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Writing a business plan is suppose to be Frustrating

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You heard me! I’d even go so far as to say if it’s easy you’re probably doing it wrong.

In fact I would encourage you to really screw things up… on paper, because when you do it on paper you’re much less likely to screw things up with real money, with your house as collateral, employees that need to be paid and on and on.

Let’s think about the plan for a moment. There are two reasons why you need one. First, it’s your own personal road map. It allows you to give everything a dry run, on paper, so that when your put your money where your mouth is, you’ll know what’s going on.

Second, it says to investors, bankers and potential partners that you’ve thought everything through and they will get their money back.

While a business plan does have a formal layout that you should aim for it in the final draft, it’s not the kind of thing you write from start to finish. Even logic tells you that while you may put the Executive Summary first, you can’t write a summary until you have something to summarize. To make the process easier, dive in with what you know and try to complete it from the inside out.

Just keep in mind, it’s suppose to be hard and it’s suppose to be the place where you work out all the details before you get too far. You’ll find dead ends and numbers that don’t jive and all those other frustrating points along the way.

So when you get that feeling like you’d rather just wing it, don’t. Remember, it might suck for the moment, but not as bad as it will when your business is in a downward spiral. When it gets that bad you don’t have time to stop and research a course of action. But when you’ve followed dead ends and have already sifted through a mountain of data, you’ll get to answers quickly and have a much better chance of survival.

Typewriter Keyboard by Sergio Ianni

Written by Karlie

April 15th, 2010 at 7:11 am

Posted in planning,Start-up

Lending environment in WNY – A 7… what?!?

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For a while we’ve been getting mixed reaction about small business lending.

On one side we keep hearing that the US Government is trying to loosen the grip on bank loans, yet so few are being made. Why is this?

News out of the SBA office in Buffalo NY seems to indicate that smaller, regional banks are still lending, since they weren’t hit as hard by the financial shake-up as national banks. However the minimum credit score to secure a loan is right around a 730.

Meaning if you don’t have pristine, excellent credit, you are going to have a really hard time.

To put that in perspective, a 650 use to be considered mid range for “good credit” and the credit score tops off between 830-850 depending on the reporting company.

Might be a good time to think about bootstrapping a business.

~Karlie

Written by Karlie

February 18th, 2010 at 3:28 pm

Posted in planning,Start-up

Beginning with the finishing touches

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So here’s another general response that pops up all the time when I’m counseling at SCORE.

The question is usually something like “Is $1400 too much to pay for a 5 page website?”

So my answer is usually something like this…

If I knew more about the type of business, the better I could tailor my response here, but in general, you’ll want to go Open Source.

Open Source software is publicly licensed. It’s underlying code is open and available for modification and to top it all off, it’s usually been tested and tweaked a thousand times before you use it so you’re less likely to have problems or need support contracts.

Also, if you find something that’s close enough to what you want your site to do function wise, you’ll only be paying a professional to shine it up for you. So instead of months of custom code that will need complete bug testing you’ll be looking at a week or less to get things up and running.

You’ll also need to think about the site in two ways… What’s behind the scenes managing content, catalog and check-out process – usually the database portion of the website and your admin panel. Then how that data feeds out into your site.

The good news, the graphical layout is really a minor detail once the back end is working properly.

You’ll usually have a template of some sort (Cascade Style Sheet – CSS or XML) for the graphical layout with snips of code to indicate where the various components go. Menu on the left or the right – no problem. Don’t like the colors, again, no problem. Simply tweak the style sheet and all your information will fill in just where it’s suppose to go.

Every page will have a similar look and feel while allowing you lots and lots of dynamic space for content.

You might even be able to find an open source template that you can modify to suit your needs.

For instance, http://on-disk.com/ is http://demo.oscommerce.com/ We have modified the code and the database to meet our needs, but the sky’s the limit on graphical modifications. We’ve kept somethings the same, but there’s no need to be stuck with anything.

Another example is Webpath.net The back end is a custom wiki/blog hybrid that we created a long time ago, but the layout started out as a free template called Invention. I liked the general layout, but wanted it co-branded to the On-Disk.com website so the color scheme and graphical elements needed a quick change.  All in all, the updates took about an hour to complete and most of that was time I spent looking and deciding if I liked it or not.

But these are just examples. You’ll have lots of choices with Open Source Shopping carts, Content Management systems and loads and loads of templates to choose from.

Just think of your business functions in Must, Should and Can features. Knowing what you need will help you sort through options as you research components for your site.

What must the site do from the beginning? What should be included in phase 2. What can we integrate now for future upgrades so that we don’t have to re-write the code?

Have I overwhelmed you? In any case, let’s stop here for now. Comment with questions.

~Karlie

Written by Karlie

December 15th, 2009 at 3:41 pm

Wanna get married?

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This morning I was asked if forming a business partnership is the right move when a small business owner doesn’t bring all the necessary skills to the table. I’m always a bit nervous about partnerships, so I used my standby response…

The leading cause of divorce is money. With business, you don’t even have love to keep you together.

I quickly finished my response to the client and then popped open my spankin’ new blog* with the prospects of writing my first official post. The problem is, I didn’t know if I’m actually right about causes of divorce. Conventional wisdom seems to agree with me, but now that I’m a faux journalist, I should probably find a credible source… Shouldn’t I?

A quick trip to Google brought me to an article by Liz Pulliam Weston titled “Money isn’t the culprit in most divorces.”

The title of the article does seem to indicate I’m wrong.  However, the body presents a valid argument showing that I’m not that far off the mark.  So while I don’t have a straight answer about money being the root of all evil it does give me cause to modify my thinking and the way I’ll format this portion of future SCORE counseling sessions.

So if the question is,Is a partnership right for my business?

My answer will be, It depends.

While you might be friendly towards one another, have complementary skills and a little bit of money to bring to the table, you need to be very cautious. Becoming business partners is equivalent to marrying someone.

  • You will spend more of your time with the partner than you will with your spouse.
  • You will be splitting any money you do make with the partner.
  • If the relationship goes bad, they can walk away with a significant portion of your business — maybe enough to cause the business to fail.

If you still think a partnership is right for your business, you shouldn’t do anything until you have a signed partnership agreement. I really mean that. Until such time as you have an agreement in place, if they’re working in the business you have an employee. If they give money to the business then they are an investor.

The partnership agreement should be reviewed by your attorney and should cover everything you can think of.

  • Who owns what share of the business?
  • Where do your shares pass should something happen to you? Accidents have been known to happen. If something does, do your shares transfer to your next of kin or the partner?
  • How do you get out of the business or remove a partner? Situations change, so be flexible.
  • What jobs will each of you be responsible for? Be thinking about “Too many cooks spoiling the broth” vs. “Many hands make light work.”

*Editors note 1-24-10, This article was imported from karlierobinson.blogspot.com a general topics blog and KarlieRobinson.com is the new “new blog” devoted to business topics.

Written by Karlie

November 18th, 2009 at 10:49 am