A Checklist for Going into Business

INTRODUCTION

Owning a business is the dream of many Americans … starting
that business converts your dream into reality. But there is a gap
between your dream and reality that can only be filled with careful
planning. As a business owner, you will need a plan to avoid
pitfalls, to achieve your goals and to build a profitable business.

The “Checklist for Going into Business” is a guide to help you
prepare a comprehensive business plan and determine if your idea
is feasible, to identify questions and problems you will face in
converting your idea into reality and to prepare for starting your
business.

Operating a successful small business will depend on
* a practical plan with a solid foundation;
* dedication and willingness to sacrifice to reach your goal;
* technical skills; and
* basic knowledge of management, finance, record keeping and market
analysis.

As a new owner, you will need to master these skills and
techniques if your business is to be successful.

IDENTIFY YOUR REASONS

As a first and often overlooked step, ask yourself why you want
to own your own business. Check the reasons that apply to you.

YES
1. Freedom from the 9-5 daily work routine. ___
2. Being your own boss. ___
3. Doing what you want when you want to do it. ___
4. Improving your standard of living. ___
5. Boredom with your present job. ___
6. Having a product or service for which you
feel there is a demand. ___

Some reasons are better than others, none are wrong; however, be
aware that there are tradeoffs. For example, you can escape the 9-
5 daily routine, but you may replace it with a 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
routine.

A SELF-ANALYSIS

Going into business requires certain personal characteristics. This
portion of the checklist deals with you, the individual. These
questions require serious thought. Try to be objective. Remember,
it is your future that is at stake!

Personal Characteristics

YES NO

1. Are you a leader? ___ ___
2. Do you like to make your own decisions? ___ ___
3. Do others turn to you for help in making decisions? ___ ___
4. Do you enjoy competition? ___ ___
5. Do you have will power and self discipline? ___ ___
6. Do you plan ahead? ___ ___
7. Do you like people? ___ ___
8. Do you get along well with others? ___ ___

Personal Conditions

This next group of questions though brief is vitally important to
the success of your plan. It covers the physical emotional and
financial strains you will encounter in starting a new business.

YES NO

1. Are you aware that running your own business
may require working 12-16 hours a day six days a
week and maybe even Sundays and holidays? ___ ___

2. Do you have the physical stamina to handle
the workload and schedule? ___ ___

3. Do you have the emotional strength to
withstand the strain? ___ ___

4. Are you prepared if needed to temporarily
lower your standard of living until your business
is firmly established? ___ ___

5. Is your family prepared to go along with the
strains they too must bear? ___ ___

6. Are you prepared to lose your savings? ___ ___

PERSONAL SKILLS AND EXPERIENCE

Certain skills and experience are critical to the success of a
business. Since it is unlikely that you possess all the skills and
experience needed you’ll need to hire personnel to supply those
you lack. There are some basic and special skills you will need for
your particular business.

By answering the following questions you can identify the skills
you possess and those you lack (your strengths and weaknesses).

YES NO

1. Do you know what basic skills you will need in
order to have a successful business? ___ ___

2. Do you possess those skills? ___ ___

3. When hiring personnel will you be able to
determine if the applicants’ skills meet the
requirements for the positions you are filling? ___ ___

4. Have you ever worked in a managerial or
supervisory capacity? ___ ___

5. Have you ever worked in a business similar
to the one you want to start? ___ ___

6. Have you had any business training in school? ___ ___

7. If you discover you don’t have the basic
skills needed for your business will yo be
willing to delay your plans until you’ve
acquired the necessary skills? ___ ___

FINDING A NICHE

Small businesses range in size from a manufacturer with many
employees and millions of dollars in equipment to the lone window
washer with a bucket and a sponge. Obviously the knowledge and
skills required for these two extremes are far apart but for
success they have one thing in common: each has found a business
niche and is filling it.

The most critical problems you will face in your early planning
will be to find your niche and determine the feasibility of your
idea. “Get into the right business at the right time” is very good
advice but following that advice may be difficult. Many
entrepreneurs plunge into a business venture so blinded by the
dream that they fail to thoroughly evaluate its potential.

Before you invest time effort and money the following exercise will
help you separate sound ideas from those bearing a high potential
for failure.

IS YOUR IDEA FEASIBLE?

1. Identify and briefly describe the business you plan to start.

2. Identify the product or service you plan to sell.

3. Does your product or service satisfy an
unfilled need? Yes ___ No ___

4. Will your product or service serve an
existing market in which demand exceeds
supply? Yes ___ No ___

5. Will your product or service be
competitive based on its quality
selection price or location? Yes ___ No ___

Answering yes to any of these questions means you are on the right
track; a negative answer means the road ahead could be rough.

MARKET ANALYSIS

For a small business to be successful the owner must know the
market. To learn the market you must analyze it a process that
takes time and effort. You don’t have to be a trained statistician
to analyze the marketplace nor does the analysis have to be costly.

Analyzing the market is a way to gather facts about potential
customers and to determine the demand for your product or service.
The more information you gather the greater your chances of
capturing a segment of the market. Know the market before investing
your time and money in any business venture.

These questions will help you collect the information necessary to
analyze your market and determine if your product or service will
sell.

YES NO

1. Do you know who your customers will be? ___ ___

2. Do you understand their needs and desires? ___ ___

3. Do you know where they live? ___ ___

4. Will you be offering the kind of products
or services that they will buy? ___ ___

5. Will your prices be competitive in quality
and value? ___ ___

6. Will your promotional program be effective? ___ ___

7. Do you understand how your business
compares with your competitors? ___ ___

8. Will your business be conveniently located
for the people you plan to serve? ___ ___

9. Will there be adequate parking facilities
for the people you plan to serve? ___ ___

This brief exercise will give you a good idea of the kind of market
planning you need to do. An answer of no indicates a weakness in
your plan so do your research until you can answer each question
with a “yes”.

PLANNING YOUR START-UP

So far this checklist has helped you identify questions and
problems you will face converting your idea into reality and
determining if your idea is feasible. Through self-analysis you
have learned of your personal qualifications and deficiencies and
through market analysis you have learned if there is a demand for
your product or service.

The following questions are grouped according to function. They are
designed to help you prepare for “Opening Day”.

Name and Legal Structure

YES NO

1. Have you chosen a name for your business? ___ ___

2. Have you chosen to operate as sole
proprietorship partnership or corporation? ___ ___

Your Business and the Law

A person in business is not expected to be a lawyer but each
business owner should have a basic knowledge of laws affecting the
business. Here are some of the legal matters you should be
acquainted with:

YES NO

1. Do you know which licenses and permits you
may need to operate your business? ___ ___

2. Do you know the business laws you will have
to obey? ___ ___

3. Do you have a lawyer who can advise you and
help you with legal papers? ___ ___

4. Are you aware of

* Occupational Safety and Health Administration
(OSHA) requirements? ___ ___
* Regulations covering hazardous material? ___ ___
* Local ordinances covering signs snow removal etc.? ___ ___
* Federal Tax Code provisions pertaining to
small business? ___ ___
* Federal regulations on withholding taxes and
Social Security? ___ ___
* State Workmen’s Compensation laws? ___ ___

Protecting Your Business

It is becoming increasingly important that attention be given to
security and insurance protection for your business. There are
several areas that should be covered. Have you examined the
following categories of risk protection?

YES NO

* Fire ___ ___
* Theft ___ ___
* Robbery ___ ___
* Vandalism ___ ___
* Accident liability ___ ___

Discuss the types of coverage you will need and make a careful
comparison of the rates and coverage with several insurance agents
before making a final decision.

Business Premises and Location
YES NO

1. Have you found a suitable building in a
location convenient for your customers? ___ ___

2. Can the building be modified for your
needs at a reasonable cost? ___ ___

3. Have you considered renting or leasing
with an option to buy? ___ ___

4. Will you have a lawyer check the zoning
regulations and lease? ___ ___

Merchandise
YES NO

1. Have you decided what items you will
sell or produce or what service(s) you will
provide? ___ ___

2. Have you made a merchandise plan based
upon estimated sales to determine the amount
of inventory you will need to control purchases? ___ ___

3. Have you found reliable suppliers who will
assist you in the start-up? ___ ___

4. Have you compared the prices quality and
credit terms of suppliers? ___ ___

Business Records
YES NO
1. Are you prepared to maintain complete records
of sales income and expenses accounts payable
and receivables? ___ ___

2. Have you determined how to handle payroll
records tax reports and payments? ___ ___

3. Do you know what financial reports should be
prepared and how to prepare them? ___ ___

FINANCES

A large number of small businesses fail each year. There are a
number of reasons for these failures but one of the main reasons
is insufficient funds. Too many entrepreneurs try to start and
operate a business without sufficient capital (money). To avoid
this dilemma you can review your situation by analyzing these three
questions:

1. How much money do you have?
2. How much money will you need to start your business?
3. How much money will you need to stay in business?

Use the following chart to answer the first question:

*****************************************************************
* CHART 1 — PERSONAL FINANCIAL STATEMENT *
* ____________, 19__ *
* *
* ASSETS LIABILITIES *
* *
* Cash on hand ______ Accounts payable ______ *
* Savings account ______ Notes payable ______ *
* Stocks, bonds, Contracts *
* securities ______ payable ______ *
* Accounts/notes Taxes ______ *
* receivable ______ Real estate loans ______ *
* Real estate ______ Other liabilities ______ *
* Life insurance *
* (cash value) ______ *
* Automobile/other *
* vehicles ______ *
* Other liquid assets ______ *
* *
* TOTAL *
* ASSETS ______ LIABILITIES ______ *
* *
* NET WORTH (ASSETS MINUS LIABILITIES) ______ *
*****************************************************************

Chart 2 will help you answer the second question: How much money
will you need to start your business? The chart is for a retail
business; items will vary for service construction and
manufacturing firms.

The answer to the third question (How much money will you need to
stay in business?) must be divided into two parts: immediate costs
and future costs.

*****************************************************************
* CHART 2 — START-UP COST ESTIMATES *
* *
* Decorating, remodeling __________ *
* Fixtures, equipment __________ *
* Installing fixtures, equipment __________ *
* Services, supplies __________ *
* Beginning inventory cost __________ *
* Legal, professional fees __________ *
* Licenses, permits __________ *
* Telephone utility deposits __________ *
* Insurance __________ *
* Signs __________ *
* Advertising for opening __________ *
* Unanticipated expenses __________ *
* *
* TOTAL START-UP COSTS __________ *
*****************************************************************

From the moment the door to your new business opens a certain
amount of income will undoubtedly come in. However this income
should not be projected in your operating expenses. You will need
enough money available to cover costs for at least the first three
months of operation. Chart 3 will help you project your operating
expenses on a monthly basis.

*****************************************************************
* CHART 3 — EXPENSES FOR ONE MONTH *
* *
* Your living costs __________ *
* Employee wages __________ *
* Rent __________ *
* Advertising __________ *
* Supplies __________ *
* Utilities __________ *
* Insurance __________ *
* Taxes __________ *
* Maintenance __________ *
* Delivery/transportation __________ *
* Miscellaneous __________ *
* *
* TOTAL EXPENSES __________ *
*****************************************************************

Now multiply the total of Chart 3 by three. This is the amount of
cash you will need to cover operating expenses for three months.
Deposit this amount in a savings account before opening your
business. Use it only for those purposes listed in the above chart
because this money will ensure that you will be able to continue
in business during the crucial early stages.

By adding the total start-up costs (Chart 2) to the total expenses
for three months (three times the total cost on Chart 3) you can
learn what the estimated costs will be to start and operate your
business for three months. By subtracting the totals of Charts 2
and 3 from the cash available (Chart 1) you can determine the
amount of additional financing you may need if any. Now you will
need to estimate your operating expenses for the first year after
start-up. Use the Income Projection Statement (Appendix A) for this
estimate.

The first step in determining your annual expenses is to estimate
your sales volume month by month. Be sure to consider seasonal
trends that may affect your business. Information on seasonal sales
patterns and typical operating ratios can be secured from your
trade associations.

(NOTE: The relationships among amounts of capital that you invest
levels of sales each of the cost categories the number of times
that you will sell your inventory (turnover) and many other items
form “financial ratios.” These ratios provide you with extremely
valuable checkpoints before it’s too late to make adjustments. In
the reference section of your local library are publications such
as “The Almanac of Business and Industrial Financial Ratios” to
compare your performance with that of other similar businesses. For
thorough explanations of these ratios and how to use them follow
up on the sources of help and information mentioned at the end of
this publication.)

Next determine the cost of sales. The cost of sales is expressed
in dollars. Fill out each month’s column in dollars total them in
the annual total column and then divide each item into the total
net sales to produce the annual percentages. Examples of operating
ratios include cost of sales to sales and rent to sales.

AFTER START-UP

The primary source of revenue in your business will be from sales
but your sales will vary from month to month because of seasonal
patterns and other factors. It is important to determine if your
monthly sales will produce enough income to pay each month’s bills.

An estimated cash flow projection (Chart 4) will show if the
monthly cash balance is going to be subject to such factors as

* Failure to recognize seasonal trends;
* Excessive cash taken from the business for living expenses;
* Too rapid expansion; and
* Slow collection of accounts if credit is extended to customers.

Use the following chart to build a worksheet to help you with
this problem. In this example all sales are made for cash.

******************************************************************
* CHART 4 — ESTIMATED CASH FLOW FORECAST *
* *
* Jan. Feb. Mar. Apr. (etc.) *
* Cash in bank (1st of month) ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ *
* Petty cash (1st of month) ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ *
* Total cash (1st of month) ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ *
* Anticipated cash sales ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ *
* Total receipts ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ *
* Total cash & receipts ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ *
* Disbursements for month *
* (rent, payments, utilities, *
* wages, etc.) ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ *
* Cash balance (end of month) ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ *
******************************************************************

CONCLUSION

Beyond a doubt preparing an adequate business plan is the most
important step in starting a new business. A comprehensive business
plan will be your guide to managing a successful business. The
business plan is paramount to your success. It must contain all the
pertinent information about your business; it must be well written
factual and organized in a logical sequence. Moreover it should
not contain any statements that cannot be supported.

If you have carefully answered all the questions on this checklist
and completed all the worksheets you have seriously thought about
your goal. But . . . there may be some things you may feel you need
to know more about.

Owning and running a business is a continuous learning process.
Research your idea and do as much as you can yourself but don’t
hesitate to seek help from people who can tell you what you need
to know.

APPENDIX A: INCOME PROJECTION STATEMENT

******************************************************************
* *
* Industry Annual Annual*
* % J F M A M J (etc) total % *
* *
*Tot. net sales (revenues)_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ____ ____ *
* Cost of sales _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ____ ____ *
* Gross profit _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ____ ____ *
* Gross profit margin _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ____ ____ *
* *
*Controllable expenses *
* Salaries/wages _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ____ ____ *
* Payroll expenses _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ____ ____ *
* Legal/accounting _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ____ ____ *
* Advertising _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ____ ____ *
* Automobile _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ____ ____ *
* Office supplies _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ____ ____ *
* Dues/subscriptions _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ____ ____ *
* Utilities _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ____ ____ *
* Miscellaneous _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ____ ____ *
*Tot. controllable exp. _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ____ ____ *
* *
*Fixed expenses *
* Rent _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ____ ____ *
* Depreciation _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ____ ____ *
* Utilities _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ____ ____ *
* Insurance _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ____ ____ *
* Licenses/permits _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ____ ____ *
* Loan payments _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ____ ____ *
* Miscellaneous _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ____ ____ *
*Total fixed expenses _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ____ ____ *
* *
*Total expenses _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ____ ____ *
* *
*Net profit (loss) *
* before taxes _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ____ ____ *
* *
* Taxes _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ____ ____ *
*Net profit (loss) *
* after taxes _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ____ ____ *
******************************************************************

INSTRUCTIONS FOR INCOME PROJECTION STATEMENT

The income projection (profit and loss) statement is valuable
as both a planning tool and a key management tool to help control
business operations. It enables the owner-manager to develop a
preview of the amount of income generated each month and for the
business year, based on reasonable predictions of monthly levels
of sales, costs and expenses.

As monthly projections are developed and entered into the income
projection statement, they can serve as definite goals for con-
trolling the business operation. As actual operating results be-
come known each month, they should be recorded for comparison with
the monthly projections. A completed income statement allows the
owner-manager to compare actual figures with monthly projections
and to take steps to correct any problems.

Industry percentage

In the industry percentage column, enter the percentages of total
sales (revenues) that are standard of your industry, which are
derived by dividing
cost/expense items
——————— x 100%
total net sales

These percentages can be obtained from various sources, such as
trade associations, accountants or banks. The reference librarian
in your nearest public library can refer you to documents that con-
tain the percentage figures, for example, Robert Morris Associates’
Annual Statement Studies (One Liberty Place, Philadelphia, PA 19103).

Industry figures serve as a useful benchmark against which to compare
cost and expense estimates that you develop for your firm. Compare
the figures in the industry percentage column to those in the annual
percentage column.

Total Net Sales (Revenues)

Determine the total number of units of products or services you
realistically expect to sell each month in each department at the
prices you expect to get. Use this step to create the projection to
review your pricing practices.

* What returns, allowances and markdowns can be expected?
* Exclude any revenue that is not strictly related to the business.

Cost of Sales

The key to calculating your cost of sales is that you do not overlook
any costs that you have incurred. Calculate cost of sales for all
products and services used to determine total net sales. Where
inventory is involved, do not overlook transportation costs. Also
include any direct labor.

Gross Profit

Subtract the total cost of sales from the total net sales to obtain
gross profit.

Gross Profit Margin

The gross profit is expressed as a percentage of total sales
(revenues). It is calculated by dividing

gross profits
—————
total net sales

Controllable Expenses

* Salary expenses — Base pay plus overtime.
* Payroll expenses — Include paid vacations, sick leave, health
insurance, unemployment insurance and social security taxes.
* Outside services — Include costs of subcontracts, overflow work
and special or one-time services.
* Supplies — Services and items purchased for use in the business.
* Repairs and maintenance — Regular maintenance and repair, including
periodic large expenditures such as painting.
* Advertising — Include desired sales volume and classified directory
advertising expenses.
* Car, delivery and travel — Include charges if personal car is used
in business, including parking, tolls, buying trips, etc.
* Accounting and legal — Outside professional services.

Fixed Expenses

* Rent — List only real estate used in the business.
* Depreciation — Amortization of capital assets.
* Utilities — Water, heat, light, etc.
* Insurance — Fire or liability on property or products. Include
workers’ compensation.
* Loan repayments — Interest on outstanding loans.
* Miscellaneous — Unspecified; small expenditures without separate
accounts.

Net Profit (loss) * Subtract total expenses from gross profit.
(before taxes)

Taxes * Include inventory and sales taxes, excise tax,
real estate tax, etc.

Net Profit (loss) * Subtract taxes from net profit (before taxes).
(after taxes)

Annual Total * For each of the sales and expense items in your
income projection statement, add all the monthly
figures across the table and put the result in
the annual total column.

Annual Percentage * Calculate the annual percentage by dividing

annual total
_________________ x 100%
total net sales

* Compare this figure to the industry percentage
in the first column.

APPENDIX B: INFORMATION RESOURCES
U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA)

The SBA offers an extensive selection of information on most
business management topics, from how to start a business to
exporting your products.

This information is listed in “The Small Business Directory”. For
a free copy contact your nearest SBA office.

SBA has offices throughout the country. Consult the U.S.
Government section in your telephone directory for the office
nearest you. SBA offers a number of programs and services,
including training and educational programs, counseling services,
financial programs and contract assistance. Ask about

– Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), a national
organization sponsored by SBA of over 13,000 volunteer business
executives who provide free counseling, workshops and seminars
to prospective and existing small business people.

– Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs), sponsored by the SBA
in partnership with state and local governments, the educational
community and the private sector. They provide assistance,
counseling and training to prospective and existing business
people.

– Small Business Institutes (SBIs), organized through SBA on more
than 500 college campuses nationwide. The institutes provide
counseling by students and faculty to small business clients.

For more information about SBA business development programs and
services call the SBA Small Business Answer Desk at 1-800-8-ASK-SBA
(827-5722).

Other U.S. Government Resources
Many publications on business management and other related topics
are available from the Government Printing Office (GPO). GPO
bookstores are located in 24 major cities and are listed in the
Yellow Pages under the “bookstore” heading. You can request a
“Subject Bibliography” by writing to Government Printing Office,
Superintendent of Documents, Washington, DC 20402-9328.

Many federal agencies offer publications of interest to small
businesses. There is a nominal fee for some, but most are free.
Below is a selected list of government agencies that provide
publications and other services targeted to small businesses. To
get their publications, contact the regional offices listed in
the telephone directory or write to the addresses below:

– Consumer Information Center (CIC), P.O. Box 100 Pueblo, CO 81002
The CIC offers a consumer information catalog of federal
publications.

– Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)
Publications Request
Washington, DC 20207
The CPSC offers guidelines for product safety requirements.

– U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
12th Street and Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20250
The USDA offers publications on selling to the USDA.
Publications and programs on entrepreneurship are also available
through county extension offices nationwide.

– U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC)
Office of Business Liaison
14th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW
Room 5898C
Washington, DC 20230
DOC’s Business Assistance Center provides listings of
business opportunities available in the federal government. This
service also will refer businesses to different programs and
services in the DOC and other federal agencies.

– U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
Public Health Service
Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration
5600 Fishers Lane
Rockville, MD 20857
Drug Free Workplace Helpline: 1-800-843-4971. Provides
information on Employee Assistance Programs.
National Institute for Drug Abuse Hotline:
1-800-662-4357. Provides information on preventing substance
abuse in the workplace.
The National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information:
1-800-729-6686 toll-free. Provides pamphlets and resource
materials on substance abuse.

– U.S. Department of Labor (DOL)
Employment Standards Administration
200 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20210
The DOL offers publications on compliance with labor laws.

– U.S. Department of Treasury
Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
P.O. Box 25866
Richmond, VA 23260
1-800-424-3676
The IRS offers information on tax requirements for small
businesses.

– U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Small Business Ombudsman
401 M Street, SW (A-149C)
Washington, DC 20460
1-800-368-5888 except DC and VA
703-557-1938 in DC and VA
The EPA offers more than 100 publications designed to help small
businesses understand how they can comply with EPA regulations.

– U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
200 Charles Street, SW
Washington, DC 20402
The FDA offers information on packaging and labeling
requirements for food and food-related products.

For More Information
A librarian can help you locate the specific information you need
in reference books. Most libraries have a variety of directories,
indexes and encyclopedias that cover many business topics. They
also have other resources, such as

– Trade association information
Ask the librarian to show you a directory of trade associations.

Associations provide a valuable network of resources to their
members through publications and services such as newsletters,
conferences and seminars.

– Books
Many guidebooks, textbooks and manuals on small business are
published annually. To find the names of books not in your local
library check “Books In Print”, a directory of books currently
available from publishers.

– Magazine and newspaper articles
Business and professional magazines provide information that is
more current than that found in books and textbooks. There are
a number of indexes to help you find specific articles in
periodicals.

In addition to books and magazines, many libraries offer free
workshops, lend skill-building tapes and have catalogues and
brochures describing continuing education opportunities.

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