Business Planning Tools
- Business Start-Up Basics
- Business Plans
- Financial Planning
- Market Research
- Customer Profiles and Demographics
- Business Consulting
- Competitor Information
- Industry Analysis
- Local Economic Data
- Trade Associations and Trade Shows
- Michigan Resources
- Sources of Capital
- Tax Forms and Licensing
- For Agricultural Businesses
We’ve tried to make the process simple by providing our “best choices” in the following 14 business planning and research categories. All sites are free and have been researched by the MSU Business Library and/or are recommended by the business counseling team.
If at any time you would like the services of a business counselor, simply contact us by email to find out how you can schedule a confidential appointment with a trained business counselor or call the NLEA at 231-582-6482. Your local Chamber of Commerce is another excellent source of information.
Business Start-Up Basics
Developing your idea into a viable product or service is the first step towards turning your business vision into reality. Whether you want to open a manufacturing facility, restaurant, agricultural business, retail outlet or high-tech firm, basic research can help you advance your idea.
Here are some valuable resources to help you get started:
Michigan Business One-Stop. This online service makes it easier than ever to do business in Michigan.
Readiness Assessment Tool. The Small Business Association (SBA) offers an interactive program that details the nuts and bolts of launching a business, while helping you define what specific assistance you may need.
Business Start-Up Guides
Entrepreneur Guide. The Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth produces another great resource designed to assist entrepreneurs with specific information about each of the different types of business entities that exist under Michigan law.
Entrepreneur Magazine. Entrepreneur magazine offers several guides on the different aspects of starting a business. They are regularly updated and expanded.
A well structured plan is important for success and presentation to potential funders. Excellent resources to help you get started include:
- www.sba.gov/tools/business-plan/1 U.S. Small Business Association Business Plan Template Website
- BPlans.com Hundreds of categorized sample business plans
- SBA's Business Planning Resources U.S. Small Business Association's guide to business plan writing
Local Lenders Serving Our Region
|Bank of Northern Michigan||Bill Marshall||231-487-1765|
|4 Front Credit Union||Dave Leusink||800-638-1182|
|Charlevoix State Bank||Mike Hinkle||231-547-4411|
|Chemical Bank||Jim Bayak||231-348-2694|
|Citizens National Bank||Doug Damm||888-627-1960|
|Fifth Third Bank||Lori Reichard||989-705-7327|
|FirstMerit Bank||Cynthia Lamberson||231-547-3372|
|Huntington National Bank||Dan Spagnuolo||800-480-2001|
|PNC Bank||Joanna Rautio||231-347-1951|
|Straits Area Federal Credit Union||Cindy Harrison||800-337-9598|
|Northern Shores Loan Fund||Tim LaCroix||231-347-6753|
Great Lakes Energy Economic Development Loan Program
Great Lakes Energy Economic Development Loan Program is available to provide low-interest and zero-interest loans to promote economic development through job creation in or near rural areas served by Great Lakes Energy.
Applicants are required to retain the professional economic development loan services of Northern Lakes Economic Alliance (NLEA) at their expense for loan application purposes. To learn more about this program contact the NLEA at 231-582-6482 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Financial projections and worksheets
Financial Projection Templates (SCORE): Numerous Excel templates including balance sheet, profit & loss statement, financial ratio, amoritization schedule, and financial diagnostics
Position and Wage Information
O*net On-Line: US Department of Labor-sponsored resource for occupational information
- SBA FAQ's: The U.S. Small Business Association offers extensive information and articles regarding small business financing. A good place to start is in the site's "Frequently Asked Questions About Business Financing" section.
- Small Business and Self-Employed Tax Center: IRS Small Business Advantage gives you the information you need to stay tax compliant.
- Understanding small business needs and capital access: This report was published by Michigan State University Center for Community and Economic Development.
- Equity Financing and Dilution Calculator: This tool helps entrepreneurs understand the impact of raising money for an early stage venture.
Government Benefits, Grants, and Financial Aid
Benefits.gov can help you identify grants, loans, financial aid, and other benefits from the U.S. government for which you may be eligible and tell you how and where to apply.
When looking for financial assistance, remember that there are differences between grants and loans. You are required to pay back a loan, often with interest. You are not required to pay back a grant, but there are very few grants available to individuals. Most grants are awarded to universities, researchers, cities, states, counties, and non-profit organizations. You can search for these type of grants on Grants.gov.
Grant monies are usually not available for new venture businesses, with a few exceptions of high technology businesses. You may find grant information at your local library or online:
Additional grant information is available on the SBA's website:
- FAQ's. The U.S. Small Business Association offers extensive information and articles regarding small business financing. A good place to start is in the site's "Frequently Asked Questions About Business Financing" section.
- Understanding SBA Loan Programs. American Business Credit has created a webpage designed to educate small businesses on different loan programs available through SBA.
- Equity Financing and Dilution Calculator. This tool helps entrepreneurs understand the impact of raising money for an early stage venture.
- Understanding Small Business Needs and Capital Access Barriers in Northern Lower Michigan. Report published by Michigan State University Center for Community and Economic Development.
- Business Connect Tool Kit. More than $3 billion initiative for Michigan business.
- Small Business and Self-Employed Tax Center: IRS Small Business Advantage gives you the information you need to stay tax compliant.
- Business Taxes for the Self-Employed: The Basics. This is an IRS Webinar for the new and small business owners and the self employeed. It will teach you what you need to know to meet your federal tax obligations.
Back to Top
Market research will help you realize your product’s potential in a given market and it's prospect for success. Additionally, information gathered during this process can help you identify and define marketing opportunities and problems; generate, refine, and evaluate marketing actions; monitor marketing performance; and improve your understanding of your industry as a whole. Useful resources include:
- Michigan Market Maker: Mapping guide to businesses and markets of agricultural products in Michigan
- US Commercial Service: U.S. Commercial Service's industry-specific Market Research Library
- BizJournals: Business & industry news from 40 different markets around the nation
- Canadian Company Capabilities: Searchable database of more than 60,000 Canadian businesses
Customer Profiles and Demographics
When you consider becoming a business owner, assessing customer demographics can make or break your efforts. The key is to target customers who will be most receptive to your product, service, and marketing message by researching characteristics like age, location, income, education and more. Useful tools include:
Northern Lakes Economic Alliance
The Northern Lakes Economic Alliance offers assistance depending on your expertise and background, to help you continue to grow your business. We offer a wide range of trainings and workshops; utilizing the most comprehensive academic and economic development resources available today from our many federal, state and local partners.
Whether you are a new business start-up, or Fortune 500 company seeking to expand, our experienced staff will help you with a wide variety of industry-specific issues, and challenges, then work with you on an on-going basis to identify and prepare for growth opportunities.
Among the many services we offer:
- Business & Management Advice
- Financial Assistance
- Financial Analysis
- Marketing Assistance
- Strategy Development & Implementation
- Leadership & Employee Performance
To register for one of our trainings or workshops; or schedule a FREE confidential business consultation appointment with one of our staff, please contact the NLEA by email or at (231) 582-6482. (To receive consultation, you must currently own a business or have owned/operated a business previously.)
"The ongoing relationship with our NLEA business counselor has been tremendous in our understanding of available resources and the accountability to examine, with due diligence, every decision that impacts cash flow". Sari King, Green Plate Catering
Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE)
SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) is a great source of free and confidential small business advice to help you build your business—from idea, to start-up, to success.
SCORE is composed of more than 13,000 volunteer working and retired executives, who counsel businesses from 364 chapter offices throughout the country. They share their wisdom and lessons learned in business with aspiring entrepreneurs helping them start, grow and manage their businesses.
SCORE volunteers hail from every facet of the business community; some have worked at large corporations; while others have served in our military or worked for the local or federal government; and even more, spending years cultivating their own small businesses.
Last year, SCORE stimulated economic growth by helping almost 20,000 entrepreneurs throughout the country launch their businesses. SCORE is a resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Association.
To learn more about SCORE and their FREE counseling services please contact the NLEA by email, or by phone at 231-582-6482; or visit the Tip of the Mitt and Traverse City SCORE Chapter websites:
- Tip of the Mitt Score:
Serving Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Emmet and Otsego Counties
To schedule a confidential appointment, please call 231-347-4150
- Traverse City Score:
Serving the Greater Traverse City Area
To schedule a confidential appointment, please call 888-796-4913 FREE
Identifying and learning about competitors in small communities can be difficult and may require a great deal of primary research (i.e. talking directly to people in the local business community). The secondary sources listed here are a good place to start:
Analyzing key factors relating to your industry is critical. Whether life cycle, history, or financial performance, an in-depth review of trends can help you operate efficiently, react proactively, and maintain healthy levels of production. A good resource to help you get started:
- Economic Census: U.S. Census Bureau's economic profiler of national and local economies
Local Economic Data
Economic data refers to statistical information that describes an actual state of an economy, past or present. Most data covers more than one time period, and is typically collected from specific sectors or industries.
- NLEA: Regional Economic Forecast through 2015, in addition to Northern Michigan employment and population data
- Michigan Labor Market: Michigan employment, wage, detailed industry, and job trends
- County Business Patterns: From the US Census Bureau
- Northwest Michigan Council of Governments (NWMCOG): Northwest Lower Michigan county, township, city, village and school statistics
- Your Economy.org: Detailed business performance from a local to a national perspective
Trade Associations and Trade Shows
Trade associations are organizations founded and funded by businesses. They encourage collaboration and standardization within a specific industry, and often provide members with opportunities to participate in marketing, networking, education, and in some instances, overhead cost-saving programs, as well as political representation through lobbying on the local, state and national levels.
- Gateway to Associations: The Center for Association Leadership's gateway to associations
Trade shows provide the opportunity for buyers and sellers to interact with each other on the same platform. Other benefits can include peer generating new sales leads; enhancing image and visibility in the marketplace; learning about emerging trends and industry developments; peer networking; and recruiting dealers and distributors; just to name a few.
- Trade Show News Network: Online resource for the trade show, exhibition and event industries
Michigan is fast becoming one of today's top contenders in the competitive global marketplace. As a valued partner of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation the NLEA can help you connect at all stages, and at all levels of your business development in Northern Michigan. Excellent resources to help you get started include:
Sources of Capital
There are many ways to fund the launch and growth of your business, and every approach has its own advantages and restrictions. The type of financing that is best for your business is dependent on a number of factors including your company's ownership, business model, financial state, operations, size, stage, industry, geographic reach, and other attributes. The NLEA can assist in directing you to any of the following resources depending on your needs:
- Local Lenders: The NLEA list of regional lenders
- Alternative Lenders: Regional resources for non-traditional funding needs
- Michigan Certified Development Corporation (MCDC): Michigan's #1 SBA lending partner
- USDA: Not just for Agriculture, the USDA provides a variety of funding opportunities
- Grants: Grant monies are usually not available for new venture businesses, with a few exceptions of high technology businesses. You may find grant information at your local library or online:
Tax Forms and Licensing
As a business owner, you need to know your state and federal tax and licensing responsibilities, as complying with these requirements is a necessary aspect of doing business. Resources that can help include: