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wordpress we have moved   Due to circumstances beyond our control we have moved our blog. Please start following us at http://atlantasbdcblog.wordpress.com/ for worthy small business information. The Atlanta Small Business Development Center (SBDC)  is YOUR small business champion! – Jeff, Mary, Natasja, Peter, Erica and Ted.

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What PayPal’s Rocky Beginnings Can Teach You About Startup Success

What PayPal's Rocky Beginnings Can Teach You About Startup Success

Image Credit: ajc.com / Article by: Peter S. Cohen
 

As CEO of a startup in launch mode, you could build a product or service and sell to any customer. Make a list of all the possible market segments and specific measures used to evaluate these segments and you might run out of resources before you even get started.

How should you narrow down the list of options to make the best choice?

The answer is: you can’t make the best choice. If you are trying to do something new, there is no evidence of historical success or failure that might provide you with sufficient guidance to make an informed decision. Fortunately, you can make a series of guesses that may lead you to a good-enough answer.

Consider how PayPal got started. Max Levchin, one of its co-founders explained to me that PayPal did not start off as the online auction currency for which it is rightly famous. It was originally called Confinity and delivered security software for handheld devices such as PalmPilots.

Levchin did not achieve enormous success with that business model. He and his colleagues got to thinking about handheld devices, which led them to focus on wallets. They got funding to develop an electronic wallet and when they delivered the product, they began to get emails from people who were using part of their service as an eBay auction currency.

Levchin thought this was a terrible idea because it was not the purpose for which they had designed the product. However, they decided to scrap their original idea after six months to focus on serving the eBay community. In 2002, PayPal, which formed two years earlier, went public, giving Levchin an easy way to turn his 2.3 percent stake into cash.

Levchin’s bumpy journey to PayPal success suggests three principles that you should follow to help you choose the right product and customer segment:

1. Work on a problem you are passionate about solving. Only start a company if you are willing to spend 80 to 100 hours a week working on it without getting paid. When you get started, you will probably need to do this and convince others to do it as well. Without passion, you won’t last.

Levchin and his team loved working on operating systems, so when they started Confinity, they were doing what they loved. While this was a good way to start, it did not initially lead them to picking the right market.

2. Build a prototype. Think about your startup’s product and then build a quick and inexpensive version of it. Building such a prototype will help you communicate what you are trying to accomplish with potential customers.

Finding that first customer — your foot in the door to targeting a market – depends on how people respond to your prototype.

In Levchin’s case, the prototype mostly revealed that he was targeting the wrong customers with his focus on a PalmPilot operating system. You may succeed at your first try, but usually startups have to use the prototype to help them adjust their product or the customers they should target.

3. Find customer pain. As much as you believe you will be the exception, most startups fail. That’s why startups must focus on targeting customers with significant pain that competitors are not addressing. Then the startup must create a low-risk way to encourage customers to try the product.

Levchin stumbled on the need for an eBay auction currency — a small part of Confinity’s service — but a large pain point for customers. With help from Xoom, PayPal created a solution that enabled customers to pay for online auctions and did it better than the competition.

Using these three principles, you should be able to find a product and market segment from which your startup’s growth will spring. Most importantly, the only way to get customers to give your venture a chance is to offer them a solution to a problem that they can’t get anywhere else. Find many such customers and you have picked the right market.

This article was taken from:  http://www.entrepreneur.com

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The Atlanta Small Business Development Center’s October Classes

Retirement Plans For Small Businesses

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Retirement plans are important employee retention tools that also provide significant tax benefits to small business owners.
In just two hours discover:
– the basics of small business retirement options,
– the best retirement plan programs for small business owners and their employees,
– the key considerations in establishing a retirement plan for your business.
Gain practical information, helpful tips, and have an opportunity to get your questions answered by one of the foremost experts in the field.
Presented by:
David Schultz, JD of Your Wealth Partners and
Todd Bellocchio, CFP of AXA Advisors.
*Refreshments provided by AXA-Advisors, LLC*

Date: October 9, 2013 Time: 7:30 – 10:00 am Cost: $69.00 

Location: 5909 Peachtree-Dunwoody Rd., Palisades Building, Suite 100, Atlanta, GA 30328

Starting A Business

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Lack of planning is one of the top reasons new businesses fail. Attending this program led by an experienced business professional will be one of the most important decisions you make prior to opening your business. Topics include traits of successful entrepreneurs, how to conduct market research, legal structures for your business, estimating start-up costs and cash flow projections, financing alternatives, failure factors, and business planning. A detailed start-up workbook and other handouts are provided.

Date: October 15, 2013 Time: 6:00 – 9:00 pm Cost: $69.00

Location: 5909 Peachtree-Dunwoody Rd., Palisades Building, Suite 100, Atlanta, GA 30328

8(a) Certification Step-By-Step

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The 8(a) Business Development program is part of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s mission to assist socially and economically disadvantaged business owners compete for federal government contracts. Eligible companies are generally at least two years old with owner (s) who are able to demonstrate social and economic disadvantage. 8(a) certified companies can benefit from managerial, technical, and procurement assistance.
Program topics include overviews and differences of the 8(a) and Small Disadvantaged Business Certification (SDB) programs, a detailed application checklist, and examples taken from successful and unsuccessful 8(a) applications.
*Registration is required to attend. Space is limited. First come, first serve*

Date: October 17,2013 Time: 10:00 am – 1:00 pm Cost: Free

Location:  U.S. Small Business Administration, 233 Peachtree St., Harris Tower, 19th Floor, Atlanta, GA 30303

Financing Your Business

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This detailed program shows you step-by-step how to finance a start-up or growing business. Also included are tips on how to prepare a winning package for any type of financial assistance. Topics include different financing options, such as bank loans, SBA guaranteed loans, non-bank lenders, private investors and the myths and realities of grant funding. Learn how successful borrows pick the right financing options and make their proposals attractive to funding sources. Also, learn how to calculate your financing needs, develop financial projections and how to professionally present your proposal.

Date: October 22, 2013 Time: 6:00 – 8:00 pm Cost: Free

Location: 5909 Peachtree-Dunwoody Rd., Palisades Building, Suite 100, Atlanta, GA 30328

SBA Business Loan Requirements

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One of the keys to a successful business start-up and expansion is the ability to obtain and secure appropriate financing. This class will provide pertinent information on the types of SBA loans including 7(a) and 504 loans, how to write the loan proposal, documentation requirements, and the loan review process. An overview will be provided on sources and uses of funds, terms, and conditions, fees associated with loans, credit reports, and shopping your loan.
*Registration is required to attend. Space is limited. First come, first serve.*

Date: October 24, 2013 Time: 10:00 am – 1:00 pm Cost: Free

Location: U.S. Small Business Administration, 233 Peachtree St., Harris Tower, 19th Floor, Atlanta, GA 30303

For more information or to register for any of our upcoming classes, please call (404) 413-7830 OR visit http://www.georgiasbdc.org.

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10 Business Plan Benefits You Might Be Forgetting

business plan

BY  | September 6, 2013|
 

Too many people don’t bother to write a business plan because they think it’s too hard or unnecessary unless you’re looking for funding. That’s a shame. These myths keep a lot of people from the benefits of planning.

If you’re still skeptical, here are 10 benefits to business planning you shouldn’t be overlooking:

  1. You’ll stay on strategy. It’s hard to stick to strategy through the daily routine and interruptions. Use a business plan to summarize the main points of your strategy and as a reminder of what it both includes and rules out.
  2. Business objectives will be clear. Use your plan to define and manage specific measurable objectives like web visitors, sales, margins or new product launches. Define success in objective terms.
  3. Your educated guesses will be better. Use your plan to refine your educated guesses about things like potential market, sales, costs of sales, sales drivers, lead processing and business processes.
  4. Priorities will make more sense. Aside from the strategy, there are also priorities for other factors of your business like growth, management and financial health. Use your plan to set a foundation for these, then to revise as the business evolves.
  5. You’ll understand interdependencies. Use a plan to keep track of what needs to happen and in what order. For example, if you have to time a product release to match a testing schedule or marketing to match a release, your business plan can be invaluable in keeping you organized and on track.
  6. Milestones will keep you on track. Use a business plan to keep track of dates and deadlines in one place. This is valuable even for the one-person business and vital for teams.
  7. You’ll be better at delegating. The business plan is an ideal place to clarify who is responsible for what. Every important task should have one person in charge. Your plan keeps track.
  8. Managing team members and tracking results will be easy. So many people acknowledge the need for regular team member reviews and just as many admit they hate the reviews. The plan is a great format for getting things in writing and following up on the difference between expectations and results with course corrections.
  9. You can better plan and manage cash flow. No business can afford to mismanage cash. And simple profits are rarely the same as cash. A cash flow plan is a great way to tie together educated guesses on sales, costs, expenses, assets you need to buy and debts you have to pay.
  10. Course corrections will keep your business from flopping. Having a business plan gives you a way to be proactive — not reactive — about business. Don’t wait for things to happen. Plan them. Follow up by tracking the results and making course corrections. It’s a myth that a business plan is supposed to predict the future. Instead, it sets expectations and establishes assumptions so you can manage the future with course corrections.

You don’t need a big formal business plan to reap these benefits. Instead, think of your business plan as a collection of lists, bullet points and tables. Think of it as something that lives on the computer, not on paper. It’s just big enough to do its job.

Tim Berry is the president of Palo Alto Software Inc., based in Eugene, Ore., which produces business planning software. He is also the author of 3 Weeks to Startup and The Plan-As-You-Go Business Plan, published by Entrepreneur Press. The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.
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3 Keys to a Small Business Marketing Plan

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By Walter Dailey/Growing Your Business/Published August 28, 2013/FOXBusiness
 

If you run a small business and have sought out financing, chances are you’ve been required to offer up some sort of business plan to a lending institution. Heck, even a loan from a family member will be met with some level of skepticism if there’s no sensible plan in place. Now that you’re up and running your enterprise, there’s yet another plan that’s needed; it’s called your marketing plan. If the prospect of developing a marketing plan already feels overwhelming, take heart; it’s not that bad. You may be surprised to know that effective marketing plans are not about wild, zany, out-of-the-box ideas of which marketing-hipsters have exclusive rights to.  On the contrary, a solid marketing plan, no matter what your industry, is very straightforward.So let’s start developing your marketing plan.Your marketing plan should possess three major pillars. So grab three sheets of paper or open up three pages of notes on your PC, Mac or mobile device. After doing so, the following three titles should correspond to each of the pages you have: Who We Are (on page 1), Where Do We Want to Be (page 2), How to Get There (last page). You now have the framework for your marketing plan. In order to begin filling out each sheet, I’d recommend you involve everyone from your business that has vision to your marketing efforts – your ad agency, the marketing manager, the guy that posts things on Twitter for you, sales rep, co-owner and etc. Once you’ve assembled those responsible for making and deploying your marketing messages, you’re free to tackle filling in the bullet-points for each page.

Who We Are 

Outline the identity of your company on this page (resist the urge to write a novel – just a synopsis). For example, “XYZ Company is a low-cost provider of widgets”, “We are the fourth largest widget provider in town”, or “We have 3 stores in the downtown area.”As you write out your points, don’t dress them up. We are not crafting slogans here; we are looking for the truth. Are you losing market share? Are you meeting your sales projections? What are your strengths, weaknesses, areas of opportunity and threats?

Where Do We Want to Be 

One year from today, where do you want to be? Saying something like, “We want to make more money”, means you’ve missed the boat. How much money, exactly? From which division or product line? As you write out bullet points for this page, pen goals that are measurable. Rather than stating that you want to be number one in customer service, aim to get 500 positive online reviews over the next year, as an alternative.

How to Get There

Now that you know where you want to be, how will you get there? Don’t write down, “Work hard.” That’s too nebulous. Let’s say, for example, you want to increase foot traffic by 30% at your new location, what specific actions must be taken? Page three of your plan could include an $8,000 marketing budget increase to handle this goal or reallocation of resources. Whatever the case, this page is about drafting specifics when dealing with implementation – actionable intelligence, if you will. No matter what is written down, make sure there’s a consensus among all participants and you’ll soon see the beginnings of a viable, relevant marketing plan.

*Walter Dailey is a marketing speaker, consultant, and creative director for DSV Media, a creative services firm and ad agency specializing in Small Business Marketing for companies all over.  Ask your questions: walter@dsvmedia.com*

Article Source: http://smallbusiness.foxbusiness.com/marketing-sales/2013/08/28/3-keys-to-small-business-marketing-plan/#ixzz2eVk2q42k
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Why an Accountability Buddy Is Your Secret Weapon for Faster Growth

 
why-accountability-buddy-secret-weapon                                      Image credit: lightboxleadership.com
 
BY | August 29, 2013|
 

Two years ago entrepreneur Nika Stewart of Freehold, N.J. set a goal for herself: double the sales of her business, Laptop Mom, an information-product consulting firm. She had set lofty goals before, but hadn’t achieved the kind of success she wanted.This time one thing was different: she had an accountability partner who was watching over her.

An accountability partner is a business peer who helps you grow your company by offering guidance and by holding you to your commitments. While it’s similar to a mentor relationship, both partners work on bettering their businesses with the feedback and support of each other.

“Through her input, challenges and encouragement, I ended up taking a small piece of my old business and turning it into new business — Ghost Tweeting, a social media service for small businesses,” she says. “Within four months, I was earning multiple six figures — quadrupling my income.”

Linda Galindo, author of The 85% Solution: How Personal Accountability Guarantees Success (Jossey-Bass, 2009), says accountability partners are an entrepreneur’s secret weapon for quick growth. “Working with a partner prevents the ready-fire-aim approach that a lot of entrepreneurs use,”she says.

While being nimble is a small-business owner’s advantage,important decisions, such as launching a new service or product, are best made by vetting ideas and thinking things through. An accountability partner can help you identify weaknesses in your business, make plans to overcome them and hold you accountable for action.

Galindo says finding the right partner is the key to your success. She offers four tips for finding a good match and making the most of the relationship:

1. Look outside of your industry.
Galindo suggests choosing a businessperson who lives in your community — in-person meetings can strengthen your relationship. Look for potential partners at events such as Chamber of Commerce or Rotary Club meetings, or through networking groups. It can be helpful to find someone outside your field because they will provide fresh thoughts about your industry.

Stewart found her accountability partner through Savor the Success, a New York-based group for women entrepreneurs.

2. Choose someone who will be (brutally) honest with you.
The most important quality in an accountability partner is that they’re straightforward, says Galindo. “You’re not looking for someone who will rescue, fix or save you,” she says. “You want someone who will hold you accountable.”

It’s also important to know your strengths and weaknesses when entering an accountability partnership. “You’re looking for someone who has the qualities you lack,”Galindo says.

A partnership means you’ll be giving back. Identify your strengths that might be helpful to your partner, and make sure you’re willing to provide constructive feedback even when it’s uncomfortable to share.

3. Be clear about your expectations.
Before you get started, be clear about parameters. There are times you want input and times you just need someone to listen; spell this out in the beginning.To ensure your arrangement is mutually beneficial, allot an equal amount of time to spend brainstorming and discussing each partner’s business. Decide how often you will connect and whether it will be in person, over the phone or by email. Plan how many projects and commitments you’re willing to discuss at a time. And be clear that whether or not you take your partner’s advice, each person is 100% responsible for their choices.

Stewart and her partner each set one goal for the year and broke it down into weekly steps. They kept in touch via email and phone three times a week: once to set a goal for the week, another time to check in and a final time to report on their results.

4. Agree on consequences.
Finally, Galindo says accountability partners need to hold each other to consequences if commitments go uncompleted.Whether there is a financial risk — you owe me $500 if you don’t complete your goal, for example — or simply having to admit that you fell short, consequences keep you motivated and engaged, says Galindo.

“It helps if you have an accountability partner who is a go-getter because you hold yourself to a new standard,” says Stewart. “I didn’t want to disappoint her.”

“We all can find a million excuses to not do what you say you’re going to do,” says Galindo. “An accountability partner keeps you on track and helps you move your business forward.”

 is a freelance writer who has written about business, real estate and lifestyle for more than 20 years.
This article was taken from: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/228077#ixzz2ePzzngDI

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Small Business Optimism Rises as Access to Credit Improves

access to capital2
 by Nathan Eddy ( Posted 2013-08-13) E Week
 
Improved access to credit was a major driver of improvement in small-businesses optimism, helping push overall sentiment 9 points since Q2.While it’s well below pre-recession levels, the latest Wells Fargo/Gallup Small-Business Index, conducted at the end of July, reveals small-business optimism is the highest it has been since the third quarter of 2008, in large part because small-business owners said they feel more optimistic about their ability to access credit over the next year.

In the survey, 28 percent of small-business owners said they expect credit to be very or somewhat easy to obtain in the next 12 months, up from 24 percent in the second quarter of 2013 and the highest percentage since 2009. In addition, 30 percent said they expect credit to be difficult to obtain in the next 12 months, down significantly from the 36 percent recorded last quarter and the lowest this measure has been in five years.

Improved access to credit was a major driver of improvement in small-businesses optimism, helping push overall sentiment 9 points since the second quarter and 36 points since the fourth quarter of 2012, to a positive 25. The survey gauges small-business owners’ perceptions of their present situation over the past 12 months and future expectations for the next 12 months in six key areas: financial situation, cash flow, revenues, capital spending allocation, hiring and credit availability.

In the most recent survey, 25 percent of small-business owners reported an increase in capital spending in the past 12 months. Additionally, more than one-quarter (26 percent) of business owners said they are planning to increase spending in the next 12 months. The No. 1 reason business owners cited for not making a capital investment was continued concern about the overall state of the economy (64 percent) followed by uncertainty in the future of their business (57 percent).

“For 10 years, the Small-Business Index has taken the pulse of small-business owners in America,” Doug Case, Wells Fargo small-business segment manager, said in a statement. “The survey has shown a slow and uneven recovery for small businesses, and this quarter we continue to see business owners express cautious optimism as economic trends improve, such as a strengthening housing market.”

A majority of small-business owners (57 percent) said they have seen an overall improvement in the housing market in their area. At the same time, 42 percent reported that their business relies either somewhat (22 percent) or a great deal (20 percent) on a strong housing market. Moreover, 45 percent indicated that a rise in housing prices would improve their business’s sales either somewhat (33 percent) or a great deal (12 percent).

The overall Small-Business Index is computed using a formula that scores and sums the answers to 12 questions—six about the present situation and six about the future. An Index score of zero indicates that small-business owners, as a group, are neutral, neither optimistic nor pessimistic, about their companies’ situations.

http://www.eweek.com/small-business/small-business-optimism-rises-as-access-to-credit-improves.html/

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