Providing resources for communities and entrepreneurs to create and retain jobs in Antrim, Charlevoix, Cheboygan & Emmet Counties.

Business Tools

We’ve tried to make the process simple by providing our “best choices” in the following 12 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 Tools Index

Business Plans Competitor Information Michigan Resources
Financial Planning Industry Analysis Sources of Capital
Market Research Local Economic Data Tax Forms and Licensing
Customer Profiles
and Demographics
Trade Associations and
Trade Shows
For Agricultural Businesses


Business Plans

A well structured plan is important for success and presentation to potential funders. Excellent resources to help you get started include:

Financial Planning

Both start-up and existing businesses have a variety of financial needs.  Time spent analyzing what those needs are, and planning how to meet them will contribute greatly to the success of any business.  NLEA offers several tools to aid in the financial planning process:

  • Financial projections and worksheets
  • Tax Forms and Licensing
  • Position and Wage Information
    • O*net On-Line:  US Department of Labor-sponsored resource for occupational information
  • Other Resources
  • Government Benefits, Grants, and Financial Aid 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

Market Research

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:

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: 

Competitor Information

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:

  • Manta:  Nation-wide registry of businesses searchable by industry and location
  • ThomasNet:  Product sourcing and supplier directory 

Industry Analysis

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. 

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.   

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.  

Michigan Resources

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 and Michigan Small Business and Technology Development Center, 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:

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:

For Agricultural Businesses

  • AFSIC:  The United States Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Library
  • ATTRA:  The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service
  • USDA/ERS:  The United States Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service