"Do you have a business plan?"
That is usually the first question a potential lender will ask when you go seeking a loan to start a small business. Unless you can answer, "Yes, and here it is," you will not get the loan.
A good business plan includes four distinct elements: 1) the description of the business, 2) the marketing plan, 3) the financial management plan and 4) the management plan. Addenda to the business plan should include the executive summary, supporting documents and financial projections.
As an important formal document, your business plan should follow a detailed outline that anticipates and answers the lender's questions. [SBA's suggested business plan outline.]
Want some free professional help with your business plan -- and just about anything else related to starting or expanding your small business? Well, here it is.
SBA Small Business Development Centers
(SBDCs), provide professional up-to-date counseling, training and technical assistance in all aspects of small business management. Services are offered free of charge to anyone interested in beginning a small business for the first time, or improving or expanding an existing small business, who cannot afford the services of a private consultant.
Besides free help from their own full and part-time staffs, SBDCs offer you free help from private-sector consultants, engineers and testing laboratories.
Special SBDC programs and economic development activities include international trade assistance, technical assistance, procurement assistance, venture capital formation and rural development.
The SBDCs also make special efforts to reach minority members of socially and economically disadvantaged groups, veterans, women and the disabled. Assistance is provided to both current or potential small business owners. They also provide assistance to small businesses applying for Small Business Innovation and Research (SBIR) grants from federal agencies.
Small Business Development Centers services are offered through a network of nearly 1,000 service locations in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
What can an SBDC help you with? Just to name a few: Writing a business plan, getting a loan, marketing, licenses and laws, selling to the government, patents and copyrights, selling abroad, hiring employees, buying the right equipment.
Each center has a director, staff members, volunteers and part-time personnel. Qualified individuals recruited from professional and trade associations, the legal and banking community, academia, chambers of commerce and SCORE (the Service Corps of Retired Executives) are among those who donate their services.
Using them as sort of their "personal trainer," successful small business owners have estimated the value of services they received free from the Small Business Development Centers program at over $10,000.