Ready, Set, Go!
1. Bring Luxury to the Masses: With his interior design firm, Pret-a-Habiter, Carl Bradford Stibolt is not only tapping the hot luxury market, but he's also banking on a hot idea: offering luxury to the masses. Using standardization, the internet and low-cost products, he provides 30-day interior design services for a low, flat fee. Stibolt, who projects 2007 sales between $100,000 and $150,000, offers these tips for bringing a high-end service to a wider audience:
- Educate your audience. Be clear about what they are paying for and what they should expect.
- Build an identifiable brand by creating an entire experience.
- Standardize the process for efficiency.
- Be flexible, because each job will be different. --L.H.
2. Take it Step by Step: If starting a business seems overwhelming, think small. Cornelia Flannery, co-author of Take 10! How to Achieve Your "Someday" Dreams in 10 Minutes a Day, advises entrepreneurs to start with a clear vision and then break tasks down to the basics. Ask yourself what you can do in the next 10 minutes that will move your business forward, says Flannery. Every step you take is one step closer. --S.W.
3. Get Advice from Your Inspiration: News-hungry friends Adam Rich and Ben Lerer have always admired what e-mail newsletter Daily Candy offers its readers: fun, digestible spotlights on hot products, restaurants and retailers. But they longed for something that spoke to their needs, Lerer says. So they went straight to Daily Candy and its investors for help launching their own e-newsletter, Thrillist. Though Lerer stresses the importance of building their million-dollar company separately from Daily Candy, the advice they received has been extremely valuable. "Going to someone who knows how to do it served us well," he says. "It was good to have a point of reference." --L.H.
4. Start Part Time: Starting a business during evenings and weekends takes serious planning, says Michelle Anton, co-author of Weekend Entrepreneur. "Create a road map [of] all the things you need to do," she says. To achieve work-life balance, set aside time to make calls and send e-mails--even use breaks at work to communicate with customers. Attend chamber of commerce networking functions to meet lots of like-minded people. Says Anton, "Go to [events] where you can get the most mileage out of your time. --N.L.T.
5. Set up Your First Office: When your startup is homebased, it's tempting to just use the first cleared-off table you can find in your house. But take the time to establish an office space separate from your living space. A spare bedroom is a good candidate for conversion into an office, while a kitchen table is a recipe for inviting distractions. It's good to establish a mental barrier between home time and work time, and even better to have an actual door to close. --A.C.K.
6. Think Upscale: From gourmet dog food to designer bottled water, almost any low-end product can be taken upscale. Just ask Andrew and Robin Schiff, founders of Spread, a couture peanut spread line and vegetarian restaurant. "We took the most pedestrian product, [peanut butter], and turned it into one of the most gourmet products in the world," says Andrew, who projects sales of $1.5 million this year. "We saw the opportunity to create multiple flavors, customize and [gain] a private clientele." The flavors cost between $30 and $700 a pound through the company's private client program. Within two years, the company will have a 100 percent private customer base. --L.H.
7. Name Your Business Wisely: Ideally, your business name should summarize who you are, what you do and why you are unique. But naming is not an exact science. Before you start quoting Romeo and Juliet ("What's in a name?"), LogoYes founder John Williams has a few suggestions. "Start with the benefits [your business offers]," says Williams. "Go to a thesaurus. Start listing words and try them out on people. See how they look with .com behind them and stay away from [names] that sound like your competitors." --K.O.
8. Target a Growing Demographic: As demographics grow, so do the opportunities for filling their needs. With the Hispanic population in the U.S. rising nearly 22 percent from 2000 to 2005, Laritza Lopez saw a need for "culturally in-tune Hispanic images." After extensive research, she found that Hispanics, the nation's largest minority group, were vastly underrepresented in commercial photography. "I saw this gap in the marketplace as an opportunity, and the growth of the segment will in turn drive demand," says Lopez, who projects 2007 sales of about $100,000 for her Hispanic stock-photo business, Real Latino Images. --L.H.
9. Nurture Your Startup: After a year of incubation at Drexel University's Baiada Center for Entrepreneurship, LympheDivas LLCis poised to reach $100,000 in sales this year. "It's a great way to start out," says Rachel Troxell, who co-founded the company with Kristin Dudley. The free office space, course work and access to mentors had a significant impact on their company, which creates fashionable, medically correct compression garments for breast cancer survivors. Interested in incubators? Check out nbia.org. --S.W.
10. Start Networking Now: Ramp up your networking fast to find your first clients--by joining not just the chamber of commerce, but also nonprofit boards and community organizations, says Steve Harper, author of The Ripple Effect. "Be a resource, give your time and knowledge, and people [will] begin to look at you as a go-to person," he says. Also, find a connection mentor--someone who already has vast connections in the community that can benefit you--and ask them to make introductions. --N.L.T.
11. Find the Next Big Thing: Cut the costs of development, skip the hassle of patenting and minimize your overall risk by bringing an already invented product to market. Start by identifying hot markets and products, advises new-product marketing specialist Don Debelak. Then attend invention trade shows like INPEX, conduct patent searches and negotiate with inventors. When buying a product's rights, says Debelak, minimize your upfront payments and push for a low minimum royalty, especially for the first year. --S.W.
12. Cut Costs by Sharing the Office: Why foot the bill for an office when you can share the expense? Edward Dubin, the owner of a 10-employee Key Financial Corp. branch that's expecting to do about $10 million in loan volume this year, has a prime location, a receptionist and access to conference rooms and office supplies--all provided by Preferred Offices, a co-working facility. Says Dubin, "The net cost is much lower than trying to do all this on my own." --S.W.
13. Barter to Save Money: Strapped for cash? Sometimes the best way for a startup to start up is to trade goods and services. By joining a trade exchange, you can keep cash in hand and gain access to a valuable database of potential customers. Krista Vardabash, executive director of the International Reciprocal Trade Association, says a good barter exchange will market your business to its members as well as assess your needs to maximize your bartering experience. --S.W.
14. Launch a Website: Get your website launched fast and cheap with a do-it-yourself template and hosting service like those offered by Netidentity, Web.com and Yahoo! Small Business. Starter plans come in at around $10 per month. What's less than cheap? Free. Microsoft Office Live has a Basics service that gets you a free domain, hosting, e-mail and templates. All these services offer options to upgrade as your business grows and your web needs evolve. --A.C.K.
15. Find a Mentor: Mitch Schlimer, host of the radio program Let's Talk Business, knows the value of good mentoring, because it's been his job for the past 13 years. He recommends finding a mentor who understands not just you, but also the minute details of your business. Your mentor doesn't need to be your mental clone, but it's important to pick someone you trust who can challenge you in a positive way, says Schlimer. Finding a mentor can even be as easy as flipping through your favorite business book, which is what Schlimer did. Says Schlimer, "That experience the mentor has gone through firsthand is often invaluable." --K.O.
16. Get Creative in Your Marketing: When Pete Bonahoom started Galactic Pizza, he was taking on 13 competitors. But by equipping his delivery drivers with electric cars, dressing them in superhero costumes, and actually going through with his crazy marketing ideas, he has taken the market by storm--he estimates his pizza joint will deliver about $800,000 in sales by year-end. Says Bonahoom, "To break through the clutter, you need something that's going to set you apart from everyone else." --S.W.
17. Create an Add-on Product: So maybe you didn't invent the wheel, or the iPod wave passed you by. But other people's hot products can mean an opportunity for you to thrive with accessories and add-ons. With the popularity of plasma TVs, Justin and Derek Ostensen saw potential to personalize them. Ever the art connoisseurs, the founders of Ambiance Visuals reached out to galleries and artists worldwide for artwork that customers could display on their plasmas via customized DVDs. Says Justin, who projects 320 percent growth this year, "We're taking technology and seeing the bigger picture." Literally. --L.H.
18. Get Help from the IRS: Get a grip on accounting and taxes with free publications from the IRS. Starting a Business and Keeping Records (Publication 583); Tax Guide for Small Business (Publication 334); Business Expenses (Publication 535); Travel, Entertainment, Gift, and Car Expenses (Publication 463); Circular E, Employer's Tax Guide (Publication 15); and Employer's Supplemental Tax Guide (Publication 15-A) can all be downloaded at irs.gov.
19. Target Big Corporations: Market your products or services to big corporate clients instead of individual consumers. Deborah Sable founded CoreFit so she could market her personal- training services to corporations to offer as an employee benefit. "I find out who the owner or CEO is and find somebody who knows that person--that's how I get in [at] the top," says Sable, whose annual sales are close to $250,000. "I always offer a free seminar. If I can get the employees hooked, it's a done deal." --N.L.T.
20. Tap the Senior Market: Target your business to the escalating senior market. Julie Hall founded The Estate Lady LLC to provide estate appraisal and sales services to seniors. With projected sales in the mid-six figures, Hall notes, "Seniors are extremely sharp. The worst thing you can do is attempt to pull the wool over their eyes." Be honest, and develop a rapport with them.
Hot senior businesses include grand travel (grandparent trips with grandkids) and products and services for active seniors, such as spiced-up vacations, educational opportunities and stylish clothing for the aging figure, says Ann A. Fishman, founder of Generational Targeted Marketing Corp. --N.L.T.
21. Get Your Personal Finances in Order: Launching a business takes cash, but before banks will cough it up, they'll scrutinize your personal finance history. Mike Peterson, author of Reality Millionaire, advises you to check your credit report. "Creditors like to see a lot of open space between your debt and [your] open credit limit," he says. Correct errors, pay down your personal debt and track your personal expenses for 30 days before seeking a business loan. --N.L.T.
22. Connect with Other Entrepreneurs Online: Try one of these sites.
- Biznik: This site emphasizes collaboration and encourages members to attend local Biznik networking events.
- Go BIG: Members range from entrepreneurs to investors to freelancers looking for work. It's free to sign up.
- PartnerUp: Partner-Up's members include entrepreneurs and investors, as well as consultants, board members and other professionals.
- Spoke: An online database featuring more than 900,000 companies for business networking or sales prospects --J.P.
23. Create a Spinoff Product: Try capitalizing on an already existing product by spinning it for a new market. "Look for opportunities where the concept is easy to understand but is presented in a way that it hasn't been before," explains Jamila White, founder of J.blossom and Co., a producer of natural bath and body products for girls age 2 to 12. "[Then] do lots of market research!" Because White saw an industry saturated with bath and body products for women, she introduced a kid-friendly line, which will bring in $60,000 this year. --L.H.
24. Market to Moms: Look to moms for their stamp of approval. Stacie Mindich-Jordan did just that with her company, BabyDish, and its popular BabyBeReady Diaper Bag Survival Kit, which should help the company bring in $150,000 this year. As a mom herself, she knows her market is hot because:
- Moms are always looking for the best products for their kids.
- Moms are doing more than ever, so they're willing to pay for products or services that make their lives easier.
- Moms will spread the word. "Their opinions can make or break you," says Mindich-Jordan.
For more on how to target the mom market, see the "Mom Biz," column in this issue. --L.H.
25. Get on the Shelves of Small Stores: When it comes to getting your products on store shelves, sometimes the key to getting your break is establishing a good track record with smaller, independent stores. New-product marketing specialist Don Debelak recommends targeting stores that have complementary products and price points, as well as pitching your product to the stores' sales representatives. Come prepared with the product packaging, price schedule and any information that indicates your product's success. --S.W.
101 Great Ideas: 26-50
26. Test the Financial Waters: Want to apply for a loan from the comfort of home? C-Loans.com analyzes your loan application against a database of 700 commercial mortgage lenders and comes up with offers from the top 20 lenders who want your business. It can be a good trial run to help you determine whether you're ready to get a business loan.
27. Open source it: Some startups can't afford hundreds of dollars for name-brand software on top of their other technology expenses. That's where open source applications really shine. Check out OpenOffice as a free, downloadable alternative to Microsoft Office. It includes a word processor, spreadsheet program, drawing program and presentation manager. OpenOffice has made a lot of compatibility and usability improvements in the past couple of years. If Outlook is too pricey for you, take Mozilla Thunder-bird for a test-drive. --A.C.K.
28. Become the Expert: Become well-informed about your industry and you will automatically attract customers--and sales--to your business. Make a name for yourself by sharing your knowledge. Write a factual and informative article and post it everywhere--on your website, your blog and professional industry sites, says Liz Goodgold, speaker and author of Duh! Marketing. "The secret is the byline at the bottom," she says. "It all links back to your site." --S.W.
29. Solve a Problem: If you've got a problem that needs solving, chances are others have the same problem--and the solution could spark a business for you. Just ask Angie and David Porter, co-founders of Furminator Inc., who invented a tool that gets at pets' undercoats to solve the problem of shedding. "It hit a chord with pet owners, and it addressed that problem," says David. Today, their de-shedding product line is sold at stores like PetSmart and Petco, pushing annual sales to $20 million. --N.L.T.
30. Try home parties: Do you have a product to sell? Throw a party. But before the fun begins, ask yourself some serious questions, such as what kind of hours you want to work and whether you plan on building a downline, says Anita DeFrank, co-owner of DirectSalesHelpers.com. Home parties are good for all products, but if your product's good to eat or nice to touch, that's even better. "Hands- and mouth-on parties," says DeFrank, "seem to work the best." --S.W.
31. Get Web E-Mail: Having an e-mail address that uses your own domain name gives you an automatic leg up. Sometimes your web hosting company will offer e-mail services to go along with your website, or you can check into a service like Gmail for Your Domain, a free Google Apps product that hosts your e-mail with your own domain name and throws in a powerful calendar feature as well. Plus, you can check your e-mail from anywhere with a web connection. --A.C.K.
32. Tap Friends and Family for Money: Kenneth Shapiro, senior financial advisor at Merrill Lynch, recommends you document your loved ones' loans or investments just as you would for any other investor. Whether you hire an attorney to help you or simply download a form from the internet, you need to specify terms and conditions, such as how much money each person is investing, if you'll pay interest and how much, and what happens if you fail to pay them back.
33. Talk Business with Your Former Employer: Thinking about exiting the work force to enter the world of business ownership? Before you quit and run, evaluate your performance on the job, says SCORE counselor Jack B. ReVelle. If you did well and are leaving on good terms, you have a good chance of turning your last employer into your first client. Have the confidence to put yourself out there, and you might just give your business a powerful jump-start. --S.W.
34. Get Noticed by Search Engines: If your customers are going to find you using web searches, you need to be on the radar of all the major search engines. For starters, visit Google, MSN and Yahoo! and list your business and website with each. For example, getting listed with the Google Local Business Center will help you appear on maps when local customers search for your type of business. It takes a little legwork to make sure you're listed with search engines, but it's well worth the time. --A.C.K.
35. Price Your Product Right: Price your product too high, and would-be customers will walk away. Price it too low, and they'll perceive it as second-rate. The right price point, however, can make your product fly off the shelves--just like the 99-cent reusable shopping bags created by Earthwise Bag Co. Inc. in Commerce, California. Co-founders Stan Joffe and his nephew Steve Batzofin made their enticing price point a key part of their strategy, thus making environmentalism practical for customers. --N.L.T.
36. Win a Business Plan Contest: Many business schools and universities--and some states--host business plan contests, some with cash prizes of $100,000 or more. Contestants are judged on both written and oral presentations. "Judges typically look for sustainability and venture scale and the management team's ability to execute," says Loretta Poole, assistant director of NYU's Berkley Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. For a comprehensive list of business plan competitions, check out smallbusinessnotes.com/planning/competitions.html.
37. Get Government Assistance: SBA, SBDC, WBC, SCORE. If it all just sounds like a random bunch of acronyms, then you haven't tapped into your biggest resource yet: the government. Whether you're in need of capital, free counseling or small-business tools, the various departments of the SBA stand ready to help. Get started by exploring sba.gov and visiting your local office, advises Ellen Thrasher, director of the SBA's Office of Business and Community Initiatives. --S.W.
38. Take Time to Stay Sane: It took a bit of resolve and a lot of planning for Paige Arnof-Fenn to disconnect herself completely from her marketing consulting firm, Mavens & Moguls, when she decided to take a month-long vacation to Tuscany. But by urging her employees to close deals before she left, Arnof-Fenn gave them the boost and encouragement they needed. She says, "[Your vacation] is when you have some of your most creative ideas, and you recharge the batteries and get energized." --K.O.
39. Start an Association: The Foundation for International Community Assistance helps entrepreneurs form self-employment associations. Through loans from FINCA, these groups are able to offer members access to a series of short-term loans that provide working capital for small businesses. Based in Washington, DC, the foundation has locations in several states; visit villagebanking.org or call (202) 682-1510 for more information.
40. Get Your Tech for Less: eBay can be a gold mine for tech deals, especially if you're open to the option of buying used or refurbished gear. Look beyond the big tech purchases to also find deals on everything from ink cartridges to packing materials. In addition, check out Best Buy for Business for technology buying and IT assistance options from the in-store Geek Squad. --A.C.K.
41. Spread the Word: Word-of-mouth is often the most desirable form of marketing. To get people talking, run a contest, stage an event or assemble a group of "influencers." A company that markets products to preteen girls, for example, could use its website to enroll several hundred girls to act as advisors on every-thing from product design to naming. The members could also be the first to receive information about new products. You can bet influencers like these will share their inside news with friends.
42. Get the Good Life: Choose a business that will allow you to create your ideal life. The key, says Louis Barajas, author of Small Business, Big Life, is to "develop clarity as to what you're truly passionate about and what you're gifted at." Create a life blueprint by listing your life roles, life focus, key relationships and ideal calendar. Write your business plan detailing how you'll create sales, bring in profits and sustain your business by doing what you love. --N.L.T.
43. Connect with Veteran-owned Businesses: The National Veteran-Owned Business Association helps the estimated 3.6 million veteran business owners in the U.S. establish government and corporate contacts. Membership is open to nonveterans, but only members who are veterans are able to access the "Marketplace" section of the site, where they can post their profiles and network with other members. Along with networking opportunities, members receive a subscription to Veterans Business Journal, the NaVOBA newsletter and members-only access to other online resources. --J.P.
44. Place Your Product in Mail Order Catalogs: First, research the catalogs your target market reads by doing an online search for similar products--and pitch those niche publications. Says George Hague, senior marketing strategist at catalog consulting company J. Schmid & Associates, "Catalog companies are always looking for a new product that fills a need." Have your products specs and/or samples ready to go when you pitch--and make sure you can supply the product with high quality and quick turnaround. Says Hague, "Deliver on what you promise." --N.L.T.
45. Do Market Research: Being competitive in the marketplace takes serious research. Steve Tennant, market research expert at Tennant Consulting, suggests starting with one to two weeks of desk research--online and in the library--to learn market trends, stats and who the big players are. Local business-school libraries are excellent for this. Then, in two to four weeks, glean the knowledge of your network of "friendlies and experts in a particular market," he says. Finally, seek your prospective customers: Ask how and why they buy--and how they want to buy. --N.L.T.
46. Find Simple Accounting Software: Padgett Connect is an accounting software program from Padgett Business Services geared toward the average user who doesn't have in-depth knowledge of accounting. It's customized by Padgett for each client's business, and user support is free. The program can handle everything from writing checks to sending invoices. It also aims to make everything easy to use, with simple terminology and preset charts of accounts tailored specifically to the user. --J.P.
47. Hire Smart: The foundations of any good business are the people who work for it. And while hiring a staff of full-time employees sounds ideal, it may not be the cheapest or most beneficial route for your business. Hiring interns and temporary employees is an inexpensive alternative, says Lee Froschheiser, founder of Management Action Programs. So how do you start looking? "Align yourself with a temp agency [whose] selection process you've spent time getting to know," says Froschheiser. Need interns? Contact colleges and universities to find and hire the best candidates. --K.O.
48. Teach Kids: Diverse new educational programs for kids, from cooking schools to abacus learning programs, have experienced growing popularity since 2006, while the revenue for tutoring, test-preparation and supplemental content programs grew 6 percent to make child education a $21.9 billion industry in 2005, according to market research firm Eduventures LLC. As more kids start aiming for college, that elusive acceptance letter is becoming increasingly hard to snag--the younger generations will need all the help they can get to maintain a competitive edge. --J.Y.
49. Alert the Media: Do-it-yourself PR is a cheaper alternative to advertising, but it requires know-how and time. For the best results, tailor your stories to the needs of the individual media outlets on your list. Then send a release or pitch letter, and follow up by phone. These initial contacts lay the groundwork for ongoing relationships with key members of the press.
101 Great Ideas: 51-75
50. Scoop Up an Ice Cream Franchise: With the ice cream industry bringing in $21 billion last year, according to the International Dairy Foods Association, there's no doubt America has a consistent sweet tooth for this classic treat. You can whip up your own original flavors, dress up traditional tastes with unique toppings or take a cue from established stores and buy your own ice cream franchise. But keep your pulse on the trend: It's all about upscale desserts with a healthy twist, so focus on the ambience and don't neglect the nutrition. --C.H.
51. Go back to school: Knowledge is wisdom, so set your business up for success by taking a business class. Online courses are easy to fit into your busy schedule, and classes at a local college will connect you with your community and other entrepreneurs. But be sure to do your homework: "Pick a class that is more interactive, that's known for building off of your own business," advises Julia Castro Abrams, CEO of Women's Initiative for Self Employment. "And then actively engage with it." --S.W.
52. Get an Angel: Angel investors are high-net-worth individuals who invest, either individually or as a group, in young, high-growth businesses. Unlike investors in VC funds, members of angel groups typically decide on a deal-by-deal basis if they will put money into a particular company. To find an angel group near you, check out the Angel Capital Association at angelcapitalassociation.org/dir_directory/directory.aspx.
53. Learn More About Search Engine Marketing: For those who want to know more about search engine marketing and search engine optimization, the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization offers webinars and training courses for marketing professionals and business owners. SEMPO members, full-time students and military personnel can receive course discounts, but membership is not required to sign up. The site also has other educational tools, along with a member directory and research reports. --J.P.
54. Mind Your Money: Are you looking for a CPA, news on the latest business accounting software or anything accounting-related? Get up to speed at the website of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. You'll find links to news updates, accounting-related software, state CPA societies and answers to frequently asked tax questions.
55. Bargain Hunt: Log a few minutes of web time, and chances are you can dig up some hot bargains on the tech equipment you need. Spoofee.com highlights the best deals of the day and also provides a coupon section, a collection of weekly ads and a user forum for sharing the latest finds. DealCatcher.com is an easy-to-navigate way to get informed of the latest deals, rebates and coupons from a huge number of online retailers. --A.C.K.
56. Get Vendor Financing: Looking for financing? Vendors may be willing to give you the capital you need, either with a delayed financing agreement or a leasing program. Vendors have a vested interest in your success and a belief in your stability, or else they wouldn't be doing business with you. Before entering any agreement, however, compare long-term leasing costs with short-term loan costs; leasing can be more costly.
57. Consider an Auto Franchise: With popular shows like Pimp My Ride and Overhaulin', auto detailing is finding a home with suburbanites. You might even be one of them. If you're already spending time and cash on your car on the weekend, why not make it back during the week? You can find a good number of auto detailing franchises with low startup costs. So make a clean cut in a dirty garage. --J.K.
58. Develop an Elevator Pitch: Pitching your business to a potential investor, partner or client? Get ready to think quick and talk fast. You only have 30 seconds to describe the benefits of your product or service, generate interest and secure a second meeting. "The key is to focus on things you've already done, not just things you're going to do," says Asheesh Advani, author of Investors in Your Backyard. And when all is said, take note of people's reactions to reach pitch perfection. --S.W.
59. Become a Pizza Franchisee: Pizza is an American classic and a staple in the food service industry. With an ever-present demand for it, buying one of the many established pizza franchises can be a good way to get a slice of this multibillion-dollar industry while benefiting from using an existing concept with ongoing system support. --E.W.
60. Use Factoring: Factoring allows you to access immediate cash by selling your invoices (accounts receivable) to a commercial finance company for a fee of around 3 percent. Factoring works for startups because, unlike banks, factors don't care about your company's credit--they just look at the strength of your customers' balance sheets. Jeff Callender, factoring expert and president of Dash Point Financial Services Inc., says that typically you must generate at least 20 percent gross profits for factoring to make sense.
61. Lease Equipment: By leasing machinery rather than buying it, you conserve your cash and commit to a low monthly payment schedule that you and your business can afford. The leasing company will want to see how much cash you've put into the business and a copy of your personal net worth statement before they extend you the lease. For a list of equipment leasing companies, check out the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association website at elfaonline.org.
62. Market to Plus-Size Kids: The market for plus-size kids' clothing and products is growing by leaps and bounds, says Timothy Dowd, senior analyst at MarketResearch.com. Plus-size girls spent $3.2 billion on clothing in 2006, while plus-size boys generated $3 billion in sales. "It's up to marketers to be really creative, ingenious and innovative," says Dowd. Check out licensed entertainment and sports properties--even extreme sports themes--for kids' plus-size attire. A need for plus-size kids' products--like infant seats with increased weight capacity--presents another niche. --N.L.T.
63. Become a Great Money Manager: If you're hoping to master accounting for your new business--or simply don't want to be left in the dark when talking to your accountant--check out Accounting for the New Business by Christopher R. Malburg. Offering a complete accounting course in one volume, this book features easy techniques you can use, simple solutions to common problems and everything you need to gain an overall understanding of the accounting process.
64. Ask About Franchise Incentives: If you're a woman or a minority looking to purchase a franchise, you may be eligible for special financial incentives or assistance from franchisors. Ask franchisors you are considering whether they have such programs and what the requirements are.
65. Advertise on the Silver Screen: More than 27,000 movie screens run advertisements before showing the main feature. Screenvision Direct works with local advertisers to produce advertising slides that run during pre-show entertainment. And with reasonable weekly rates per screen, you'll be able to reach nearly everyone who sees any movie at your neighborhood multiplex, without breaking the bank.
66. Get It Together: With people managing greater workloads and busier lifestyles than ever before, helping others get organized is a great franchising opportunity. To follow the home-improvement trends, start with closets and garages--two clutter-filled areas that most Americans dread sorting through. There are more than 97 million households in the U.S., which means about 400 million closets and 50 million garages are in desperate need of assistance. Whether you opt for organization services or products, one thing is for sure: Life can always use a little cleaning up. --K.H.
67. Start a Jewelry Business: Starting a jewelry business requires being able to spot trends, yet still create your own signature look, says Cindy Edelstein of jewelersresource.com: "Your marketing and message for your jewelry has to be rock solid, then add to your line twice a year to respond to trends." Current hot trends include white and clear gemstones and Lucite jewelry, as well as big cuff bracelets, wood bangles, long necklaces and a mix of metal colors--e.g., using a mix of pink, white and yellow gold. One hot niche is handmade jewelry--especially under the $100 or $200 price point. --N.L.T.
68. Check Out Photo Franchises: Life is full of exciting moments waiting to be captured on film. From everyday activities to special occasions, the photo opportunities are nearly endless, and it's clear that digital days are here to stay. By 2009, digital print revenue is expected to hit $107 billion, according to IDC. The popularity of wedding videos, child photography and pet photography are all on the rise, providing a perfect way to tap into the latest crazes. --K.H.
Interested in buying a photography franchise?
69. Find Investors Online: The Angel Capital Education Foundation offers diverse information and educational tools for both entrepreneurs and angel investors. The website includes a list of angel groups and their websites in the U.S. and Canada, organized by region. --J.P.
70. Find Marketing Images: OnRequest Images provides original and creative images and photography for businesses. The company has a global network of photographers and models along with a unique licensing platform to help companies with their marketing and branding needs. Clients can view and comment on images and photos quickly over the web, and even e-mail them to colleagues. --J.P.
71. Do Trade Shows Right: Betsy Bozdech and nationally syndicated columnist Rhonda Abrams have co-written Trade Show in a Day, a step-by-step guide to exhibiting at a trade show. The book helps entrepreneurs choose the right trade show, design a booth and pull in buyers. Those new to trade shows will find useful tools like the trade show timeline handy, while trade show veterans might appreciate the book's tips on how to increase foot traffic to their booths. --J.P.
72. Find the Right PR Contact: Matchmaker ThePRSite.com pairs entrepreneurs with the appropriate PR contacts to pitch their businesses to. It also matches entrepreneurs with PR agencies they can hire. In addition, business owners can try the site's various products and resources, such as the "Yes, You Can Get On Oprah" CD and transcript. The site has several informational articles, links and a blog. --J.P.
73. Hire Your Friends: Who better to hire than the people you already know, love and trust? It worked for Duff Goldman, founder of Charm City Cakes, a specialty, high-end cake bakery. His friends already had the specific skills that would make them assets to the business. For example, one has the artistic ability to build architectural models; that and his willingness to learn made it easy for Goldman to train him.
Discuss all possible contingencies before hiring a friend, and determine exit strategies in case it doesn't work out. Don't oversell the job. Be realistic about the pay and responsibilities. And always treat your friend like any other employee, regarding both positive actions like raises and difficult disciplinary actions. --N.L.T.
74. Outsource Overseas: Finding an overseas manufacturer that can create a quality product for you and also give you amenable terms (such as lower minimum orders) is a challenge. Your first step is solid research. Speak to entrepreneurs, lawyers and consultants with experience in overseas outsourcing. "There's no substitute for due diligence," says Philip D. Porter, a partner with law firm Hogan & Hartson LLP. He suggests getting references and doing background checks to make sure your international manufacturing partner is legitimate, and thoroughly investigating any information and sources found online. Meeting your overseas manufacturing partner in person is a definite plus if you can manage it.
75.Buy a Recreation Rental Franchise: Recreation rentals appeal to a wide audience, whether it's bikes, boardwalk pedalers, motorcycles or RVs. Insiders see the RV industry reaching nearly $16 billion by 2011. But RVs may not be as popular in your particular neighborhood. Take a look around and see what's being taken for a spin in your area. From local beach or park activities to cross-country road trips, you can easily find crowds ready to go. There's always a market for fun. --J.K.
101 Great Ideas: 76-101
76. A Taste for Food Design Franchises: Food design companies offering floral-like candy, cookie and fruit arrangements are continuing to grow. Such gift bouquets and baskets serve as a creative substitute for flowers that wilt quickly or the standard box of mystery chocolates. Buying one of these franchises is a sweet way into the profitable retail gift industry. --E.W.
77. Connect with Other Women Entrepreneurs: Started by Victoria Colligan and Beth Schoenfeldt, Ladies Who Launch, an organization dedicated to women entrepreneurs, features a message board, an online magazine, an online marketplace and other useful educational tools. Meet up with others by signing up for monthly regional "incubators," sell your wares (or buy) in the marketplace, or sign up to attend a "Ladies Who Launch Live" event featuring celebrity keynote speakers and networking opportunities. --J.P.
78. Buy a Franchise or Biz Opp: Lack the business know-how to start up on your own? "Franchising is popular because it's an avenue for people with little or no experience to be able to go into business and have training available," says Andrew A. Caffey, a franchise lawyer. "It shortens the time involved [in startup] and addresses the concerns a lot of new entrepreneurs have about who they can turn to for help. In a franchise [system], you have a built-in support network--you can turn not only to the franchisor, but also to other franchisees."
If the structure of a franchise sounds too restrictive for you, a business opportunity might be a better match because it imposes fewer restrictions. However, it also provides less ongoing support. "A business opportunity tends to be a one-time transaction in which you buy a package of materials that you can then use to generate your own business," explains Caffey. One big plus: The financial barriers associated with purchasing a business opportunity are significantly lower than with a franchise--startup costs are typically around a few thousand dollars.
79. Start Selling: Demonstrate to prospects how your product or service specifically meets their needs--and pump up how it differs from their current solution. Will it save them more money? Can it give them more specialized service? Is it faster and more efficient? Be clear on your offering's competitive advantage. And don't automatically discount prices to jump-start early sales--instead, focus on how your product or service will save prospects X dollars a year or cost less in the long run. If they want an extra incentive to be one of your first customers, keep the price the same but offer something extra for free, such as delivery or installation.
80. Plan for Your Business Plan: You don't have to go it alone when writing your business plan. Check out Palo Alto Software's Business Plan Pro 2007. The standard version of the software ($99.95) includes more than 500 sample plans and more than 9,000 industry profiles to help you get started on your plan. Also check out Business PlanWriter Deluxe ($99.95) and PlanWrite ($120). --A.C.K.
81. Try the eBay Test: Put your great retail idea to the test by evaluating the demand on eBay. Instead of jumping into a storefront or opening an independent online store right away, place some of your merchandise on eBay to help gauge the public demand and pricing for your products. You'll gain exposure to a large pool of potential buyers without having to make a big upfront investment. It's also a smart way to learn more about the competition. --A.C.K.
82.Buy a Sandwich Franchise: It's not news that Americans are battling a serious obesity problem these days, and people aren't reaching for greasy fries and calorie-filled hamburgers anymore--so what can you serve up to the health-conscious? Nutritious and satisfying sandwiches. Gourmet is the way to go right now, so offer plenty of meat and veggie options paired with unique spreads and fresh bread. Not the type to create your own recipes? Buy a sandwich franchise and adopt its healthy motto. --C.H.
83. Start Selling Wings: Newcomers in the chicken wings biz have flown into juicy territory as some of this year's most rapidly growing franchises--not surprising, considering that Americans (pint-size and portly) love these saucy treats. No Super Bowl Sunday is complete without a platter of barbeque wings on the table, and what happy hour menu doesn't include buffalo wings? Take flight with poultry's not-so-paltry success by getting involved with franchises that specialize in chicken wings. --J.Y.
84. Give 'Em a Reward: Since it may cost as much as five times more to win a new customer than to retain an old one, customer reward programs are a lower-cost alternative to acquisition marketing. So create and actively promote a loyalty program that rewards upon enrollment and then provides increasingly greater incentives to your best customers. To keep them coming back for more, be sure to provide in-kind rewards rather than gifts from other vendors.
85. Locate Suppliers: You can find suppliers through trade shows, wholesale showrooms and conventions, buyer's directories, industry contacts, the B2B Yellow Pages and trade journals, or online. One good source for finding suppliers is ThomasNet.com. This comprehensive directory lists manufacturers by categories and geographic areas.
86. Use the 5-5-5 Marketing Method: To find the balance you need to keep your business afloat, use the 5-5-5 marketing formula from Paul and Sarah Edwards' book Getting Business to Come to You. Initiate five different marketing activities each day, then follow through every day on five activities from the prior day or week. For instance, if you sent a mailing to someone, follow up with a phone call the next week. To keep business flowing, initiate and follow through on five activities per week instead of five per day.
87. Stay in Touch: E-mail is a low-cost, high-return way to enhance customer relationships and increase sales. E-mail campaigns can be conducted for a fraction of the cost of other tactics and can be executed in weeks, not months. The key is to e-mail as often as twice monthly, but only to an in-house list of members who have agreed to receive e-mail from you. Keep the content extremely relevant, and you'll see response rates climb.
88. Look Online for Employees: Looking for your first employee? Posting an opening on online job sites offers you advantages like 24-hour access to job postings, unlimited text for postings and quick turnaround. They also allow you to screen candidates, search resume databases and keep your ad online for a long time (30 to 60 days) vs. a newspaper ad, which runs for only one weekend.
89. Save on Legal Costs: When you're starting a business, you're short of money for just about everything--including legal services. Many law firms have realized this and offer a "startup package" of legal services for a set fee. This typically includes drawing up initial documents, attending corporate board meetings, preparing minutes, drafting owner-ship agreements and stock certificates, and offering routine legal advice.
90. Back it Up: Your business data is precious, and you should treat it accordingly by starting regular computer backups from Day One. An external hard drive is not a bad idea for backing up your computer in your office, but you should also consider an online service such as Carbonite. Carbonite automatically backs your computer up over the internet and keeps your files safe and secure away from your office. If anything should happen to your computer or office, your valuable data can be quickly recovered. --A.C.K.
91. Know Your Rights: In today's litigious society, waiting until something goes wrong before consulting a lawyer isn't the smartest idea. It's generally worthwhile to consult with an attorney before making any decision that could have legal ramifications. These include setting up a partnership or corporation, checking for compliance with regulations, negotiating loans, obtaining trademarks or patents, preparing buy-sell agreements, reviewing business forms, and exporting or selling products to other states.
92. Partner Up: When money is tight, it often pays to partner with another company that targets the same audience as yours. You can forge marketing partnerships with businesses that offer complementary services by pooling your prospect lists or sharing advertising costs. A kitchen appliance retailer could partner with a remodeling contractor to market full-service kitchen upgrades, for example, or neighboring technology companies might jointly promote their region as a tech corridor.
93. Market to Pet Lovers: With 64 million households owning a pet as of last year, according to Pet Age magazine, man's best friend is quickly befriending the American economy. According to the National Pet Owners Survey, Americans spent $39 billion on their pets last year, and the numbers are increasing. Break into the industry by tapping into the luxury supplies segment (think upscale carriers, food and apparel) or high-end services such as day spas for the pampered pet. Or jump in with a franchise, and welcome new customers with open paws. --C.H.
94. Laser for Less: Printing costs can add up quickly, especially if you're using an inkjet. To save, think about bypassing color and go for a monochrome laser printer to handle your needs. They're inexpensive investments that will save you big bucks on cartridges in the long run. Consider going for an all-in-one printer/fax/copier/scanner to handle all your office needs with a single device. Expect to pay between $200 and $400 for a solid starter laser printer. --A.C.K.
95. Bounce Ideas off Others: It's sometimes hard to be objective when analyzing your own ideas. If possible, get outside help. Try setting up an informal advisory board, including a lawyer, an accountant, a banker and some colleagues. Ask them for their input. These people can act as a sounding board, helping you make smart business decisions.
96. Get Into Pub Franchising: Sixty-four percent of Americans enjoy drinking, and these days, they're willing to put their cash where their mouths are. The combo of good food and good drinks seems to be where consumer wallets are heading. Maybe you should already be there when they arrive. --J.K.
97. Buy an Existing Business: This can be a great way to make your start as an entrepreneur. You get an operation that's already generating cash flow and profits, with an established customer base and reputation, as well as employees who already know all aspects of the business. If you are looking for a business to buy or a business broker who can help you with your purchase, check out bizbuysell.com. In addition to searching some 48,000 businesses for sale and broker listings, you can read up on topics like business valuation and financing.
98. Save on Mail: Trying to reach consumer households in specific market areas? Launching your own direct-mail campaign could cost a small fortune. Instead, use "marriage mail"--send your ad or coupon in a joint mailing with other advertisers. A leading provider is Valpak, which designs, prints and mails more than 20 billion offers each year, providing an affordable alternative to stand alone direct mail.
99. Start a Coaching Business: Business and personal coaches start by getting professional coach training, says Karen Kimsey-House, co-author of Co-Active Coaching. Find International Coach Federation-accredited training programs at coachfederation.com. Determine your niche by examining your background, your strengths and the kinds of people you're drawn to helping. Use your network to find your first clients as well. Says Kimsey-House, "It's the personal relationships that you need to build a practice." Explore networking groups and your target industry trade shows, too. --N.L.T.
100. Spend Marketing Dollars Carefully: Creating your business image can be costly, but you don't have to splurge on all the works at once. To save money on marketing, start with key items that the public will see immediately. If you expect to attract most of your clients through sales calls, for instance, put more money into your business cards; if you expect to lure people with your sign, put the money there.
101. Think It Through: Before you start a business, you have to examine the potential, what your product or service is and whether the opportunity exists to make a good deal of money. It may be a "hit and run" product, where you are going to get in, make a lot of money and then get out. That's not necessarily a bad thing; fads have made some entrepreneurs incredibly wealthy. But you need to know if your product has the potential to become a classic, or if it's simply a fad.