StumbleUpon recently published an excellent business plan guide; also consider reviewing startup information provided by the IRS. Help from experienced mentors is free through organizations such as SCORE, an organization of volunteer business mentors who provide specific advice and resources to newly created and growing businesses on a no-cost basis. There are many other organizations, such as your local chamber of commerce, that can also provide mentoring and guidance.
Trade Secrets. Trade secrets can be a great asset for startups. They are cost effective and last for as long as the trade secret maintains its confidential status and derives value through its secrecy. A trade secret right allows the owner of the right to take action against anyone who breaches an agreement or confidential relationship, or who steals or uses other improper means to obtain secret information. Trade secrets can range from computer programs to customer lists to the formula for Coca-Cola.
To get a good estimate of costs, the first thing we recommend doing is asking the franchisor for their Franchise Disclosure Document (FDD) early on in the process. It’s a good idea to have an accountant and lawyer review the FDD with you before you sign any paperwork or hand over any money. A franchisor is legally required to give you the FDD at least 14 days before you buy a franchise.
Most people spent *some* amount of money, even if it was just the cost of a $50 business license or a $10 domain name. But far more important than money was the investment of sweat equity -- taking the time to make something meaningful. Brett Kelly wrote Evernote Essentials, a guide to the free Evernote software. His initial goal was that it would make $10,000 over the course of a year. One year later, it had made more than $100,000. Initial startup costs were essentially zero.

*Annual Percentage Rates (APR), loan term and monthly payments are estimated based on analysis of information provided by you, data provided by lenders, and publicly available information. All loan information is presented without warranty, and the estimated APR and other terms are not binding in any way. Lenders provide loans with a range of APRs depending on borrowers' credit and other factors. Keep in mind that only borrowers with excellent credit will qualify for the lowest rate available. Your actual APR will depend on factors like credit score, requested loan amount, loan term, and credit history. All loans are subject to credit review and approval.
Online business lenders are a relatively new option, and they might provide more choice than you can find locally. You might also find it easier to get approved – these lenders are more interested in funding loans and growing than conservative banks and credit unions. Online lenders might also move faster than traditional lenders. That said, they’re not looking to lose money, so the loan still needs to make sense.
The second part of the balance sheet is liabilities. Follow the same steps. List your current bills, all your charges, your home mortgage, auto loans, finance company loans and so on. Subtract your liabilities from your assets. Once you've worked up this sheet, take a good look at your credit rating. There are three common ingredients that all potential lenders look for in a credit rating: stability, income and track record.

If your business will have employees, you will, at minimum, need to purchase workers' compensation and unemployment insurance. You may also need other types of coverage depending on your location and industry, but most small businesses are advised to purchase general liability (GL) insurance, or a business owner's policy. GL covers property damage, bodily injury and personal injury to yourself or a third party.
You can also use assets such as stocks, bonds, and mutual funds to secure a loan as long as they're not part of a qualified plan like an IRA profit-sharing plan. Also, if you are over age 59 and have a lot of money tied up in an IRA, you could use it for part of your financing requirements. Although you'll have to pay taxes on the amount used, not to mention suffer the loss of income from interest, it can be a good financing tool.

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