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Small Business Administration (SBA) loans, grants & assistance, plans


Marketing Plans, Create Your Website, Six Sigma Training, Improve Credit Score

Small Business Administration (SBA)
Loans, Grants & Assistance


Every small business owner and young entrepreneur can find invaluable support and assistance 24/7 from the Small Business Administration (SBA). This U.S. government agency is ready now to help small businesses grow and find success in tough economic times. They offer a wealth of current information about loans, grants and assistance designed specifically for small businesses.

The SBA offers a wide variety of advice, training, counseling and financial help to small business owners and entrepreneurs who are ready to put their ideas into successful practice. The SBA does not directly offer loans and grants to small businesses, but they have all the information necessary for small business owners to find and apply for those financial lifelines. The SBA works closely with a wide group of Certified Development Companies (CDCs) around the country that will make direct loans at low rates to small companies.

Obtaining funding can be a problem for a startup or young company. Credit challenged persons who have a low credit score will either be unable to locate funding from traditional resources, or they will be charged very high interest rates. The SBA has funding resource companies lined up that are willing to help young and new companies get off to a good start, so those companies can have a chance at being successful. Rates are affordably low for small businesses, and the SBA is ready with expert assistance to help young companies in their quest for success.

Many opportunities await small business owners at the Small Business Administration. Use the website to get started, or visit a local district office. Here are some of the offerings of interest to small business owners that are available from the SBA:

  • Training programs, online and face-to-face
  • Counseling for business owners who want to grow their businesses or get a good start
  • Business plans and information about small business growth issues
  • Global marketing and advertising assistance
  • Loans, grants and investor resources
  • Guaranteed loan programs for military veterans and others; Patriot Express Loan Program
  • Women and minority-owned business assistance
  • Natural disaster recovery 504 Express Loan Program
  • License and Permit information

The SBA also can direct businesses that have encountered damage from natural disasters to funding resources under their 504 Express Loan Programs. These unique low-rate guaranteed loan programs are available to disaster-affected businesses and to military veterans and their spouses. It is an opportunity for credit challenged business persons to obtain funding when they may be turned down by other lenders. There are approved small business lenders in many locations nationwide.

The Small Business Administration has District Offices in many locations around the country for easy access to face-to-face training and to obtain counseling about small business matters and interests. They can help with small business growth issues, supplying help with global marketing, advertising, funding and general business operations. Consult the SBA for help in creating a business plan, obtaining financing and general business information.

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Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for investments without advice from a financial professional. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact a licensed financial advisor for advice.

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Small Business Financing Options

Options for small business financing include loans, grants, investment capital, leasing, or use of personal credit accounts.

A small business may require financing at many different points during its lifetime.  Some needs are simple and easy, while others are complex.  There are different solutions for each type of small business financing need.  Some of the points during a business lifetime when financing may be required are detailed below.

Start-Up Business Financing

A new start-up business always has initial expenses, no matter how small it may be.  There may be a need to obtain a computer and internet services to get a website business launched.  A land-based business may need storage space and an office.  Simple business equipment, office supplies, and paid employees are normal expenses for a small start-up business.

Growth Business Expenses that Require Financing

Once a business is successfully launched, a normal event will be growth of that business to a higher level and more profitability.  To achieve this goal, the small business financing needs might include cash for new equipment, advertising, additional personnel, vehicles, or more space.

Mature Business Financing

As a business progresses through its lifecycle to maturity, major expenses may occur that require outside financing.  Acquisitions of other companies, geographic expansion, changing the business structure to a corporation, seasonal or working capital needs may fluctuate, and travel or communication systems may require outside cash.

What Small Business Financing Options are Available?

There are several options available for a small business operation that needs outside financing.  Some can be provided by private sources, others by banks and financial institutions, and some by government programs for small businesses.  Here are some of the most frequently used resources for small business financing:

Lines of Credit – These are credit accounts set up by a bank or other financial institutions to provide cash for short-term working capital or to use during seasonal financial need fluctuations.  The borrower has a set limit, and they can use the line of credit up to that limit, but only pay interest on the amounts that are used.  As the borrowed cash is repaid, the limit remains the same, and the borrower can reuse the available cash balance as needed, repeatedly.  Lines of credit can also be used to back up other accounts with overdraft protection, as long as there is some credit still available.

Term Loans – This is a loan set up for a certain amount to be borrowed and repaid over a set period of time, in increments.  These are designed for long term financial needs, such as the purchase of equipment, vehicles, machinery or other large ticket items.  Term loans are available from banks and other traditional financial institutions.

Credit Cards - Using credit cards for smaller expenses can be helpful, and there are some advantages in the form of rebates, perks, and easy record keeping when credit cards are used for small business expenses.  They are simple to use for travel and entertainment purposes.  If credit cards are to be used for business purposes, it is best to have an account that is a designated business account, and use it only for the business expenses.  This will establish a business credit history, and separate the business expenses from personal ones or personal liability.  Personal credit cards are often used for small business start-up expenses and for some established business expenses.  It is, however, best to keep personal expenses separate from business expenses.  A business account may also have a better interest rate.

Government Loans and Grants – Small business financing options include government sponsored programs for loans and grants.  The Small Business Administration (SBA) works with local banks to provide SBA guaranteed loans for small businesses.  These can have an advantageous interest rate and terms, and are worth looking at.

Venture Capital and Angel Investors – There exists a large network for small business financing through the use of investment cash put up by venture capitalists and angel investors.  Cash is available for all stages of business development, from start-up to expansion of mature companies.  One benefit here is that the expert investors may take an active role in running or overseeing the business to help ensure that their investments are repaid.

Personal Resources – Friends, Family, Credit Cards, Pawn Shops, Cash Advances – These financial resources are commonly used for small business start-ups.  There may or may not be interest charges involved, and there may be some personal risk if repayments become a problem.  You could lose friendships, or collateral.

Leasing – Expensive equipment and some other financial roadblocks can be managed through leasing agreements rather than making large capital outlays.  Much technical expense can also be avoided by using cloud computing resources for customer relationship management, and to obtain state-of-the-art expertise, software and equipment use. 

No matter what type of small business financing options are used, it is important to have several documents at hand when making applications. A good business plan is essential to obtain financing, and for the general expectations of successful business operations. Create cash flow projections for the business, and have copies of your last 3 years tax returns ready to show to investors or lenders. Small business financing options can be the difference between small business success and failure; look at all forms to decide which will best benefit your company.

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Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for investments without advice from a financial professional. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact a licensed financial advisor for advice.

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Six Sigma Training for Quality Control 

If there was a small word that describes how Six Sigma training for quality control works, it might be the word “same.”  This highly focused training brings everyone to the same point.  Everyone gets the same message, and everyone is looking for the same thing, at the same time.  The result is improved quality control because all employees and managers are on the same page, focused on the same task of achieving excellence.

The program itself is very different from other programs. This is a type of business management strategy that was first developed and implemented by Motorola.  The applications for use of Six Sigma training for quality control are widespread in many areas of industry.

The Goal of Six Sigma Training

The basic goal of Six Sigma training for quality control is to reduce defects and errors at every step along the way.  Whether this applies to production or service does not matter; the goal of excellence and zero defects is the same.  With everyone seeking perfection, and more importantly, looking for errors at every step, it is possible to bring down any defect or error rate to near or at zero.

One difference in the Six Sigma training program structure is the use of statistical methods to measure and assess the results.  In order to do this, Six Sigma utilizes an infrastructure of personnel working within a business or organization.  Each has a particular role to play and steps to follow.  Each has a defined goal, such as cost reduction or increasing profit numbers.  To differentiate and make clear the duties of each person involved in the Six Sigma training program, each person is designated as having a different status.

The levels within Six Sigma training are patterned after levels of performance and achievement found in the martial arts programs of Karate.  There are different “Belts” awarded to personnel, based on their role in the entire program.  There are Champions, Master Black Belts, Black, Green, and Yellow Belts.  Each has a different job to do in the course of quality control to help the group goals become reality.

What are Six Sigma Program Goals?

While the goals of the original Six Sigma program for Motorola focused on improvement of their manufacturing process, the evolution of this type of training led naturally into other areas of business and service.  The ultimate goal is to reduce defects and improve performance enough that everything increases customer satisfaction.  Higher customer satisfaction should, in turn, lead on to increased sales, new customers, less waste, cutting costs, and increasing profits.

One of the finer points included in Six Sigma training for quality control is to provide continuous efforts to eliminate any variations away from a specific process.  The thought here is that any variations from the plan can introduce an opportunity for errors, mistakes, waste or defects to occur.  In manufacturing or in business processes, there are measurable characteristics.  These can be quantified, analyzed, and improvements can then be made, bit by bit, eliminating variations.  For this plan to work, everyone from top managers down to materials acquisition personnel must be involved and on the same track.

How Does Six Sigma Work?

The measurability focus of Six Sigma training for quality control is one thing that sets this program apart from other quality control efforts.  Involving all personnel and managers adds interest and passion for excellence to the workplace.  Managers have increased stature as experts and leaders.  Decisions are then made according to verifiable data rather than guesswork.

The actual name, Six Sigma, comes from the world of statistics.  Operations within a “Six Sigma Quality” range are expected to bring a defect rate down to an incredibly low level of below 3.4 defects per million opportunities.  Any Six Sigma program has that target for a goal, or better.

The acronym DMAIC is used in Six Sigma training to define the program steps, which are:

1.  Defining goals and the current process being used.

2.  Measuring and collecting data about the current process.

3.  Analyzing that data thoroughly to determine that all pertinent factors are included.

4.  Improving any processes following analysis of the data.

5.  Control of the process to assure that no variations occur, or if they are found, they are immediately corrected before any defects may occur.

Six Sigma Training Leads to Higher Customer Satisfaction

To achieve what the customer wants is the highest priority that will lead to better customer satisfaction and achievement of the program goals.  Those goals must be defined, measured, analyzed, and a new plan designed. Finally, verification of the design is done with a test process before final production.  Analysis and watchfulness continue as actual production is in progress.

It is easy to see how Six Sigma Training for quality control can greatly improve customer satisfaction.  If production processes or service provisions are created and fine-tuned according to what the customer wants, there should be high satisfaction.  During production or provision of service, all eyes are focused on the client’s project, with customer satisfaction as the ultimate goal.  Everyone looks for possible variations from the stated plan to help avoid defects and errors.  It is far better to have everyone on the project on the same page than to just have one manager running around trying to enforce high quality standards on a group.

Each person in the organization has a specific role to play, that is, their “Belt” level and duties.  Leaders guide the others, and managers are viewed as leaders rather than task masters.  All energies are devoted to quality control and optimum efficiency to cut costs and eliminate waste, defects, and errors.  Six Sigma training for quality control is here to stay because it is a proven program that works.

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Create a Unique Business Marketing Plan

When you set out to create a unique business marketing plan for your business or venture, start with a brainstorming session.  Write down your unique goals for the business.  Write down everything that can be done with advertising or promotional efforts.  Next, set down a realistic outline for your dreams.  This is the beginning of your map for success.   Map out from one to five years ahead, using a separate page or pages for each year.

What is a Unique Marketing Plan?

Marketing for any business encompasses a wide range of subjects.  It is an umbrella term and all the divisions are the segments of the umbrella.  You could even use a circular drawing to represent your plan if you want to do that instead of a line item plan.  Update your plans periodically, at least yearly.

The segments that should be included are:

-  Objectives

-  Products or Services

-  Advertising

-  Public Relations

-  Promotions – Sales – Special Events

-  Sales Staff

-  Competitors

-  Target Audience

-  Budget & Finances

-  Marketing Mix – Media Mix

-  Measuring Success/Results

Objectives -This is what some call the “corporate mission statement” or definition of what the company/organization/product/service does or is.  It can be written out as a statement and then further defined by areas of interest.   Be as specific as possible, and broad rather than narrow to allow for future development and expansion.

It is okay to include dreams in the objectives.  This is the place to put down all the goals you hope can be achieved by the business.  Include the "who, what, where, when, why and how" of the objectives listed in this section. 

The focus of objectives should be to reach that smaller portion of customers who will bring in the greater portion of sales.  This is sometimes referred to as the “80/20 rule” for marketing impact.  This rule indicates that 20 percent of the customers bring in 80 percent of the profit.

State clearly where you expect the company to be in one to five years time that will determine success.  State these points in quantifiable terms, so you can measure success. 

Products or Services - Detail the items or services you want to offer.  Research costs and transfer those figures to the “Budget & Finances” section below.  As you find costs, write down possible suppliers also.

Estimate what will be the cost for each item and the price you can reasonably set on each item.  For each item or service note to whom you expect to sell this item or service.

Advertising - How will you get the message out to your potential customers?  How much do you expect to spend for advertising?  Is there someone within your business that can do this or do you need to hire help?  Where will you place your advertising? 

There are some inexpensive advertising routes you can use.  These include social networking, interpersonal networking, professional organizations, and word-of-mouth advertising.  You can use traditional advertising in newspapers, radio and television, but these cost the most.  Use promotional items for far reaching advertising.  Do some research to find out where your potential customers are and what might be the best way to reach out to them.  Will a website for your business be helpful?  What could happen if you set up an affiliate program to use affiliate marketing for low cost advertising?

Public Relations – Include here any press releases, public appearances, and other public contact you plan to use to inform the public about your business efforts.  Participate in local events or be a sponsor for additional advertising and press coverage.

Promotions – Sales – Special Events – Plan the year in advance for special sales, grand openings, events, sponsorships, and any promotions you want to take advantage of.   Include any expense research for promotional items you want to use to build traffic.

Sales Staff – Telemarketers, direct and in-house sales representatives, company marketing and advertising personnel and expenses fall into this category.

Competitors – Research your competitors and find similar products and services that are already on the market.  What are the price points of their products?  Find any sales figures that are available.

Target Audience – Who comprises your target market?  Who is the target most likely to purchase?  Who has purchasing power?  Who buys most frequently?  Demographics are important.  Will your target audience be local or global?  Are your targets people you need to reach in person or on the Internet?

Budget & Finances – This is the nitty gritty of success.  You want your budget to stretch as far as possible, to reach as many potential customers as possible, and to be as effective and economical as possible.  Project here personnel salaries and payments, along with any related business expenses like fees and licenses, and office equipment and supplies.  Add rent, utilities, Internet service and computer expenses, and other items that will cost you cash.  Include personnel resumes, product costs and a supplier reference list.

Marketing Mix – Media Mix – With what media mix will your marketing budget be most effective?  Determine where your marketing dollars will go and how much you need for each area for the year.

Measuring Success/Results – Determine how you can measure success of your efforts.  What is quantifiable?  How will you collect results?  What is a result for your business? What constitutes success in your dream?

Fill out this marketing plan as fully as you can to create a comprehensive map detailing your yearly marketing plan.  Make regular references to it throughout the year and make adjustments as needed.  Always try to keep a year ahead.  Make a new month at the end as you finish up each month so you never have to start all over again.  Take stock of your plan monthly to see if you stay on track as the plan indicates.  If you need to make changes, or things change about the company, adjust the document.  Now that you understand how to create a unique business marketing plan, it is time to put it in action!

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Create Your Website

To create your website is not difficult, but it can take a lot of time before you finally get the results you like.  Once you have selected your domain name, you are ready to tackle the task of creating your website.

First, decide upon what is the purpose of your website.  Is it personal or for family?  Is it commercial for products you wish to sell?  Is it informational, general or specific?  Is it for fun or games?  The purpose will decide how deep in depth you need to go when creating your website, and possibly how much do you want to pay for it.  Free websites usually do not give you use of your individual domain name, but instead they assign you one that begins with their internet address.  Also, they put their own ads up.  If you have computer skills, you can create your own web page and upload it to your internet host, like GoDaddy.  If you are just an ordinary computer user like me, you might enjoy working with a company like GoDaddy.  They offer a very simple and fast way to get your website up and running.  Their quick website tonight choice starts at about $4.99 a month.  They also provide you with 24/7 phone or online help.  Once you have decided upon the type and style of website you need, you are ready to continue.

Second, select your theme, colors, and layouts for your website.  This can be a personal preference, or driven by your content needs.  One style layout may prove better for your needs than another.  You can experiment and try different ones before you do most of your content entering.  With GoDaddy website choices, there are multiple layouts and many different themes you can utilize.  For example, Fashion, People, Financial, and Travel are just some of their design themes.

Third step, create your page titles, enter the keywords and meta tags for search engines to use.  This will help you become visible eventually.  Keep your page description to 150 characters or less for best use by search engines (like Google).  Keywords are the words people put into their browsers to find something.  Meta tags are used by the search engines to help categorize your web page and are similar to keywords.

Fourth step, begin to enter your content.  Upload photos to your photo library at the website.  Find your text and visual content and save them on your computer before you enter them (so you can spell check, etc.).  If you are adding advertising, select companies and banners and text ads from your affiliate programs. Think about how these will best fit into your layouts.

Fifth, create your website content.  You will make many revisions.  Keep looking at it until you are satisfied.  Over time, continue to revise and add new content to keep search engine visibility high.

Sixth, contact several friends and have them look at your website and ask for their input on how it looks, and how understandable it is.

Seventh, continue to create your website.  Make more changes.  Again and again, you will probably continue this process as long as you use your website.

Eighth step, list your website on search engines.  You can either do this manually or with a free or paid service.  Try not to duplicate submissions; for example, don’t submit to Google every day or they will ban you.  Once a month is enough.  Look up “free website submission” in your browser to start to find these submission companies.  Keep a list of where you have submitted to avoid excess submissions.

Ninth, tell all your friends and contacts that you have created your website.  Get some new traffic.  That is THE hardest step!  There are some paid methods and some freebies.  You also can gain visitors by using your website address whenever you send an email, post to a blog, on business cards, in ads, etc.  Again, look to your browser to find them, there are many.  At this point, you are in a waiting game for visitors to your website.  

Enjoy using and working with your website creation.  If you are still confused, read some more articles on website creation.  Try putting “learn how to create your website” into your browser.

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Improving Your Credit Score

Three important steps for improving your credit score that you can do today.

Improving your credit score is a process that is relatively simple.  There are a few precautions to remember, and several important steps to take if a person desires to raise their existing credit score.

First, know where you are at with regard to your credit history and scores.  This information is easy to locate by pulling up a free credit report from a government mandated website, www.annualcreditreport.com.  The “Big Three” credit reporting agencies, Trans Union, Experian, and Equifax jointly provide this website to fulfill a mandate from the U.S. Congress to allow consumers easy and free access to a credit report once yearly, from each of the agencies.  The report can be pulled up online for viewing and saving to a personal computer, or the reports can be mailed by request.

Secondly, understand what is in the credit report.  The report will show all activity from any credit sources a person may have used, and goes back about ten years in time.  There will be positives and negatives as warranted by the activity the consumer has produced in the past.  There will not be a credit score listed.  This is an optional, for-pay item that can be ordered.  It is important to review the entire credit history to determine if there are any mistakes or errors, or if any fraudulent activity has occurred.

Third, go to www.bankrate.com or www.myfico.com for information about credit scoring and how it is calculated.  Bankrate has a sample score estimator that consumers can use to roughly estimate how good their score is.  At MyFico, consumers can actually order up their credit scores for a small fee.  It is possible to get a credit score free if a person is at a bank applying for a loan, if the banker will disclose the number.  There will be three scores, one for each credit reporting agency, and scores may vary a bit.

What is a Good Credit Score?  

Most agree that an “excellent” credit score is above 800 on a scale that ranges from 350 to 850.  “Very good” scores are between 750 and 800, “good” between 700 and 750, and “fair” between 650 and 700.  Landing below 600 is a very bad, bad or poor credit score.    There are many factors that go into calculation of credit scores, but the best thing to do is to be sure to make all payments on time.

Improving my credit score requires what action?

In addition to making timely payments, do not close credit accounts, do not open new accounts.  It is good to have different types of accounts, such as installment, credit card and revolving accounts plus loans.  A long history is good, especially if payments have been made on time.  Total amount owed is balanced against credit available and income available.  Try to get all balances below 30% of their limit, and take time to do all this.  Recovery is possible, even for very bad credit scores, but it will take some time.  If you have had some problems in the past, with enough time, each account will move into a positive report provided you can keep making timely payments and gradually reduce overall debt.

Another good tactic for improving a credit score is to locate additional income.  Take on a second job, pay off debt and watch over time as your credit history improves.  At the same time, the credit score will rise up.  Make extra payments, and use all credit wisely.  Once an account is paid off, credit cards should continue to be used for a small purchase every couple months just to keep that card active.  Credit card companies occasionally will close off an account due to inactivity.  This would hurt, rather than help your credit score.  Old accounts are very valuable to keep open, even if they are rarely used. 

There is really no way an outside company can repair your credit score any better than you can.  They may be able to negotiate lower interest payments or reduce some old debt, but these are things you can also do in many cases.  Try it yourself, first.  Ask your creditors about a deal.

Another tactic to try, if your score is rated as good to excellent, is to get a bank loan to pay off credit cards.  The important thing to remember here is that once the cards are paid off, do not run them up again, and make extra effort to pay off any consolidation loan as quickly as possible.

You can improve your credit score.  It may take some time, and effort, and perhaps even more income, but the end result of a higher credit score will bring you lower interest rate benefits if you are planning to purchase a home or vehicle. The effort and struggle are well worth the time it takes to achieve this goal.

Sources:
Annual Credit Report (accessed 4-18-2011)
Fico Scores (accessed 4-18-2011)
Credit Scoring (accessed 4-18-2011)

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