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7 Handmade Business Ideas

Custom clothing

Got a sewing machine, or even just a needle and thread? You can create custom clothing items for customers who want shirts, skirts, dresses or even baby items. Places like JoAnn Fabric and Craft Stores sell everything you need to get started, from the fabrics themselves to sewing equipment and patterns. You can also track down free patterns online for some basic items.

Knitting and crocheting

Handmade scarves, hats and blankets are big sellers in the online marketplace. Wholesale yarn is relatively inexpensive, and depending on how quickly you can knit, you’ll be able to build up your inventory and spend more time marketing your store. Once you’ve mastered the basics of this art, you can move on to designing your own unique, colorful patterns.

Baked goods

If you frequently find yourself whipping up a batch of cookies to stave off boredom, why not get paid for it by opening a bakery? Find desserts that you can replicate perfectly every time, and accept orders online to deliver or ship to local areas. This is a great business to run in your spare time, as you can fill orders during evenings and weekends.

Bags

Handmade bags can be made out of a variety of materials. Using recycled fabrics and other materials from around your home, create bags and purses in different sizes, styles and colors to appeal to a wide customer base.

Jams and preserves

There are few foods that are easier to hand-make and package in large quantities than jam. With access to a steady supply of high-quality fruits and mason jars, you can go into the jam-making business in no time. First, build a repertoire of tried-and-true jam recipes. Then create branded labels and sell your goods online or at local fairs, farmers markets and events. Almanac.com has some tips for making the perfect preserves.

Bath and cleaning products

Hair products, lotions, soaps and cleansers can all be made using natural ingredients you already have in your pantry. Sure, anyone can find a recipe for a sugar scrub or vinegar-based cleaning solution and do it themselves, but if you package and sell them in sets, your customers can have those all-natural products at their fingertips without having to use their own time and resources.

Candles

Handmade candles are fairly easy and inexpensive to make with the right materials. All you need are wax, wicks and scented oils to make unique, fragrant candles right in your kitchen. While you’ll need to keep a close eye on your products as you make them, once you master the art, there’s no limit to the shapes, sizes and scents of candles you can create.

7 Business Ideas for the Pet-Obsessed

Were you one of those kids who always dreamed of working with animals when you grew up? If you never made it to vet school, you can still make a living working with your favorite four-legged friends. If you love your pet but aren’t sure how to turn that passion into a business, here are eight great business ideas for animal lovers.

Want a ready-made business concept that lets you work with dogs on a daily basis? Consider becoming a franchisee of a top-rated pet care company likeCamp Bow Wow, Dogtopia or K-9 Resorts. These doggy boarding facilities allow you oversee the care of dogs while their humans are at work or on vacation. While boarding and daycare make up the bulk of revenues, some franchises let you offer additional services like pet grooming to generate more income. Professional training is provided for franchisees, so your customers can rest assured that they’re leaving their pooches in good hands.

Don’t want to open a brick-and-mortar location, or spend the money to invest in a franchise? Spread the word to friends and neighbors that you’re available to watch their pets in your own home. People often feel more comfortable leaving their pets in the care of an individual rather than placing pets in a boarding facility, so getting referrals shouldn’t be too difficult. Some states require a pet care certification to board animals in your home, so be sure to check and comply with your local ordinances before officially opening for business. Being certified can also put pet owners’ minds at ease about leaving their animals in your care. Visit the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters for more information on turning pet sitting into a career.

Anyone with a love of dogs and a whole lot of patience can work toward becoming a dog trainer. There are currently no official state requirements to work as a trainer, so a basic education can start with reading books on the subject and getting some hands-on practice at local obedience classes with professionals. It’s also possible to apply to become a puppy trainer at a local pet store chain to help build credibility. According to the Animal Humane Society, the job of most professional trainers to teach dog owners how to train their pets, so great people skills are a must. For more information on becoming a trainer and acquiring the necessary skills to work as a professional, visit the Association of Pet Dog Trainers or the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors websites.

Know of some great pet products that aren’t carried by your local pet supply store? Open up your own retail shop and sell high-quality items made by small-scale manufacturers. Many small business owners would be thrilled to offer you a wholesale discount for carrying their products, and your customers would feel good about supporting local businesses.

In larger cities with a lot of pet owners in apartment buildings, dog-walking is a great part-time business opportunity. City dwellers don’t have yards for their dogs to play in, and if they work long and/or irregular hours, they may not always have time to take their energetic pup for his daily walk. In addition to creating a website with information on your business, put up flyers in your building and see if any of your neighbors would be willing to entrust this task to you for a small fee. It’s important to educate yourself on not only the local dog walking market but also proper animal care and handling. Dogtec offers a four-day training workshop to become a certified professional dog walker.

This business idea requires a working knowledge of animal health and anatomy, as well as training and some patience. Unsure of where to start? Gain experience bathing your own pet, then look into an educational program that properly trains you in the basics of dog grooming. From there, you can get some hands-on experience by working for an independent groomer or national pet store chain, until you feel confident enough to go out on your own. For more information on becoming a professional pet groomer, visitpetMD.

The trend of healthy eating and recognizing the ingredients within food doesn’t stop at humans, people are generally more cognizant of what their pets are eating as well. If you’ve been making your own for a long time, capitalize on your talents, otherwise there are recipes for homemade treats online. They don’t require a lot of time or effort to make, and the ingredients for many of them are probably already in your kitchen. Experiment with different recipes and let your dog be the official taste tester. Once you’ve found a winner or two, you can bake them in bulk, package them and sell them online. List the ingredients on your website and packaging so pet owners can feel confident that your product is right for their dogs.

Best Online Business Plans

Successful entrepreneurs know that getting the details down on paper is critical before starting any new venture. For help in the planning stages, many new owners use an online business plan service. Such services provide potential investors with details on how a new business will become profitable. Online business plan software offers the tools and templates needed to create a professional presentation that can be put in front of prospective backers to demonstrate where you want your venture to go and how you plan to get there. The best services provide financial calculators and chart generators to help crunch numbers and illustrate the business’ vision in a quantifiable manner. They also offer a number of additional features such as performance graphs and goal achievement monitors that let business owners track their progress and make necessary changes along the way.

Our sister site, TopTenREVIEWS, does extensive in-depth reviews of online business plan services. Here are the Top 3 recommendations for online business plan services:

#1 LivePlan

LivePlan earned this year’s TopTenREVIEWS Gold Award for simplifying the business plan writing by providing access to the work and materials from any computer with an internet connection. For those launching their first venture, the service guides them through each step. By incorporating teaching into the writing process, LivePlan produces not only an exceptional business plan, but also a more informed entrepreneur.

Document Generation Tools: Chief among the document generation tools offered by LivePlan are the table generators such as sales forecasts, budgets and profit and loss statements. Each part of the LivePlan Financial Plan section contains an easy-to-use table generator for the specific table type desired by the business owner. The service also gives advanced business owners the option of operating in its “Full Financial Mode.”

Guidance Resources: LivePlan walks users through each section of their business plan, giving precise instructions for developing each component. The service divides the writing into chapters, including Executive Summary, Company, Products and Services, Target Market, Strategy and Implementation, Financial Plan and Appendix. Each section contains specific instructions on what needs to be included and examples of what investors and lenders are looking for. Each section also has video tutorials.

#2 BizPlan

BizPlan earns high marks for providing a step-by-step process that’s accessible to users of all skill levels. While new users have resources to learn what they need, business veterans have the tools required to formulate a business plan without unnecessary handholding. A highlight is the service’s overall compatibility with other widely used applications such as Excel and cloud-based document creation and sharing services like Google Docs. Additionally, it integrates with social media sites such as LinkedIn and Twitter.

Document Generation Tools: For beginners, the BizPlan service provides a step-by-step guide to creating a business plan, making the process of building from scratch easy. In addition, BizPlan allows users to share and coproduce their business plan with an unlimited number of partners – even those who many not be central authors on the document but still have important content contributions, such as a lawyer or financial advisor.

Guidance Resources: The entire service is set up to guide users through the process with as little pain as possible. In addition to building the business plan, Bizplan offers investor information to help kick-start the hunt for funding. As users move through the process, each section is clearly labeled and explained in order to remove the ambiguity many entrepreneurs battle when they create their first business plan.

#3 PlanHQ

PlanHQ is well regarded not only for helping users write a business plan, but also assisting in executing it and setting business goals. Through a unique approach of couching almost everything in the context of goal setting, the service helps business owners fully understand exactly what needs to take place in order to start a successful business. The service also enables users to collaborate with business partners, identify demographics and size up the competition.

Document Generation Tools: PlanHQ offers a number of tools, such as financial calculators and chart generators. The service generates all these documents within the context of goal setting. In addition, the documents are dynamic as opposed to static pie charts and graphs.

Guidance Resources:While PlanHQ is excellent at helping users plan and achieve their goals, it doesn’t provide much in the way of actual business advice.

7 Great Small Business Ideas

Event planner

Do you love throwing parties and organizing meetings? Start an event-planning business and turn your passion into a profitable venture. As an event planner, you can help individuals and corporations plan their need to be resourceful and have a keen eye for detail. You will also need the patience to deal with clients’ demands and the ability to stay calm during stressful situations and unforeseen disasters.

Home-based food services

If you love baking or cooking, consider launching a home-based bakery, personal chef or catering business. You can whip up your concoctions for individuals, events, and local businesses and organizations. Not only is it a rewarding opportunity to make money doing what you love, but it’s also a great way to test your culinary chops before investing in a full-fledged brick-and-mortar establishment. Keep in mind that home-based food businesses are heavily regulated, so start by figuring out the rules and regulations in your area.

Errand service

With most people working long hours and juggling personal responsibilities, there’s a lot that gets left undone in the modern household. There’s a growing demand for errand services (picking up dry cleaning, going grocery shopping, etc.), and it only requires having a car and cell phone. Start small, do a good job and word of mouth will spread quickly.

Computer maintenance

Got a tech background? With the proliferation of tablets, smartphones and laptops for every member of the family, there are lots of opportunities to provide private computer services such as anti-virus software installation, desktop cleanups, software downloads and printer hookups.

Virtual assistant

If you’ve got a background in administrative work but want to work for yourself, this might be a perfect opportunity for you. Virtual assistants work remotely and do all the things a business owner or manager doesn’t have time to do, such as open and answer emails, follow up with customers, invoice customers or pay bills. All of these tasks and more can all be done from your own home computer via the cloud.

Bookkeeper

Very few businesses can live without a bookkeeper. But that doesn’t mean they have to have one on staff. If you’ve got a background in finance, you can offer affordable bookkeeping services as an independent contractor. You may have to log a few in-office hours during tax season, but in most cases, the work can be done remotely.

Social media consultant

If using social media comes as naturally to you as breathing, you may have a career as a social media consultant. There’s no doubt that social media offers unprecedented marketing opportunities for businesses, but only if they know how to use it. Offer your services to help existing businesses integrate social media into their marketing plans.

7 Great Online Business Ideas

When you dream of opening your own business, you might envision four white walls and a mess of boxes to unpack in a commercial space. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. With today’s technology, you can start and run a business online, often with little to no cost.

By focusing on your strengths, you’ll be able to build a client roster and get your online-based business started. Here are 7 great ideas you can run with.

Do you know the ins and outs of search engines and have skills in platforms like Google Analytics? The owners of a lot of smaller companies don’t realize how much of an impact search engine optimization (SEO) can have on their business. Educate those business owners on the power of SEO to help transform their websites into a more SEO-friendly property. Use your skills to show business owners how to read and use their analytics data the right way, and how to properly use keywords and structure content to get more traffic.

If you possess a great deal of business experience and knowledge, why not create a business that helps aspiring entrepreneurs find success? You can use your skills to help new business owners get off to a good start and help experienced entrepreneurs keep up with demand. To show off your knowledge and skills and bring in clients, you can also write articles about business on platforms like LinkedIn.

There’s an audience for everything, whether it’s making dollhouse furniture or creating organic dog food. With a specialty e-commerce store, you can reach those customers who are seeking your specific products. All you need is a web-hosting service with an integrated shopping cart feature or with e-commerce software, and your business will be operational in no time. You can even work with vendors to ship products to customers on your behalf, which means you don’t need to own a lot of inventory.

Larger companies can hire an agency or full-time staff member to run their Facebook and Twitter accounts, but small businesses often have to handle their own social media marketing. With so many responsibilities, business owners are often too busy, overwhelmed or undereducated about the importance of social media to spend time developing and implementing a great social media strategy. As a consultant, you can help them determine the best tactics, posting schedules and content for their target audience. As their follower count grows, so will your business.

There’s nothing more off-putting than a poorly designed website, and often, it kills credibility. If you know HTML and have a good eye for design, you can launch a service to create attractive, easy-to-use websites for small businesses. Put your skills to good use for business owners who want to take their online presence to the next level. Build a comprehensive portfolio, and then create your own website to show it off and attract a steady stream of clients.

It’s a tough truth to swallow, but a standout resume and cover letter can make all the difference when you’re applying for a job. While listing career accomplishments might seem like an easy task, the fine art of “humble bragging” eludes some of us. Find work by helping others to get hired with the aid of stellar resumes. Capitalize on the increasingly important social media branding bandwagon and offer to fix LinkedIn profiles as well.

Do you have impeccable organizational skills? What about cleaning skills? Can you quickly and efficiently carry out these tasks? Maybe it’s time to put those skills to good use by becoming an online personal assistant or task manager. Companies like TaskRabbit or Zirtual allow you to sign up for tasks you want to complete — including data research, virtual assistant or running errands — and begin building clientele.

7 Business Ideas Poised for Success

Women’s health platform

Aspiring women entrepreneurs looking to make a difference are now in a better position than ever to launch businesses that help other women. An online store that focuses on women’s health needs, or another platform that connects women with important resources and products, could be a great framework for a successful and meaningful business.

ealth clubs for millennials

Health and fitness services are being rebranded to become trendier and more sociable. Opening a health club or gym targeted specifically to millennials could be a great way to capitalize on the fitness trend, especially if you focus on creating a strong, fun and engaging social media presence to really connect with young members and potential customers.

Kid-friendly apps

Kids are your future customers, so gaining their loyalty now isn’t a bad idea. According to Common Sense Media, three-quarters of kids have access to a mobile device. This spells a big business opportunity for anyone who can create products or design apps just for kids. And, if they also happen to be educational or promote good health, you’ll win their parents over, too.

Health care consulting

As an independent healthcare consultant, you can offer management and data analysis for organizations like hospitals, labs and therapist offices to help implement solutions to improve efficiency and save money. If you have a marketing or economics degree, this is a great opportunity to put it to use.

Freelancing

Companies are increasingly turning to freelance and contract workers to fill the skill gaps in their staff. It’s not hard to imagine that you could build a whole company around providing freelance services of one sort or another. Some freelance gigs pay by the project and others pay hourly, and the rates can vary greatly. But as you gain more experience, your earning potential will soar.

ranslation services

There’s no denying the global marketplace is growing. All that cross-cultural communication is creating an increasing need for translators. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook, the hiring of interpreters and translators is projected to grow by 46 percent by 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. This means it’s a big business opportunity for entrepreneurs who can bring foreign-language speakers together with businesses in need.

Traveling salons

As people live longer, there’s an increasing need for senior services of all sorts, and not all of these needs are related to health care. One lifestyle service with growth potential is a mobile salon that travels to customers’ residences to do their hair and nails As aging baby boomers move into the senior-citizen category, there will be a growing need for these mobile services that help keep them looking good without requiring them to make a trip to the salon.

6 Green Business Ideas for Eco-Minded

Green finance

Money isn’t the only thing that has to be green in the world of finance. Green finance is focused on supporting local, community-level projects, particularly with an emphasis on sustainable, ecologically-friendly agriculture. Green finance is also typically concerned with providing educational opportunities, funding for artistic endeavors, and projects that support local ecology. As opposed to more conventional companies in the world of finance, green finance is preoccupied with the idea of social profit — while monetary profit remains important, the real goal of green finance is to support beneficial projects that provide value to the local community and ecology. Oftentimes, when conventional lenders shy away, green financial institutions can fill the void to help realize a positive project that otherwise would not exist.

Eco-friendly retail

Consumer rewards programs are popular among retailers, and e-commerce site EcoPlum is no exception. With every purchase, customers earn “EcoChipz,” which are redeemable for either rewards or a donation to environmental causes. Each product sold also carries a third-party green certification or an equivalent eco label. In addition to selling sustainably sourced products, EcoPlum produces educational content, such as monthly columns by industry experts, local green business listings, recycling information, eco-tips, and book and video recommendations.

Another retailer selling eco-friendly items is Eco Carmel, a Carmel, California-based home and garden store that serves as a local hub for products, services and advice on green living. Owner Kristi Reimers sells eco-friendly home products ranging from nontoxic paint to cutting boards made from sustainably grown wood. Reimers also uses her knowledge of eco-friendly materials to help local businesses and homeowners find ways to incorporate renewable or recycled resources into their remodeling projects.

Organic catering

A great way for eco-friendly foodies to share their passion for both food and the environment is to start an organic catering company. Cater local events and business luncheons with foods that are made from organic and locally grown ingredients, and offer free-range meats along with vegan, gluten-free and paleo-meal options and you’ll appeal to nature lovers and health and wellness enthusiasts alike. Be sure to keep environmental impact to a minimum by avoiding using plastic and paper goods as much as possible and composting food waste. And if you already own a catering company, switching to organic, eco-friendly foods could be a great way to boost business.

Green app developer

Want to help others help themselves go green? Build an app. From reference guides to activity trackers and games, green-app developers can create apps to help users learn more about going green and guide them toward achieving their sustainable lifestyle goals. Your app can cover green living as a whole or focus on niche areas — such as energy conservation; recycling and upcycling; eco-friendly products, and green living — at home or at work. It can be as simple as an app listing local green businesses, or something complex and interactive that users can enjoy on a day-to-day basis. You can also build educational apps to teach children about going green and help them grow up to be environmentally conscious citizens.

Handmade all-natural/organic products

Soaps, cosmetics and cleaning products are just a few of the household products that can be made using common organic materials. Sure, anyone can find a recipe for a sugar scrub or vinegar-based cleaning solution and do it themselves, but if you package and sell them in sets, your customers can have those all-natural products at their fingertips without having to use their own time and resources. Local markets and events are a good place to sell, or you could start anonline store.

Green waste management

Most homeowners have pickup bins for standard recyclables like paper, glass and plastic, but they often don’t make the effort to properly recycle electronics and batteries, which can be extremely harmful to the environment when left in landfills. Offer to pick up all the e-waste that’s been collecting in their garages — old televisions, broken laptops, defunct cellphones — and bring them to your local electronic recycling facility. Charge per item, by weight or a flat fee plus travel to and from the location.

7 Business Ideas for Food Lovers

 Jams & preserves maker

There are few foods that are easier to hand-make and package in large quantities than jam. With access to a steady supply of high-quality fruits and mason jars, you can go into the jam-making business in no time. First, build a repertoire of tried-and-true jam recipes. Then create branded labels and sell your goods at local fairs, farmers markets and events. You can even start an online business and ship directly to customers.

Bakery

If you frequently find yourself whipping up a batch of cookies to stave off boredom, why not get paid for it by opening a bakery? Pull out grandma’s old recipes (or create your own) and find desserts that you can replicate perfectly every time. Of course, retail space and equipment can cost a small fortune, so if you want to launch your bakery sooner rather than later, accept orders online and deliver or ship to local areas. This is a great business to run in your spare time, as you can fill orders during evenings and weekends. The best part about being in the baked goods business? You’ll never find any shortage of volunteers to help you eat your mistakes.

Grocery delivery

On-the-go working parents barely have time to cook dinner, let alone shop for groceries. If you have a spacious vehicle and some spare time during evenings and weekends, you can help these busy families by making supermarket runs for them. Clients can send you their grocery lists and pay for the items you pick up. Then you can make a profit by charging for time and delivery. Make an effort to compare prices for the best deals, and shop wholesale for common items to save them money. A unique spin on this concept is ingredient delivery, where you deliver the products and recipes needed to prepare specific meals.

Specialty food maker

With an increasing number of Americans living with food allergies and dietary restrictions, the market for vegan and gluten-free specialty items has grown exponentially. In fact, a May 2013 report by Markets and Markets predicts a compound annual growth rate of 10.2 percent for gluten-free products alone. With a little research, you could learn to make these specialty snacks and baked goods to package and sell. Create an online storefront and ship out your goods or sell at local markets.

Food truck

Want to open a restaurant without paying for retail space and tons of kitchen equipment? With a decent set of wheels and a small-scale food prep station, you can. Decreased startup costs, competitive pricing and lower risk of failure are just a few of the reasons why food trucks are a great alternative to brick-and-mortar restaurants. Pick a specific type of food or cuisine you’re familiar with and work on perfecting recipes in that category to sell at your mobile eatery. Focusing on a particular specialty can help you stand out from the competition and aid in your branding efforts.

Restaurant franchise owner

Investing in a franchise is a great way to become a business owner without having to come up with a concept or marketing strategy. With restaurant franchises, the product, brand and audience are already in place. All you need is a good location and some startup money, which is relatively easy to come by: Because a franchise has a proven business model, you’re more likely to get a loan for this low-risk investment.

Personal chef

Another way to tap into the “busy family” market is by offering personal chef services. This business requires you to plan and prepare weekly or daily meals for your clients, so strong cooking skills and a working knowledge of nutrition and special diets (if applicable) are a must. While you don’t necessarily need to have graduated from culinary school, taking a few cooking classes will boost your credibility. If you’ve ever fantasized about working for a celebrity, this might be your ticket in: A lot of high-profile individuals employ personal chefs to maintain a healthy diet with their round-the-clock work schedule.

6 Factors That Keep You from Getting a Small Business Loan

 For many entrepreneurs, a small business loan is an essential way to finance a new business or expand existing operations. However, obtaining funding for your business is no easy task. Here are six barriers that can prevent you from getting the small business loan you need and a few tips on how to avoid these roadblocks.

Credit reports are one tool lenders use to determine a borrower’s credibility. If your credit report shows a lack of past diligence in paying back debts, you might be rejected when applying for a loan.

Paul Steck, former president and CEO of the international franchise restaurant Saladworks, has worked with hundreds of small business franchisees, many of whom have bad personal credit as a result of illness, divorce or other extenuating circumstances.

“Sometimes, very good people, for reasons beyond their control, have credit issues,” Steck said. “And, unfortunately, that’s a real barrier to entry in the world of small business.”

People with bad credit should consider nontraditional financing options — which tend to place less emphasis on credit scores — before giving up on getting a loan.

Cash flow — a measure of how much cash you have on hand to pay back a loan — is usually the first thing lenders look at when gauging the health of your business. Insufficient cash flow is a flaw that most lenders can’t afford to overlook. Therefore, it’s the first thing business owners should consider when determining if they can afford a loan.

“Really thinking through that cash-flow equation is like preventative medicine for your business,” said Jay DesMarteau, head of regional commercial specialty segments for TD Bank. “You can either wait until [your business] gets sick, or you can do things to prevent it from getting sick.”

One of the preventative measures DesMarteau recommends is to calculate cash flow at least quarterly. If business owners take that step, they may be able to optimize their cash flow before approaching potential lenders.

Having a plan and sticking to it is much more attractive than spontaneity in the finance world.

“Banks require that business owners have an organized, detailed and quantitative business plan in order to move forward with the loan process,” said David Goldin, CEO, president and founder of Capify, an alternative small business lender.

However, Goldin noted that it’s common for very small businesses to not have a formal business plan or any plan at all, for that matter. In these situations, he recommends that business owners at least forecast their future earnings before applying for a loan, so lenders will have an idea of your profitability.

You should also be prepared to explain your plan for the money you want to borrow.

“Lenders’ … biggest single complaint is that small business owners aren’t able to articulate very well how they’re going to use the capital that they’re looking for, how they’re going to make repayment and what impact they think [the loan] is going to have,” said Ty Kiisel, who writes about small business for online lender OnDeck.

According to Kiisel, your pitch to lenders doesn’t need to be eloquent, but it must be straightforward. At the bare minimum, loan applicants should be prepared to explain why the want a loan and how they plan to repay it.

When it comes to approaching potential lenders, business owners should have their act together. That means having all the paperwork you’ll need for your loan application on hand.

“One of the things that can be a problem when applying for a loan is if [business owners] don’t have the documentation that the bank will require [such as] back tax returns,” Steck said.

There are plenty of resources that business owners can refer to when putting together their loan applications. The Small Business Administration, for example, provides a highly detailed loan application checklist for borrowers. Using these resources can decrease your likelihood of coming across as disorganized or unprepared.

When it comes to making financial decisions for your business, lenders want to see that you’ve sought guidance from knowledgeable advisers.

“Accountants can be an important source of advice for small business owners. That’s why Bizfi has partnered with theNational Directory of Certified Public Accountants,” says Stephen Sheinbaum, CEO of alternative lender Bizfi. “But there are many other places to find good people to talk to, such as the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), a free mentoring service that is supported by the Small Business Administration.”

According to Sheinbaum, SCORE connects you with retired businesspeople with experience in your market.

“This is important because they will know about the kind of capital that is most important to people within your industry,” said Sheinbaum.

He also recommends that business owners get financial advice from business networking groups and conduct research on the websites of the leading alternative funders, since many have detailed resource sections for small businesses about the many kinds of available capital and the best ways to prepare for funding.

Too many business owners approach lenders with an apathetic attitude, Steck said. In other words, they simply don’t demonstrate why they, rather than someone else, are a good candidate for a loan.

“You have to exude a passion,” said Steck. “I’m going to do this, and I’m going to be the best in the whole wide world. You have to go into it with that sort of mentality, and a lot of [potential borrowers] don’t do that.”

Tips to Start a Photography Business

 Starting your own photography business is a great way to add a second income or a main income, if you work hard. While the photography market is competitive, many photography business owners have been able to find their niche and build a sustainable career. Like most creative endeavors, you need to balance your passion for photography with real business skills in order to be successful.

To build and grow your business, you need both raw talent and a knack for marketing. One photographer we spoke with said an ability “to market yourself” was one of the most important factors in success. You should continually be working to improve your craft and evolving your product, and work consistently on your own branding, online marketing and people skills. Without the two, the results will likely just be an expensive hobby rather than a viable full-time business.

Quality photography equipment is notoriously expensive, so you’ll want to start off with the minimum: Buying a $5,000 lens doesn’t make sense if your business isn’t making money yet. Many professional photographers say to plan on budgeting about $10,000 to start your photography business.

According to professional photographer Austen Diamond, “building slow and smart” will help you stay nimble. Allow the organic growth of your business to fund gear improvements, and avoid debt if possible, he said.

Based on interviews with professional photographers, here is a basic budget for starting your business, not including studio or office space. All prices are yearly estimates or one-time purchases.

  • Two cameras: $1,500 to $2,000 each
  • Multiple lenses: $1,000+ each
  • Two flashes: $700
  • Multiple memory cards: $50+ each
  • Two external drives: $120 each (keep one backup off-site)
  • Computer or laptop with sufficient memory: $2,000
  • Website (Wix, PhotoShelter, SmugMug and/or Squarespace): $60+
  • Lightroom and Photoshop subscription: $120 per year
  • Business licenses: $150 (varies)
  • Insurance: $600 per year (varies)
  • Accounting: $300+ per year (varies)
  • Contracts: Free to $1,000+ (varies)
  • Online proof gallery, such as ShootProof: $120 per year
  • Business cards: $20+

Other things you’ll need to do (that may be free or low-cost):

  • Market your business via social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, to start)
  • Create your business name and logo
  • Research the best business structure (LLC, S corporation or other)
  • Acquire sales tax permit and employer identification number (EIN)
  • Obtain image licensing and usage contracts; Creative Commons offers free services
  • Set up business bank accounts
  • Find a way to manage client contact information and emails (see BND’s list of the best CRM software)
  • Choose a spreadsheets and scheduling solution (Google Docs is free)
  • Find an expense tracker (mileage, expenses, billable time), such as Expensify orBizXpenseTracker
  • Research credit card payment processing, such as Square or PayPal
  • Establish a referral program

Our expert sources offered the following advice for building your personal brand and reputation as a professional photographer.

Your person and gear: If you work with people, you are your brand. Even the little things affect your reputation, and most of your business will come by word-of-mouth referrals. When you go to a shoot, dress appropriately. Iron your shirt. Wash your car. Be organized. Bring your own water and snacks. Charge your electronics. Thank-you and referral gifts should be classy. Being ready shows respect and professionalism.

Being timely: Always arrive to the shoot early, and don’t fail to deliver your product when promised. Print out directions so you don’t get lost. Ensure that your clients understand your production schedule and how long it will be for them to receive their proofs and final product, and stick to your agreements. Answer phone calls and emails in a timely manner.

Online: Anonymity is nearly impossible these days. Many potential clients will be searching for you and your work online. The images you post online should not only be high-quality but also the kind of images you want to be taking to attract the kind of work you want to be doing. Avoid contentious social media posts, and keep your language positive. Keep your LinkedIn profile and contact information on all sites up-to-date.

Many photographers have difficulties with setting their price and determining their value. Certainly, you should never price work to result in lost money or less than minimum wage, but many do. You can research your area to see what your competitors charge, but ultimately, you’ll need to charge what you are worth.

Generally, you’ll want to estimate 3 hours of editing time for every hour of shooting. Some photographers use a gauge of roughly $50 per hour to cover standard costs. Be sure to factor in travel and preparation time. Consider your ongoing costs, such as insurance, gear, accounting services and your website.

Once you start adding up the numbers, you can see why undercutting your competitors may not always be the best strategy and may result in you losing money on a gig. If you cannot seem to make the numbers match, you’ll either have to consider whether you are OK with having an expensive hobby or if you need to branch out into a different, more profitable market.

You should also always require an upfront deposit for high-priced gigs. To avoid credit card stop payments, you should require cash, cashier’s check or bank transfer for paying the deposit.

Managing your clients’ expectations is important to your success. Your clients should know exactly what to expect of you and also what is expected of them. For weddings, timelines and group pictures should be organized in advance. For infant photos, your customers should know what clothes and accessories to bring. If you are taking corporate headshot images, people should know how to dress.

For contracts, your clients should know how much is due in advance and how to pay it. You should set terms on how far in advance you need them to commit so you can schedule. Contracts should be explained carefully, and if applicable, your customers should know how they are allowed to use the images — and that should be in writing as well. While not everyone is comfortable with legalese, your professionalism will help make this necessary part of your business agreement go as smoothly as possible. You can find free contracts online, such as model release, photo licensing, wedding agreements and other common photography contracts, on sites like Less Accounting.

Finding your niche market not only allows you to focus on a specific skill set but also offers the opportunity to find networking prospects in a specific genre. Wedding and infant photographers are abundant. You can still book these types of gigs, but if you can offer something that others do not, you may find more work.

With weddings, you get only one chance to do it right. If you have issues with your camera or memory card and don’t have the proper backup gear, you may miss the whole thing and damage your reputation quickly. If you are not prepared for lighting challenges or the chaos of working with emotional, opinionated family members, you will not produce your best work. Although weddings are usually profitable gigs, many experienced wedding photographers recommend that you start as a second shooter with an established wedding photographer before going solo. Many part-time or freelance photographers are trying to get in the wedding game, but there are other ways to make money while you work on your skills and purchasing the proper gear.

It’s also important to note that the wedding market is seasonal, and business will likely fluctuate in the fall and winter. If you’re getting into this market, be sure to plan ahead and save for the off-season.

Not interested in competing in the oversaturated wedding or baby market? Here are some other avenues you can explore:

Stock photography: You can start your own stock-photo website or sign up as a contributor to popular sites such as Shutterstock or iStock. Pay may be low, but licensing is managed for you, and you can sell in volume.

Contract work: Some photographers have obtained contracts that pay a set monthly amount to cover local events or to be on call. For example, perhaps your local tourism or business development department may pay you monthly to cover local events.

Commercial photography: All businesses need web images these days. You may be able to find work capturing images of their products or services, facilities, and even headshots of their board members and management team.

Real estate: Oftentimes, real estate agents will contract with photographers to capture professional images of homes, business properties and land. They may also want you to capture 360-degree or interactive video footage.

Pets: People certainly love their pets, and some pet owners want professional images of their furry companions, either as portrait-style images or on location with natural movement and action.