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|
Trade Associations and
For Agricultural Businesses
A well structured plan is important for success and presentation to potential funders. Excellent resources to help you get started include:
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
- Financial Projection Templates (SCORE): Numerous Excel templates including balance sheet, profit & loss statement, financial ratio, amoritization schedule, and financial diagnostics
- Tax Forms and Licensing
- Position and Wage Information
- O*net On-Line: US Department of Labor-sponsored resource for occupational information
- Other Resources
- 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.
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:
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 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:
- Guide to Starting a Business in Michigan: How-to guide published by the Mi-SBTDC and Michigan Economic Development Corporation
- Michigan One-Stop: The State of Michigan's official on-line directory of business resources
- Michigan Electronic Library: Business resources and job search tools
- The MORE Program: “Fast Track” access to resources required to develop and market new ideas for business
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: