How To Start And Fund A Coffee Shop


opening a coffee shop

Coffee shops are vital places. Not only do they sell brewed happiness, without which I could not function, but they are important for communities as well. A coffee shop is where people meet up, whether to catch up with friends, go on a first date, or conduct a casual business interview. Thanks to the WiFi revolution, coffee houses have also become destinations where remote workers and freelancers can connect from their laptops and students can study for exams.

Coffee shops these days even have significance in the culinary world. Ten or fifteen years ago, you could go to a coffee shop to get a coffee and a muffin. No one had heard of third-wave coffee, latte art, single-origin pour-overs, acai bowls, or even avocado toast, but today, these are probably standard fare at the most happening coffee shop near you.

The high customer demand for an enhanced coffee house experience means lucrative opportunities for local business owners who want to enter the coffee shop business. By opening a coffee shop, you have the potential to create a unique business that could become one of the hottest destinations in your city. But first, you’ll need to do your research on how to establish a successful coffee shop, and perhaps most importantly, figure out how you’ll fund your business venture.

In this post, I describe the main steps for opening a coffee shop. I also outline the best ways to finance a new coffee shop business, with suggestions for recommended lenders in each category.

Preparing To Start A New Coffee Shop Business

If you’ve decided you want to open your own coffee shop (or are at least pretty sure), here’s what you need to do to get started.

1. Decide Whether To Buy A Franchise

Becoming a franchisee isn’t for everyone, but it might be right for you. There are a lot of benefits to purchasing a turnkey business where most of the elements you need to run the business are already in place. You might want to at least consider which coffee shop franchises you could potentially open in your area, and the costs associated with franchise ownership vs. the costs of opening and operating an independent coffee shop.

2. Determine What You’ll Sell

What do you envision your coffee shop’s menu looking like? Do you want to sell only coffee/espresso drinks and pre-made pastries, or have a larger offering that would require a kitchen where food is prepared onsite? Will you serve lunch or just snacks? What about mugs, t-shirts, or other non-food merch? It’s important to have at least a general idea of what you’ll sell early on in the process because this will determine what type of business space you’ll need, as well as your overall vision for your business.

3. Choose A Name & Theme

Next to your menu, the overall vibe and branding of your coffee shop will play a huge part in determining your success. A lot of thought must go into your business’s name and logo, both of which should reflect your theme. If you want to set your business apart from other offerings in your area, it will need to have a unique appeal. In marketing, this is called your business’s “unique value proposition” or “unique selling proposition.” Determining your UVP now will also help you down the road when you’re applying for financing — and also when marketing your business with signage, on social media, etc.

4. Create A Business Plan

Your business plan is essential in guiding the development of your business. In fact, it’s a document that most lenders will require when you apply for financing. Your plan will describe your UVP, and will also have information about how you intend to run your coffee shop. The plan might include specific information about how much financing you need, projected profits, information about ownership and management, relevant market research, competitors in your area, and other details. You should be able to find some sample business plans for coffee shops online to help you get started.

Some more things to consider when creating your coffee shop business plan include:

  • Business hours
  • Floor plan, including the layout of outlets for laptops, whether you’ll have community tables, etc.
  • Decor—Will you go eclectic hodgepodge or streamlined/modern? Keep your theme in mind.
  • What type of music you’ll play
  • Whether you’ll appeal to kids with offerings such as board games and kids’ drinks
  • Community events you might host—For example, open mic night, family board game night, jazz night, etc.

5. Find A Location

An essential component of starting any business is finding a place to set up shop. Maybe there is a vacant business space in town that you’ve already been eyeing, or perhaps you aren’t sure where to look yet. The design of the space itself needs to meet your needs, while the location in relation to other places of interest is just as important. Foot traffic, proximity to competitors, and convenience for university students are all aspects to consider. You should also consider whether you want to have the sort of space where people can feel comfortable working all day, or if you’d rather have minimal seating so people will be on their way shortly after making their purchase. Depending on your budget and theme, you might consider choosing a former coffee shop or restaurant space so that you won’t have to do extensive remodeling.

Funding Your Coffee Shop

business line of credit loan

Assuming you don’t have personal savings to open your business, you’ll need to get creative in order to secure financing for your brand-new business—traditional lending institutions such as banks and credit unions will usually want to see that you have at least two years in business. However, once you have a solid business plan and prospective location for your coffee shop, it will be easier to find parties who are willing to lend to you. Prospective business owners with good credit and business experience will have the most options, but there are even options for startups with bad credit.

1. Family & Friends

While most of us aren’t blessed enough to have a wealthy aunt willing to fund our wildest dreams, if you do have such an aunt, now is the time to hit her up. You can even hire a lawyer to draw up a contract for a loan between you and your aunt (I’m starting to feel like I know her now—let’s call her Aunt Judy), or use a service like LoanBack that formalizes loan contracts between friends and family.

If you don’t have an Aunt Judy but have personal and/or business contacts that might be willing to invest smaller amounts in your business, you might consider using a platform like Kiva. Kiva lets you crowdfund a small business loan up to $10K, provided you meet their terms and have a certain number of friends/family members from your personal network willing to back your loan.

2. Short-Term Business Loan

Most traditional business loans, which are repaid in installments over a number of years, require you to have at least a couple of years in business. An alternative business lending option available to newer businesses (and sometimes even startups) is a short-term loan. These loans can potentially carry high interest rates and you could be required to repay your loan in a matter of months, or sometimes even weeks. However, STLs can be a viable lending option for businesses that don’t have much time in business or business revenue, and many such lenders don’t even require you to have good credit.

Recommended Option: Lendio

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Lendio is an online loan marketplace where you can apply for and compare multiple business loans at once — including short-term loans — potentially up to $500,000. Lendio offers terms as long as 1–3 years, which is a more comfortable repayment frequency compared to many of the predatory short-term lenders you’ll find online. If you don’t have much business experience and aren’t sure what business loans you might qualify for, Lendio is a good place to start. When you can compare multiple loan offers as you can with Lendio, it is much easier to choose the best loan you qualify for.

Lendio Borrower Requirements:

Lendio’s borrower requirements vary depending on which of their lender partners you’re applying with, but the majority of loans in Lendio’s marketplace have these minimum requirements:

  • Time In Business: 6 months
  • Credit Score: 550
  • Business Revenue: $10K/month

3. Personal Loan

A personal loan can be used to fund a business startup such as a coffee shop, as long as the terms of the lender allow you to do so. Personal loans typically have an upper borrowing limit of $30K–$50K and carry higher interest rates than a business loan. You also usually need to have good personal credit. You do not need to have good business credit or any particular business credentials.

Recommended Option: LendingPoint

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LendingPoint is a reputable online lender offering personal loans that can be used for business. These loans are quick and easy to apply for, and you can qualify even if you have a fair personal credit score in the 600s. These are smaller loans—the upper borrowing limit is $25K—but they are accessible to almost anyone with decent credit. You will have between 2–4 years to repay, which is pretty good for an online loan.

LendingPoint Borrower Qualifications:

  • Time In Business: N/A
  • Credit Score: 600
  • Business Revenue: N/A
  • Personal Income: At least $20K/year

4. Short-Term Line Of Credit

Like short-term loans, short-term lines of credit are also open to young businesses that are just getting started. With this type of business financing, you only have to repay what you borrow, similar to a credit card. The downsides are that you’ll have to pay back the principal pretty expediently, with potentially high interest rates and other fees. Nevertheless, a line of credit can be an important source of working capital or expansion funds for a new business. It’s also a smart choice if you don’t know exactly how much money you’ll need.

Recommended Option: Fundbox

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Fundbox is a short-term LOC you might want to consider once you’ve opened up shop and have at least a couple months of coffee-brewing under your belt.

Fundbox offers one of the quickest and easiest business lines of credit with Fundbox Direct Draw. The main requirement for this revolving line of credit is to have been using Fundbox-compatible accounting software for at least two months. Fundbox will use your software account information to evaluate the health of your business, but there are no time-in-business requirements or specific credit score requirements. They will want to see that you’re on course to make at least $50K/year, however. You can borrow up to $100K (depending on how much they approve you for) and will have 12–24 weeks to repay the principal.

Fundbox Direct Draw Borrower Qualifications: 

  • Time In Business: N/A
  • Credit Score: N/A
  • Business Revenue: $50K/year
  • Other: Use of compatible accounting software for 2+ months

5. Startup Loan

A startup loan is a loan specifically for startup businesses with 6 or fewer months in operation. Often, these loans do not have any time-in-business requirements. Similar to a personal loan, a startup lender will want to look at your personal track record as far as credit history, and may possibly even delve into your job history and education level. It is pretty difficult to get this type of loan from a bank, but there are several online lenders that cater to startups.

Recommended Option: Upstart

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Upstart is an online lender aimed at younger borrowers, though applicants of any age can apply. Upstart helps fund startup businesses, as well as personal expenses and debt refinancing. Through Upstart, you can borrow up to $50K to finance your coffee business, with up to 5 years to pay back the loan. The main criterion Upstart cares about is your personal credit score, but having a strong job history and/or a college degree will also help you secure a loan with a good interest rate.

Upstart Borrower Qualifications:

  • Time In Business: N/A
  • Credit Score: 620
  • Business Revenue: N/A

6. Vendor Financing

Some popular coffee shop POS systems offer vendor financing. That is, a POS vendor may offer users of their point of sale system or payment processing service a business loan. These financing products usually have a low barrier to entry and are suitable for coffee shops that have recently opened. Typically, the main requirement is that you are an active user of the vendor’s product.

Recommended Option: Shopify Capital

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If you use Shopify Payments at your coffee shop, you may be eligible to get a short-term loan or merchant cash advance through Shopify Capital. You cannot apply for this loan; rather, Shopify will let you know if you are eligible. You can borrow a maximum of $500K, and Shopify will deduct a portion of your sales each day until the cash advance is fully remitted (paid off). With a STL from Shopify Capital, you have up to a year to pay it off. We like Shopify POS system a lot, but if you use another POS system, you will not be eligible for Shopify financing.

If you use Square as your coffee shop POS, Square Capital is a similar financing product you may be eligible for. Or, if you let customers pay with PayPal, PayPal Working Capital is an option.

Shopify Capital Borrower Requirements:

  • Time In Business: N/A
  • Credit Score: N/A
  • Business Revenue: N/A
  • Other: Have a US-based Shopify Payments account, with a low-risk profile, and process a certain amount per month

7. ROBS

Rollovers As Business Startups (ROBS) is a strategy to leverage your retirement account to start a new business. Because this method is technically a rollover, you won’t be penalized for removing funds from your 401(k), IRA, or another retirement account prematurely. Also, since you’re not borrowing money, there is nothing to pay back and no borrowing fees. The downside is that if your business fails, you could lose your investment, and potentially your chance to retire comfortably if you don’t have any other savings. A ROBS is a somewhat complicated transaction, but a ROBS provider will help you set up the new account to fund your business in exchange for a setup fee and a monthly service fee.

Recommended Option: Benetrends

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Benetrends’ financing options include ROBS as well as loans. Benetrends’ popular ROBS “Rainmaker” plan has financed more than 15,000 small business owners to date and is one of the top ROBS plans out there. Benetrends has clear, fair terms and excellent customer service. This ROBS provider charges a one-time $4,995 setup fee, and an ongoing monthly service fee of $130/month.

Benetrends Rainmaker Borrower Qualifications:

The only borrower requirement is that you have an eligible retirement account with at least $50,000. Eligible accounts include:

  • 401(k)
  • 403(b)
  • Traditional IRA
  • Thrift Savings Plan (TSP)
  • Simplified Employee Pension (SEP)
  • Keogh

Ineligible plans include Roth IRAs, 457 Plans for non-governmental agencies,  and distribution of death benefits from an IRA other than to the spouse.

8. Purchase Financing

Similar to purchase order financing, purchase financing is an alternative lending product that allows you to repay your vendors for business purchases in installments. The purchase financing company pays your invoices upfront, and then you repay the financing company in installments. Purchase financing lets newer businesses, such as a coffee shop startup, acquire the materials and equipment needed to open up shop, without having to pay for their supplies all at once. You can think of purchase financing as somewhere between a line of credit and a credit card.

Recommended Option: Behalf

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Behalf is a purchase financing company that offers financing for business purchases, at interest rates of 1%–3% per month. Behalf pays your merchants, and then you repay Behalf in weekly or monthly installments over a period as long as 6 months. This service has a very simple application, with transparent terms and no hidden fees. You can borrow up to $50K, depending on how much you are approved for.

You can use Behalf to fund purchases for most inventory or services, such as coffee beans or business consultant fees, but you cannot use the service for things like paying off existing debt or covering payroll.

Behalf Borrower Requirements

  • Time In Business: N/A
  • Credit Score: N/A
  • Business Revenue: N/A

Note that even though there is no stated credit score minimum, Behalf does do a hard pull on your credit during the application score, and will evaluate your business finances as well.

9. Credit Card

A business or personal credit card has its limitations, as your credit limit probably won’t be high enough to pay for all your startup costs. However, a credit card is a lot easier to get than a business loan, and if you play your cards right (ha ha) you might not have to pay any financing fees at all. Credit cards offer more cash-back and other rewards than ever before, particularly for business cards, and many cards also offer a 0% introductory APR for the first year. Moreover, opening a business credit card will help your new businesses establish and build your business credit profile.

Recommended Option: Chase Ink Unlimited

Chase Ink Business Unlimited


chase ink business unlimited
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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


15.49% – 21.49%, Variable

There’s a lot to like about Chase’s newest business card, Ink Business Unlimited℠. This card offers unlimited 1.5% cash-back on all purchases, combined with no annual fee, a $500 credit if you spend $3K in the first 3 months, and a 12-month 0% introductory APR. This card also carries other useful benefits such as purchase protection against damage and theft, and additional employee cards at no extra cost.

Ink Business Unlimited℠ Eligibility

To be eligible for this card, you need to have good to excellent credit.

If your credit score isn’t your strong suit, no worries. Check out this list of Business Credit Cards For People With Bad Credit.

Opening Your Cafe

Now that you have your business vision, location, and funding in place, it’s time to get ready to open to the public. If you take all of these steps, you should have everything you need to run a successful business, including a demand for your product.

1. Assemble Your Professional Team

Starting a business usually requires you to hire professionals such as accountants, attorneys, architects, and business consultants. At the very least, you will want to have an accountant you trust, as this person can also act as your business consultant in many ways. Professional fees can be high, but can save you a lot of money and headaches down the road.

2. Begin Remodeling

Unless you are building from scratch, you will most likely need to do at least some remodeling to your coffee shop business space to make it fit your needs and vision. At the very least, you’ll need to add signage and repaint. Be thoughtful when choosing the decor, from floor to ceiling. If you need to do extensive remodeling, an SBA 504 Commercial Construction loan might help you finance the renovations. Of course, if you are renting, there will likely be limitations on what changes you can make to your business space.

3. Acquire Equipment & Materials

Before you can start brewing, baking, and all that, you’ll need the proper equipment and raw ingredients. This will require careful consideration, particularly when choosing vendors for coffee beans and other food and drink materials. Make sure you do your research and do plenty of taste tests, because the worst thing a coffee shop can have is yucky-tasting coffee. When selecting vendors for your coffee beans and other raw ingredients, be sure to consider things that your customers might care about, such as whether the coffee comes from sustainable farms or is organic.

In terms of coffee shop equipment, you may have the option to lease or buy. Equipment financing is one way a lot of restauranteurs acquire kitchen equipment, and one you might consider also. Proceeds from SBA 504 loans can also be used to purchase kitchen equipment.

4. Create A Buzz With Marketing

There are so many innovative ways to start creating a buzz around town before your coffee shop even opens. Some of these include:

  • Giving out samples of your coffee at local events
  • Updating your building’s exterior with signage and other eye-catching improvements
  • Setting up a direct mail campaign in targeted regions
  • Alerting the media to your grand opening
  • Social media marketing (more on that in a minute)

Essentially, you want people to be excited about your coffee shop before it even opens. Fortunately, social media and the internet makes this easier than ever.

5. Bolster Your Web Presence

Your business website and social media profiles need to be in place before your coffee shop opens. If you don’t have the time or budget to hire a web designer, you can still create a functional and attractive website using a website builder such as Squarespace or Wix. Posting to Instagram and other social sites before the grand opening will also help you create a buzz and establish an online presence.

Here are a couple of resources that will help you build your online presence for your coffee shop:

  • Guide to creating/maintaining a web presence
  • Guide to social media marketing

6. Hire & Train Employees

Your employees and the level of customer service they provide will ultimately make or break your coffee shop. You will need to be smart and careful in your hiring process, and train the employees thoroughly so they know not only your processes but also the atmosphere you are trying to create. It’s important to value your employees and offer competitive wages and perks, even if that means cutting costs somewhere else; if you pay minimum wage, employees will ultimately be grumpy with one foot out the door. By establishing a positive corporate culture and showing employees you value them, you will create an awesome team that will take your business to the next level.

7. Choose A POS System

Your point of sale is where you make all your money, so it’s super important that you choose a good one! You do not want a system that is unreliable or only pairs with a crappy merchant service provider that charges exorbitant swipe fees. Thus, you will need to test out multiple systems and read reviews before selecting a system. You’ll also need to figure out which features you need and which you can live without. Many modern cloud-based POS systems are essentially complete business management software programs, with built-in inventory management, employee management, accounting integration, loyalty software, and even more functions. You also have the choice to go all out with POS hardware add-ons such as digital menu boards and self-order kiosks, or keep it simple with a single iPad register.

More important than having a POS with all the bells and whistles, it is essential that the POS system you select integrates with a high-quality merchant services provider (or choice of merchant service providers). Your merchant service provider will determine what percentage of your credit card sales you’ll hand over, how issues such as chargebacks are handled, and how much you’ll pay to exit the contract if you’re not happy with the level of service.

To start your POS research, I recommend reading our article on the best POS systems for coffee shops.

Final Thoughts

There are so many things to consider when starting any business, particularly a business in the restaurant industry. However, as long as you have a solid business plan and financing in place, the rest is really just details. Opening a coffee shop is a practical choice for a lot of prospective business owners, as there will always be demand for good coffee and a place to drink it. Not only that, but it’s also a choice that will allow you to express your individuality and become a vibrant part of the local community in a way that many business types aren’t suited for.

If all this sounds good to you, I encourage you to get started so you can open the go-to coffee shop in your city before someone else does.

Oh, and don’t forget the free WiFi!

The post How To Start And Fund A Coffee Shop appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Business Insurance For Startups: How Much It Costs And Why You Need It

Business Insurance For Startups: How Much It Costs And Why You Need It

If you are a startup business, you obviously have a lot to juggle. That said, business insurance should be a top priority as you move forward. Go ahead and Google “lawsuit and startup” (or maybe don’t if you’re panic-prone) and the news will run the gamut.

Even if you aren’t a doomsday type of buyer, there are many other reasons to be insured. Maybe you need to show insurance to your investors and clients before they’ll join you on your venture, or maybe you need to secure commercial property insurance to set up shop in a physical space.

Bottom line: You need insurance.

Even if your startup is a sole proprietorship or a limited liability company, the financial impact of a mistake or a lawsuit could cripple your startup or create a situation where your personal assets could be at risk. Why toss the dice?

Read further to see why you need insurance, what kind of insurance you might need, and the most cost-effective ways to secure insurance for your startup.

Why Startups Need Insurance

Business Insurance For Startups: How Much It Costs And Why You Need It

Startups need insurance for the same reasons that any business needs insurance: there are risks involved with starting and running a business, and a mistake or accident could permanently cripple your finances and your chances for success. Since startups, by nature, are new and innovative and often work with up-and-coming technologies, you may not even be able to imagine all the ways you could put yourself at risk. You need business insurance precisely because you’re wandering around in unfamiliar territory. Time spent worrying about potential pitfalls is time you could be using to build your business: insurance buys you fewer things to worry about.

Also, in some instances, business insurance might be legally required. (If you have even one employee, depending on where your business is located, you’ll need worker’s compensation as a minimum.) Lawsuits and angry customers — and perhaps even upset investors — may be part of your startup’s journey, and the best way to gain some confidence and assurance is to protect yourself.

You might need business insurance if you:

  • Have a physical storefront/location for your business
  • Rent business equipment or property
  • Use a car or a fleet of cars
  • Advertise or have an online social media presence
  • Employ people
  • Work with customers
  • Provide professional advice
  • Want to protect personal assets
  • Have investors in your company

In the discovery stage of your startup, you may not need as much insurance as you will later on when you are gaining momentum and adding employees and partners; however, it’s never to early to understand what you need and why.

8 Types of Business Insurance Startups Might Need

Business Insurance For Startups: How Much It Costs And Why You Need It

For a startup business, the types of business insurance to choose from can be long and tedious to understand. Each type of insurance protects a different aspect of your business and could be required based on business demographics like where you are located, how many employees you have, and what type of risk is involved in your startup.

While individual needs will vary, here are the basic types of business insurance startups should consider.

General Liability Insurance

General liability insurance covers your expenses should you go to court to defend an accident, an injury, or damage to property. Typically, your policy will pay for legal representation, litigation fees, out-of-court settlements, and judgments set by the court. Sometimes called “Slip and Fall Insurance,” general liability will also cover medical bills if a client is injured due to an accident at work. This is the foundational insurance policy that every business should have. Accidents happen and this basic coverage makes sure you won’t lose your business when they do. 

Commercial Property Insurance Or Business Owners Policy

If you own a commercial property, have a storefront, or have a physical location for your office, then you will need a commercial property insurance policy. This policy covers theft and damage done to your property through vandalism or wind, rain, snow. General liability insurance covers people and commercial property insurance covers things. There is also a Business Owner’s Policy (BOP) that joins commercial property and liability together in a bundle for extra savings.

Commercial Auto

Sometimes a startup will make the mistake of assuming that their personal auto insurance is enough to protect a car driven for work. However, it’s a known fact that even reputable insurance companies look for ways to avoid paying a claim. If you use your car for business or have employees out driving around for your business (especially if you have a commercial fleet of vehicles), you will need commercial auto insurance. Don’t assume your personal insurance is enough to cover a vehicle involved in an accident during business hours.

Professional Liability

This type of insurance policy is sometimes called malpractice insurance or errors and omissions insurance (E&O). If someone in your company makes a professional mistake (an error of judgment) or omits key information that impacts someone financially (an omission), people can sue you.

Startup businesses are in a state of flux as they establish themselves and might be more likely to inadvertently make a professional mistake. If your company is in the business of giving advice, professional liability protects you in the event that someone feels your advice was harmful, either to them personally or to their company. Thinking of professional liability insurance as malpractice insurance is the best way to understand the various ways people might try to find your company liable.

Cyber Liability

Twenty years ago, cyber insurance protection wasn’t even on the radar of business owners. But if your business has any type of online presence or if you use a database to store customer information, this provides an added layer of protection in the event that your website or database is hacked and personal information is leaked. When a hack occurs, there are many legal requirements related to communicating with customers and securing their identities in the aftermath. A cyber liability policy covers the financial fallout of a data breach.

Worker’s Compensation Insurance

If you have employees, you’ll need worker’s compensation insurance to cover you and your business in the event that an employee is injured on the job. General liability insurance will cover an injured customer or client, but an injured employee falls under a different umbrella of insurance — one that is a legal requirement. (As with most insurance policies, however, the legal requirements are state specific.) Workers compensation pays for medical and legal fees if your employees are injured at work.

Employment Practices Liability Insurance

Employment practices liability insurance protects you against a discrimination or wrongful termination lawsuit. Even if you can’t imagine one of your employees or startup partners making a claim of discrimination, it could happen, and the costs to defend yourself could become crippling.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines eleven different types of possible workplace discrimination: age, disability, equal pay, genetic background, nationality, pregnancy, race, religion, retaliation, sex, and sexual harassment. Employment Practices Liability Insurance helps protect your business in the case of a discrimination lawsuit.

Key Person Insurance

Key person insurance is a life insurance policy on the key person/owner of a business. If you die and your startup can’t function without you, what happens? (Insurance is fun to talk about at parties: Hey, let’s talk about all the accidents that could happen or the different ways people might sue you. Also, what if you die?) But also: what if you die? If someone’s brain and personhood is a big part of a startup’s success, then the startup may be able to insure that person’s life with the company as the beneficiary. If a key person in your startup passes, that insurance money can be used to pay off investors or keep the company from bankruptcy.

How Much Does Startup Insurance Cost?

Business Insurance For Startups: How Much It Costs And Why You Need It

Insurance costs will vary depending on the financial makeup of your company. Insureon analyzed its 18,000 policies of business insurance for companies with 10 employees or fewer and came up with the following numbers: the average cost for business insurance is $1281 annually with the median at $584.

What will affect your insurance costs the most? Well, not everything is in your control: you may need workers compensation as a legal requirement and general liability to work with contractors, but what else could lower or raise the average cost?

  • Your Business Size: What is the physical square footage of your business? What kind of space does it require? A larger space will require a larger policy.
  • Your Business Location: Where you are located will affect your premiums because some states are more accommodating than others toward small businesses and startups. Are you located in a state that is considered small business friendly or lawsuit friendly? Location also factors into other business risks like flooding, crime, and foot traffic.
  • Business Sales Reports: How much money do you make? The more money you make, the more insurance you’ll need. An actuary (someone who assesses your company’s risks) will look at your numbers and see how much you — or they — might stand to lose.
  • Your Business Industry: Some industries are built with more risk than others, and the insurance company will examine all the ins and outs of how your business operates to know the best ways to protect you.
  • Number Of Employees: More employees, more insurance costs.
  • Claim History: As with any insurer, the actuary will also look at your past business history and see if you have made any claims in the past.
  • Types Of Policies: The bigger your business, the bigger the policy. If you don’t have any employees and can stick with general liability, you will pay pennies next to a business that is working to protect employee incomes.

With so many factors specific to your own business, it’s important to check with an insurance professional to itemize your needs and the costs associated with each policy.

Ways To Save On Startup Insurance

As with all things in business, finding a cost-effective way to provide services is always at the forefront of a startup owner’s thoughts. Let’s be honest; money is on your mind. As a startup, you might be juggling how to finance your company and are noticing that sometimes loans require insurance. (Your lender wants to know you will be able to fund this asset; insurance gives confidence to lenders if you financing through loans or through grant money.) Maybe your investors require insurance or maybe you already understand its necessity for your peace of mind, and you want to get the cheapest insurance possible.

However, it’s important to understand that a cheaper policy may not be cheaper in the long run. If you start with a higher deductible and a lower limit, your monthly premiums may seem manageable, but one claim could put those entire savings at risk. At that point, you are banking on the best-case-scenario and still not effectively planning for the worst-case-scenario: a business risk.

Without going light on the coverage you need, here are a few ways you can try to save a few dollars:

  • Bundle Policies: Bundling your insurance policies will often save you money. Consider a business owner’s policy which combines both general liability and commercial property insurance.
  • Shop Around: The lowest quote may not always be the best deal in the long run if the company wouldn’t support you when you submit a claim. Research the carriers and their ratings. Five independent agencies (including Standard, Poor, and AM Best) rate the financial strength of an insurance company and you can use their services for free if you sign up for an account.
  • Choose A Higher Deductible: A deductible is the amount of money you will pay before your insurance kicks in. Choose a higher deductible and your premiums will go down. (Understand that one lawsuit or claim could eat up that whole deductible and may not be cost-effective in the long run; so be prepared to pay that deductible and crunch the numbers.)
  • Find Group Rates: Group rates might be available for your industry and if you can purchase insurance as part of a group, your premiums will go down.
  • Work With An Agent Who Specializes In Business: Not all insurance agents, brokers, or companies are created equally. And certainly, not all of them will understand the specifics of your industry. Go out and find someone who knows your business and can help you understand the
  • Pay Your Premium In Full: It may be cheaper to pay your premiums for the year in one lump sum rather than spread them out in 12 monthly installments.

Getting Started

Okay. Your startup needs insurance, that’s a given. You now have a general understanding of what policies you might need and how to save a few dollars insuring your business. What next?

There are many ways to get started. Check with your current insurance company to see if they offer commercial business plans. If so, see if it is cost effective to bundle your personal and business insurance policies. If not, go shopping. Many sites like Coverwallet, Coverhound, and Insureon will comparison shop for you and walk you through the steps required to make an insurance purchase.

Your startup needs protection. Don’t make the mistake of leaving yourself vulnerable for an attack when your company isn’t ready to handle the pressure or the financial fallout.

The post Business Insurance For Startups: How Much It Costs And Why You Need It appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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The Step-By-Step Guide To Starting And Funding A Cleaning Business

Entropy is a powerful force. If there’s one thing you can rely on, it’s that everything gets dirty sooner or later. If it doesn’t get dirty, it gets cluttered. Add in the increasing prevalence of two-income households, the pace of modern work, and long commutes and it’s not surprising that more and more people are letting their chores slide. And that’s not even taking into consideration the huge messes businesses make. The fields are ripe for the harvest — why not cut yourself a piece of the action and start a cleaning business?

Luckily, the overhead costs of starting a cleaning business are fairly low (at least up until you start adding staff). Still, you’ll want to have a good sense of what you’re getting into before you dive into the cleaning industry. It’s vital to have a plan to tackle the expenses and challenges you’ll encounter along the way.

Not sure where to start? We’ll break starting and funding a cleaning business into a step-by-step process below.

Make A Business Plan

What separates a business from a side gig? Well, a lot of stuff, but one of the bigger points of delineation is whether or not you have a business plan and a clear strategy.

Creating a business plan can be an intimidating prospect, but you don’t need to have a business degree to write one. You don’t even need to have taken a class.

A business plan is, essentially, an outline documenting what your business is, what it does, how it’s organized, its financial means, and a strategy for how you intend to grow.

There are a lot of resources online that can give you an idea of what a business plan looks like, as well as templates to help you get organized, but a typical business plan has the following parts:

  • Executive Summary
  • Company Description
  • Market Overview
  • Sales & Marketing Strategy
  • Operating Plan
  • Organizations & Management Team
  • Financials

Calculate Startup Costs

The good news about launching a cleaning business is that it’s possible to start one with relatively little overhead.

At a bare minimum, you’ll need cleaning supplies. This assumes you’ll be doing the cleaning yourself and aren’t taking on any additional employees right away. If you’re cleaning residential homes, these supplies will more or less be the same ones you use to clean your own home. If you’re getting into commercial cleaning right away, you’ll likely have to invest in equipment (and possibly personnel) that can handle larger volume messes and expansive spaces.

If you plan on cleaning as more than a side gig, you’ll also need to pay fees to register your business. This isn’t a very big expense if you’re content with running a sole proprietorship (or partnership, if you’re starting it with someone else) –usually less than $50. You can also file a DBA, which allows you to legally do business under another name (the name of your company). We’ll get a bit deeper into it in the next section.

Additionally, you should factor in any initial advertising costs, as well as transportation costs for getting yourself or your employees to the work sites.

Register Your Business

Registering your business may sound intimidating, but it can actually be one of the easiest parts of starting a business.

Why should you register your business? At minimum, it protects the name you’re using to do business so that no one else in your area can (legally) use it. It can also help you qualify for business-to-business services and services that require an EIN number.

Incorporating, on the other hand, is a more complicated and expensive process that comes with its own advantages and disadvantages.

Here are the most common types of businesses you can register as:

  • Sole Proprietorship: By default, this is the type of business you’re running when you initially create one. You and your business are, for tax and liability purposes, considered the same entity. In fact, if you want to do business under a name other than your own, you’ll need to file a DBA (doing business as) with your local county clerk.
  • Partnership: Essentially the same as a sole proprietorship, except you started it with one or more other people. By default, you’re each considered to own an equal share of the business for tax and liability purposes.
  • Limited Liability Corporations (LLCs): If you’ve seen LLC after a corporation’s name, you’re dealing with this type of company. LLCs offer limited liability protection for their owners without the full complexity of a corporation. Each state has its own rules for how to start and maintain an LLC, and you don’t necessarily have to register your LLC in the state where you’re doing business (although you’ll generally want to). LLC owners report their business earnings and losses on their personal taxes.
  • C-Corp: This is the “basic,” default form of incorporation. Shareholders are considered the owner(s) of the company and receive limited liability protection; however, the business decisions are made by corporate officers who may or may not be shareholders. The corporation is taxed separately and shareholders pay income tax on dividends. To form a C-corp, you’ll file articles of incorporation with your state.
  • S-Corp: S-corps are similar to C-corps in most ways, but come with a few additional restrictions: you must have fewer than 100 shareholders and they have to all be U.S. citizens or residents. Unlike C-corps, profits and losses are reported on personal taxes, not unlike an LLC. In addition to filing articles of incorporation, you’ll also need to file IRS Form 2553.

Get Business Insurance

Depending on your local and state laws, business insurance may or may not be optional. However, given that cleaning involves a lot of physical contact with valuable items (not to mention the fact that you will be in the profession of making floors slippery), you may want to consider getting insurance even if you’re not required to have it.

General liability insurance can protect you in the case of lawsuits or accidents, including property damage and personal injury claims against your business. It can also make your business seem more professional to prospective clients.

Your own equipment is also subject to wear and tear, as well as accidents, so you may want to consider property insurance for any items that aren’t easily replaced.

While those are the big two worth considering, you may also want to consider other types of business insurance to help cover anything from worker’s comp claims to vehicle damage.

Seek Business Funding

Now that you have a sense of what your expenses will be, it’s time to see if you can cover them out of pocket and still pay your rent. If you can’t, and are unable to tighten your belt without sacrificing the tenets of your business plan, you may need to seek some source of external funding.

Where should you look?

Personal Savings

If you’ve saved up for a rainy day, the weather might start looking pretty stormy right about the time you’re starting a business. The nice thing about dipping into your savings is that you’re not taking on debt and all the expenses that go with it.

On the other hand, you are risking your own money, along with the lost-opportunity costs of not being able to invest that money in something else.

And, of course, you may not have been able to save enough to cover your expenses anyway.

Tap Your Support Network

If you don’t have the money handy, another option is to ask your family or friends for a small loan. Generally speaking, your support network will give you a better deal than even the most competitive bank will.

Asking your friends and family for money can be tacky and awkward if you don’t put their concerns at ease. You also may damage your relationships if you aren’t able to pay the money back within the expected period of time. It’s important to take a professional and organized approach.

If you do go this route, strongly consider formalizing any agreements you make so that all parties are fully aware of what they’re risking and stand to gain from the arrangement. Create and sign a contract, just as you would do with a traditional lender.

Credit Cards

For purchases you can pay off quickly, it’s hard to beat the convenience and incentives of credit cards.

Credit cards come in both personal and business varieties. You don’t actually have to own a business to get a business credit card, but their rewards programs are generally more geared towards business expenses.

If you’re going to use credit cards, be sure to use them wisely. That means paying them off within the interest-free grace period offered by your card’s provider. For personal credit cards, this is legally at least 21 days from the time you receive your bill. For business credit cards, there is no legal minimum, but most extend a similar one as a courtesy.

Just remember, if you fail to pay your card off with that window, carrying a balance on a credit card is an extremely expensive way to finance your business. And avoid taking out cash advances on your cards unless absolutely necessary.

Recommended Option: Capital One Spark Cash Select For Business

Capital One Spark Cash Select For Business


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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


14.74% – 22.74%, Variable

Spark Cash Select for Business is great for businesses that don’t have their expenses concentrated in a single area, or that don’t want to worry about complex reward programs. You’ll simply earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase you make. There’s also no limit on the reward, so you don’t have to worry about exceeding a maximum threshold: whether you spend $20 or $500,000 in a year on your card, you’ll still get 1.5% back.

You will need to have excellent credit to qualify, however.

Recommended Option: Capital One Spark Classic

Capital One Spark Classic For Business


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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


24.74%, Variable

If you don’t qualify for Spark Cash Select for Business, Capital One offers an equally versatile card that’s much easier to qualify for. Spark Classic offers a similar cashback reward program, but the rate of return is 1% rather than 1.5%.

While not the most exciting card, it’s a good one for repairing your credit.

Loans

Business loans are frequently out of reach for brand new businesses–even the more risk-taking lenders generally want to see that you can keep your business together for at least six months before they’ll lend to you. That said, there are exceptions to the rule, with some lenders focusing on new businesses.

And remember, when you’re starting out you don’t necessarily need a “business” loan; personal loans can leverage your personal credit for an early cash infusion even you need it. If you’re buying a specific piece of equipment, you should also consider equipment financing.

Recommended Option: Lending Club Personal Loans

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Lending Club is a good option for individuals who may not have the strongest credit, but have a good debt-to-income ratio. The borrowing range is fairly narrow at $1k to $40k, but when you’re just starting out you don’t want to go too deeply into debt anyway. You’ll have three-to-five years to pay it off, which makes it fairly manageable while you’re building up your business.

Recommended Option: Lendio

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Lendio takes some of the frustration out of applying for a loan by allowing you to apply to their entire network of lenders all at once. If you’re thinking about tapping the alternative lending market for the first time, it’s a pretty good place to start.

They can’t necessarily help every business, but a shotgun approach can sometimes be easier than finding that one special lender.

Recommended Option: Upstart

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If you’re having trouble finding a lender who will work with you, take a look at Upstart. You’ll need to have at least fair credit and a regular source of income, but otherwise, Upstart’s way of evaluating potential borrowers is pretty unconventional (good news if you’re starting a business).

Better yet, Upstart’s rates are pretty reasonable and you’ll have three or five years (one or the other, not between) to pay your balance off. Unfortunately, they don’t currently lend within West Virginia or Iowa.

Need more options? Check out our feature on startup loans. Need a vehicle for the business? Read our auto loans guide.

Choose The Right Software

As your business grows and becomes more complex, managing the logistics of your company can become quite labor-intensive. If you don’t want to sink too many man-hours into keeping track of all that stuff, you’ll want to delegate it to a software program.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to enroll in a bunch of expensive SaaS platforms if it’s just you cleaning for a handful of clients, but it doesn’t hurt to know what kinds of options are available.

Types of software you may want to consider include:

Field Service Management 

This type of software centralizes processes and workflows for businesses that have employees who are dispatched to external sites for work. They often include features like scheduling, dispatching, and booking. Some also come with invoicing, payment processing, and customer notifications, so it’s quite possible to find an all-in-one service that meets your needs.

Scheduling Software

If field management software sounds like overkill, you can try scheduling software to manage your appointments and those of your employees.

Inventory Tracking

If your business is growing, and you no longer have time to run out to buy supplies every time you need them or use your clients’ stash, you may find it helpful to formally keep track of your inventory.

Accounting Software

It’s always a good idea to keep track of your expenses, accounts receivable, payroll and related issues, especially as your business grows and becomes more complex.

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Best Cloud Accounting Software

Best Cloud-Based Accounting Software

Best Cloud Accounting Software

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$9 – 60/month

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Bolster Your Web Presence

A cleaning business can get pretty far on word-of-mouth and savvy networking, but expanding your reach in the digital age usually means you’ll want to bolster your web presence.

A website is still a very important way for potential clients to find out information about your business and what services you offer. Happily, for a cleaning service, it doesn’t have to be all that complicated. If you don’t want to contract the job out, there are plenty of services online that make it easy to build your own decent-looking website.

A spiffy website is only one aspect of an online strategy, however. You still need to get people to visit it. You’ll want to consider factors like search engine optimization (SEO) so that, for example, the phrase “kitchen cleaning Rochester” will return your website in the top results.

You may also want to use social media to build brand recognition, steer traffic to your site, and announce specials or changes to your services.

Delegate Work

If it’s just you and a cart full of cleaning supplies, you can skip this part. However, if you’re planning to grow beyond what one mere mortal can clean in a day, you may be taking on more people.

Employees

Taking on additional people as employees come with many advantages: you’ll be able to get significantly more work done, have a larger pool of expertise to draw from, and be more flexible with scheduling. This does come with some additional costs, as you’ll be paying some of the taxes on their salary as well as offering benefits (at least in theory), so be sure to grow your staff wisely and at a pace that fits the amount of business your generating.

In exchange, you’re allowed greater control over the parameters of how your employee works, where, and at what time. Setting a wage that’s fair and not abusing this relationship will generally improve morale and help you avoid the costly process of employee turnover.

Contractors

If you aren’t quite ready to take on employees but need additional help, you can hire contractors. Contractors are free agents who work for themselves even though they may be regularly and continuously used by a particular client (that’s you). Since they’re self-employed, you don’t have to worry about additional expenses beyond paying their fee.

Beware that many businesses make the mistake of treating 1099 contractors as employees, which can get you into pretty serious trouble. If you want to have employees, you have to hire them. As a general rule, you have no say over what jobs a contractor decides to take, the methods they use to complete the job, or the precise time they choose to do it.

Advertise Your Business

A strong web presence and social media campaign can get help get your name out, but we aren’t quite at the point where advertising is obsolete.

Since a cleaning business is constrained by geography, you have to physically send someone out to do the job. That means you can use your modest advertising budget to buy ads in your local market, which is usually cheaper than trying to grab eyeballs from several states away. Ideally, you’ll want to seek ad platforms utilized by the types of people who are likely to buy your services. Cash-strapped kids at the local state college campus probably don’t have a budget for cleaning services, for example (although some fraternities or sororities may), while busy soccer moms might.

Once you know who you’re advertising to, you can select a medium that fits your target demographic. Once you start getting new customers, ask them where they heard about your business so you can get a sense of which ads are working and which aren’t.

Even if you don’t have money to spend on advertising right away, put the word out to your own social network that you’re offering cleaning services. Word can spread fast, especially if you have a reputation as a trustworthy person.

Final Thoughts

We still haven’t invented self-cleaning spaces, so you have a potentially bottomless demand for your services. With relatively low overhead, a housekeeping or cleaning business is one of the more accessible industries to jump into, so if you have the skills and the inclination, why not give it a try?

The post The Step-By-Step Guide To Starting And Funding A Cleaning Business appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Find Cheap Liability Insurance

Accidents happen. And when you’re a business owner, people tend to think those accidents are all your fault. Maybe they are — and maybe they aren’t! Either way, a general liability insurance plan can provide protection for your business when accidents turn into lawsuits.

When small businesses are sued for damages following an accident, the financial effect can be disastrous. In many instances, a business may never recover from the fallout. General liability insurance protects your assets in the case of a lawsuit due to accidents or injury and can provide peace of mind for small business owners.

Read on for a look at some basic facts about liability insurance. We’ll talk about what type of incidents this kind of insurance covers, discuss costs and plans, and steer you in the right direction if you’re ready to buy.

The Basics Of General Liability Insurance

A general liability insurance plan protects your business from third-party claims of bodily injury, accidents, or property damage. It is the foundational insurance policy upon which most other business insurance policies are built, so if you are planning on insuring your business, general liability should be your first purchase.

Even if you don’t think your business could be the victim of a lawsuit, insurance exists so you don’t have to carry around a laundry-list of potential risks and worry about them obsessively. Instead, you can run your business and let the insurance provide protection, no matter what happens.  

What Is General Liability Insurance?

A general liability policy will cover your expenses should you need to go to court to defend an accident, an injury, or damage to property. Typically, your policy will pay for legal representation, litigation fees, out-of-court settlements, and judgments set by the court. 

What Does General Liability Insurance Cover?

Your general liability policy will cover the following broad issues that may arise with your business:

  • Bodily Injury To Someone Or Property Damage Because Of Your Business/Employees: If a customer slips and falls on a spilled Diet Coke or your contractor breaks a client’s window while working at their home, this insurance will cover the medical bills for your customer and legal costs to defend yourself.
  •  Product Liability Should Someone Sue You For A Faulty Product: If your fast food joint is implicated in a spread of E. coli or your talking baby doll toy is terrorizing children, well, your insurance company will cover the litigation costs of those two lawsuits.
  • A Lawsuit For Slander, Libel, Or Copyright Infringement: Most small businesses have a presence online and with the fast and furious pace of the internet, tweets or Instagram posts can have a quick way of gaining attention–for better or for worse. Libel occurs when you print untruths about someone and slander is when you speak those untruths to other people. Many businesses, small and large alike, have been the subject of lawsuits because of something written on the internet or an ill-conceived advertisement. A joke, a meme, an accusation about another business–all of it is another way your business is at risk.

Who Needs General Liability Insurance?

The people who need general liability insurance the most are the people who didn’t think they would need it and suddenly find themselves facing a lawsuit. Even the smallest of businesses could benefit from having basic coverage. Everyone and anyone can be at risk for a frivolous (or not-so-frivolous) lawsuit. However, you should definitely consider a general liability plan if:

  • You have a physical storefront
  • Your business has a social media presence
  • You do business at other people’s homes
  • You work with clients that might require proof of insurance
  • You offer clients a physical product
  • You run advertisements

Average Cost Of General Liability Insurance

As with most business decisions, the decision to purchase insurance (or not) comes down to cost. The good news is that general liability insurance does not have to be expensive.

According to Insureon, over 53% of small businesses pay between $400-$600 a year for general liability insurance and 21% paid less than $400 a year. There are many factors that can impact that yearly premium including your specific risks, how much liability insurance you need, and what type of business you run. The variables that will most influence the cost of your liability insurance are the size of your business, how many employees you have, the location of your business, and the accumulative risk factors of your business.

For a small business that needs one million dollars of coverage, the price can be as low as $30 a month.

How Much General Liability Insurance Do You Need?

As a small business owner, when you start to shop for your general liability insurance, you’ll have to decide how much coverage is the best for your business. A good rule is that the riskier your business is, the more insurance it may need. Also, check with your state’s business guidelines: a few states require you to have general liability insurance by law. Each business is different, but your coverage will depend on your answers to the following questions:

  • How big is your business?
  • How many employees do you employ?
  • What type of product do you create?
  • Where is your business located?
  • What kind of risks can you anticipate?

Know Where To Look

When you are ready to make a purchase, there are quite a few places to secure a general liability policy for your business. If you already have an insurance policy through a carrier, check with a broker or insurance agent there to see about adding general liability to your plan.

But with thousands and thousands of insurance carriers, how do you know which one will work well for you?

Most insurance companies carry a basic form of commercial general liability insurance. You can use a website like Coverhound, Coverwallet, or Insureon to enter your business information and receive comparison quotes.

Know How To Save On General Liability Insurance

How to save on general liability insurance

If the cost of your general liability insurance is too high or you are worried that it’s an expense you can’t afford, there are some ways to cut down on the costs of the policy. Some of these methods might require little or no work on your end, but if your business is a risky venture, expect the cost of insurance to be higher. 

Bundle Your Policy

One of the best ways to save is to bundle your general liability policy with commercial property protection in a Business Owner’s Policy (see below for a more detailed examination of the differences). Also, if you have more than one employee, you are required to provide worker’s compensation insurance, disability, and unemployment insurance, so when you bundle your general liability policy with these other insurance policies, your costs could decrease.

Don’t Overestimate Your Business Costs

When you shop around, insurance companies will want to know how much it costs to run your business. We get it, you’re human; when you talk to investors or your parents about your business, you may be tempted inflate your yearly income and the amount you pay your employees. Be warned — if you do inflate your value while shopping for insurance, your policy can become more expensive. Be accurate but conservative in assessing your gross worth and payroll expenses.

Compare Multiple Quotes

Don’t just buy the first policy you find. Shop around and compare multiple insurance providers. Use a website that specifically comparison shops for you (businesses like Coverhound, Coverwallet, Insureon, or Bizinsure).

Pay Your Premium In Full

Many insurance companies will offer a discount if you pay your yearly premium in full versus paying a monthly rate. Also, some insurance companies will waive fees if you set up automatic payments, so ask an insurance agent or broker to explore payment options that could lower your premiums.

Manage Risks

The riskier your business is, the higher your general liability insurance expenses will be, so taking extra steps to manage and minimize risks could save you some money. Sometimes this is as simple as proving to your insurance company that you are compliant in all safety guidelines and have invested in teaching your employees safety rules. Other times, moving your business’s location out of a highly trafficked area can save thousands on liability. Obviously, it might not be easy to pick up and move, but in general, finding ways to mitigate risks will lower your insurance premiums.

General Liability Insurance VS A Business Owner’s Policy

A Business Owner’s Policy (BOP) bundles general liability and property insurance. For companies with a physical storefront location, property insurance is another crucial policy that could save your business from ruin in the case of a flood, fire, or theft. You might be in need of a BOP if you fall into one of the following categories:

  • You have a physical business location
  • You have property and equipment you need to protect
  • You have fewer than 100 employees
  • You want to bundle your general liability and your commercial property policies to save money

When Cheaper Isn’t Better

As a business owner, you understand the balance between cheap and fast and know that, fundamentally, not all insurance is created equal. One of the first things you can do is check the insurance company’s rating via A.M. Best, Standard & Poor’s, Fitch or Moody’s.

But here are three reasons why cheaper isn’t always better:

  1. A small/cheap insurance policy may not offer you the protection you need. If you accept a high deductible and a low ceiling to keep monthly premiums down but encounter a legal matter that costs your business thousands of dollars, you aren’t saving in the long run.
  2. If a price is low and it seems too good to be true, then it probably is. You don’t want to find out too late that your policy has a number of exclusions that will make it difficult to file a claim.
  3. You are paying for a policy, but you are also paying for the expertise and hand-holding you’ll need if your business is involved in a lawsuit. For that, it’s worth it to look at reputable insurance companies who have a track record of helpfulness.

Protect Yourself & Start Saving

General liability insurance is sometimes called “Slip and Fall” insurance — and for good reason! A “slip” can happen anywhere and you never know when you’ll be deemed liable. According to the Insurance Journal, in 2015 the average cost of a “slip and fall” lawsuit was around $20,000. If you don’t have that sort of money lying around to pay for medical and legal fees, then a policy for as little as $400 a year is not just a needed business expense, it is imperative.

The insurance industry might be in the business of worst-case-scenarios but a general liability insurance policy doesn’t have to set you back significantly — and the protection it provides is priceless. This is especially true if you live in a state that is known to favor plaintiffs over small businesses in a court of law. Do your homework, research the best policy for your business and industry, and get covered today!

The post How To Find Cheap Liability Insurance appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Start And Fund A Catering Business: The Step-By-Step Guide

Does serving delicious food to a crowd of partygoers sound like a dream? Do you want to take your love of desserts to weddings and other special events? If so, becoming a professional caterer could be the right career path for you.

Sure, you could search your local job listings to find a catering position, but wouldn’t it be great to be your own boss? If creating your own menu and serving up delicious food and beverages at events interests you, why not start your own catering business?

Maybe it’s been a lifelong dream to operate your own catering business. Or maybe you just love to cook and want to turn it into a career. Whether you’ve already taken steps to launch your own business or you don’t know quite where to start, this post is for you.

In this article, we’re going to explore exactly what it takes to start and fund your own catering business. We’ll start by discussing how to create a business plan and why a plan is a necessity for a successful business. Then, we’ll delve into the expenses you’ll encounter and how you can cover those costs. We’ll also talk about choosing your business structure, building your web presence, and advertising methods that can bring in new customers.

Ready to go? Let’s get started on your path to entrepreneurship!

Create Your Business Plan

What Information to Bring Accountant for Small Business Taxes

Starting a business without a detailed business plan is similar to taking a cross-country trip without a GPS or a map. In short, it’s not a wise move. Your business plan should not only include details about your business in the present — your management team and your mission statement, for example– but it should also serve as an outline for how your business will hit future targets.

Your business plan acts as a blueprint, outlining how your company will become successful and profitable. For that reason, your business plan won’t look exactly like the plan of another business — even one within the same industry. However, even though details may vary, there are a few common sections that can be found in all business plans. Those include:

  • Executive Summary: Describes the content of the business plan
  • Overview: Includes background of the business, legal structure, and other key details
  • Industry Analysis: Overview of the industry, including the size, nature, and any current trends
  • Competitive Analysis: Overview of your competition
  • Marketing: An outline of your marketing strategy and how you’ll reach customers
  • Operations Plan: Description of the operations of your business
  • Management: Bios and skills of your management team
  • Financials: An overview of current and future revenues

Your business plan not only helps you hit your goals, but it’s also critical when it’s time to obtain financing. Banks, nonprofit lenders, and even some alternative lenders may require a business plan as part of a loan application, especially for startup loans.

Pick Your Niche

While it may be tempting to try to cater for every event in your area, you’re going to stretch yourself thin … and likely set yourself up for failure. Instead of trying to offer services to everyone, pick a niche.

You may already have an idea in mind. For example, maybe it’s always been your dream to be a wedding caterer. Be sure to also consider the type of food you like to make. If you prefer to make salads, sandwiches, and other lighter fare, consider catering for business or school functions, luncheons, and other daytime events. If you prefer to serve fancier entrees, consider catering for weddings and special events.

Another step to take before selecting your niche is to do some market research in your local area. Where are there gaps in catering availability? What niche is overcrowded with the competition? You may find that there a large number of wedding caterers already in your area. Unless you can bring something new to the table (being the only caterer to serve Southern-style barbecue, for example), you might want to consider filling a different customer need.

There are a wide variety of catering niches to consider, including:

  • Weddings
  • Corporate Events
  • Adult Parties
  • School Events
  • Children’s Parties
  • Festivals
  • Sports Events

With an idea of your niche and the type of food you need to prepare, you can move into the next step: planning your menu.

Create Your Menu

KDS Kitchen Display System

Once you have a niche in mind, you’ll be able to narrow down your menu choices. Let’s face it — if you’re planning to focus on children’s parties or school functions, you won’t exactly need filet mignon on the menu.

You also want to consider what type of food you’re experienced at making. While you can certainly test out new ideas in the future, you want to put your best foot forward when starting out. You also want to offer a variety of options while keeping your menu at a manageable size. Having a menu with too many items or items that contain ingredients that are difficult to source could cause unnecessary stress for you and your clients.

It’s also important to remember those with dietary restrictions. Consider adding a few options to your menu that are vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, or dairy-free to help expand your customer base.

Performing a test run or two can help you further improve your menu. Once you have your menu in place, test it out on a few friends and family members. Get their honest feedback on where you excel, as well as where you fall flat. Tweak recipes as needed, change techniques to become more efficient, and be honest with yourself about what works and what doesn’t. Then, alter your menu accordingly.

Source Your Ingredients

After you create your menu, you’ll have a better idea of the ingredients needed to prepare your food. When you first get your business off the ground, you may be able to get the ingredients you need by purchasing from a wholesale club in your area. However, as your business grows larger and you have more events to cater, you’ll want to purchase your ingredients from other sources.

You can get fresh produce from local farmers. Start building these relationships by visiting your local farmers’ market. You can also build relationships with restaurant suppliers and food service vendors to purchase bulk ingredients at reduced prices.

Calculate Startup Costs

In many states, you will be unable to use a residential kitchen to prepare your food. If you plan to cater from home, you must contact the health department in your area to find out more about the regulations of home-based catering businesses, including inspection and permit requirements.

In most cases, you’ll need to rent space for your kitchen. There are two ways to go about this.

The first is renting your own commercial space. This is the more expensive option but is a necessity if you plan to cater full time.

If you only plan to cater events occasionally or on weekends, you may be able to rent a commercial kitchen for a few hours on the days when you need it. This is a more affordable option since you won’t have to invest in equipment, but it’s not ideal for full-time caterers.

If you aren’t renting space in a kitchen that’s already stocked, you’ll also need industrial equipment that is used to prepare your food. Some of the items you’ll need include:

  • Commercial Ovens
  • Stoves
  • Deep Fryers
  • Sinks
  • Refrigerators
  • Walk-In Freezers
  • Mixers & Blenders
  • Pots & Pans
  • Knives
  • Cooking Utensils & Tools
  • Storage Containers
  • Dishwasher

You’ll also need equipment that you’ll bring on-site for serving and keeping food at the optimum temperature, including:

  • Serving Dishes & Trays
  • Serving Utensils
  • Chafing Dishes
  • Carving Stations
  • Grills
  • Heat Lamps
  • Soup Kettles
  • Beverage Dispensers
  • Coffee Station

An additional cost to add to your list is a catering van. This van will be used to transport your food and equipment to venues. You may save money initially by purchasing a used vehicle. However, you need to ensure that you know the complete history of the vehicle. You may also incur additional costs if your used vehicle needs repairs soon after purchasing it.

Some caterers also provide table settings, glassware, and utensils, but this adds to your initial investment. You may also provide additional items for your events, including chairs and/or chair covers, tablecloths, and centerpieces, but again, this will add to your startup costs.

Before starting your business, sit down and make a list of your total expenses. You can tailor the list to your own business. For example, if you don’t serve fried food, you won’t have to invest in deep fryers. If you specialize in only desserts, you may have pastry tools, cake displays and stands, and bakeware sets on your list.

Once you’ve made your list, start shopping around to get an idea of costs. Check out prices online or visit local commercial kitchen equipment and supply stores. Once you have an idea of how much funding you need, it’s a smart idea to add about 30% to those costs to prepare for the unexpected. For example, if you’ve priced everything at $100,000, apply for a loan of $130,000 to make sure all of your bases are covered.

Register Your Business

Before you begin catering to clients, you need to register your business with federal, state, and local agencies.

First, you need to think of a business name. Brainstorm ideas to find a name that’s catchy and is a reflection of your brand. When you’ve come up with a great name, check your Secretary of State’s website to ensure that this name is not already being used by another business.

Next, you will need to select your business structure. This is an important step because your business structure determines how your business is taxed and your personal liability for debts incurred by the business. The types of business structures include:

Sole Proprietorship

This business is owned and operated by one person. This is the easiest business structure and does not require registration. Setting up a sole proprietorship is easy. However, this structure does not provide you with any protection against the debts and liabilities of your business.

General Partnership

This type of legal structure is made for businesses with two or more owners. These are the easiest to create, have a low cost of operation, and the fewest requirements. No state filing is required for a general partnership.

Limited Partnership

This is another type of structure for businesses with more than one owner. General partners in a limited partnership have unlimited liability. The remaining partners – limited partners – have limited liability. In most cases, the personal assets of limited partners are protected from being used to satisfy the liabilities and debts of the business.

Limited Liability Partnership

This type of structure is designed for professional service businesses. Personal assets of any partner can’t be used to cover the debts and liabilities of the business. However, all partners in an LLP are liable for their own acts, such as medical malpractice.

Limited Liability Company

An LLC is separate from its owners. This type of legal structure protects owners from personal liability without the higher tax rates and stricter requirements of corporations.

Corporation

Owners in a corporation are protected from personal liability for the debts of the business. Corporations are the most difficult to set up. However, it is necessary to choose this business structure if you plan to sell stock or raise large amounts of capital in the future.

The type of business structure you choose for your catering business will vary based on the number of owners and your plans for the future. Consult with an accountant or attorney to learn more about your options and which is best for you.

After you choose your business structure, you will need to register with the state where you will operate. You can register through your state’s Secretary of State website. Application and fee requirements vary by state. If you plan to offer services in more than one state, you will need to register with each state.

Another important step in registering your business is obtaining an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS. This is a necessary step if your business will have employees now or in the future.

Get Permits & Licenses

After registering your business, it’s time to apply for the permits that you need to legally operate your business. It’s necessary to do this early in the game, as it may take weeks or even months to receive your required permits.

State and local laws surrounding permit and license requirements vary. Some of the permits and licenses you may need to legally operate your business include:

  • Business Licenses
  • Health Permits
  • Food-Handling Licenses
  • Liquor Licenses

You can contact the local health department, the state Alcoholic Beverage Control board, and other state and local agencies to learn more about the licenses required in your area, how to apply, and any applicable fees.

When working with food, you also face inspections from your local health department. The temperature of prepared and stored food, waste disposal, and the safety and condition of your cooking equipment are just a few of the things that will be inspected periodically.

Get Business Insurance

Protecting your catering business is important, and there’s no better way to protect yourself and your business than with business insurance. As a caterer, there are multiple insurance options to consider.

General liability insurance protects you from lawsuits that occur during events. This type of insurance covers physical injuries, property damage, and even damage to your reputation.

Another type of insurance to consider is errors and omission insurance, also known as E&O insurance. This insurance protects you from lawsuits that may be filed if a mistake is made. For example, if a client warns of an allergen and you include an ingredient that triggers an allergic reaction, this insurance would protect you from a potential lawsuit.

Property insurance should also be a consideration. This insurance protects your equipment, fixtures, and other property from damage or theft.

If you have employees, you will also need worker’s compensation insurance. This covers medical costs and lost wages from employees when they are injured or become sick. This also protects your business from lawsuits as a result of injuries.

If your business serves alcohol, you may also be required to carry liquor liability insurance, which protects your company from alcohol-related lawsuits.

Insurance requirements vary by state. Talk to your local insurance agent to find out more about the laws in your state and to create a personalized insurance policy for your new catering business.

Seek Business Funding

We’ve already reviewed many of the costs you’ll encounter when opening your own catering business. Now, it’s time to determine how to pay for those costs. Whether you have money in the bank or your bank account is looking a little slim, there are financing options available for you. Start your search with these options.

Personal Savings

If you’ve been putting away money into a savings account, now may be the perfect time to withdraw your funds. The great thing about personal savings is that you won’t take on debt with a lender. This means no payments, fees, or interest. The downside, though, is that if your business goes downhill, it may take your savings with it.

Friends & Family

Consider taking a loan from a friend or family member that’s willing to invest in a potentially lucrative new opportunity. Prepare your presentation, have your business plan in hand, and explain why your opportunity is worth investing in.

If you come to a mutual agreement, make sure to get everything in writing. It also goes without saying that this friend or family member should be treated like any other lender. That means paying back your loan as scheduled.

Instead of a loan, you may consider equity financing. In this scenario, your friend or family member would own part of your business. The major benefit is that you wouldn’t have to immediately start making loan payments. However, you would give over some ownership (and a slice of your future profits) and control over your business if you go this route. Undecided? Learn more about the pros and cons of debt vs. equity financing.

ROBS

If you have a retirement account, you may be able to leverage these funds for your new venture. Normally, if you withdraw before you reach a certain age, an early withdrawal penalty and income tax penalties apply. However, you can avoid these costs through a rollover as business startups (ROBS) plan.

A ROBS plan allows you to use your retirement funds for starting or expanding your business. Four steps are required to access your funds. First, a C-corporation is created. The next step is to create a retirement plan for the new C-corp. Then, you can roll over funds from your existing retirement account into your newly created plan. Finally, you will use these funds to purchase stock in your C-corporation, giving you access to the capital you need for your new business.

The process isn’t complicated, but there are rules you have to follow to ensure you maintain compliance. To take the guesswork out of ROBS, many aspiring business owners work with a ROBS provider. For a fee, ROBS providers will set up your ROBS account for you and will maintain it to ensure everything is done by the book.

Using your ROBS is a great way to fund startup costs. Other than a setup fee and a monthly maintenance fee charged by your ROBS provider, you do not pay additional fees. After all, you’re using your own money. However, if your business fails, you put your retirement funds at risk.

Recommended Option: Guidant Financial

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Guidant Financial can help you roll over your retirement funds into capital you can use for your catering business. In about three weeks, you can have the funds you need to start or grow your business with Guidant Financial’s ROBS plans.

To qualify, you must have a retirement account worth at least $50,000. Most retirement plans qualify, including:

  • 401(k)
  • 403(b)
  • Traditional IRA
  • TSP
  • SEP
  • Keogh

There are no credit score, time in business, or annual revenue requirements to qualify. However, you must have a business to fund, and you also must be an employee of that business in order to set up your ROBS plan.

Since you’re using your own funds, you don’t have to worry about monthly loan payments. However, you will have to pay a one-time setup fee of $4,995 followed by a maintenance fee of $139 per month to maintain your account.

In addition to ROBS plans, Guidant Financial also offers additional small business loan options including Small Business Administration loans and unsecured business loans.

Equipment Financing

As we discussed earlier, there is a lot of expensive equipment needed to start your catering business, from a catering vehicle to commercial kitchen equipment. A financing option to consider when you need new equipment is equipment financing.

With equipment financing, you can take possession of the equipment you need without paying the full cost up front. Instead, you’ll pay a down payment (typically 10% to 20% of the purchase price), then repay a lender in smaller, more affordable payments over time.

There are two main types of equipment financing to consider: equipment loans and equipment leases. With a loan, you’ll make a small down payment, then put the equipment into use immediately. You’ll make regular payments to the lender that are applied to the principal balance as well as interest and fees. Once you’ve repaid the loan as agreed, the equipment is yours to keep, sell, or trade.

The other type of equipment financing is an equipment lease. You’ll also pay a down payment and regular payments. However, at the end of your lease, you return the equipment. At this time, you can sign another lease for new equipment. This is a better option if you plan to upgrade your equipment frequently, although this option can be more expensive over the long term.

With equipment financing, you typically do not have to put up collateral. Instead, the equipment being financed is the collateral and can be seized by the lender if you don’t make your payments as agreed.

Recommended Option: Lendio

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Lendio’s network of over 75 lenders can provide you with up to $5 million to finance your equipment. Loan terms are between 1 to 5 years with rates starting at 7.5% for the most qualified borrowers. With some lenders, you can get your funding in as little as 24 hours. Some applicants may even qualify for 0% down financing.

To qualify for equipment financing, you must meet the following requirements:

  • At least $50,000 in annual revenue
  • Personal credit score of 650 or above
  • Time in business of at least 12 months

If you have credit challenges, you may still qualify provided you have proof of solid cash flow and revenue for at least 3 months.

The funds can be used to purchase the equipment you need for your catering business, including but not limited to commercial kitchen equipment, office furniture and fixtures, software, appliances, and commercial vehicles.

If you don’t qualify for equipment financing through Lendio’s network, you can shop around for other financing options. Through Lendio, you can apply for financial products including SBA loans, business credit cards, lines of credit, and startup loans.

Lines Of Credit

Running your own catering business comes with its challenges. Some challenges are expected — rushing around to cater a big wedding, for example — while others come when you least expect it. Whether it’s a slow season that has impacted your incoming cash flow, equipment that needs repairs, or an unforeseen emergency, even the most successful business face the unexpected.

For these times, it’s great to have a backup plan, like a flexible line of credit. A line of credit is different from a traditional loan because you don’t receive one lump sum that you immediately start repaying. Instead, a lender assigns you a credit limit — much like a credit card — and you can withdraw money from your line as needed.

Your line of credit is ready to use whenever you need it. You don’t have to immediately draw funds if there’s no need, and most lenders don’t charge fees if you don’t use your line of credit. When you do use your line of credit, you’ll repay your balance plus any fees and interest charged by the lender. Since this is a revolving form of credit, funds will be replenished and available to use again as you pay off your balance.

Recommended Option: Fundbox

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Fundbox offers lines of credit that can be used for any business purpose. One of the standout features of Fundbox is that the lender looks at the performance of your business — not just your credit score. Even if you’ve been turned down by other lenders in the past, you may still qualify for a Fundbox line of credit.

Through Fundbox, you may qualify for up to $100,000. Once approved, you can immediately make draws on your account. Repayment terms are 12 or 24 weeks, and rates start at just 4.66% of the draw amount. Weekly repayments are automatically deducted from your business checking account. There are no prepayment penalties, all remaining fees are waived if you pay off early, and there are never any fees if you don’t make a draw.

To qualify, you must meet the following minimum requirements:

  • At least $50,000 in annual revenue
  • Holder of a business checking account
  • At least 2 months of activity in accounting software OR at least 3 months of transactions in a business bank account

Business Credit Card

Another source of financing that’s great for covering unexpected expenses is a business credit card. A business credit card works just like your personal card. You can use your card online and in stores to make purchases anywhere credit cards are accepted. When you use your card, the lender charges interest on the borrowed portion of funds. If you don’t use your card, you aren’t required to pay interest. However, annual fees and other charges may apply.

Business credit cards are great for emergencies or for quickly resolving cash flow issues. You can also use your credit card for recurring expenses, such as gas for your catering van. If you go this route, apply for a low-interest rewards card that gives you cash back or other perks just for using your card.

Recommended Option: Chase Ink Business Cash

Chase Ink Business Cash



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Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


15.49% – 21.49%, Variable

With Chase Ink Business Cash, you can earn rewards just for using your card to pay for your business expenses. Using this card gets you 5% cash back on the first $25,000 spent at office supply stores and on internet, cable, and phone services. You can earn 2% cash back on the first $25,000 used at gas stations and restaurants. These offers renew each year on your account anniversary. For all other purchases, you can earn unlimited 1% cash back.

New cardmembers can take advantage of a $500 cash back bonus offer when $3,000 is spent within 3 months of opening an account. This card also comes with additional benefits including purchase protection, extended warranty protection, and free employee cards.

There is no annual fee for the Ink Business Cash credit card, and it comes with a 0% introductory APR for the first 12 months. After the introductory period, the card has a variable APR of 15.49% to 21.49%.

This card is recommended for borrowers with good to excellent credit scores.

Vendor Financing

As a caterer, you’ll establish relationships with vendors. You’ll purchase your ingredients, supplies, and other necessary items from these vendors. Many times, you’ll purchase these items up front. Other times, however, you may need a little help in the form of vendor financing.

With vendor financing, a lender will pay your vendors up front so you can get the supplies necessary for running your business. You’ll then be able to spread your purchase out over several smaller payments. Like other financial products, you’ll pay fees and/or interest for the convenience. While the cost of borrowing may be higher than making a purchase up front, the extra expense may be well worth the cost if you’re in a financial bind.

Recommended Option: Behalf

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You can pay your vendors immediately without putting up the money up front by working with Behalf. Through Behalf, you can get up to $50,000 to pay your vendors. Then, you have up to 6 months to repay the lender.

Monthly fees start at 1% of the borrowing amount and are based on your creditworthiness. There are no origination fees, membership fees, or other hidden costs to borrow from Behalf.

There are no time in business, annual revenue, or credit score requirements to qualify. However, Behalf will perform a hard pull on your credit once you submit your application.

Personal Loans For Business

You have a solid credit score, but small business lenders won’t even give you a second glance. What gives?

Many small business loans have time in business and annual revenue requirements. This is fine when your business is already operating, but what do you do when you need a loan before you even open your doors? Try applying for a personal loan for business.

As a startup, you may find it challenging to qualify for a small business loan. However, you can use your own personal credit score and income to qualify for a personal loan that is used for business expenses.

These loans don’t have time in business, annual revenue, or business credit score requirements, so you can qualify even if you’ve not yet catered a single event. Personal loans are available for a wide range of credit scores. However, having a high credit score can help you qualify for the best interest rates and terms.

Recommended Option: LendingPoint

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LendingPoint specializes in personal loans, offering qualified borrowers $2,000 to $25,000. Rates range from 9.99% to 35.99% with repayment terms of 24 to 48 months. An origination fee of 0% to 6% of the borrowing amount may apply. Payments are made twice per month.

You can quickly and easily qualify for a LendingPoint personal loan. To receive an offer in just minutes, you need:

  • Proof of employment & income
  • Bank statements
  • Voided check
  • Driver’s license or government-issued ID

To qualify for a loan, you must:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Have a social security number
  • Have at least $20,000 in annual income
  • Have a verifiable bank account
  • Live in a state serviced by LendingPoint
  • Have a credit score of at least 585

Choose The Right Software

pos with raw ingredient tracking

From keeping track of events to accepting credit cards, the right software can help you do it all. As a caterer, there are several types of software you should consider investing in to keep operations running efficiently.

Accounting Software

This software allows you to perform functions such as tracking expenses, sending invoices to clients, managing payroll, and keeping up with inventory. With accounting software, you can keep up with your financials and run reports, which is especially helpful when you’re seeking financing from a bank or traditional lender. Accounting software also makes it easier for your business when tax time rolls around.

New to accounting? Download our free eBook, The Beginner’s Guide to Accounting.

Catering Software

There are specific software programs designed to help caterers manage all aspects of their businesses. Features include invoicing, billing, employee scheduling, event bookings, and other tools to keep your catering business on track.

Payment Processing Software

Not all of your clients will have cash, especially when they’re paying off large bills for their catering expenses. To make payments easier for your clients, invest in payment processing software. This software acts as the communicator between your bank and your customer’s bank, allowing you to accept debit cards, credit cards, and other methods of payment. Most payment processing software comes with monthly subscription fees, and some companies even offer free hardware that makes it easier than ever to accept multiple forms of payment.

Hire Employees

When you first start your business, you may be a one-man operation until you start bringing in revenue. However, you will eventually need to hire employees if you want to grow and scale. If you’re like many caterers, you may opt to hire an employee or two right from the start.

Employees that you may hire for your business — either now or in the future — include:

  • Chef: Your chef will be in charge of preparing the food. For large events, consider hiring sou chefs for additional assistance.
  • Servers: Bring food and drinks to guests
  • Bartenders: Serve alcoholic beverages to guests
  • Busboys: Responsible for clearing off tables
  • Host/Hostess: Help guests find their seats
  • Event Planner: Meets with the client to discuss details about the event
  • Supervisor: Ensures that other staff members are doing their jobs efficiently

Until your business grows and brings in revenue, you may opt to hire just a few staff members, such as a chef and a server. As your business gains more customers and becomes profitable, you can add additional employees to your staff.

Do your research to get an idea of the average pay range in your area for each position. It’s also important to remember that other expenses come with hiring staff, including workman’s compensation insurance, training costs, and benefits.

To find employees for your business, ask friends, family members, and colleagues for referrals. You may also post a job advertisement on online job boards. You can even contact local temporary agencies to find the help you need.

Bolster Your Web Presence

Your plans for a catering business are coming together, so now it’s time to start thinking about how you’re going to bring in clients. There’s no better place to start than the internet.

Just think about it. If you’re looking for a local company to work with, where is one of the first places you look? The internet, of course.

You can quickly build your web presence with these easy steps.

Launch Your Social Media Profiles

Social media is a great way to reach new customers, and best of all, setting up your profiles is free! Create business pages on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and/or Pinterest. Make sure to include critical details such as your contact information, service areas, and types of events catered. You can build up your profiles to include information such as menus, pricing lists, and photos of your food and past events.

An added bonus on social media is that you can communicate with potential customers through comments or direct messaging.

As you begin to grow your business, you can later invest in social media ads, but in the beginning, focus on getting your profiles up and running.

Want to get the most out of your social media profiles? Check out our Guide to Social Media Marketing.

Build Your Website

In addition to your social media profiles, you also need to build a website. This doesn’t have to be overly complicated. In fact, there are lots of website builders that make it easy to choose a template, customize your font and colors, and drag and drop images, text boxes, and tools — no design experience required.

Make sure that the design of your website reflects your branding. You also want to include important details, including the name of your business and contact details. You can also add additional features and information, including a live chat option, photo galleries, and reviews and testimonials.

Advertise Your Business

Boosting your web presence is a great start to advertising your business, but make sure that you don’t stop there. There are several ways that you can advertise your business — both online and off.

Fliers

Pass out or hang flyers advertising your catering services throughout your area. Make sure that you understand the regulations in your area surrounding posting and/or distributing flyers.

Online Ads

Purchase ad space on Facebook, pay-per-click ads on search engines, or even post advertisements on local online forums and social media groups.

Newspaper Ads

This is an oldie but goodie: pay for ad space in your local newspaper.

Attend Wedding Shows

Many cities and towns have bridal shows where vendors can advertise their services. Research events in your area, rent booth space, and advertise your business in-person to newly engaged couples.

Wedding & Event Websites

Submit your business information to wedding and event websites to draw in new customers.

Word-Of-Mouth

Word-of-mouth advertising is the best form of advertising. Ask your past customers for testimonials and reviews, and always make sure to go above and beyond to provide exceptional service.

Final Thoughts

Starting your own catering business is exciting but venturing out on your own can also be a little scary, especially if you lack business experience. However, you can be on track to owning and operating a successful catering business with careful planning, preparation, and strategic borrowing. Good luck!

The post How To Start And Fund A Catering Business: The Step-By-Step Guide appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Use Square Invoices To Ensure You Get Paid On Time

If your business relies on paper-based invoicing, you don’t need me to tell you about the inconvenience of printing, mailing, and waiting to get paid. Despite the hassle, many businesses still rely on printing and mailing invoices — you’re not alone. However, more and more shops are switching to online invoicing platforms to eliminate the expense of paper, printing, mailing, and administrative costs — and get paid faster!

If you’re ready to try an easier invoicing process, one simple and popular new solution is Square Invoices — because yes, in addition to the free mobile card reader and mobile POS, Square offers a fairly robust invoicing platform that syncs seamlessly with the rest of Square’s features. 

We’ve already reviewed Square Invoices, so I recommend that you check out the review for a more detailed look at how Square stacks up against some other options.

In this post, we are going to dive into Square Invoices and show you how to use the platform! From setting up a one-time invoice to setting up recurring invoices and creating deposit requests and reminders, you’re going to find out everything you need to know about using Square to send and receive payments.

But first, I know the most important question will always be “how much does it cost?”

How Much Does Square Invoices Cost?

The good news is that Square Invoices is entirely free to use. You can send unlimited one-off invoices, recurring invoices, scheduled invoices, and any other type of invoice, and you’ll only incur payment processing fees at the time your customer pays you.

When your customer opens your invoice and pays you online with their credit card, you’ll pay 2.9% + $0.30 for processing costs. If you use a saved Card on File from your Customer Directory to process an invoice payment, you’ll pay 3.5% + $0.15.

That’s it. Square doesn’t charge any monthly fees, service fees, or any other fees beyond the processing costs. A transparent pricing model and fully secure, PCI compliant payment processing are what makes Square a leading choice for businesses that need a simple, cost-effective solution.  

So let’s find out how to use Square Invoices to save time and get paid faster!

How To Send A Square Invoice

To send an invoice with Square, you’ll need to set up a Square account. The setup process doesn’t take long, and Square only asks for necessary personal information — no credit checks required! Once you’ve got an official Square account, you can access everything you need right at your dashboard. The same tools are at your disposal whether you access Invoices from your Square POS app or the Square Dashboard at your computer. Note that for this post, we are creating an invoice from our Square Dashboard — and here it is in the screenshot below.

Square Dashboard and Invoices

As you can see, I don’t have any outstanding invoices. If I did have outstanding invoices, the blue box labeled Invoices would display the dollar amount. From this tile, I can quickly send a new invoice by selecting Send an Invoice.

1. Fill In Customer Information & Invoice Details

When you first open the form to build an invoice, it’s very straightforward to plug in the details. Add your customer’s name, email address, and a message. The default message for the invoice is, “We appreciate your business,” but you can certainly start from scratch here and add a more dynamic message. The possibilities here are endless, from inviting them to consider a new service or promoting an upcoming event or discount. You know what they say, “Always Be Closing.”

Keep in mind that Square Invoices also syncs with your customer directory, so if you’re invoicing a past client, you can pull their name and information from the directory. If this is the first time you’ve sent this customer an invoice, this process will create an entry in your database.

I want to mention the Invoice Method line briefly. This line refers to the delivery method. Square Invoices send the invoice via email as a default, but you can also select Share Invoice Manually in the drop-down and Square will generate a link. You can send the link to your customer via text message, social media account, or any other type of messaging platform.

2. Set Payment Terms For One-Time Invoice

Working our way down the Invoice Details, let’s look at the Frequency. In the drop-down, you can choose One-time or Recurring. In the next section, I’m going to peel back the layers of recurring invoices. But first, let’s focus on a one-time invoice and the Send line in the image below.

This step is important for obvious reasons. When you think about customer behavior, remember that the fresher the value is in their mind, the more likely you are to get paid. Send the invoice as close to the deliverable as possible, and choose your due date carefully.

New Square Invoice

 

3. Set Up Recurring Invoice Schedule

As you can see in the image below, you have some flexibility when it comes to when and how you enable recurring invoices with Square. You can choose to send immediately, or choose a set time block such as in seven days or at the end of the month. You can also select a specific date.

Here, you can also select how often to repeat the recurring invoice. You can set the schedule for daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly invoice billing. Next, select when to stop your recurring invoices. Your options are never, after a specific number of invoices, or on a specific date. You can see in the example I set up below that I’ve ordered my recurring invoices for six months and requested payment due within seven days of receipt. I’ve also enabled Automatic Payments. If my customer approves automatic payments and saves their card, I’ve just made things even easier for myself (and them)! We will revisit the card-on-file situation and what that means for you in an upcoming section.  

Recurring Invoices can help you get paid on time for a service- or product-based subscription, of course, but you can also utilize recurring invoices to allow your customers to pay in installments. It’s all in how you set up expectations with your customer. Make sure to lay out what is expected as far as payment for the exchange of goods or services in the Line Item section.  

Whether you send a recurring or one-time invoice, the next steps are the same, so keep reading to find out how to fill in all of the upcoming invoice options, starting with Line Items.

4. Adding Line Items To Your Invoice

When it’s time to add items to your invoice, you’ll choose from the drop-down menu. If you don’t have inventory saved, you can simply type in the product or service and the price. I’ve added in ad-hoc services and prices to my Line Items in the screenshot below.

Need to add a note next to the service? Select Customize on the line item, and you can add a simple note next to the specific product or service in your invoice. Remember, the clearer you are here, the better. Avoiding confusion by adding descriptive notes can benefit you if there is a question later on down the road.

Filling out Invoice Square Line Items

Similarly, if you are allowing your customer to pay in installments, use the Line Item section to make clear what installment is being paid and the end product or service (e.g., Installment 2 of 4 for Vegan Suede LoveSeat Couch, Color: Coral)

5. Adding a Discount & Request Deposit

Under our Line Items, we can opt to Add Discount. In the example below, I applied a 25% new customer discount to this gift basket order by manually entering it into the discount fields.

Under the total, notice that you can also Request Deposit. You can request a specific percentage upfront by adding in details here. I’ve added a request for a 50% due immediately upon receipt. Whether the purchase requires you to special order materials or you are holding an item for a customer, requesting a deposit can help reduce risk to your bottom line.

Square Invoice Request Deposit

6. Fill In More Options

After you have all of the main parts of the invoice filled out, there is one last section: More Options. Here you can do even more to organize and keep on top of the invoices you send:

  • Set Reminders
  • Request a Shipping Address
  • Allow a Customer to Add a Tip
  • Allow Customer to Save a Card on File
  • Add Attachments

Square Invoice Options

Square Invoices automatically sets up reminders, but you can select Edit Reminders (as seen to the right) and edit the frequency around the due date. If you select Tipping, your customer will have the ability to manually add the tip amount or choose a percent to add to the total.

Store Cards on File For Faster Payments

Storing a card on file can save your customer time and streamline the process for everyone. When you process a payment with a card on file, it is going to cost you a little bit more in processing costs, however. To refresh your memory, processing a Card on File payment costs 3.5% plus $0.15. If your customer sets up recurring invoices and approves automatic payments, you can see how this could benefit your business over the long run, despite the extra charge.

There are a few ways to create a Card on File for Invoices. First, you can select Card on File on the invoice, as pictured above. If you select this, your customer does all the work on their end with approval. If you are at your Virtual Terminal or at the Square Point of Sale app and want to add your customer’s card to the customer director for future billing, you can do that, too.

To add a card on file, head to the Customer Directory and manually add their credit card information. Square prompts you to print out and have your customer sign their approval to save their card on file. Make sure you keep that piece of paper in a safe place!

7. Attach Files

In addition to selecting the option for your customer to store their card on file, you can attach additional files that pertain to the order. Square lets you add up to ten files (up to 25 MB worth, total). This includes JPG, PNG, GIF, TIFF, BMP, and PDF file types. Attaching files such as contracts, mock designs, or information about the sale may help support your case if there is a chargeback issue in the future, so it pays to add as much pertinent information as you can here.

Adding attachments to Square Invoice

Need help drafting an agreement or documents? Square provides free professional contract templates so that you can customize and attach to invoices. Use these to spell out the details in your contract, get ahead of customer expectations, and avoid payment disputes. Square provides downloadable templates including Completion of Services, Order Forms, Improvement Agreements, Sale of Goods, and more. Visit Square’s Build Your Contract page to find templates you may need and add to your invoices or keep on file.

8. Preview Invoice & Customize Appearances

After entering in all of the most important details of the invoice, let’s see how it will look for the customer. In the upper right-hand corner of the invoice screen, I selected ‘Preview.’ Here is what we have so far.

Square Invoice Tutorial

You’ll notice right off the bat that the Square Invoice has a pretty large banner that is currently completely unbranded. Square reminded me through the green tutorial prompt that I can update my logo, color, and business information by heading to Account & Settings.

Let’s head there next and update the banner to reflect the brand. Adjusting these setting and information is located at Receipt under Account. Note that the settings, branding, and contact information that you apply in Receipts is also reflected in the settings and branding applied in Invoices and Estimates.

Below, I uploaded a logo and chose a background color from the available colors.

Design Square Invoice Logo

After scrolling through the sample invoice preview, I also noticed that Square had my business name, address, and phone number in the footer. If you’re like me and don’t have a brick-and-mortar business location, you can adjust the details of your contact information, which is what I will also be doing in Account & Settings.

All you have to do to disable location display is toggle ‘Show Location.’ The only contact details displayed on my invoices now are my business name, and contact phone number. Just how I like it!

Hiding Location Square Invoice

9. Send Invoice

Here is our finished invoice. Note that we selected that the customer can save their card on file. Additional authorization is all ready for them to click right below Billing Information.

Square Invoices

As I scroll down in the invoice, you can see that I’ve added a short note, itemized products, and the discount. Also remember that for this order, I required a deposit before assembling the baskets. When viewing the invoice, the total balance and the due date for the deposit are laid out clearly, as seen in the screenshot below.

And that’s it! The invoice ready to send to the client.

Track Invoices & Follow Up With Customers

If you deal primarily in custom orders, or you have multiple clients, it’s quite likely you have several outstanding invoices at any given time. The good news is that with Square Invoices, you don’t need to hope you’ve remembered to enter an invoice in your spreadsheet so nothing slips through the cracks.

In the Square Dashboard, you have many options to sort and search for invoices. You can search for and view every invoice you’ve sent by customer ID, invoice ID, invoice title, or customer email. You can also sort invoices to only display sent, outstanding, paid, scheduled, draft, and unsuccessful invoices. The other way you can sort your invoice view is by a specific date or a date set.

Square Sorting Invoice

By selecting only to view outstanding invoices, you know who you may need to follow up with this week. Following up is easy — you simply select the invoice. As you can see in the screenshot below, a vertical screen appears to the right of your dashboard when you select the specific invoice. Here you can view the recent activity, and track when (or if) your client saw the invoice and any action taken with it.

At the bottom left, you can select Remind and draft a quick reminder message to send to your customer. Need to record a payment received by cash or check? No problem, you can manually add the amount by selecting Record Payment under the Payment Schedule section.

Square Invoices Recording Payment

Pay Off The Invoice With Square POS

If your customer is standing in front of you or will be heading in to see you, the free Square POS app is a great way to take their payment. For one, if you swipe, tap or dip the card with a connected reader, you can process the payment at 2.75% rather than 2.9% + $0.30.

Square Invoice POS

Here is the next payment screen. You can record partial or full payment or charge a swipe, tap, or dip a card on your connected device.

Square Pay Invoice on POS

While we are here, I want to remind you that the Square POS app has all of the same invoice functionalities as far as processing payments, tracking, and yes — even setting up and sending invoices.

Sending An Estimate

I’m happy to report that Square recently started supporting estimates. If you haven’t quite closed the deal yet with your customer, or you provide a service-based business, sending an estimate is an essential step. You can access Estimates within the Invoices section.

Square estimate

I filled in the details of a bathroom remodel estimate below. The same branding and delivery methods apply to estimates as they do to invoices, so if you’ve already set that up, you’re all set! Head back to the previous section in this tutorial, Preview Invoice & Customize Appearances, for a refresh on how to update logo and colors if you haven’t yet.

Creating an Estimate in Square

As you can see, the process is nearly identical to send an invoice and an estimate. 

Is Square Invoices Right For You?

As far as making your life easier as a business owner, Square delivers when it comes to simplicity and ease of use. As far as getting paid, invoicing a client is a bit more expensive when it comes to processing credit cards, but you can send an unlimited amount of invoices for free, record check or cash payments, and get the simple tracking and reporting tools with no added fees.

If you compare Square Invoice to paper printing, mailing, and waiting, it’s no contest — Square wins hands down. But Square does have its limitations. If you are looking for advanced reporting features, integrated expense tracking, and live bank feeds, you may want to shell out some more money for a premium solution like FreshBooks (read our review). Check out our Invoicing Software Comparison chart to see different options available.

That being said, I like that Square seems to be listening to their user base when it comes to improving functionality and offering more solutions, as evidenced by the recent addition of estimates this year. All in all, with Square you have everything you need to send an invoice or a deposit request and easily track activity for follow-up. If you are ready to give it a shot, set up a free Square account and start sending invoices!

Want to know more about Square? Again, don’t forget to take a look at our Square Invoices Review, and for a better look at everything Square can do for you, check out our complete, in-depth Square review!

The post How To Use Square Invoices To Ensure You Get Paid On Time appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Start And Finance An Auto Body Shop Business

You’re an experienced mechanic that’s been working for someone else for your entire career. You’re ready to spread your wings and fly (or drive) right to your own auto body shop. Sound like you? If you’ve been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, then maybe it’s time to set out on your own.

Even if you’re the best at what you do, venturing out into the small business world can be scary. If you’re an employee at a collision center, you probably feel like you have some stability. Why risk a “sure thing” to start your own shop, especially if you don’t have any previous experience running your own business?

Starting your own business is risky and it takes hard work (and a lot of it). But opening your own auto collision shop can be an extremely lucrative venture. The automotive collision repair market brings in billions of dollars in revenue each year, and studies show that revenue will only continue to grow in the years ahead. Isn’t it time you got your share?

If you’re thinking about starting your own auto body shop, this guide is for you. We’ll go through all of the steps of starting your own business, from creating a business plan to finding the right lender. We’ll review potential costs, hiring employees, and other critical steps to building a successful business. If you’re ready to take the next step into entrepreneurship, read on to find out how to get started.

Create A Business Plan

You’ve made up your mind: you’re ready to open your own collision or auto body center and you have an idea of how to do it. That’s good enough, right? Actually, you need to be more prepared before you even begin to move on to other steps in building your business. The best way to be prepared? Create a detailed business plan.

Let’s illustrate the importance of a business plan with an example. You’re going on a hike in the woods. There are lots of paths to choose from. Some of these paths may bring you out of the woods — your end goal — but there may be additional challenges along the way, like steep terrain. Some paths may be wrong altogether … and you’ll have to backtrack to right your course. In short, you can enter the woods without a map and risk getting lost. Or you can get a map ahead of time, plot out your course, and set out only after you’ve planned your route and know what to expect.

A business plan works in the same way. A good business plan outlines how to get from your starting point (launching your business) to your goal. Every entrepreneur has a different goal. Maybe yours is to run a successful local business that sets your family up for life. Maybe you have bigger goals — starting your own chain of auto body shops, for example. The most important thing is to set a concrete goal and create a map of how to get there.

Not only will a business plan keep you on the right track, but you must have a plan to present to investors or lenders when you’re seeking capital.

New to writing a business plan? At a minimum, here’s what you should include:

  • Executive Summary: A concise summary detailing each section of your business plan
  • Overview: A description of your business, including the legal structure, location, and type of business
  • Market Analysis: An overview of your market and a definition of your target market
  • Competitive Analysis: Strength and weaknesses of your competition
  • Management Team: The members of your management team and their responsibilities within your organization
  • Financial Projections: A forecast of the financial future of your business

Find A Location

As realtors say, “Location, location, location!” As you plan your own body shop, location is key, but there are a few other considerations to weigh before you put your name on that lease or mortgage.

You want to make sure that you purchase or lease the best location you can afford. Sure, that commercial property on the outskirts of town is much cheaper, but your customers have to be able to find you. Find a property that’s convenient for your customers and is located in a high-traffic area or at least off of a major road.

Another consideration is whether you’re going to buy an existing business or start from scratch. Buying an existing business comes with definite perks, including an established clientele, equipment, and even licenses and permits. However, there are a few drawbacks. This is one of the most expensive options, especially if the business is successful. You may also have to put additional costs into the business for renovations, like replacing outdated equipment.

If you start from scratch, you’ll rack up costs with the price of equipment, licenses, and building renovations.
Unsure of which to choose? Build a business plan looking at both options, calculate costs, and determine which makes the most sense financially, both in the short- and long-term.

Another option to consider is opening a franchise. With a franchise, you have less flexibility in terms of designing your brand and shop. However, you’ll have a working business model that takes a lot of the guesswork out of owning your own business.

Register Your Business

Before you open your auto body shop to the public, you need to register your business. Not only will you be seen as a legitimate business by your customers, but registering is also required when you want to hire employees, protect your assets, or seek capital from investors.

To register your business, you need to first determine what form of business entity to establish. There are several structures to choose from, including:

Sole Proprietorship

A sole proprietorship is the simplest business structure. This is best for businesses with just one owner. Sole proprietors can file their business profits and losses on their personal income tax returns. No paperwork is required to register as a sole proprietorship. However, this structure isn’t without its drawbacks. Raising money as a sole proprietorship is difficult, and you are personally responsible for the liabilities of your business.

Partnership

A partnership is a good choice for companies that will be owned and operated by two or more people. There are several different partnership types to consider:

  • General Partnership: Doesn’t require filing with the state and has few requirements
  • Limited Partnership (LP): One partner has unlimited liability and the others have limited liability. The personal assets of the limited partners can’t be used to satisfy the debts and liabilities of the business.
  • Limited Liability Partnership (LLP): Used by professional service businesses, this type of partnership offers personal asset protection for all partners.

Limited Liability Company (LLC)

An LLC has several benefits for business owners. With an LLC, a business owner will receive liability protection without paying the high tax requirements of corporations.

Corporation

This is the most complex and expensive business structure. More regulations and tax requirements are put in place for corporations. This structure is best for businesses that plan to raise capital through the sale of stock.

The type of structure you select for your business varies by the number of owners that you have and the future plans for your business. In most cases, however, single owners of auto body shops lean toward LLCs, while businesses with more than one partner select the partnership business structure. Before choosing your business structure, talk to your accountant and/or lawyer to find out which makes the most sense for your business.

Once you’ve determined your business structure, you’ll need to select a name for your business. Choose a name that reflects your brand and the services you offer. You also want to choose something that’s catchy and/or easy for customers to remember.

Your business will need to be registered with city, state, and federal governments. You’ll need to sign up for an employer ID number through the Internal Revenue Service if you plan to hire employees. To learn about the specific business license and permit requirements in your area, contact your local Chamber of Commerce, Department of Revenue, or Small Business Administration office to learn more.

Calculate Your Startup Costs

Every new business has one thing in common: the need for capital. In order to start your own collision center, you need money. The big question, though, is how much do you need?

One of the first steps to starting your own business is to calculate your startup costs. In order to do that, begin by making a list of everything you need for your business.

One of the biggest expenses for your new business will be equipment and tools. While your list may look a little different, some of the most common equipment and tools in this industry include:

  • Hydraulic Lifts
  • Hand Tools
  • Pneumatic Tools (Air Tools)
  • Air Compressors
  • Diagnostic Machines
  • Wheel Balancers
  • Paint Guns

Additional startup costs to consider include your business licenses and certifications, insurance, hiring employees, and shop rental or mortgage fees. You should expect to spend at least $50,000 to get your shop up and running. However, as you make a list of your costs and research pricing, this number could potentially rise.

Before you seek funding for your business, a good rule of thumb is to always overestimate your costs by about 30 percent. For example, if you calculate that your expenses will be $200,000, plan to seek $260,000 in funding. In other words, always plan for the unexpected.

Seek Funding

Now that you’ve calculated your startup costs, it’s time to figure out how to pay for it all. If your bank account looks a little low, don’t worry. Most entrepreneurs don’t have the funds to cover these costs out-of-pocket. Instead, they turn to a lender to get the financing they need. Consider these loans and other funding options when you need capital to start your new body shop.

And if you can’t find the option you’re looking for here? Check out more recommendations in the post, Business Loans For Auto Repair Shops.

Personal Savings

If you have money in a savings account, consider using these funds to pay your startup costs. There are several benefits to using your own money. You won’t be indebted to a lender, so there are no monthly or weekly payments to worry about. You also won’t have to pay interest or fees. On the downside, though, if your business fails, you risk losing your savings.

Friends & Family

If you have a friend or family member with extra money to invest, consider pitching your business to them. Present your business plan and tell them why they should invest in you.

There are two ways to go about this. You can stick with traditional debt financing. This means that you would take a loan from your friend, family member, or colleague and pay it back over a set period of time, along with interest and fees.

You may also consider equity financing. Instead of taking out a loan, you’d receive capital in exchange for ownership in your business. The investor would get their money back over time through a share of your profits. While the risk falls on the investor and you wouldn’t have to begin paying back money immediately, you would have to share your profits and lose some control over your business.

Unsure of which option is right for you? Learn more about debt financing vs. equity financing.

Personal Loans For Business

One of the biggest challenges a new business owner faces is meeting the requirements for a business loan. Many lenders – especially the ones with the lowest rates and best terms – want to work with established businesses with high revenues and solid business and personal credit histories. If you haven’t even opened your doors to a single customer, meeting these requirements is impossible.

However, if you have a high personal credit score, you can take out a personal loan to use for your startup costs. Time in business, annual revenue, and business credit history aren’t required to qualify for personal loans. Instead, you use your personal credit score and your own income to qualify.

If you choose this option, it’s important to make sure that your lender doesn’t have any restrictions prohibiting you from using funds to pay startup costs or other business expenses. Most personal loans don’t have restrictions and can be used to purchase equipment, hire employees, pay operating costs, or use as working capital.

Recommended Option: Lending Club Personal Loans

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Lending Club is a peer-to-peer lender that provides personal loans up to $40,000 to qualified borrowers. Repayment terms are 3 years or 5 years with APRs starting at 6.95% for the most creditworthy applicants. APRs for less creditworthy borrowers go up to 35.89%.

To qualify for a Lending Club personal loan, you must meet these minimum requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or live in the U.S. on a long-term visa
  • Have a verifiable bank account
  • Have a personal credit score of at least 600

In some cases, Lending Club may recommend adding a co-borrower to increase your chances for approval. If you meet all requirements, you can get funded in as little as 7 days.

As you grow a more established business, you can later take advantage of Lending Club’s business loans. Lending Club offers up to $300,000 in business funding with terms of up to 5 years and fixed monthly payments.

Lines Of Credit

A line of credit is a form of financing you should consider if you want instant access to cash without having to wait for lender approvals. Once you’ve been approved for a line of credit, you can make draws as needed to inject cash into your business.

Here’s how it works. You apply for a line of credit with a lender. The lender looks at a number of factors, such as your personal credit score or business performance, when determining whether to approve your application. These factors will also be considered when setting your credit limit.

Once you’ve been approved, you can initiate as many draws as you’d like from your line of credit up to and including the credit limit. Funds are typically transferred to your bank account immediately, and you can access the money in 1 to 3 business days with most lenders.

As you repay the borrowed funds plus fees and interest charged by the lender, the funds replenish and become available to use again.

Lines of credit are useful for unexpected expenses, emergencies, or to fill revenue gaps. Having a line of credit allows you to access money when you need it without having to go through the application and approval process over and over again.

Recommended Option: Fundbox

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Fundbox offers lines of credit up to $100,000 for qualified businesses. The lender charges a one-time fee for each draw that starts at just 4.66% of the draw amount. Terms of 12 weeks or 24 weeks are available, and automatic payments are drawn from your bank account each week. You can save by paying your loan off early, as Fundbox will waive all remaining fees.

There are two ways to qualify for a Fundbox line of credit. The first is by linking your business bank account or submitting bank statements. These will be used by the lender to evaluate the performance of your business. If you have unpaid accounts receivables, you can use these to qualify. All you have to do is link your supported accounting software.

Minimum requirements to receive a Fundbox line of credit are:

  • Business checking account
  • U.S.-based business
  • At least $50,000 in annual revenue
  • At least 3 months of transactions in a business bank account OR at least 2 months of activity in accounting software

Once you’ve filled out Fundbox’s quick application and have linked your accounts or submitted documentation, you can be approved in just minutes. Then, you can instantly put your line of credit to work for your business.

Business Credit Cards

Another option for fast funding is a business credit card. Once you’ve been approved for a business credit card, you can use it any time. You can use your card as often as you wish provided you stay within your set credit limit.

Business credit cards can be used anywhere credit cards are accepted. You can make purchases online or in-person. You can also use your card for recurring payments, such as utility bills, which is even smarter when you use a rewards card that gives cash back or other perks.

Like lines of credit, business credit cards are revolving forms of credit. This means that as you pay down your principal balance and interest, funds will become available to use again. Once you’re approved for a business credit card, your card is ready to use immediately whenever you need it. This makes it a great payment option for emergency expenses, purchasing supplies or inventory, or for paying recurring expenses.

Recommended Option: Chase Ink Preferred

Chase Ink Business Preferred



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Annual Fee:


$95

 

Purchase APR:


18.24% – 23.24%, Variable

If you have excellent credit, consider applying for the Chase Ink Preferred card. With this rewards card, you can receive 3 points for every dollar spent on combined purchases in travel, shipping, cable, internet, phone services, and advertising. Even though earning three points on these purchases is capped at $150,000 per year, you can still earn one point per dollar spent with no limitations on all purchases.

If you’re approved for the Chase Ink Preferred card and spend $5,000 within 3 months of opening your account, you’ll receive an additional 80,000 bonus points. Points can be redeemed for rewards including vacation packages, gift cards, Amazon purchases, and cash back.

This credit card comes with a variable APR of 18.24% to 23.24%. A $95 annual membership fee is required.

To qualify for Chase Ink Business Preferred, you must have good to excellent personal credit.

Rollovers As Business Startups (ROBS)

Withdrawing retirement funds may be tempting, but who wants to pay penalties and taxes for early withdrawal? Luckily, there’s a way that you can leverage these funds to put capital into your new business. This method is known as rollovers as business startups, or ROBS.

How does ROBS work? The first step is to create a C-corporation. Then, a new retirement plan is created for the C-corp. Next, the funds from your existing retirement plan are rolled over into the new plan. These funds are used to purchase stock in the new C-corp, giving you access to the capital you need to get your business running.

Sound too complicated for you? Then consider working with a ROBS provider. A ROBS provider will get everything set up for you legally and ensure you maintain compliance. In exchange, you’ll pay a one-time setup fee and a monthly maintenance fee with most ROBS providers.

When you use this type of financing to fuel your business, you don’t have to worry about repaying a lender. After all, you’re using your own funds. However, be aware that if your business is unsuccessful, you risk losing your retirement funds.

Recommended Option: Guidant Financial

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Guidant Financial is a ROBS provider that can help you leverage your retirement funds. All you need is a qualifying retirement or pension account. Qualifying accounts include:

  • 401(k)
  • 403(b)
  • Traditional IRA
  • TSP
  • SEP
  • Keogh

Qualifying accounts must have a minimum of $50,000. You must also be an employee of the business.
By working with Guidant Financial, you can receive funds in as little as 3 weeks. The setup fee is $4,995. You must also pay a Plan Administration fee of $139 per month.

Unsure if a ROBS plan is right for you? Don’t worry — Guidant Financial offers other business financing options including:

  • SBA 7(a) Loans
  • SBA Working Capital Loans
  • Unsecured Business Loans
  • Equipment Leases

Purchase Financing

If you’re looking for a way to pay your vendors that frees up some of your cash flow, purchase financing might be the solution you’re looking for. With purchase financing, your vendor gets paid immediately for your purchases – think tools, fluids, and other critical shop supplies. In the meantime, you’ll get additional time to pay. Instead of paying off the full balance of your purchase up front, you’ll be able to split it into more affordable regular payments.

Purchase financing gives you more control over your cash flow, freeing up funds and allowing you to pay back on a schedule that works best for your business. Of course, like with other financing, you do have to pay interest and fees for this service.

Recommended Option: Behalf

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Behalf offers purchase financing of $300 up to $50,000. You’ll receive up to 6 months to repay the lender and can choose between weekly or monthly payments.

Monthly fees for the service start at 1% and are based on creditworthiness. There are no additional fees for using Behalf’s financing.

There are no time in business or revenue requirements to qualify. However, Behalf performs a hard pull on your credit, considers business credit history, and looks at other business performance factors to determine if you are eligible for financing.

Choose Business Software

Small Business Online Accounting Software

To keep operations flowing smoothly, you need to pick the right business software for your repair shop. Business software helps you more efficiently run your business, from keeping up with customers to tracking your finances for tax purposes.

Accounting Software

Accounting software allows you to perform various accounting functions so that you can track and record all financial transactions. With accounting software, you can track accounts receivable and accounts payable. Most modern accounting software also offers additional tools including bill payment, payroll, and invoicing. You can purchase accounting software or pay a fee to subscribe to an online service.

Accounting software not only allows you to keep track of your finances at any time, but it also can be used to run financial reports that may be required to receive financing. These reports will also serve you well when it comes time to do your taxes.

No experience in accounting? Don’t worry — we have you covered. Check out our free eBook “The Beginner’s Guide to Accounting” that breaks complicated accounting concepts into ones that are easy to understand.

Auto Repair Invoice Software

Accounting software often has a feature that allows you to create and send invoices. However, you might want to invest in specialty software for auto body repair shops.

Auto repair invoice software includes a variety of tools that can be used to track service requests, create invoices and estimates, track leads, and manage inventory and orders.

Payment Processing Software

No longer do we live in a cash-only world. Now, customers almost always make their purchases using debit cards, credit cards, and even smartphones.

In order to be able to accept these forms of payment, you’re going to need a payment processing service. The payment processor serves as the communicator between your customer’s bank and your own bank, allowing you to process credit, debit, and other forms of payment.

For your auto collision business, you might want to consider getting a point-of-sale system. With POS software, you’ll be able to process credit cards, scan barcodes, print receipts, track inventory, run reports, and perform other functions. For a fee, your business can receive the software and hardware needed to best serve your customers.

Hire Employees

While you may start your collision center as a one-man operation, you have to hire employees if you want to grow.

One of the first hires you’ll make is a mechanic that will work on repairing vehicles. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, mechanics make approximately $39,550 per year. An auto body and glass repairer averages around $40,580 annually.

As you bring in more employees, you’ll also want to hire a manager to oversee them all. Salaries for managers vary widely based on experience and how many employees they will be overseeing. Managers may bring in anywhere from $45,000 upwards of $60,000 per year.

Eventually, you may also want to hire a front-desk receptionist. The role of the receptionist is to greet customers, answer the phone, and make appointments. This employee may also take payments from customers and handle some of the company’s bookkeeping. The average salary of a receptionist is around $27,000 per year.

Do some research to find out more about salaries in your area, as these numbers can vary. You also need to take into consideration that there are additional expenses associated with hiring employees including:

  • Onboarding & Training
  • Background Checks
  • Drug Testing
  • Taxes
  • Benefits

When you’re ready to hire an employee, there are a few ways you can find quality candidates. The first is to ask for referrals. If you know someone in the industry, ask if they know of any potential employees. Even if you don’t have connections with anyone in the industry, ask around among your friends, family members, and colleagues.

You can also post your jobs on online job boards. Make sure that your job listing has an overview of responsibilities and requirements for all candidates. As resumes hit your inbox, you can set up interviews and hire new employees for your business.

Bolster Your Web Presence

Before you even hold your grand opening, you need to start your marketing efforts. The best place to start is the internet. When researching new businesses, most people use their laptops or smartphones. If you don’t have a web presence, how will your customers find you?

Getting your business online is easy. Start with these simple steps.

Create Social Media Profiles

It seems like everyone’s on social media these days, from your teenage nephew to your grandmother. Social media doesn’t just connect friends and family members, either. It’s also a great place for users to find new brands and businesses.

Setting up your social media profiles is free and easy. Consider starting with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Add your logo, contact details, and important information like services provided and hours of operation. As you build your business, you can update your profiles with specials, coupons, photos of your completed work, and other information.

Create A Website

You also want to make sure that you have a website that provides important details to your customers such as your shop hours, specials, and services provided.

No web design experience? No problem. These days, any small business owner can create a professional website with easy web builders that feature templates, drag-and-drop design, and other tools to create a website in just minutes.

Your website should be a reflection of your brand, so make sure to choose templates, photos, and colors that best represent your shop. Your domain name should also represent your brand, so make sure it’s easy to remember and avoid numbers, symbols, or very long URLs.

Your website shouldn’t be overly complicated, and it should be easy to navigate. You don’t have to load down your site with lots of information. Start off by including key info such as hours of operation, services performed, and contact information. Also make sure to highlight any features that make your shop stand out, such as certifications, free estimates, or rental car/shuttle services offered to your customers. In the future, you can add additional features such as a signup option for email newsletters or online scheduling.

This is all just the tip of the iceberg. Learn more about creating and maintaining an online web presence for your business.

Advertise Your Business

Your website and social media profiles are a great way to start advertising your business, but in order to grow and scale, you can’t stop there. You need to plan a marketing and advertising campaign to get the word out about your business.

Consider paying for social media ads or pay-per-click ads on search engines, or sign up with Yelp For Business. These options can be affordable for new businesses and are easy to set up.

You can also look beyond the internet to advertise your business. Consider placing flyers or door hangers in the area around your business to bring in new customers. Before you take this route, though, make sure to understand the local laws in your area regarding the posting of flyers on public and private property.

As your business grows and becomes more successful, you can explore options including radio and TV advertisements and mailers. However, these ads are typically quite expensive, so hold off on these options until your business is bringing in steady revenue.

One of the most important things to remember here is that word-of-mouth advertising is one of the best forms of advertising. If you perform a great service, your customers will tell others about your business. Keep customer satisfaction high to increase those referrals and draw in more revenue for your body shop.

Final Thoughts

While you may be itching to get your auto body shop off the ground immediately, a business isn’t born overnight. Take the time to plan out your business, and you’ll increase your chances for success. The hard work doesn’t stop after your grand opening, either. You’ll need to continue working hard to bring in customers, increase your revenue, and become a successful entrepreneur.

The post How To Start And Finance An Auto Body Shop Business appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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Top 10 Tax Deductions For Freelancers

Understanding the nuances of the small business tax code has never been a walk in the park (especially when the tax laws are constantly changing), but when it comes to freelance taxes…? Let’s just say that those are a whole different ballgame.

According to a 2015 study done by Xero, 73% of freelancers don’t deduct any expenses when filing their taxes. Considering how many people now rely on freelancing gigs as a primary source of income, that number is frankly shocking and prompts the question: Are you maximizing your tax deductions as a freelancer?

If you are a freelancer, there are 10 very important tax deductions you need to know about. Gaining a basic understanding of how freelance taxes work and what you can and can’t deduct can save you a good chunk of change and spare you from trouble with the IRS down the line.

Read on for several money-saving tips and to learn about the top 10 tax deductions available for freelancers.

The Basics Of Freelance Taxes

Freelancing is a form of self-employment in which a person offers their service for a fee (rather than relying on a traditional employment arrangement). A person is required by law to pay taxes to the US government if they receive a freelance income of $400 (or a church employee income of over $108.82) in a given year.

When you’re paid by a traditional employer, standard taxes on Medicaid and Social Security are automatically taken out of each paycheck. This isn’t the case for freelancers and independent contractors, who are instead required to pay self-employment taxes. The self-employment tax rate is 15.3% (12.4% for Social Security and 2.9% for Medicaid). In addition to self-employment taxes, freelancers are also required to pay income tax.

If you are a freelancer, you will have to save a certain percentage of your income in order to pay your taxes. Most financial professionals advise freelancers to save around 25% (or even 30%) of their total income to cover these taxes. Freelancers may be required to pay taxes every quarter rather than annually (cue estimated quarterly taxes), depending on the size of their earnings.

Estimated Quarterly Taxes

Most tax-payers are used to the April 15th deadline when filing taxes for the previous year. However, freelancers are often required to pay estimated quarterly taxes. Instead of paying taxes once a year, some self-employed individuals will pay these estimated taxes four times a year.

Quarterly Tax Period Estimated Quarterly Taxes Due

January 1 – March 31

April 18

April 1 – May 31

June 15

June 1 – August 31

September 17

September 1 – December 31

January 15

Note: These due dates are specifically for 2019 and will vary slightly each year.

So, how do you know if you need to pay estimated quarterly taxes? According to the IRS, individuals who expect to pay at least $1,000 in taxes for the year should file estimated quarterly taxes instead of waiting until April to file. The 1040-ES form can help you approximate your total income for the year as well as your estimated tax payments.

As always, we recommend consulting with an accountant or tax professional for tax advice — especially when it comes to freelance taxes. They will be able to assist you in officially determining whether you need to pay estimated quarterly taxes, and if so, how much.

Tracking Freelance Finances

When you’re self-employed, it’s incredibly important to keep your finances organized. That’s where accounting software comes in.

Most freelancers would probably rather be finding new clients, creating new marketing strategies, improving their brand and social media presence — basically doing anything but accounting. But earning freelancer income is only half the battle. Managing that income and keeping track of your business earnings and expenses — that’s what sets you up for long-term success.

Luckily, there are multiple accounting programs that are designed specifically for freelancers, like QuickBooks Self-Employed. QuickBooks Self-Employed helps freelancers keep track of their income and expenses, manage deductions, and calculate estimated quarterly taxes. It even includes a Turbo Tax plan so you can easily file your taxes. Read our full QuickBooks Self-Employed review to learn more.

Whichever accounting software you choose, it’s important to record your income so you can set aside the proper amount for taxes, track your expenses so you can maximize deductions, and keep your finances organized in case you ever face an audit.

Tip: Hire A Tax Professional

The biggest tip I have for freelancers is to hire an accountant or tax professional. When you’re self-employed and trying to save as much money as you can, it seems counterintuitive to hire an accountant, but trust me — the expense will more than pay for itself.

As a previous independent contractor, I’m speaking from experience here. When I started out as a 1099 contractor I knew a little bit about self-employment deductions. I saved 25% of each check, kept a careful record of my business-related mileage, and saved all of my business expense receipts. But without the help of an accountant, I still would have missed out on over $3,000 worth of deductions I didn’t know about.

Accountants and tax professionals can help you navigate the murky waters of freelance taxes and find you all sorts of savings. They know exactly what you can write off, which deductions you qualify for, and which deductions could put you on the radar for an audit. This expertise is priceless.

But, don’t let your accountant do all the work. Knowing which deductions you are eligible for and keeping careful records of your receipts and expenses throughout the year can help ensure you save as much on your freelance taxes as possible. (And, since accountants are often paid by the hour, the less work they have to do the more money you’ll save.)

Top 10 Tax Deductions For Freelancers

Top Freelance Tax Deductions

Whether you about to file your taxes and are searching for last-minute savings or you are trying to track your deductible expenses throughout the year to get ahead of the tax game, here are the top ten tax deductions freelancers and independent contractors should know about:

1. Self Employment Tax Deduction

Rember when we said that freelancers are required to pay a 15.3% self-employment tax? Since freelancers are self-employed, they serve as both the employee and the employer, resulting in the 15.3% tax rate. In a traditional job, half of that tax would be covered by the employer.

This deduction allows you to deduct the employer-equivalent portion of your self-employment tax (approx. 50% – 57%). This deduction only affects your income tax. Contact an accountant or tax professional to see if you’re eligible for the self-employment tax deduction.

2. Health Insurance Premiums

Since freelancers have to provide their own health insurance, self-employed individuals can often deduct their health insurance premiums. The deduction cannot exceed your annual earned income.

3. Home Office Deduction

If you have a designated space in your home that is used exclusively for your business, you may be eligible for the home office deduction. You can use the simplified method and claim $5 per square foot, or you can use the complex method and write off direct expenses related to your office, including furniture, maintenance, equipment, and a portion of your utilities. Contact your accountant to see if you are eligible and to determine the best way to claim your home office deduction.

4. Office Supplies

Do you use printer ink or buy stamps to run your business? There’s a deduction for that!

Freelancers (and small businesses) can deduct office supplies so long as they are “ordinary and necessary” (which is the IRS’s rule of thumb for all deductions). Be sure to save all of your receipts so you can file your taxes properly at the end of the year.

5. Travel

As a freelancer, you can deduct travel expenses so long as the travel is strictly business-related. Again, be sure to save your receipts, airline tickets confirmations, etc.

6. Mileage

If you’re self-employed, you can deduct business-related mileage. The 2018 mileage rate is 54.5 cents per mile, which adds up surprisingly quickly.

Carefully log your start and end mileage, your starting point, your destination, and the purpose of the trip in a notebook (or using a tax software program like QuickBooks Self-Employed). You can also choose to deduct vehicle expenses instead of mileage. Talk to your accountant about which option is best for you.

7. Hardware & Software

If you require specific hardware and software to run your business, these purchases can count as deductions. Talk to your accountant about the best way to deduct these expenses as some bigger purchase may need to be depreciated.

8. Education 

Certain educational or certification expenses can also be deducted so long as they are directly related to your current line of work, not a new career. Keep track of your tuition and other education expenses throughout the year to claim this deduction.

9. Retirement Contributions

Since self-employed individuals are responsible for their own retirement accounts, retirement contributions can also be deductible. Keep track of any contributions you make to your SEP or IRA plans throughout the year to take advantage of this deduction.

10. Advertising & Marketing

Advertising and marketing expenses used to expand your business and bring in new customers can also be deducted.

New Tax Laws May Equal Savings

Top Deductions for Freelancers

The new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was one of the biggest changes to tax law in decades. While the IRS is still rolling out the full implications of these changes, one of the most important changes for freelancers is the new 20% qualified business income deduction, otherwise known as the pass-through credit.

Certain types of businesses — like sole proprietors, S corporations, and partnerships — are eligible for an up to 20% deduction on taxable income. There is an income limit for this deduction, so be sure to talk to an accountant or tax professional to see if you qualify.

Start Saving!

 

Now that you know about the top ten freelance tax deductions, it’s time to start saving! (Saving receipts, that is.) Make sure to carefully preserve all expense receipts and keep detailed financial records of anything you plan on deducting. This assists your accountant to maximize your deductions and helps prevent a tax audit.

You can now rest easy knowing exactly what’s expected of you as a freelancer when it comes to filing taxes. You can also be confident about the best ways to save money on your freelance taxes so you can continue to do what you love — and get paid for it.

As always, we recommend consulting an accountant or tax professional for the best tax advice.

The post Top 10 Tax Deductions For Freelancers appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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A Complete Guide To Chase Business And Personal Credit Cards

chase bank credit cards

If you’ve been shopping around for a new credit card, whether for personal or business use, it’s likely you’ve come across a Chase credit card or three. In fact, it would be hard not to — between its own branded credit cards and its co-branded partner cards, Chase has 28 credit cards on offer. That’s a lot of credit cards!

Wouldn’t it be convenient if somebody were to gather pertinent information on every Chase credit card, compile that information into an article, then present it to you via The Internet? Well, fret not, for that day has arrived. Here’s a rundown of every Chase credit card and what each one has to offer you.

(For a look at today’s top business credit cards from Chase and other credit card companies, check out our piece on the top business credit cards of 2019.)

Chase Credit Card Details
Chase Ink Business Preferred Business card for earning points
Chase Ink Business Cash Business card for earning cash back
Chase Ink Business Unlimited Business card for flat-rate cash back
Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Business card for Southwest travel
United Explorer Business Business card for United travel
Mariott Rewards Premier Plus Business Business card for Marriott loyalists
Chase Freedom Personal cash back card with a 15-month 0% intro APR
Chase Freedom Unlimited Flat-rate cash back card with a 15-month 0% intro APR
Chase Sapphire Preferred Flexible travel rewards card
Chase Sapphire Reserve High-end travel rewards card
Chase Slate No annual fee card for credit building
Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority High-end Southwest travel card
Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Southwest travel card
Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Southwest travel card with an anniversary points bonus
United Explorer United Airlines travel rewards card
United TravelBank United travel rewards card with no annual fee
United MileagePlus Club Expensive travel card with high-end perks
British Airways Visa Signature British Airways loyalty card w/ large signup bonus
Aer Lingus Visa Signature Aer Lingus travel rewards card w/ transferable rewards
Iberia Visa Signature High points-earning travel card
Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Personal version of the Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Business
The World Of Hyatt Hyatt loyalty card with elite rewards
Disney Premier Visa Card for earning Disney Rewards Dollars
Disney Visa Card for earning Disney Rewards Dollars with no annual fee
IHG Rewards Club Premier Card for earning 10X points at IHG Properties
Starbucks Rewards Visa Card for earning Starbucks Stars
Amazon Rewards Visa Signature 5% Amazon rewards for Amazon Prime members
AARP Credit Card from Chase Cash back card with no annual fee

Business Credit Cards Offered By Chase

1) Chase Ink Business Preferred

Chase Ink Business Preferred



Apply Now 

Annual Fee:


$95

 

Purchase APR:


18.24% – 23.24%, Variable

The Chase Ink Business Preferred card is a great card for business owners looking to get rewarded for their travel purchases. The Ink Business Preferred will see you earning 3 points for every $1 spent on the first $150,000 in combined purchases on travel and select business categories each year.

The Ink Business Preferred also offers an exceptional bonus offer. You’ll get 80,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in your first 3 months of card use, which equates to $1,000 toward travel rewards when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards.

It’s the most “high-end” of the three business credit cards Chase currently offers (not counting the co-branded cards). Unfortunately, this means that unlike the others, this card carries a $95 annual fee.

Image

2) Chase Ink Business Cash

Chase Ink Business Cash



Apply Now

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


15.49% – 21.49%, Variable

With no annual fee, the Chase Ink Business Cash is all about — quelle surprise! — the cash back.

Here’s the card’s cash back structure:

  • Earn 5% cash back on the first $25,000 spent per year in combined purchases at office supply stores and on internet, cable, and phone services
  • 2% cash back on the first $25,000 spent per year in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants
  • 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases

Chase Ink Business Cash℠ Learn More Earn $500 Bonus Cash Back 

3) Chase Ink Business Unlimited

Chase Ink Business Unlimited


chase ink business unlimited
Apply Now 

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


15.49% – 21.49%, Variable

Chase Ink Business Unlimited is a cash back business card for business owners who would rather not have to worry about which purchases will earn more points than other purchases. The card gives you a flat 1.5% cash back on all purchases with no limit to the number of points you can earn per year. Nice and simple.

As with Ink Business Cash, there’s no annual fee. And like the Ink Business Cash (but unlike the Preferred card), the Ink Business Unlimited offers a 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months.

Now, let’s check out Chase’s partner business cards.

4) Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Card

If your business has you flying frequently with Southwest Airlines (and only Southwest — Southwest has no airline partners), Chase’s Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business card may intrigue you.

You’ll get a hefty bonus offer: 60,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. You’ll then get:

  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest purchases and Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partner purchases
  • 1 point per dollar spent on everything else

The card carries a $99 annual fee.

5) United Explorer Business Card

This business card is designed to reward the business traveler who flies United. A bonus offer of 75,000 miles awaits you if you spend $5K on purchases in the first 3 months.

You’ll earn 2 miles per dollar spent on all United purchases as well as on purchases at restaurants, gas stations, and office supply stores (1 mile per dollar on all other purchases). You’ll also get such perks as a free checked bag (a $120 value per round trip), two one-time United Club passes each year, and priority boarding for you and any companions on the same reservation.

The card carries a $95 annual fee after the first year, which is free.

6) Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Business

Here’s a business travel card for those who like to stay in Marriott hotels. Similar to Chase’s other branded partner business cards, you’ll get a 75,000 point bonus for spending $3K in the first 3 months.

When you use your Marriott card at participating Marriott and Starwood properties, you’ll get an impressive 6 points for every dollar spent. You’ll get 2 points per dollar on all other spending. The card does carry a $95 annual fee, however.

Personal Credit Cards Offered By Chase

7) Chase Freedom

Chase Freedom



Compare

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


17.24% – 25.99%, Variable

The Chase Freedom card is a simple personal credit card with no annual fee, a 15-month 0% intro APR period, and rotating rewards categories.

Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories per quarter. The bonus categories change on a quarterly basis. You’ll earn 1% cash back on all other purchases.

8) Chase Freedom Unlimited

Chase Freedom Unlimited



Compare

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


17.24% – 25.99%, Variable

The Chase Freedom Unlimited card resembles the Chase Freedom card in almost every way — same lack of an annual fee, same 15-month 0% APR period, same signup bonus ($150 after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months). The one real difference lies in how you accumulate cash back.

Instead of having to worry about rotating 5% cash back categories, the Freedom Unlimited offers a flat 1.5% cash back on every purchase.

9) Chase Sapphire Preferred

Chase Sapphire Preferred



Compare

Annual Fee:


$95 ($0 the first year)

 

Purchase APR:


18.24% – 25.24%, Variable

The Chase Sapphire Preferred card is a personal travel rewards card from Chase. You’ll get 2 points for every dollar spent on travel and dining and one point per dollar on everything else.

When you redeem your points for Ultimate Rewards portal purchases, your points will be worth 1.25 cents apiece. The card carries a $95 annual fee, waived for the first year.

10) Chase Sapphire Reserve

Chase Sapphire Reserve



Compare

Annual Fee:


$450

 

Purchase APR:


17.99% – 24.99%, Variable

Want a high-end travel card with great perks and high points earning potential? Don’t mind paying a huge annual fee of $450 a year? Chase’s exclusive Sapphire Reserve may be right up your alley.

With the Sapphire Reserve, not only will you earn 3 points per dollar spent on travel and dining (as opposed to 2 with the Sapphire Preferred), but your point value (when redeemed through the Ultimate Rewards portal) will be 1.5 cents piece. Plus, you’ll get some great luxury perks, such as a $300 annual travel credit, a fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, and Priority Pass Select lounge access.

11) Chase Slate

Chase Slate



Compare

Annual Fee:


$0

 

Purchase APR:


16.99% – 25.74%, Variable

The Chase Slate card is unlike most of the cards in Chase’s portfolio in that its purpose is to help you build your credit and get out of debt. There’s no signup bonus and no rewards to earn. It’s not an exciting card, but it is a utilitarian one.

The Chase Slate card charges no fee for balances transferred to it within 60 days of opening your account. Combine that with an intro 0% APR period of 15 months, no annual fee, and free access to your FICO score, and you’ve got a card that helps smooth out your finances.

Chase currently offers 17 personal partner cards — mostly travel rewards cards. Let’s do a quick rundown of each of them.

12) Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority

If you don’t mind a $149 annual fee, Chase’s Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority card will deliver you more benefits than any other Southwest-branded card.

You’ll get 2 points per dollar spent on Southwest purchases and Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partner purchases, and 1 point per dollar on everything else. But that’s just the beginning. You’ll also get the following:

  • 7,500 anniversary points each year
  • $75 annual Southwest travel credit
  • 4 upgraded boardings per year
  • Get 20% back on in-flight purchases
  • A host of retail and travel protections

13) Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus

The Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus card is the less-exclusive sibling of the Rapid Rewards Priority card. The annual fee is a more reasonable $69, and you’ll get some nice rewards, even if they don’t rise to the level of the Priority card’s rewards.

Just as with the priority card, you’ll get 2 points per dollar spent on Southwest purchases and Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partner purchases and 1 point per dollar on everything else. You’ll also get an annual anniversary bonus of 3,000 points and other travel benefits. Unfortunately, there is a 3% foreign transaction fee.

14) Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier

The Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier rounds out the three Southwest-cobranded Chase personal travel cards. The Premier card has a $99 annual fee, right between that of the Plus and the Priority card. Call it the middle child of the Chase Southwest personal cards.

The points-earning structure is the same as that of the other two Southwest personal cards. Along with that, you’ll get a 6,000 point anniversary bonus each year and 1,500 tier-qualifying points for every $10,000 spent on the card each year — up to 15,000 annually. These tier-qualifying points help you reach A-List or A-List Preferred status faster than you otherwise would.

15) United Explorer

The United Explorer card is one of three United-cobranded Chase personal credit cards. Naturally, they reward traveling with United Airlines.

The United Explorer card carries an annual fee of $95 after an initial free first year. Use of the card will earn you 2 miles per $1 spent on purchases from United and on restaurants and hotel stays, and 1 mile per $1 spent on everything else. You’ll also get:

  • $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fee credit
  • 25% back on United inflight purchases
  • Check your first bag for free
  • Priority boarding privileges
  • Two one-time United Club passes each year on your card anniversary

16) United TravelBank

The United TravelBank card carries no annual fee and will see you earning cash back instead of United miles. You’ll earn 2% cash back on all United purchases and 1.5% back on all other purchases.

Other United TravelBank benefits include 25% back on United inflight purchases, no foreign transaction fees, and entry into Chase’s Inside Access program through which you can get all manners of luxury perks and VIP experiences.

17) United MileagePlus Club

The United MileagePlus Club card is the luxury card of the Chase United personal credit card triumvirate. Accordingly, the annual fee is a steep $450 per year.

This card gives you all the goodies:

  • 50,000-mile sign-up bonus after you spend $3K in the first three months
  • Earn 2 miles per dollar on United spending and 1.5 miles per dollar on all other spending
  • United Club membership (a $550 value)
  • Two free checked bags per United flight
  • Priority check-in and baggage handling
  • World of Hyatt Discoverist status
  • Hertz Gold Plus Rewards President’s Circle membership
  • No foreign transaction fees

18) British Airways Visa Signature

The British Airways Visa Signature card uses Avios reward points (Avios being a currency shared by several other airlines).

You’ll earn 4 Avios points for every $1 spent on your first $30,000 in purchases within your first year. You’ll also earn 3 Avios per $1 spent on British Airways, Iberia and Aer Lingus purchases and 1 Avios per dollar spent on everything else. What’s more, if you make $30,000 in purchases on your card in a calendar year, you’ll earn a Travel Together Ticket, good for two years.

The British Airways Visa Signature card carries a $95 annual fee but has no foreign transaction fee.

19) Aer Lingus Visa Signature

For an annual fee of $95, the Aer Lingus Visa Signature card has the same Avios-earning structure as the British Airways Visa Signature card.

The card carries no foreign transaction fee, gives you priority boarding on Aer Lingus flights (the one real difference with the BA card, which gives you priority on BA flights), and a free economy ticket good for 12 months after you spend $30K in a calendar year. It’s largely the same card as the British Airways Visa Signature card (except for the branding).

20) Iberia Visa Signature

The Iberia Visa Signature card is essentially the same credit card as the previous two airline-cobranded travel cards.

The card currently has an impressive bonus offer of 100,000 Avios:

  • Earn 50,000 Avios after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
  • Earn an additional 25,000 Avios after you spend $10,000 on purchases in the first year
  • Earn a further 25,000 Avios after you spend $20,000 total on purchases in the first year

21) Marriott Rewards Premier Plus

The Marriott Rewards Premier Plus card is Chase’s personal version of their similarly-named Marriott business card.

Some key features:

  • $95 annual fee
  • 75,000 bonus points if you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months
  • Earn 6 points per dollar at Marriott Rewards and SPG hotels
  • Earn 2 points per dollar on all other purchases
  • Annual free night stay in a hotel up to 35,000 points

22) The World Of Hyatt

The awkwardly-named The World Of Hyatt card is a hotel travel rewards card, largely similar to the Marriott Rewards Premier Plus. There’s a bonus offer of up to 50,000 points, with free nights starting at 5,000 points. The best perk: you’ll get a free night certificate each anniversary year, good for a Category 1-4 Hyatt room.

The card carries a $95 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.

23) Disney Premier Visa

For an annual fee of $49, the Disney Premier Visa is a card for all you Disney superfans out there. Your rewards come in the form of Disney Reward dollars.

You’ll earn 2% at gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, and most Disney locations, and 1% on all other purchases. Your Disney Reward dollars can be redeemed toward Disney theme park visits, Disney cruises, Disney/Star Wars movies, and shopping at the Disney store. Plenty of other Disney-related perks come with the card as well.

24) Disney Visa

The Disney Visa is the down-market version of the Disney Premier Visa. There’s no annual fee, but you’ll only earn 1% Disney Reward dollars back with your purchases — a pretty meager rewards rate.

Most of the perks of the Disney Premier Visa apply to the Disney Visa.

25) IHG Rewards Club Premier

The IHG Rewards Club Premier card is a card for people who frequent IHG hotels. For an $89 annual fee, you’ll earn a whopping 10 points per dollar spent at IHG hotels. That’s a pretty impressive earning rate. However, you can’t do much with your points besides redeem them for IHG hotel stays.

26) Starbucks Rewards Visa

Finally, a credit card for you Starbucks-heads out there. Starbucks rewards come in the form of Stars, the value of which can vary based on what Starbucks item you redeem them for, though it generally comes out to about 4 cents apiece.

As a bonus offer, you’ll get 2,500 Stars after you spend $500 on purchases in the first 3 months. You’ll also get a Star for every dollar you put onto your Starbucks card using your Starbucks Reward Visa and 2 Stars for every dollar you spend using your Starbucks card, meaning you can earn 3 Stars for every dollar you spend at Starbucks assuming you literally play your cards right.

For all other purchases on your Starbucks Visa, you’ll earn a Star for every 4 dollars you spend.

27) Amazon Rewards Visa Signature

The Amazon Rewards Visa Signature card is a nice cash back card. You’ll get a $50 Amazon gift card upon being approved, and you’ll earn 3% cash back on Amazon and Whole Foods purchases, 2% cash back at gas stations, restaurants, and drugstores, and 1% cash back on all other purchases.

There’s no annual fee and no foreign transaction fee.

28) AARP Credit Card from Chase

The AARP Credit Card from Chase is a decent, if boring, cash back credit card. You don’t even need to be an AARP member to get one.

Earn 3% cash back on restaurants and gas station purchases and 1% everywhere else. For a card with no annual fee, the 3% cash back you’ll get in the aforementioned categories is pretty generous.

Final Thoughts

There you have it — a summary of every credit card Chase currently has to offer. All 28 of them!

One last thought: be wary of Chase’s 5/24 rule. It’s not an explicit policy, but more of an unwritten rule and therefore precise details are hard to come by, but generally, if you have opened 5 or more credit cards (any credit cards, not just Chase cards) over the previous 24 months, Chase will not issue you the card you’re applying for.

Now, there are a number of Chase cards that are exempt from this rule, but this group of cards has been shrinking rapidly and changes frequently, so I can’t give you a definitive list of Chase cards exempt from the 5/24 rule. Just be aware that you can’t take out an unlimited number of Chase cards to game the rewards system, nor is it recommended. Instead, you’ll have to be more strategic if you’re a rewards-hunter.

For more credit card-related information, check out the links below.

  • The Best Free Credit Score Sites
  • A Guide To Using Personal Credit Cards For Business Expenses
  • Fast Approval Business Credit Cards For Small Business Owners

The post A Complete Guide To Chase Business And Personal Credit Cards appeared first on Merchant Maverick.

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How To Start A Lawn Care Business

Can you picture making a profit by keeping the lawns of homes and businesses in your area looking their best? You’re not alone. For many aspiring entrepreneurs, starting a lawn care business sounds like a practical and achievable way to make money and be their own boss — a dream come true, in other words. If you’re reading this, you’re ready to take the next step toward making that dream a reality.

Starting a lawn care business seems easy. Just grab up some lawn equipment, find a couple of guys willing to do physical labor, and get started, right? Not exactly.

Like any other small business, building a successful lawn care business takes careful planning and hard work. You have to be willing to put in the time, effort, and money required to start and grow your business. A lawn care business may have low overhead and lower initial risk than other types of businesses, but it isn’t a cake walk. However, over time, you’ll begin to see the fruits of your labor through the beautiful lawns in your city or town and the profits sitting in your bank account.

In this guide, we’ll break down the steps for starting your own lawn care business. We’ll start off with the importance of your business plan and what it should include. We’ll go over what you need to get started — and it’s more than just lawn equipment. We’ll talk about the costs you’ll encounter and how to get the financing to cover those costs. We’ll also discuss ways to bring in customers … and profits.

Let’s get started!

Create A Business Plan

Every business is different, but all businesses need one thing to be successful: a business plan. Your future lawn care business is no exception. Even if your business concept seems simple, having a solid business plan in place is a necessity.

Think of your business plan as a roadmap of your business. You wouldn’t go on a long trip without a map or GPS, or put together a complicated piece of furniture without instructions, right? View your business in the same light.

Your business plan outlines your goals for the future. In other words, how will you get from where you are now — a startup business — to your goal? Every entrepreneur has a different goal. Maybe yours is to make $1 million in revenue within five years. Maybe it’s to expand throughout your state. Maybe you want to build a franchise that will go nationwide. No matter what your goals are, they need to be outlined in a solid business plan.

All business plans are different, but there are a few key sections that should be included in all plans. Those include:

  • Executive Summary: A short summary of your business plan and the value proposition of your business
  • Business Description: What does your business do? Include your mission statement and when your business was formed.
  • Organization: Who are your team members and what do they do within the organization?
  • Market Analysis: Include information about the market and your competition
  • Marketing Strategies: How do you plan to market your business to draw in customers and bring in profits?
  • Financial Projections: Use revenue growth and market trends to project the financial outlook of your business

Not only is your business plan critical to the growth of your company, but it’s also an absolute necessity if you plan to seek funding from outside sources — such as investors or banks — in the future.

Determine What Equipment You Need

Selecting equipment

To operate a lawn care business, you need to have the right tools and equipment for the job. While you may start off small and add to your inventory as your business grows, there are a few critical pieces of equipment you need to get started. For most lawn care businesses, major equipment includes:

  • Riding Lawnmower
  • Push Lawnmower
  • Edger
  • Hedge Trimmer
  • Leaf Blower
  • Truck
  • Equipment Trailer

For your business, you’ll also need equipment that’s less expensive but just as critical to operations. This includes:

  • Lawn Tools
  • Hand Tools
  • Lawn Bags
  • Eye/Ear Protection
  • Gloves
  • Gas Cans
  • Oil
  • Garden Hoses

You should expect to spend approximately $30,000 to $40,000 for the equipment you need to start your business. As your business grows, of course, you’ll need additional capital for the purchase of more equipment. For example, you may have just one truck, trailer, and mower for now, but if you have additional crews taking on jobs all over the area, you’ll need more equipment.

You may even opt to offer additional services — installing sod, laying mulch, or planting flowers — all of which require additional equipment and supplies. For now, however, focus on the equipment listed above. Those items will be most critical to getting your business off the ground.

Calculate Startup Costs

With an idea of the type of equipment you need to launch your business, you can now begin calculating startup costs. This will include the cost of your equipment, plus other necessary expenses to keep your business operating smoothly.

Your equipment will make up the bulk of your costs, and you should budget approximately $30,000 to $40,000 for these purchases. You may be able to get started with a smaller investment by purchasing used equipment. However, purchasing used does come with its risks. Older trucks can break down and previously-owned lawn equipment may immediately require servicing or repairs. While you can save money in the short term by buying used equipment, you may rack up additional expenses over the long term, so consider your purchases carefully.

When purchasing your equipment, shop around. Look online and visit local retailers to get estimates of costs. Determine what equipment you really need now and what you could add as your business grows. You may even consider starting with basic equipment (do you actually need that fully-loaded riding mower right this minute?) and upgrading your equipment when your business starts bringing in revenue.

Beyond the equipment we’ve already discussed, you’ll need additional supplies for your business. This may include chemical weed killers, pesticides, fertilizer, and other supplies. You may purchase these supplies upfront, or you may purchase them when needed. If you plan to keep inventory, you may incur additional costs if you rent storage for your supplies and equipment.

Another big startup cost to consider is the cost of insurance. You will need to have auto insurance on your truck. You will also be required to carry liability insurance. If you hire employees now, additional costs may include workman’s comp insurance and payroll taxes. Other startup costs include fees for permits and licenses. We’ll discuss obtaining licenses and permits a little more in the next section.

If you’re starting small as a one-person operation, your primary startup costs will be your equipment, supplies, insurance, and marketing costs. Just remember to take your time to do your research, plan, and budget to keep startup costs under control.

Register Your Business

Before you begin operating, you’ll need to register your business. There are several steps required to register a new business:

Choose & Register Your Business Name

While you may choose to operate your business under your own name, most small business owners choose a trade name. This name will need to be registered in the state where you will operate.

When choosing your name, you want to select one that is a reflection of your brand. You will also need to make sure that you select a name that is not registered by someone else in your state. You can find your state’s registration database with a quick online search.

Choose Your Legal Structure

One of the first steps in setting up your business is determining your legal structure. Your legal structure determines how much you pay in taxes and your personal liability for your business. Legal structures include:

  • Sole Proprietorship: This gives you full control over your business. You do not have to register this type of entity, so you skip over all the paperwork. However, this structure does not separate your personal assets and liabilities from those of your business. This means that you can be held personally liable for all debts and obligations of your business.
  • Partnership: This structure is the simplest structure for businesses that have two or more owners. A limited partnership (LP) gives one partner unlimited liability, while other owners have limited liability and limited control over the company. A limited liability partnership (LLP) gives limited liability to all owners, protecting each against the debts of the business and the actions of other partners.
  • Limited Liability Company: A limited liability company (LLC) protects you from personal liability from business debts and obligations. For example, your house, vehicle, or savings accounts will be untouchable if your business faces a lawsuit or files for bankruptcy.
  • Corporation: Corporations pay higher taxes and are more expensive to form. However, corporations can also raise money through the sale of stock. This structure is best for businesses that need to raise high amounts of capital or want to go public in the future.

Most lawn care business owners will register as a sole proprietorship or LLC, but consider the number of owners you have, protecting yourself from personal liability, and the future goals of your business before you make your decision.

Register With The IRS & State Revenue Agency

If you plan to have employees now or in the future, you will need to register for an Employer Identification Number. You’ll also request estimated tax vouchers from both the IRS and your state revenue office to file with your quarterly tax payments.

Obtain Licenses & Permits

The licenses and permits that you need for your business are based upon the laws of your municipality and what your business will do. For example, simply mowing lawns only requires a standard business license in most areas. However, if you plan to spray chemical herbicides, an additional license may be required. You can find out more about license and permit requirements by contacting your state’s Department of Commerce.

Seek Funding

We’ve already discussed the potential expenses you’ll encounter when opening your own lawn care business. Now, the big question is: how do you pay for it all? Like most aspiring entrepreneurs, your personal bank account likely isn’t bursting at the seams with more money than you know what to do with.

If you’re scratching your head trying to figure out finances, you’re certainly not alone. Most small business owners don’t have the funds needed to start and operate a new business. This is where small business funding plays a role.
There are more lenders than ever that are ready to give you the money you need to get your business off the ground. The trick is knowing what type of funding is best for your business and exactly where to find it.

Personal Savings

If you’ve socked away money in personal savings through the years, this money could be used to fund your new business venture. The best thing about using your own money is that you aren’t indebted to anyone. You don’t have to worry about loan payments, fees, and high interest rates. On the downside, if your business fails, it takes your savings with it.

Friends & Family

If you have a friend, family member, or colleague with money to invest, consider pitching your idea to them. Present them with your business plan and give a presentation just as you would give to a banker or other lender.

There are a few ways you can go about getting capital from someone you know. The first is a loan. Agree to rates, terms, and the borrowing amount and get it all in writing. Then, you’ll repay the borrowed funds plus interest over a set period of time, just as you would any other loan.

Another option is equity financing. You’d receive capital for your business and in exchange, your investor would own part of your company. You wouldn’t pay back the money immediately like you would a loan, but the investor would be able to take a share of your profits at a later time. Learn more about debt financing vs. equity financing.

No matter which way you go, keep everything professional and make sure everything is in writing. One thing that can sour a good relationship fast is a business deal gone bad.

Personal Loans

As a new business owner, walking into your bank to get a business loan is pretty tough … if not impossible. Banks look at your business and personal credit score, annual revenues, and your time in business. These lenders want to work with small businesses that are established and have the lowest risk. If you’re new to the game, many lenders won’t give you a second look.

This doesn’t mean that you’re only stuck with high-interest, short-term loan options. If you want a long-term loan with low rates, consider a personal loan for business. With these loans, you can qualify based on your personal income and credit score – no business information required.

You can apply for a personal loan for business through your bank, credit union, or an online lender. The most creditworthy borrowers will qualify for the best rates and terms and highest borrowing limits. A personal loan for business is a great option for larger purchases that you’d like to pay off over a longer period of time, like expensive equipment.

Recommended Option: Upstart

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Through Upstart, you can receive a personal loan of $1,000 up to $50,000 to use for your startup costs. APRs range from 8.09% to 35.99%. Your loan will be repaid over a period of 3 to 5 years.

Upstart is different from other lenders in that they look at more than just your credit score. While the lender does consider your credit score, education, years of credit, and job history are also factors used to determine if you qualify for a personal loan.

To qualify for an Upstart loan, you must:

  • Have a personal credit score of at least 620
  • Live in a state serviced by the lender
  • Have a regular source of income
  • Have a bank account 

Equipment Financing

Equipment financing is a type of funding used to purchase equipment. Instead of paying the full cost of your equipment up front, you’ll make a smaller down payment. A lender will cover the rest of the cost, which you’ll pay back over time along with fees and interest.

There are two different types of equipment financing: equipment loans and equipment leases. If you take out an equipment loan, you’ll typically pay 10% to 20% of the total purchase price as a down payment. Borrowers with high credit scores may qualify for 0% down financing. Once the down payment is paid and the loan is in place, you’ll be able to immediately take possession of your equipment. You’ll pay for the total purchase price of the equipment plus interest over a set period of time — typically around 5 years. Once you’ve made all payments as agreed, the equipment is yours to keep, trade in, or sell.

An equipment lease is more like renting. You’ll pay a down payment and take immediate possession of the equipment. You’ll make payments to your lender over a shorter period of time, usually 2 years. Once your lease period ends, you’ll return the equipment and sign another lease for newer equipment. Some lenders may allow you to pay off your balance if you want to keep the equipment you’ve been using.

Learn more about equipment loans and leases and which is right for you.

One of the best things about equipment financing is that you don’t have to put up collateral to secure your loan. Instead, the equipment itself serves as the collateral and can be repossessed if you default on your loan or lease.

With equipment financing, you can purchase any type of equipment you need for your business, including lawnmowers, edgers, trimmers, or even a commercial vehicle.

Recommended Option: Lendio

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Lendio is a loan aggregator that connects you with multiple lenders with just one application. Through Lendio, you can apply for equipment financing from $5,000 to $5 million with repayment terms of 1 to 5 years. Interest rates start at 7.5%.

To qualify for equipment financing, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Annual revenue of at least $50,000
  • Personal credit score of 650 or higher
  • Time in business of at least 12 months

If your credit score falls below the 650 minimum, you may be able to qualify with proof of solid cash flow and revenue for the last 3 to 6 months.

Even if you don’t meet these requirements, you could still qualify with certain lenders. Simply fill out Lendio’s free application or contact a personal funding manager. If you don’t qualify for equipment financing or have other financial needs, you can also apply for Small Business Administration loans, short-term loans, startup loans, and Lendio’s other financial products.

Lines Of Credit

If you want a flexible form of financing, a line of credit might be right up your alley. You’ll be able to initiate draws from your line of credit, and the lender sends the funds immediately to your bank account. You can make one or more draws from your line of credit up to and including your set credit limit.

Since a line of credit is revolving, your funds will become available to use again as you pay down your balance. Interest and/or fees are charged on the borrowed portion of funds. If you don’t use your line of credit, you won’t pay interest to the lender. Many lenders also won’t charge any fees if you haven’t used your funds.

A line of credit is a good option when you need immediate access to cash, such as to purchase supplies or to pay for an unexpected expense, like repairs to your vehicle or equipment.

Recommended Option: Fundbox

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You can qualify for up to $100,000 when you apply for a Fundbox line of credit. Fundbox fees start at 4.66% of the borrowing amount. You only pay when you use your funds, and you can save by repaying early. Payments are made weekly over a period of 12 or 24 weeks. You may receive a line of credit based on the performance of your business or for your unpaid invoices.

To qualify for a Fundbox line of credit, you must meet the following minimum requirements:

  • Be a U.S.-based business
  • Own a business checking account
  • Have at least $50,000 in annual revenue
  • Have a bank account with transactions for at least 3 months OR at least 2 months of activity in supported accounting software

Qualifying through Fundbox takes just minutes. If approved, you’ll be able to initiate draws on your line of credit immediately for deposit in your account as quickly as the next business day.

Rollovers As Business Startups (ROBS)

Do you have a retirement account? If so, you may qualify for a unique type of funding known as Rollovers as Business Startups (ROBS). You probably already know that early withdrawal from your retirement account results in penalties. But there is a way to access these funds without being penalized, and yes, it’s completely legal.

A ROBS plan allows you to roll over your qualifying retirement funds into capital for your new business. Here’s how it works:

  • A new C-corporation is created
  • A new retirement plan is created for the C-corp
  • Funds are rolled over from your existing retirement plan to the new retirement plan
  • These funds are used to purchase stock in the C-corp, giving you the capital you need to start or grow your business

Even though it’s just four steps, there are some legal issues to be aware of. This is why entrepreneurs that leverage their retirement funds in this way turn to a ROBS provider. A ROBS provider will handle everything for you, from setting up the new C-corp to maintaining compliance. In exchange, you pay a setup fee and a monthly maintenance fee.

Funds from your ROBS plan can be used for any business purpose. One of the best things about a ROBS plan is that you won’t be making payments with interest to a lender. You also don’t have to worry about traditional borrower requirements like personal credit score or annual revenues. As long as you have a qualifying retirement plan, you can set up a ROBS plan. The main drawback, however, is that if your business fails, you lose your retirement funds, so be aware of this risk before setting up your plan.

Recommended Option: Benetrends

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Benetrends is the creator of the innovative Rainmaker Plan, the original ROBS plan. Benetrends can get the funding you need for your business in as little as 10 days. You will have access to your retirement funds with no penalties with Benetrends’ easy four-step process.

There are no credit score, time in business, or revenue requirements. Most retirement plans with at least $50,000 qualify.

A setup fee of $4,995 is required to start your ROBS plan. After paying this initial cost, you must pay a service fee of $130 per month. This fee covers compliance, audit protection, and other services.

Purchase Financing

When you start your lawn care business, you’ll likely develop relationships with vendors. You can pay these vendors out of pocket when you receive your invoice, or you can break your purchase down into smaller, more manageable payments with purchase financing.

With purchase financing, a lender will pay your vendor up front. You’ll repay the lender the borrowed amount plus fees and/or interest through smaller payments made over a longer period of time. This is an excellent way to purchase supplies and other items critical for the success of your business when you’re facing cash flow issues or just need a little extra time to pay.

Recommended Option: Behalf

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Behalf offers purchase financing, allowing you to pay any merchant with terms up to 6 months. With Behalf, you can borrow between $300 and $50,000. Monthly fees start at just 1%, and there are no origination fees, membership fees, prepayment fees, or maintenance fees.

There are no minimum time in business, revenue, or personal credit score requirements. However, a hard pull of your credit is performed by the lender and will be used to determine if you’re eligible to receive funding, as well as your monthly fee.

Business Credit Cards

A business credit card is a great way to cover expenses or make purchases without waiting for approval from a lender. Once you’re approved for a credit card, you’ll be able to spend up to and including your credit limit anywhere credit cards are accepted.

Once you’ve made a purchase using your credit card, you’ll be required to make a monthly payment until you repay your balance, plus interest charged by the credit card issuer. This is a type of revolving credit, so as you repay, funds will be available to use again. Once you’re approved for a credit card, you don’t have to wait for approval to make a purchase. You can make one or multiple purchases up to and including the credit limit set by the lender.

You can cover an emergency expense or purchase supplies using a business credit card. You can also use credit cards for recurring expenses, such as gas for your truck and machines. With a rewards card, you can even get cash back or perks just for using your card.

If you don’t qualify for a business credit card, consider applying for a personal credit card to use for business expenses.

Recommended Option: Spark Cash For Business

Capital One Spark Cash For Business


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Annual Fee:


$95 ($0 the first year)

 

Purchase APR:


18.74%, Variable

The Spark Cash card from Capital One offers unlimited 2% cash back that you can redeem anytime. New cardholders can earn a $500 cash bonus just for spending $4,500 within the first 3 months of opening their accounts. This business credit card has a 19.24% variable APR. There is no annual fee for one year, and the fee is $95 after the first year. Employee cards are available at no additional cost.

To qualify for this credit card, you must meet these requirements:

  • Excellent personal credit score
  • No bankruptcies
  • No defaults on loans
  • No payments over 60 days late on a credit card, loan, or medical bill for the last year
  • A loan or credit card for at least 3 years with a credit limit above $5,000

Recommended Option: Chase Ink Preferred

Chase Ink Business Preferred



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Annual Fee:


$95

 

Purchase APR:


18.24% – 23.24%, Variable

Another business credit card to consider is the Chase Ink Business Preferred card. With this card, you’ll be able to rack up points just by making purchases for your business. All travel, shipping, advertising, internet, cable, and phone purchases yield three points for every dollar spent for the first $150,000 spent annually. You’ll receive one point for every dollar spent on all other business purchases with no limitations.

You’ll also be eligible to receive a bonus offer of 80,000 bonus points if you spend $5,000 within 3 months of opening your account. Points can be redeemed toward cash, gift cards, or other products and services.

Chase Ink Business Preferred has a variable interest rate of 18.24% to 23.24%. The card has an annual fee of $95. Other benefits are also provided for cardholders, including cell phone protection and free employee cards.

To qualify for this card, you must have good to excellent credit.

Bolster Your Web Presence

web builder template

The internet has made life easier than ever for small business owners. After all, you can do your accounting online, shop for supplies and equipment, and communicate with customers. Perhaps most importantly, you can market your business online. Bolstering your web presence is a quick and easy way to reach your target market, helping you bring in new customers and boost your profit potential.

Set Up Social Media Profiles

Social media has morphed into something much bigger than just chatting with family and friends. These days, people are using social media to find and connect with new brands and businesses. Shouldn’t your new business be included?

One of the best things about social media is that it’s free to set up your profiles. Add your business to Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn, Yelp, and/or Pinterest. With these social media profiles, you can share information about your business such as operating hours and services provided, post photos of completed jobs, promote specials, or share news about your business. On sites like Facebook, satisfied customers can even post reviews and ratings.

Want to learn how to get the most out of your social media pages? Take a look at our Guide to Social Media Marketing.

Build Your Website

Most people turn to the internet when they’re looking for a service provider, which is why it’s so important to have a website. No experience with web design? Don’t worry — there are a variety of web builders that do the hard work for you. Check out some of our top picks.

Your website doesn’t have to be complicated. Make sure that your design fits your brand and provides the most relevant information that customers need, including a list of services provided, your service area, and your contact information. You can even take it a few steps further by adding photos of jobs you’ve successfully completed, price lists, special promotions, and news and updates.

One last thing to note is that when you choose a domain name, make sure that it reflects your brand and includes your business name. However, you also want to make sure that it’s short and easy to remember. Avoid using symbols and numbers to make it easier for current and future customers to find you online.

Check out more tips and tricks for creating and maintaining your web presence.

Choose Business Software

Small Business Online Accounting Software

Every business — including your new lawn care business — needs business software to keep operations running smoothly. You can use business software to keep track of appointments, store customer data, process payments, create invoices, and keep up with your financials. Let’s explore a few types that would be useful for your lawn care business.

Accounting Software

Managing your finances is one of the most important aspects of running a business. Accounting software makes it easier than ever to track your finances. With this type of software, you’ll be able to keep up-to-date on the money that you receive, what is owed to you, and what you owe. In addition, using accounting software also makes it easier for you to run important financial statements and file your taxes.

Today’s accounting software comes with more features than ever, including cloud-based storage, online invoicing, automatic payment reminders, and mobile apps for tracking on the go. Unsure of which software is best for you? Check out some of our recommendations. If you’re new to accounting or need a refresher, make sure to download our eBook, The Beginner’s Guide to Accounting.

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A great choice for freelancers needing some extra help managing their business

Payment Processing Apps

Very few businesses today are “cash only.” This is because credit cards, debit cards, and even mobile devices make it easier than ever for consumers to pay for their purchases. To make payments more convenient for your customers, consider using a payment processing app.

Payment processing software transmits data between you, your bank, and your customer’s bank, allowing you to accept credit cards, debit cards, and other forms of payment. Many payment processors also include the hardware needed to accept these methods of payments. This hardware may be included in your subscription cost or for an additional fee.

Worried about bulky hardware? Don’t be. There are devices that easily affix to a mobile phone or tablet, so you can take payments anywhere — from your own office to your customer’s front yard.

Best Overall Mobile POS


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Highlights

  • No contract or monthly fee
  • Instant account setup
  • Retail upgrade available
  • Restaurant upgrade available
  • For iOS and Android mobile devices
  • 2.75% per in-person card swipe

Retail POS: Free trial ($60/mo value)

 

Restaurant POS: Free trial ($60/mo value)

 

Square POS: Always free

Field Service Management Software

Another type of software to consider purchasing for your business is field service management software. This software allows you to keep up with everything from your customers to your employees. There are even programs that are specific to lawn care companies.

With this type of software, you can keep up-to-date records on your customers, from their contact information to their history of appointments. With this software, you can easily schedule new appointments and dispatch employees. Other features may include automatic invoicing, route optimization, easy estimates, and GPS tracking.

Advertise Your Business

business loans for HVAC

In order to make your business successful and profitable, you have to have customers. And you have to reach customers by spreading the word about your business.

While bolstering your web presence is a good first step, don’t stop there. Consider purchasing paid ad space on social media platforms or search engines to reach a broader audience. Yelp for Business is an excellent way to advertise yourself while gaining street cred with potential clients.

You can also utilize free online sites like Craigslist to advertise your business. Just remember to follow the rules before posting and avoid spamming the website.

Moving beyond the web, never underestimate the power of “old school” marketing techniques like flyers and door hangers. Post flyers in areas that get a lot of foot traffic, such as retail shopping centers, and put door hangers around your neighborhood and surrounding areas. You can design and print these yourself, or you can pay an additional fee to a professional printer. Either way you go, this is a very affordable way to market your lawn care business. Before you use this method of advertising, contact your city government office to learn about any restrictions and always make sure to get the permission of the property owner before distributing flyers on private property.

You can also use your work truck to advertise your business. Make sure that your business name, telephone number, and/or URL are prominently displayed and easy to read. Online printers can create custom vinyl decals featuring your logo, name, and contact information at a very affordable price.

Finally, word-of-mouth advertising is one of the most effective methods of advertising in this industry. If your customer likes your service, they’ll tell their friends, family members, neighbors, and colleagues about your service when recommendations are needed. They may give you a glowing review on your website or social media page, which could lure in additional customers. Always make sure to provide the best service to your customers so they’ll refer you to new customers in the future.

Final Thoughts

Your new lawn care business won’t be up and running overnight, but taking the time to go through each step ensures a better chance for success. Every business is different, and you may need to tweak some of these steps to better fit the vision for your lawn care business. Maybe taking the steps in a different order makes more sense for your business, or maybe there’s a step that isn’t relevant to your future goals.

No matter how you picture your future, you’re now armed with the knowledge of what it takes to start your own lawn care business. Now, it’s up to you to determine what steps you’ll take next to become a successful entrepreneur.

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