8 Simple Ways To Redesign Your Space

by Suzanne Cox-Hudson
illustration by Jessica Porter

FA - Redesign your space

As a launching lady, you need a space that’s comfortable, inspiring, and just as fabulous as you are. But what to do if you’re pressed for time or low on cash? As a decorator, trainer, and specialist in the use-what-you’ve-got concept of design, I help people make over their spaces and their businesses. Here are my style tips for changing a room for the better—tonight.

1. Start by clearing the room. This allows you to see the bones of the space. Work with a partner and actively try not to put everything back as it was.

2. Identify natural points of interest. Does the room have a focal point, such as a wall of windows or a fireplace? Then you’ll want to make it the star of the room by orienting furniture toward or around it.

3. Avoid the “junior high dance phenomenon.” Are your sofas and chairs on parallel walls, like nervous boys and girls on opposite sides of the gym at a junior high dance? A more conversational and dynamic placement would be an L-shaped configuration of your seating pieces.

4. Make a color statement on the walls. The most obvious way to do this is to add a fabulous paint color to at least one wall of your space. But you can achieve a similar effect with large art, store-bought drapery panels, or even a large artist’s canvas swathed in paint. (The latter is a great solution for renters not permitted to paint the walls.)

5. Now, bring color into the room. An accent color really should be repeated at least three times in a room before it “sticks,” or has noticeable impact. Gather items of the same color from around your home, or go hunting for them at your nearest decor retailer. Either way, be on the lookout for throw pillows and blankets, small art pieces, pottery, and accessories.

6. Add some light and life to your room. In my training, I learned that many designers view plants as the “lipstick of the room,” and they remove them from their rooms’ “before” photos. When you add large live plants to a room, the space looks fresher and more polished. Also, add a number of lamps to ensure an even distribution of light at all times of the day.

7. Stretch. Most of us have too many small accessories. Look for pieces that can help you add height to your room. Tall floor vases filled with long twigs from outside, drapery or fabric hung from a rod, a single long piece of art work, or multiple art pieces hung in a vertical line can all help to add height to your space.

8. Finally, add something that’s totally you. Bring something into the room that you really love. It could be something from your travels, a splurge you saved for, or a photo of your friends.

Have fun and enjoy your “new” space!

Suzanne Cox-Hudson is a member of the Cleveland Incubator.  Her coaching and training Web site is www.DesignerSuccessSolutions.com and her design business Web site is www.whatalovelyhome.com.

How To Get Health Insurance For Yourself And Your Employees

 

 

 by Tisha Nemeth-Loomis                                         

        

Deira was 34 when she left a management job at a large publishing company to open a jewelry-design studio. “My company offered COBRA for health insurance,” she said. “A year afterward, the coverage expired and I faced the unbearable costs of insurance. My choices were limited: pay a monthly premium of $300 or try Medicaid, a longer process that left me frustrated.” As a single person living in New York, this was a Herculean challenge.

It’s also a problem that all too many women in the U.S. face. In our survey of more than 5,000 Ladies Who Launch members, 46 percent said they were reluctant to leave their full-time jobs because it would jeopardize their health coverage. So is this why more women aren’t launching their dream careers? If so, we want to help change that: Below are several insurance options for you to consider.

Saying Goodbye to Corporate America

If you’re launching a small business and have left your corporate job, you may have COBRA, continuing health coverage for former employees. If so, you have 60 days after leaving your job to decide whether to take on COBRA coverage. You’ll then have 45 days after opting for coverage to pay the initial premium to keep your insurance going for up to a year.

You can also maintain your prescription medication coverage. National groups such as Partnership for Prescription Assistance help women find prescription-medication and other patient-assistance programs.

Squeeze the Government Agencies

When your coverage stops, sometimes the immediate route to relief is taking what you can from state agencies. If you have children, you can opt for Medicaid, which will cover you and your family. If you’re single without children, the Health Insurance Flexibility and Accountability initiative uses Medicaid to cover uninsured adults. Kaiser Permanente has a Web site that describes the process. If you’re chronically ill or temporarily disabled, SSI (Supplemental Security Income) is another federal program that provides some income for basic food and housing, contingent upon your financial status and if you qualify.

Private Insurance Options for Those Going Solo

Based on your location, age, and health conditions, you may be eligible for health insurance for under $100 if you’re opting for individual coverage. One carrier offering this is Humana. There are also newer options for those in their 20s and 30s. Blue Cross has a new health plan, Simply Blue, especially for 20- to 30-year-olds. If you want coverage that fits your wallet, Aetna offers plans with a monthly rate just under $100, and provides for free gynecology exams to women (but it does not offer maternity coverage). State Farm Insurance has comprehensive choices for individual medical coverage, short-term medical, and students. The Freelancers Union is also a great place to explore insurance options.

Join a Small Group

Small group health insurance plans will cover anywhere from two to 50 employees. According to the America’s Health Insurance Plans 2006 survey, 80 percent of small groups polled had 10 or fewer employees in their health insurance plans, and the average monthly premiums for individuals was $330. Firms with 26-50 employees paid $287 a month for single premiums, according to MarketWatch.com. Try companies that specialize in very small groups, like Blue Cross Blue Shield, or investigate money-saving insurance options at Ehealthinsurance.com.

Also, companies such as Blue Cross Blue Shield are providing qualified minority-owned and women-owned businesses and small and small disadvantaged businesses with the opportunity to conduct business nationally with BCBSA and with its participating Blue Cross Blue Shield companies, making it easier for women-owned businesses to get help with health insurance.

Beware the Fine Print

If you’re thinking about starting a family, carefully consider group plans vs. individual plans. Maternity insurance benefits can be cut out of individual plans to keep costs lower, making a group plan a better choice if you’re ready to have a baby. If you opt to have an insurance agent to help you navigate your initial choices, it doesn’t come for free–their services will add on an additional cost.
Even if you have traditional insurance, you’re still responsible for paying out-of-pocket co-payments for each office visit you make. “I had the biggest nightmare over health insurance, even though I was covered,” explains one 30-year-old Ladies Who Launch member in Chicago who chose to remain anonymous. “During 2006 I was diagnosed with a chronic ulcer, severe migraines, and pulmonary problems after my divorce. Since I required specialty physicians for my serious health conditions, the COBRA coverage I had from my ex-job did not cover the high-end doctors I needed for more specific care. I didn’t realize my insurance only covered 70 percent of my costs. Tests I had, such as CT scans, blood tests, and MRIs, left me with payments as high as $3,000.”

Future Push Toward Wellness

One advancement at today’s health-insurance companies that benefits women is the preventative care initiative. “Women’s wellness is a huge issue that is covered in full,” says Linda Krupta, a health-insurance specialist at Master Benefits. “A big push in the insurance industry requires patients to complete health assessment/risk forms, giving a comprehensive profile of that patient’s individual needs. A health coach then contacts the patient and provides free health resources and advice.” This service is offered by the likes of Aetna, Blue Cross Blue Shield, United Healthcare, and Humana. One caveat: You’ll have a slightly higher deductible for these specialized services.

Another Option: Health Savings Accounts

Today, health savings accounts are becoming a trend for owners of small businesses. An HSA is a new form of health coverage pairing a high-deductible health plan with a tax-free savings account for medical expenses. They’re designed to reduce health-care insurance costs for both employers and employees. These tax-exempt accounts are used to pay for medical expenses and may reduce your small business health insurance costs. It will also give your employees tax breaks. To start, you must have a high-deductible health insurance plan. In 2007 the minimum deduction for individuals was $1,100; for families, $2,200. That means that you or your employees would have to pay $1,100 out of pocket for health-care expenses ranging from doctors’ visits to prescriptions before you are reimbursed by the insurance company.

In 2007, employers, workers, and their families were able to contribute up to $2,850 for individual health savings accounts, or $5,650 for family accounts. Contributions and withdrawals are tax-free, and individuals can claim tax deductions on their 1040 forms–this means employees don’t need to itemize to get tax breaks. Employer contributions are tax-deductible as well. These HSAs benefit healthy employees who do not often see doctors. You or your employees can opt to have health insurance that specifically covers certain diseases or illnesses, accidents, dental, and vision care. For more info, visit HSAdeposits.com or check out the Small Business Guide to HSAs.

Shop Around for Deals

Comparison shopping for different providers can reduce your small business health insurance costs. Searching the Internet is a good start, and remember that you can always ask other small business owners what they’re using and what they recommend.

Tisha Nemeth-Loomis is an editor and writer based in Chicago.

Make Those Financial Resolutions Happen!

by Galia Gichon

If you want to get your finances off to a good start this year but don’t even know where to begin, here are some pointers to help move you in the right direction. While this list might seem overwhelming, you can pick just one item and make it a priority. If you can conquer one, you are well on your way to financial health.

1) Make your savings automatic. If you think you can’t afford it, start with a small dollar amount, like $25 per month. You won’t even miss it. Making your savings automatic is the key to your success! If you’re already doing this, increase the amount you’re saving by 3 or 4 percent. Put this money in a bank or account where it’s harder to get to. Try ING (www.ingdirect.com)—they have no minimum, no fees, and have one of the highest-paying interest rates for a savings account.

2) Increase your retirement savings by 3 percent. You will barely feel it at first, and soon not at all. On a $50,000 salary, 3 percent more will save you an additional $1,500 each year. And that number will increase if you work for a company that offers matching funds.

3) Invest in real estate. If you’re renting, make buying a home a priority. Even if it seems far away, put together a savings plan for a down payment. Say you want to buy a home for $250,000 and you need $50,000 down (20 percent). You may already have $25,000 saved and need another $25,000. If you can find $1,000 a month to save (automatically!), you should have your home in a year and a half. If you already own a home, pay extra on your mortgage. Making one extra payment a year can shorten a 30-year mortgage by 10 years! Why do all this? Because owning real estate is one of the best ways to become financially healthy.

4) No more credit cards! Stop using credit and debit cards—period! For my clients with debt, this is the easiest and best way toward becoming debt-free. If you don’t have the cash, don’t buy it. It’s as simple as that.

5) Self-employed? Make sure you have disability insurance. It is one of the most important decisions you can make. One in five people has a chance of becoming disabled. If you get hurt, no one is looking out for you. Check out www.workingtoday.org for a great disability policy.

6) Check up on your mutual funds. With everything that’s going on in the mutual fund industry today, a checkup on your funds is essential. Look them up on www.morningstar.com. How have your funds performed compared to similar funds? If worse, then do some further research and reassess your fund choices.

7) Diversify, diversify, diversify. If you want your money in 20 years or more (i.e. retirement), spread out your investments among Large-Cap, Small-Cap, Growth, Value, International, and Bonds. For shorter-term goals, make sure you aren’t taking on too much risk.

8) Saving for college. If you haven’t already, set up a 529 fund, which offers tax-free benefits, to help save more money for your child’s college education. For more information about your state’s fund, visit www.savingforcollege.com.

9) Do you have a will? I keep mentioning this to clients. If you have any savings or investments or any material possessions you would like to pass on, you need a will. To save some money, buy a will kit at www.nolo.com or Staples.

10) Take a class. Get that extra help you need. Take a class to learn more about your finances. In addition to the practical information, you’ll feel motivated by the other people in the room wanting to take charge of their finances as well.

Galia Gichon is a member of the New York City Incubator and runs Down-to-Earth Finance

Three Brand Traps: Have You Been Caught?

by Sandra Sellani
Do you want your brand to be more recognizable, memorable, and profitable? Before you change your strategy, first determine if you have fallen into one of these three common brand traps. If you have, you may be unknowingly weakening your brand.

Brand Trap #1: Failing to understand what sets you apart from the competition. When I ask business leaders about their strongest point of competitive differentiation (the single feature that sets their company apart from its competitors), they often rattle off a list of items that are not differentiators. “We have the best-quality products.” “We have excellent customer service.” “We have integrity.” These are all admirable traits, but they are not differentiators. Consumers expect these items from us at a minimum, and the competition makes the same claims. If we focus on non-differentiators, we’ll look just like everyone else in our industry and be headed straight for “no brand’s land.”
What is a true differentiator? It is a real or perceived quality that is valuable to your clients and difficult for your competitors to imitate, like:
• A real estate agency with a proprietary marketing system guaranteed to sell your home in 30 days or less
• A car that ranks #1 in safety tests for 10 consecutive years
• A face cream that makes you look 10 years younger or your money back
Other examples of differentiators: an innovative product or service, exclusive technology, patents, company culture, endorsements by a celebrity spokesperson, unique experiences associated with your brand, or anything else that the consumer perceives to be yours and yours alone.
State your differentiation in one word or a short phrase. This will force you to simplify your core message (i.e., BMW’s “The Ultimate Driving Machine” or Volvo’s “safety” concept). If you don’t know your differentiator, find it. Ask your clients why they have chosen you over the competition. If they’re buying from you, there’s a reason. You are often too close to the business to recognize it.
A real estate company’s client survey revealed that 95 percent of clients chose the company because of the relationship they had formed with an individual sales agent. This helped the company modify its strategy to treat the salespeople as clients, and give them the tools they needed to attract more customers. By focusing on helping salespeople become successful, the company attracted a much larger sales force, which ultimately attracted more clients.

Brand Trap #2: Trying to sell too many differentiators. Many companies promote themselves with so many features and benefits, they miss trap #1 and step into trap #2—selling too many differentiators. Because consumers can be exposed to as many as 2,000 advertisements per day through radio, TV, print, Web, billboard, and other media, they need a single and relevant point to grasp. Too many messages confuse people, and confused people don’t buy.
Do you remember the late Johnnie Cochran representing O.J. Simpson in his murder trial? Poised before a weary jury that was overwhelmed with volumes of DNA evidence, Cochran regularly repeated the simple rhyme heard round the world, “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” His simple message stayed with the jurors, who ultimately set Simpson free despite significant evidence against him. After the trial, jurors repeated the line to reporters, stating that it was a strong influence on their decision for acquittal. And today, 13 years later, we still remember that single, powerful statement.
Branding is no different. Consumers are influenced by simplicity and repetition of a single relevant concept, like the Domino’s “Thirty minutes or less” tagline or Disneyland’s “Happiest Place on Earth.” These companies may have other differentiators, but by focusing on one, they transform their products and services into memorable brands.

Brand Trap #3: Competing on price only. A strategy to sell with a “low price” versus a differentiation model can be a valid one. Wal-Mart (with its “Low Prices Always” message) is a clear winner in this arena. But I don’t recommend this strategy. You will need to make up for low profit margins with high volume and impeccable operational efficiencies. There can only be one low-price leader. If you don’t think you can be a winner, don’t play the low-price game.

Relevance, Simplicity, and Repetition Build Brands

A business leader must work with her marketing department or agency to simplify the brand down to its most basic, compelling element. What is that one concept you can own that will set you apart? What is the word or phrase that will influence people and stay in their minds for many years to come? Define your difference. Live it. Leverage it. Repeat the concept in your brochures, Web site, press releases, sales presentations, and all points of consumer contact. If you focus on relevance, simplicity, and repetition of your differentiator, you will be rewarded with a powerful, inimitable, and enduring brand.

Sandra Sellani is a member of the Orange County, CA, Incubator, founder of the Sellani Group, and author of What’s Your BQ (Brand Quotient).

Start-Up 411: Your 10-Point Checklist

FA - 411 start up

Okay, so you’ve decided you’re ready to start your business. Now what? Here’s a 10-point checklist to ensure you’re set up for maximum success…

1. Spend as much time as you possibly can dreaming about what you want your business and life to look like five years from now. Then, write it down! The clearer your vision, the more likely it’ll happen. And don’t hold back: If your dream is to sell your company for $20 million in five years, don’t be shy, go ahead and say it. If you get writer’s block, then draw your vision.

2. Pick a name for your business that is catchy and reflects your future vision. But beware! You might love your boyfriend today, but don’t name your company after him. You’ll be bumming if you own Jesse’s Girl shoe store when Jesse’s long gone.

3. Find a lawyer to help you choose the right entity for your business and get incorporated. Unless your business is a hobby, sole proprietorship is not the way to go, as it means you’re personally on the hook for all the liabilities of your company.

4. Line up a bookkeeper, CPA, or financial coach who will help you develop a financial record-keeping system that you can maintain. Monitoring your bank balance based on the ATM receipts from the cash machine may be okay for you personally, but your business needs a real-deal accounting system. I tried to cheap out on this when I started my business, and it bit me in the butt a few years later when I got audited. Ouch. Don’t make this mistake.

5. Get professional photos taken to use in your print and online marketing campaigns. Make sure to have a great hair and makeup artist do you up for the photos too. Why? Have you ever seen marketing materials from a successful company containing photos of women with bad-hair and shiny-forehead issues? Me neither.

6. Get business cards made up that sell you and your service and don’t just list your contact information. White space is wasted space. And think ahead about what you’re projecting with your e-mail address. Does AlexisMNeely2845@aol.com make you trust me? Yourname@yourbusinessname.com is far more professional.

7. Either hire a copywriter or write your own core copy for online and print materials. Core copy includes a catchy headline and bullet points describing the benefits of your services or products. Nobody cares that I am Alexis Martin Neely, Personal Family Lawyer Extraordinaire, and a headline that says as much isn’t going to grab much attention. But you might want to know more about me if the headline says something like, Get the Personal Guidance of a Trusted Lawyer So You Can Make the Right Legal Decisions For Your Business and Family Without Spending Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars.

8. Hire a Web designer who can design both your logo and your Web site. Even a blog will do, but you’ve got to make it look good. Your personal blog monitoring your baby’s pooping schedule is not the place to post info about your business. You want a Web site focused solely on your company. Make it easy to navigate and full of useful information. Before the designer gets started, you should have thought about exactly what you want someone to do and feel when they come to your site.

9. Set up a database or CRM (customer relationship management system) for keeping track of your leads, prospects, customers, and referral sources. Then, use it to begin communicating with your list by e-mail at least once a week and by mail at least once a month. Your house list is the most valuable piece of your business; start creating it now and nurture it as if it were your baby. Or, you could take the cheap route by getting a big stack of index cards and a pencil. You choose!

10. Create a 12-month marketing campaign to bring in revenue and prepare some basic expense and revenue projections. Or, you can just wing it, hope, and pray that clients come banging down your door and you don’t spend more than you’ve got. Personally, I’ve done it both ways, and while the outcome may be the same, the planning option sure feels a whole lot better.

Alexis Martin Neely, a member of the Los Angeles Incubator, is a mom, writer, speaker, and the Personal Family Lawyer you love. www.FamilyWealthMatters.com

8 Tips For Setting Up a Home Office

by Kerry Monaghan
photo by Cathie Urushibata

FA - Home office
I used to fantasize about my home office the way other women fantasize about McDreamy or Manolos.

These fantasies took root while I worked in a stressful New York firm. My cubicle walls closed in on me and I began to see the antique maps on the wall. The phone rang off the hook and I could hear the delicate sound of chimes outside the window. Deadlines loomed, my coffee spilled. And I could smell the subtle hint of lavender wafting in my home office.

I eventually quit that job, and with a naïve skip in my step started my career as a freelance writer and nutrition counselor. My original “home office” was a corner of my apartment on a noisy street with a car repair outfit (specializing in jackhammering) on the corner. I sat with a cushion under my tush on a metal folding chair.

Needless to say, this wasn’t an ideal setup. But with the following simple strategies I was soon able to create an elegant and efficient home work space.

Close Your Eyes

Every part of your business should be a reflection of your vision. So take a moment to close your eyes and imagine your dream home office. My dream office has antique maps, chimes in the window, and it smells nice (see earlier fantasy). It also has a Zen board, an uncluttered wooden desk, and bookshelves filled with my favorite titles. It’s a place where I can concentrate, and where my nutrition clients feel warmly welcomed.

Scope Out Your Space

Now, get back to reality. Scope out your house or apartment and figure out where your office will be situated. Keep an open mind, and bring in a friend to look at your living space with fresh eyes. They might see opportunity in a walk-in closet, a corner of your den, or a room in the attic that you hadn’t considered.

Know Your Limitations

Once you pick your work area, assess the pros and cons. If you choose the space that currently serves as your kitchen pantry, a plus is that you have a door to shut, which provides privacy and quiet. However, there may be bad lighting, little space, and no electrical outlets. These are bumps in the road. Pull out your measuring tape and figure out what you have to maximize.

Go on a Recon Mission

The next step is to go reconnaissance shopping. Visit a store such as Office Max, Home Depot, Target, or the Container Store. Walk around and look at supplies, ask questions, measure desks and cabinets, and imagine bringing it all home. Don’t buy anything.

Determine Your Organization Scheme

Now that you know what products are available to furnish your office, go back home and reassess your space. Consider:

-Where are the outlets in the room?
-Where will your desk go?
-Where will you place the phone and computer?
-Will you be seeing clients in this space?
-What kind of filing system will you use? (Paper or electronic? Chronological or alphabetical?)
-What items need to be readily accessible, and what should be stored in a cabinet?
-What are your lighting needs?
-Does the room need a fresh coat of paint?

Go Shopping–for Real This Time

Now is the time to make some purchases. Keep it simple—true organization requires a well-thought-out plan, not lots of props. You can always go back and buy more filing folders and blank CDs. For the time being, buy only the supplies and equipment that you need to get started. And save those receipts!

Edit and Revise

Every three to six months, take a moment to look over your home office. Is the phone too far out of reach from where you sit? Have you outgrown your files? Do you always lose a certain key document or phone number? You may need to invest in additional supplies, revamp your filing system, or put the floor lamp closer to your desk. By taking stock like this, you can fix what isn’t working and keep things running smoothly.

Get Inspired

Your home office is a sacred space: It is an embodiment of you and a reflection of how seriously you take your work. So create a space that shows who you are. Surround yourself with items that inspire you—art, music, books, a favorite quote, an hourglass to keep you focused, a photo that makes you smile.

Enjoy the haven that you’ve created, and share your gifts with the world. Happy launching!

Kerry Monaghan is a member of the New York Incubator and a writer/editor.

Business Plan 101: Nailing The Basics

by Diane Tarshis
FA - business plan

There are two primary components to a business plan: the narrative portion (the words), and the financial portion (the numbers). Below is a guide to handling both with aplomb.

The Words

The narrative portion of your business plan should clearly explain your business concept, strategies for achieving your goals, and so on. Specifically, you need to include the following:

1. Business Description
– Describe it simply and clearly
– What is the opportunity? What problem are you solving for paying customers?
– How much do customers currently pay to solve that problem?
– Your business model, i.e., source(s) of revenue

2. Products and/or Services Offered
– What are you selling?
– At what price?
– What are the features and benefits of what you are selling?
– What makes it different and desirable?
– How will products be manufactured or services provided?

3. Market Analysis
– Industry overview—describe the size of your industry and its unique characteristics
– Define your target markets. What is the size of your target market? What is its growth potential?
– Is the market competitive? If not, why not?
– Who are your customers?
– Why will they buy from you?
– How will you reach your customers, i.e., what is your marketing/sales plan?

4. Location
– Where will your business be located? Why this site?
– Do you need to rent space? If so, how much square footage do you need?
– At what cost? Who pays for utilities? Who pays the real-estate taxes?
– Are renovations or a build-out required? If so, who pays?

5. Competition
– Give an overview of the competitive landscape
– What is your competitive advantage?
– Is it defensible, i.e., will your competitors be able to copy you easily?
– List your five closest competitors and describe who they are: their products/services, their strengths and weaknesses, how you will be better than them

6. Management
– Provide bios, qualifications, and experience of you and your team

7. Personnel
– Who will you be hiring and at what pay rate?
– For what positions? Describe the responsibilities
– Who reports to whom?
– What is your staffing/hiring plan, i.e., when will you fill each position?

8. Application and Expected Effect of Investment/Loan
– How much money are you trying to raise?
– What, specifically, will it be used for?

The Numbers

Your numbers need to support your words. Just as important, carefully examine your financials to be sure that you are where you want to be—sales don’t necessarily equal profit, and without making a profit your business won’t survive.

1. Sources and Uses of Funding
A numerical restatement of section 8 as described above. Here you should list all your funding sources and the specific uses for those funds.

2. Capital Equipment List
All the equipment you need to run your business, i.e., the equipment you use to provide your service, manufacture your product, and sell, store, or deliver merchandise. Do not include equipment you sell or equipment you expect to replace frequently (annually or more often).

3. Balance Sheet
Shows the assets, liabilities, and net worth of a business at a specific point in time. Think of it as a snapshot of your finances on a particular day.

4. Breakeven Analysis
The point at which your business will be breaking even, i.e., neither making a profit nor losing money—shown either in dollar sales or unit sales.

5. Projected Income Statement
Also known as a Profit & Loss Statement. Shows a business’ financial state over a period of time, and is typically the basis for your budget(s). Don’t forget to include an explanation of your assumptions. The following are typically included:

– Three-year summary
– Detail by month, year 1
– Detail by quarter, years 2 & 3

6. Cash Flow Projections
Cash is king! These are the most important financial spreadsheets you will create. They show when (and from where) cash will flow in and out of your business over time, and can make the difference between success and failure. They show you not only how much cash your business will need, but when it will be needed. Don’t forget to include an explanation of your assumptions. The following are typically included:

– Detail by month, year 1
– Detail by quarter, years 2 & 3

That’s it! The goal is to write a business plan that tells a coherent story and has the numbers to support that story. Once all of these questions are answered, you can write your executive summary , which is meant to be a very, very short version of your business plan. While the executive summary is typically placed before the full business plan begins, it should be written last. You can’t summarize what you haven’t written, right?

Diane Tarshis is a member of the Chicago Incubator and the founder of Springboard Business Plans, LLC.

Put Your Money Where Your Dream Is

by Annemarie Segaric

You say you want a new career. You say you want to start your own business. You say you’d love to be a freelance writer and travel more. But are you taking real steps to invest in your dream?

Most people who’ve made a career change didn’t have lots of money from which to draw. They simply made the choice to find the money they needed to make the change they always dreamed of making.

To see if you’re willing to do what it takes to lay the financial groundwork for your dream, follow these three steps:

1. Ask yourself the following… “Am I willing to invest what I have in my dream job? Am I willing to change how I currently spend money so that I can have more of it to put toward my transition?” If you answered “no” to these, you may not be ready to move ahead with a career change. Give yourself a break and focus on something else that you feel more ready for at this point. If you answered “yes” to these questions, read on.

2. Write down all of your expenses. Track every dollar you spend to have a clear picture of where your money is really going each month.

3. Prioritize. Look at each expense and ask yourself, “Would I rather have this or a new career?” See what big and small sacrifices you can make. That salon brand shampoo is nice, but would you rather have it or a new career? The deluxe cable TV package is great, but is it worth more to you than a new career? It’s okay if you choose the shampoo or cable channels right now. Just be honest with yourself. But if launching is your priority, then stop spending money on what you could live without and start putting those funds toward the life you’d REALLY like to have.

Annemarie Segaric is a member of the New York City Incubator, a career-change coach, motivational speaker, and the author of the eBook 107 Tips for Changing Your Career While Still Paying the Bills.

How To Work From Home Without Losing Your Mind

by Michele Shapiro
photo by Jessica Porter

FA - Work from home

When I left my windowless office for the last time this past April after six years of booking celebrities for the covers of a prominent women’s magazine, I immediately felt a freedom that I hadn’t experienced since a brief stint as a freelance writer in the early ’90s.

My plan was to launch a business from the confines of my Manhattan apartment that involved matching the stars I’d booked so often for magazine covers and features with appropriate nonprofit organizations and corporate initiatives. After buying a laptop and spending days on the phone with tech support to iron out the kinks, I reveled in spending hours at a time typing memos, proposals, and the occasional book idea while the sun streamed in through a nearby window. For the first time in over a decade, I owned my schedule.

But within days, I noticed a worrisome trend developing: My husband, a lawyer for the city, started asking me to run errands for him. Could I bring his trousers to the tailor, his shoes to the cobbler, his camera to the shop to be repaired? In his eyes, my being home meant that I was on call 24/7 to do all the things he couldn’t. In addition, on the days I was backed up with work or simply exhausted after knocking out a 30-page proposal, I was the one expected to make dinner (and empty the dishwasher … and pick my daughter up from her after-school program … and put away the shoes, clothes, and other random items everyone else left lying around the apartment) simply because I had chosen to work from home.

That’s when I realized that a home-based business is both a blessing and a curse. The upsides are plenty: flex-time, better lighting, sweats and slippers in lieu of dry-cleaned office garb, etc. But there are definitely downsides, too. As Christine Comaford-Lynch, CEO and founder of Mighty Ventures  and author of the New York Times bestseller Rules for Renegades: How to Make More Money, Rock Your Career, and Revel In Your Individuality, advises, the secret to successfully working from home is establishing parameters. “It’s key to have boundaries,” she explained. “For instance, at the end of the day, I turn the light off, the phone volume down, and shut the door to my home office.” Without those boundaries, you’re likely to become as chained to your desk as you were in the corporate world, and you’ll no doubt fall prey to constant distractions and interruptions.

It’s important to spend some time hammering out your own set of ground rules—from what your office hours will be to who’ll pick up the kids if you’re away on business—so that you can communicate your needs to your inner circle and avoid ugly confrontations down the road.

I learned quickly that one needs these guidelines in order to make work life and home life co-exist peacefully. Below are some suggestions that will help you set ground rules…

1. Create a cozy workspace–and keep it neat! Kimberly Silk of Toronto, who started her own business, BrightSail Strategic Marketing , after she was laid off from her corporate job in March 2001, has thrived in a home-office setting. “The best tip I can offer,” said Silk, “is to carve out a place all your own to be your home office.” She adds that, if possible, the space needs to be entirely yours, not shared or compromised. Silk turned a third bedroom into BrightSail headquarters. “I designed it to be my creative space, with brightly colored walls, good lighting, and a south-facing window. Even when work stresses me out, I love it here.”

Once you’ve established your headquarters, try to keep it neat. “Organize your work space so you’ll be inspired to work, not overwhelmed by junk that can so quickly pile up,” said Britt Michaelian of San Francisco, founder and CEO of Responsible Family Company . Joanna Scaparotti, a Reiki and wellness practitioner  agrees: “A clean office is like a fresh piece of paper waiting for a story. It’s relaxing and full of potential, which is a big motivation.”

2. Dedicate yourself. When launching a business from home, the image you present to prospective clients is critical. Dedicated phone lines and business e-mail addresses can help. “I recommend establishing a separate phone number for your business to keep clients from calling outside of office hours and to limit personal calls during the workday,” said Silk. A dedicated number, whether it’s a land line or a cell, is key to projecting a professional image, as is an e-mail address that’s separate from your personal account. “It’s important for any business to own a domain name that reflects your brand and what you do,” Silk added. “Using the domain name for your e-mail address—even if you don’t have a Web site—makes you appear professional, and it’s a great marketing tool.”

3. Define your hours of operation. What are your office hours? 8 a.m.-4 p.m.? 9 a.m.-6 p.m.? Whatever you decide, try to be at your desk at that time. And when the end of your workday rolls around, stop working. “You have to limit the times you work,” said Lone Schneider of San Francisco, who runs Lolo’s Boudoir   from home. “Make sure you have time to be home and relax with your lover or family.” Schneider, who says that at one point her house became “more a work space than a space for us to come home to relax in and enjoy together,” has learned over time that you need to respect your relationships and your family enough to know when to call it a day.

A tip that’s proven helpful to Courtney Hammons of Nashville, who runs her wedding and event-planning business, A Magical Affair  from home, is to open e-mails at two set times every day to avoid getting sidetracked from the task at hand. “I never open e-mails first thing in the morning. Otherwise, I begin to work on and worry about those challenges and don’t necessarily focus on what needs to be done for the day.”

4. To dress up or not to dress up? “I often wear jeans or sweats because to me professionalism is a state of mind,” said Comaford-Lynch. Still, many women surveyed on the Ladies Who Launch Web site think dressing the part of a professional is important. “I shower and get presentable every day,” said Michaelian. “It makes me feel more motivated, and if I need to run out to a meeting, I’m ready.” Even if you don’t have any appointments scheduled, parting with your PJs can give you an edge. “Getting fresh air, walking around the block, or having a lunch date are all important ways to refresh your mind and rid yourself of that isolated feeling,” Schneider said.

5. Brief your loved ones. In 2004 when Sharon Stenger of Westport, CT, cofounded Ourhopeplace.com, a Web site that helps friends cope after miscarriage, friends and family immediately thought, “Oh, you’re home, so you must be free.” She quickly realized that if her business was going to work, she needed to set a few guidelines. “I thought about what I needed to be effective, and then I approached my husband.” Stenger created a family calendar on which she puts all key appointments, and she and her husband review the calendar each week. “Each morning I gently remind him of any meetings or trips I have planned,” she said.

Bari Nan Cohen, a freelance writer based in Park City, UT, agrees that communication is key. “My husband and I debrief each other every morning and evening about the specifics of a given day’s or week’s schedule. We try to be as considerate as possible of each other’s work commitments, and accommodate accordingly,” which can mean having your spouse take junior to his doctor’s appointment or little league game on occasion. But it’s difficult to divide responsibilities and conquer if you don’t speak up.

6. Keep distractions at bay. Whether you work from home or not, life is full of distractions and interruptions. The trick is figuring out how to stay focused despite the circus that surrounds us. “I’m not ashamed to admit that I screen calls,” Cohen said. “I reason that when I was a magazine editor, I had an assistant who answered my phone, and I returned calls at designated times during the day. Now I just have to be my own gatekeeper.” Stenger says she tries to separate herself from the chaos by working on a separate floor from her family. But Gayle Forman, a freelance journalist who lives in a loft in Brooklyn, NY, doesn’t have the luxury of a door that closes. Instead, she relies on self-discipline to carry her through her day. “My work time feels like a gift to me, so as soon as I have a free moment, I totally focus. I often go to work at 8:30 and don’t look up till 2:30 when I have to pick my daughter up at school.”

Rather than hanging a “Do Not Disturb” sign on her home-office door, Comaford-Lynch ties a bright scarf around the knob. “This means I may only be disturbed if someone’s bleeding or there’s a fire,” she said. And what does she recommend for loft dwellers like Forman, who have no doors? “Wear a certain baseball cap or jacket that signifies you’re ‘invisible.’ I’ve tried this, too. It takes a little training, but then you’re home-free.”

7. Give yourself a break. As busy as life gets, don’t forget to relax every once in a while. “Make sure to build regular ‘wellness breaks’ into your day,” said Julia Searle of Indianapolis, who runs Soul Fruit, LLC  The breaks allow you to set aside a little time (i.e., 15 minutes) for yoga, stretching, or reading a chapter in a pleasurable book. “Just set a time limit and make it a routine so you always know that you have [the break] to look forward to tomorrow.”

At times when her focus flounders, life coach Melissa Grossman, CPCC, of Atlanta (www.freshapproachcoach.com), takes what she calls a “focus break.” “I simply step away from whatever I’m working on. Sometimes a 30-minute walk to and from my neighborhood coffee shop makes all the difference. And if that fails, I play a short game of hide-and-seek with the dog. After a little break, I’m usually ready to tackle the task at hand with a newfound energy.”

If a mid-day coffee, late-morning physical, or volunteering for the book fair at your child’s school seem decadent (or impossible, given your workload), remember why you launched in the first place. “One of the main reasons I keep a home office is the flexibility,” said Silk. “I want to be the mom who can help out at school, attend trips, and be there for my son if he needs to come home.” So let go of the guilt and take time every once in a while to truly enjoy what your home office has given you—and your loved ones.

Michele Shapiro is a freelance writer living in New York City.

Organizing Your Start- Up

Professional organizer Sandi Einstein shares some helpful tips for organizing your start-up business.

HAVE A PLAN

Ask yourself the following questions when starting your new venture:

What are my goals with this business?
Make your goals specific, measurable, and realistic. Act on your goals and make them timeable. Commit your goals to paper – in other words, write your goals down. Then tell someone else about your goals.

How important is making money to you? How important is it for you to feel personally fulfilled by this business? Are both goals equally important?
To better understand and sort through these issues, list out all the reasons why you intend to proceed with stating this new venture.

Who is your target audience? Who do you want to sell to? Who do you want to work with?
These questions will help you to start to write your business plan. The business plan will be your guide. As your business evolves, your business plan will change.

SET UP YOUR BUSINESS BEFORE YOU PUT OUT YOUR SHINGLE

Consider the following issues when starting your new venture:

Open a business checking and savings account. Do you need a loan or a line of credit to start your business? If so, how much are you able to afford? Open a business credit card. Use the business credit card only for purchases made for the business.

If you plan to incorporate, hire an attorney. An attorney can write your articles of incorporation, do a name search and register your company name. You will also want to think about trade marks, trade names and service marks. If you are developing products, you will need to find an attorney who is a patent attorney. If you are designing a clothing line, you definitely will need to learn about trade marks and service marks.

Find an accountant to help you with your finances. Your accountant will advise you on running your business legally and efficiently.

Talk to your accountant about a method of invoicing your clients. Do you want to bill your clients / customers or receive payment at the time of service? Or do you want to use merchant services so your clients / customers can pay for your services or products with credit cards.

Create files for tracking your hours and your income. Either use a computer program, such as, Quicken, or use columnar pads to record sales and expenses manually.

You will also want to hire a graphic artist to design your logo, business card, brochure, invoices and promotional materials. If your business warrants a web-site, a graphic artist can help you design and set up the web-site and get the site up and running.

Be professional. Your business card, brochure, web-site, and any materials with your company name on them reflect who you are and what your business is about. Be clear and precise in what your promotional literature conveys.

IS THERE A PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR YOUR LINE OF BUSINESS?

Find out if there are professional associations related to your business. One of the most important things you can do as a business owner is to affiliate yourself with professional associations. You will gain a wealth of knowledge from these organizations, as well as, make connections with other professionals in your field. You also want to build credibility in yourself and what you do.

In addition to professional associations, join networking groups. Networking groups connect you with people outside of your field who may need your services or products. These groups also give you the opportunity to connect with other professionals and learn from their expertise. When you run a solo business, things can become lonely, therefore, it is nice to make connections with other professionals.

SELF-CONFIDENCE

Self-confidence is key to a successful business and a successful business person. Networking can help you gain that self-confidence. At networking groups, you tell people what you do. The more you discuss your business, the easier it becomes to convey and clarify your message.

Practicing what you do can also help you polish your act. Before I started my business, I organized home and business environments for friends and family members. This practice time helped me develop and refine my skills, as well as, gain the confidence needed to organize professionally.

You can also contact the media with press releases. Anytime a story is written about a business, that story gives the business owner and the business credibility. One of my clients refers to me as “a one woman marketing machine.”

I contacted the press to get the word out about my business, a business that was not totally understood when I started. So I had to sell myself and my business to the press in order to let others learn about my business. Remember, you are your best sales person.

KEEP THE BUSINESS SEPARATE FROM YOUR PERSONAL LIFE

If you have a home office, it is sometimes hard to differentiate between personal time and business time. Set clear and definite goals about what hours and what days you will be working. Will you answer the phone twenty-four seven or between nine and five? Do you plan to work seven days a week or four days a week? For example, when I have a consulting appointment set for a Saturday, I take a different day off during the week, usually Friday. Don’t let your business run you. You need to run your business.

If you have clear goals about your time, you will make better choices about how you use your time, both professionally and personally. You cannot replace time. You cannot buy back time. Time is a precious commodity, so use it wisely by making the right choices. Don’t be afraid to say “NO”. Do not over-commit yourself. Successful people are able to say “NO” when “YES” is not an option.

DELEGATE, DELEGATE, DELEGATE

Even though you may be the sole proprietor of your business, it does not mean that you have to do everything. Play upon your strengths to do the things you are good at. Hire others to do the things you are not good at doing or do not like to do. Hire a secretary to do paperwork. Hire a bookkeeper to keep track of your sales, invoices and banking. Hire a professional organizer to help set up your office. Hire a decorator to design your office and order furniture. Delegate responsibilities so you have time to do the things you like to do.

Take care of yourself, get plenty of sleep and stay healthy. Give yourself permission to take a day or afternoon or weekend off just for fun and relaxation.

Sandra M. Einstein is the president of e=mc2 organizing & coaching consultants, inc.
She helps busy individuals organize their time, space, papers, commitments and time.
Her mantra is “efficiency equals managing the chaos & clutter”. Ms. Einstein can be reached at 440.423.1787 or emc2org@aol.com.