthly forecasts, and the second and third years have quarterly forecasts, Geiger explained.

However, most entrepreneurs don’t have an accounting background to help them make proper forecasts, he said. Business planning tools should fill that gap. Geiger’s own cash-flow forecast template forces entrepreneurs to carefully forecast all revenue and cost items; tells them how much money is needed and when it is needed; and warns them of financial problems before they occur. Similarly, the business-plan software you choose should delve deep into financial details, he said.

“The more specific a cash-flow forecast is, the better it is,” Geiger said. For instance, “listing a general overhead expense item is meaningless, while using rent, electric, etc. results in a meaningful forecast,” he added.

To help you choose the best solution for your business, our sister site Top Ten Reviews does extensive in-depth reviews of business-plan software. Here are the top three recommendations:

1 Business Plan Pro

Business Plan Pro leads Top Ten Reviews’ rankings for business plan software, as it provides everything beginners need to develop a professional business plan, and also has several options for advanced users. The Standard Edition of the software has many features, including more than 500 sample business plans, industry profiles and planning e-books. The Premier Edition adds the ability to import data from QuickBooks or Excel, visual cash-planning capability, valuation-analysis tools and additional financial tools.

Research and Forecasting Tools: Business Plan Pro provides more than 500 sample business plans covering several diverse business concepts. Additional resources are available to determine the best way to forecast numbers for marketing, cost per unit and other industry expenses. The “drag and drop” graphic forecaster lets users quickly and easily create graphs and charts.

Help & Support: Business Plan Pro provides beginners and professionals with a business-plan wizard, step-by-step guidance and informational videos.

2 Biz Plan Builder

Biz Plan Builder ranks highly for its multiuser capabilities, including the ability to share securely stored files over the Internet. The software includes everything needed for a customizable, professional business plan. It also helps users create an understanding of their business to help sell themselves to investors and bankers. It includes future strategy development to review the prospects of an acquisition through valuation analysis, adding value for a potential merger and cultivating ideas and advice on restructuring or reorganization.

Research and Forecasting Tools: Forecasting tools include a comprehensive budget/feasibility analysis using a “best/worst” case analysis. Models and financial analysis are also available to help users make the best assumptions, projections and financial determinations.

Help & Support: Supporting documents include business forms such as articles of incorporation, résumé templates, team responsibilities and general partnership agreements, as well as personal financial statements, press releases, private offering disclaimers and stock-option tracking worksheets. Business-plan updates, business-plan FAQs, an online business-plan workshop and an expert referral network are also part of the program. Built-in advice and support include interactive guides, built-in sample plans and expert explanations.

3 BizPlan.com

BizPlan.com earned Top Ten Reviews’ Bronze Award for offering a contemporary online interface that is simple to use, while also providing enough flexibility for the advanced user. The software allows other collaborators to access, edit and share information easily. BizPlan.com has recognized the significant advantage of providing applications that allow for online collaboration and integration with other services and products.

Research and Forecasting Tools: BizPlan.com provides spreadsheet forecasting templates that can be customized and then imported with the final business plan. A full marketplace will soon be launched, which will include access to business resources, as well as the abilities to add features to the business plan and send a completed plan to professionals for printing and binding. Sample plans are also included in the professional package.

Business Plan Templates for Entrepreneurs

Writing a business plan is an important step in the startup process. It helps you and your partners decide if you will work well together, teaches you about the marketplace, and lets you brainstorm business and product goals. But because of all the effort and detail involved, many entrepreneurs dread the thought of sitting down and creating this critical but time-consuming document.

While business plans can be frustrating if you’re writing one from scratch, there are plenty of online templates available to take some of the pain out of the process. Small business owners can benefit from simple, easy-to-follow business-plan tools so they can spend less time writing and more time launching.

Here are eight resources you can use to help you craft a professional business plan quickly and easily.

You’ve heard about those entrepreneurs who started off by jotting down their ideas on a napkin at a bar, café or restaurant. $100 Startup’s One-Page Business Plan is a little like that, but more organized. Designed for entrepreneurs who are itching to get started, this simple business-plan template asks a handful of questions that you can easily answer in one or two sentences. It covers everything from what you sell and who will buy it to how you will get paid, “hustle” to find customers, foresee challenges and overcome the obstacles — all in a single page.

Not all small businesses are concerned with credit lines, partnerships and office space — at least not in the beginning. So why should their initial business plans include these things? Copyblogger’s Remarkably Simple Business Plan doesn’t. Instead, it offers a business-plan template fit for the real would-be entrepreneur’s world. Whereas most business-plan templates assume all businesses are uniform, Copyblogger’s Remarkably Simple Business Plan was created to get to what entrepreneurs really need to know to start a business: the ins and outs of the product or service, how customers will find the business and how the business will make money. Simply copy and paste the template of the Remarkably Simple Business Plan, created by Sonia Simone, co-founder and chief content officer of Copyblogger Media, and you’re good to go.

Founded in 2011, Enloop is regarded as an innovative player in the business-plan-creation industry. Like many others, the service uses an online interface to help automate your business plan’s creation. To get started, users enter basic information about their businesses, including product details. Then, Enloop’s software uses metrics to help predict the financial performance of the company in comparison with others in the sector. According to CEO Cynthia McCahon, the goal of the company is to help entrepreneurs make better-informed decisions. Users can get started on Enloop for free; more advanced paid options are also available.

LivePlan is a relatively new entrant to the online business-tools market that helps you every step of the way, from the planning stages through your launch. Like other services, LivePlan allows business owners to craft perfectly formatted plans. From there, users can create the presentation necessary to pitch their business ideas to would-be investors. Once off the ground, businesses can track revenue and expenses against forecasts, and multiple users within a company can work through the LivePlan interface. Pricing starts at less than $12 a month.

Created by The One Page Business Plan Company, this simple business template covers only the key areas entrepreneurs need to address to start a business: their vision for the company, mission for why the business exists, objectives for setting out goals, strategies to make the business successful and action plans indicating what work needs to be done. Unlike complicated business plans, boring blocks of text are not required — bullet points will do.

Are you the visual type? Look no further than Angela Bowman’s One-Page Visual Business Plan. Based on the principles of the Business Generation Model Strategyzer app, Bowman’s One-Page Visual Business Plan uses sticky notes to help you creatively craft an out-of-the-box business plan. To create a One-Page Visual Business Plan, start by separating a single page into different sections or columns, such as company information and customer segments. Write down your ideas or responses on a sticky note, and then stick it on the corresponding section. You can also color-code the sticky notes for better organization. Then, if your plans change, you can easily remove a note, move it around or add new ones to better fit the direction in which your business is headed.

The fact that the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has an online tool to help users craft business plans will come as no surprise to anyone who has investigated the SBA’s offerings before. The agency has a wealth of free planning, financing and consulting tools and resources, both online and through available consultants. The SBA’s online tool for business-plan creation allows a user to enter information on a Web interface that is tied to that user’s account. The administration says this is intended to be a “live” plan that can be referred to and changed as the company’s plans progress. The SBA encourages entrepreneurs to use their generated plans to discuss their company’s prospects with SBA advisers like those available through SCORE and the Small Business Development Center. The SBA’s tool is available online at no cost.

Greg Go, co-founder of online finance community Wise Bread, is a big believer that entrepreneurs who are just starting out don’t need lengthy business plans. What they actually need, he said, is an “internal working plan” to get started. The internal working plan consists of four simple questions that make up the simple business plan: What is your product or service? Who are your customers? When will things get done? When are bills due, and when do you get paid? To guide entrepreneurs in completing their four-question business plan, Go provides a simplified way of answering each question in his blog post on the subject.

Fast Fixes to Jump-Start Your Business Plan

Writing a business plan can be tricky and time-consuming, but it’s a crucial step if you’re starting a new business. Not only is a business plan helpful if you’re looking for investors, but it can also be a great structural resource to help guide you and remind you of your business goals. So how do you create an efficient business plan that meets your needs? Here are five expert tips.

Before you start writing your business plan, you need to make sure your business idea or product is actually desirable to your intended customer base.

“Many entrepreneurs come up with a great idea without stopping to think if they are solving an actual problem for a group of people,” said Jenny Leonard, CEO of digital agency Never North Labs. “You don’t want to spend months or even a year working on developing a business or product idea only to find out nobody cares or even wants it.”

Leonard said you should spend some time researching your customer base by actually speaking to people your product or business idea would target.

“You’ll quickly find out just by talking to a few dozen people if your business idea or product is a hit or a miss,” Leonard said. “It may be a little extra work early on, but it will save you potentially hundreds of hours in the future by doing this work first.After doing this bit of research, you’ll have the clarity you need to write your business plan.”

So what’s the first step in actually writing your business plan? Startup consultant Kristi Klemm said the first thing you should do is ask yourself, “Who am I making this plan for?” There are usually two answers to this question, Klemm said: You’re writing it to fit your own needs, or you’re writing it for investors or partners.

“It’s important to recognize when someone wants a business plan for their own needs,” Klemm said. “This indicates the person usually desires structure, and getting their motivations for starting a business on paper — or [on a] screen — is an important step for them in order to begin working [and] to acknowledge the business is really happening.”

This type of plan tends to be less reliant on outside data, functioning mostly to set into motion the actions needed to get the business off paper, and operating, Klemm said.

“It’s more of an expansive-yet-broad to-do list for the next 12-24 months,” Klemm said.

If you’re making your business plan for investors or partners, it should be very analytical, and include a lot of competitive and market research, with money-asks clearly defined and term sheets as detailed as possible, Klemm said.

“You’re already convinced the business is going to work. Now you need someone else to believe in you,” Klemm said.

A great way to simplify your business plan, both for yourself and your investors, is to make it more visual. Zack Pennington, chief operating officer at online music instruction resource Collabra Music, said you shouldn’t be afraid to use charts in place of long text paragraphs.

“Sometimes, people get too hung up on trying to explain their business model or cost assumptions in words, when a simple table, pie chart or flow chart can do wonders,” Pennington said. “Investors spend countless hours reading business plans, and if you use a chart that makes it simple and easy for them to understand what you do, you’re significantly more likely to hear from them.”

Pennington also noted a change in the way many business plans are being created.

“It’s OK for your business plan to look more and more like a slide deck, since that’s where most business plans are heading,” Pennington said.

When you’re creating your business plan, you also have to think about the time it will take you to reach your goals. Lora Ivanova, co-founder and chief marketing officer of at-home STD testing company myLAB Box, said that it’s key to ask yourself about your time line or personal runway.

For example, “How long can you and the people on your team — co-founders and anyone investing sweat equity — commit yourselves [to] full-time [work] or any meaningful capacity [dedicated] to your business?” Ivanova said.

Once you have that time frame, Ivanova said that the second most important question is, “Is that enough time, conservatively, to get your business to a place where it can sustain your ongoing commitment?” Or, in other words, “At what point in time can your business provide enough income for you to keep working on it?”

From there, you can figure out what goals you need to achieve and how to achieve them.

“Depending on any gap between your runway and revenue, your business plan’s primary goal will be to bridge that gap with tangible solutions,” Ivanova said.

She also suggested creating a business plan for your best- and worst-case scenarios.

“Looking at them side by side is a great reality check,” Ivanova said. “At the end of the day, any business plan is irrelevant if you, the founder [that the business’s] success hangs on, cannot sustain your livelihood to keep building.”

Business plans are important, but it’s also important to remember that not everything will go according to plan. That’s why you need to keep your business plan flexible, said Cindy Jones, CEO and formulator at skin-care company Colorado Aromatics Cultivated Skin.

“Many people get too hung up on a business plan, and it slows them down,” Jones said. “It doesn’t have to be perfect. Flexibility is important.”

Jones noted that her own business plan has changed a lot since she started her company.

“My original business plan evolved so much that it is not recognizable,” Jones said. “This is because areas of my business that were minor parts of my business plan, because I never expected them to grow much, actually took off more than expected. This meant my focus had to change somewhat and resources needed to go to that area.”

Business Plan Competitions for Entrepreneurs

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

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

If you’re thinking of applying to a business plan competition, here are six great options open to entrepreneurs in any state.

Location: Waco, Texas

Website: http://www.baylor.edu/business/newventurecompetition/

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

Location: Savannah, Georgia

Website: https://www.thecreativecoast.org/programs/fastpitch/

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

Location: Austin, Texas

Website: http://www.hatchpitch.com/

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

Location: Multiple international locations

Website: http://www.innovationworldcup.com/

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

Location: Santa Clara, California

Website: http://www.boomerventuresummit.com/index/competition/

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

Location: Brooklyn, New York

Website: https://veinternational.org/national-online-competitions/

This business plan competition brings together some of the best and brightest student leaders and future entrepreneurs at Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus. Teams representing 28 virtual enterprise companies — simulated businesses set up and run by students for educational purposes — submit written business plans and give oral presentations that are judged by industry professionals and educators. After receiving top honors in local and regional business plan competitions during the school year, these teams earn the chance to compete.

Fueling Big Growth for Small Business

Propelled by access to new technology, a changing workforce and easier opportunities to reach a larger audience, small business growth is expected to skyrocket in the coming years, new research finds.

According to a study from Intuit and Emergent Research, the number of small businesses are projected to increase to 42 million by 2026, up from this year’s 30 million. The 3.3 percent annual growth rate over the next decade is significantly higher than the 2 percent average growth between 2004 and 2014, the most recent data available.

While the number of small businesses will grow over the next decade, their size is actually getting smaller. The research found that the average size of small businesses dropped by 20 percent between 2001 and 2014. Specifically, in 2001, the average small business started with 6.5 employees. In 2014, the number shrank to just four employees.

“The next few years will see an acceleration in the number of small and micro businesses, thanks in large part to new technologies that reduce the costs and risks of operating a small business and open up access to customers around the world,” Steve King, a partner at Emergent Research, said in a statement. “While running a business is always going to be tough work, economic and technological changes are making it easier and cheaper to start and operate a successful small business.”

The study’s authors highlight five key reasons that will not only fuel the growth of small businesses, but will allow them to compete with big businesses like never before.

  1. Top-notch technology: Small businesses now have the ability to build sophisticated business and technology infrastructures that previously were only available to large companies. Cloud computing and manufacturing and distributing capabilities are now available with a cost structure that allows small businesses to scale up and down and only pay for what they use.
  2. Deeper insight:  Access to insightful data is giving small businesses the capability of gaining deeper customer and business insights. Access to machine learning has taken away much of the complexity of data analysis, which allows small businesses to make faster and better decisions.
  3. The on-demand workforce: By the year 2020, freelance workers are projected to represent 43 percent of the workforce. This gives small businesses access to the right people at the right time in a flexible way, without the responsibility of hiring traditional employees.
  4. Online marketplaces: Online outlets are giving small businesses the ability to not only sell more niche products and services, but also to extend their reach to millions of customers that they previously never had access to.
  5. Affordable advertising: Online advertising has made it cost-effective to connect with customers worldwide. For a fairly low cost, small businesses can deliver their targeted messages, whether it be a sponsored photo or in-stream video ad, to a whole new audience.

“This next decade will be the decade of the small business,” said Karen Peacock, senior vice president of small business at Intuit. “Industry-shifting trends like lower-cost, scalable infrastructure to start and grow your business, the ability to build a team with amazing on-demand talent, and data that helps you fuel your business and delight your customers are game changers.”