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Scheduling in a little down time, both on your calendar and in your budget, will help too.

Scheduling in a little down time, both on your calendar and in your budget, will help too.

Everyone wants to be their own boss, make the rules, stop living under the proverbial “man,” but it can be a scary plunge to take and, quite honestly, not for the weak of heart. Owning your own business requires financial responsibility and risk that many people aren’t willing to take on, but if you are up for the challenge and are going to chase down that elusive American dream then there are a few ways to keep things from coming to a screeching halt before they even start. The transition into the life of owning your own business can be an expensively slow and rocky road, but there are some things you can do put yourself on the right path from the start. Before you venture on this journey, here’s what you need to do prepare for the ride.

1. Payoff all your credit cards. If you can’t pay off the balances on your credit cards now, you certainly won’t be able to once you start your business. You will also find yourself tempted to use those cards to cover the expenses of your business. Use these as your last resort. Paying off those cards now will give you some room to use them later, but relying on them for too many things in the startup process can quickly shut everything down.

2. Find your monthly budget, and then reduce it. You need to keep track of your basic expenses for the month: rent/mortgage, food, insurance, gas and so on. When you do this think about how this will change when you start your small business. Will you save money on gas with a shorter commute? Will you eat out more when you have less time? Once you have a number in front of you that highlights your current expenses, try to make that number smaller. This isn’t anyone’s favorite part, but you will appreciate the savings later. Do you need to run the air conditioning at home, or can you open the windows? Do you need the super fancy touch screen phone? Do “Fruity O’s” really taste that different from the real thing? It’s cutting back on little things that can send money your way from places you never thought about before. Also, it’s smart to make the transition to these saving habits months before you make your move into entrepreneurship to reduce the shock you may experience when you lose those extra 30 channels during hockey season.

3. Fill up that piggy bank. Before you take a single step towards your new business, you need to have a stock pile of money saved up. You should take the cost of your monthly expenses determined earlier, multiply that by six months, and set the bar there. You should have at least six months of your expenses saved up before you begin. With this, you need to make sure that you are realistic about how often you will be cracking into that piggy bank. A lot of people get the “do-it-yourself-bug” when they start their own projects. They think that they will do it all by themselves to save money. Know what you can do, and what you will need others to do. Will you hire an accountant? Will you need a handyman for small changes to your business space? Think about these future expenses when you are saving for your plunge.

4. Understand the benefits that you will lose. One of the biggest changes that small business owners incur is the cost of individual health insurance. Think about how to reduce this cost, for example switching your insurance plan before your next birthday before they can increase the premiums based on age. Look at your retirement plans and understand how your investments will change when you don’t have a 401(k) matching plan to double your contributions. These changes don’t have to be life altering, but they are simple things that, if planned for in advance will remain simple.

5. Don’t get hasty and quit your job. You need to give yourself time to startup your small business, and keeping your source of income can be a huge help during this time. There is a long list of expenses you need to pay before you can even think of opening up your doors, and it’s smart to keep your current job until you have those taken care of.

Entrepreneurs are some of the hardest working, committed individuals in the workforce. It can be the most frustrating and rewarding experience at the same time, but taking the time to plan before you plunge can save you some of that frustration and bring forth more of the rewards. Above all, remember that launching a business is a lot like starting a family. You’re never quite ready and can’t be prepared for absolutely everything that’s about to come your way.

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Location, location, location. It’s the common answer to the question of business success. The community in which your business is located can determine an almost unlimited amount of aspects of your business including the physical structure, your customers, your taxes, your employees and more. So the question is, where is the best location for your business? How do you pick the place that will become the home to both you and your success? That can depend a lot on the specifics of your business and your personal preference, but CNN Money and Fortune came up with a list of the 100 Best Places to Live and Launch Your Business. The list is one thing, but the reasons why these companies made the list can be critical to picking your personal number one. Here is your personal guide through the top five cities and their assets and drawbacks.

1. Bellevue, Washington Bellevue has a healthy mix of both big corporations and small startup businesses that makes it a stable base for any company. The downtown area is busy but not crowded and is scattered with its fair share of parks, with both lake and mountain views. With a population of nearly 112,000 it boasts a growing and talented workforce. The high cost of living can be offset by the lack of corporate income tax and business that take in less than $135,000 in annual taxable revenue can forego the Business and Occupations tax. The high quality healthcare and education in the area makes it an attractive choice for growing families.

2. Georgetown, Texas Much smaller than our Number 1 city, Georgetown has a population of just fewer than 38,000. The smaller town offers relief from the traffic and crowds of Austin while keeping the larger city’s entrepreneurial climate. The tax relief in the state of Texas in general is attractive to business owners, with a lack of both individual and corporate income tax. The city itself has low utility costs and similarly low property taxes and entrepreneurial support is offered through the areas business development efforts. The only downside to the scenic town is the high housing costs as the city continues to grow.

3. Buford, Georgia Located just northeast of Atlanta, the small town of Buford offers a cozy option for business owners, especially those in the industries growing in the area such as healthcare, IT, distribution and trade, and communications. Specific businesses can apply for tax exemptions, tax credits, and even help in acquiring permits or hiring. The community also encourages the collaboration of the many entrepreneurs in the area to network and promote community involvement. The lakeside location offers various water activities such as boating and fishing to the 14,000 residents. The only major downside with the 16-square-mile city is the competition amongst companies in finding quality employees.

4. Marina del Rey, California Coming in at one of the smallest cities on the list, with under 9,000 people, Marina del Rey has a lot to offer business owners besides the many seaside beaches. The haven for entrepreneurs offers tax credits for specific situations and rebate programs aimed to increase the conservation of energy. The small group of residents provides a well-education workforce with over half of the working population having at least an associate’s degree. Marina del Rey does lack in space, being surrounded on three sides by Los Angeles and bordered on the other by the Pacific, so the dense city is being forced to grow upwards rather than outwards.

5. Bethesda, Maryland The positive aspects of Bethesda seem to be nearly endless in terms of entrepreneurial opportunities. The 60,000 residents offer one the highest quality workforces in the country, with over 80% of the population have a bachelor’s degree or higher in terms of education. The city also has an incredibly low crime rate for its size. Bethesda also offers support in both the legal and financial aspects of your business, which can help you navigate the various regulations and rules regarding a business launch. Many firms also find themselves eligible for various tax credits. Bethesda’s main downside lies in the city’s close proximity to D.C., which lends itself to heavy traffic and slow access to the business district.

The top five cities offer a pretty attractive array of options for almost any entrepreneur, but in the case none of them fit your fancy, check out Portland, Denver, Charlotte, Fort Worth, and Franklin, Mass. which round out the top ten on the list. Take a close look at all your options and find the aspects that appeal to you. What’s important is that you find a city that balances both your business and personal needs, because if your choice only satisfies one, you won’t find yourself very successful in either.

PS…the city in the picture is none of the above, but it’s one of our favorites…San Francisco.

KeyboardBy: Josh Anish, Senior Writer at Kabbage, where small businesses get funding quickly

Owning and operating a small business has never been easy and finding creative ways to market your business and its products only adds to your growing list of things to do. The ever-increasing importance of search engines and social platforms has forced small business owners to blend traditional web marketing strategies with more innovative techniques.

Here are some tips from the experts at Kabbage about marketing your small business on the web.

Hire someone smart to optimize your websites for search engines

In the past, small business owners depended on word of mouth or a print copy of the Yellow Pages to attract potential new customers, but Google and Bing are quickly becoming the go-to way for consumers to find local businesses. According to a 2011 Burke survey, 76 percent of respondents used search engines in the past year to find a local businesses; earning a spot on the first page for your company’s website can result in substantial increases in traffic. Full-service SEO isn’t a difficult undertaking for those who understand what they’re doing, so if you don’t know anything about optimizing your website for search engines, invest in someone who does and the new business might come faster than you expect.

Make content your top priority

The notion has grown so common it has become cliché but content truly is king when it comes to effectively marketing your business on the web. Not only does excellent content have residual SEO benefit, but it will also help potential online customers feel engaged and informed; this sense of empowerment can lead to readers sharing your articles on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. This content should include everything from clever tag lines for your services to in-depth information about what you are offering and why potential customers need it. Maintaining an active and informative blog may be the most important piece of this. Blogs can have SEO benefits, they can help customers learn something, and if you actively engage with customers who have questions, they can be a great way for customers to feel as if they are receiving the personal attention every consumer desires.

Make good use of the free online business directories

This may seem like a no-brainer but it is an important marketing step nonetheless. Directories like Yelp, Yellowpages.com, Yahoo! Local and Google Local Business Center are just a few of the online business directories that inquiring consumers use to find the products they need. A 2010 consumer tracking study from BIA/Kelsey reported that nearly 97 percent of consumers use online media to search for local businesses and products and you better believe these business directories are a big portion of that online media. This doesn’t mean you should start eliciting phony reviews to pump up the reputation of your business, but if you list your business and provide excellent customer service, your online reputation will build itself. If that isn’t enough to convince you, consider the fact that you have nothing to lose. These directories get tons of traffic every day and they are free to join, so even if the directories only result in one or two new customers per month, you are still getting a great return on your investment.

Use in-depth analytics to understand your customers, Internet users, and competitors better

Data on the performance of your website, the return of investment on your blogging and social media efforts, and the success of your SEO investment will help you eliminate inefficiency in your business if you use them correctly. Most small business owners are so busy juggling tasks they can often find themselves investing in something that isn’t really affecting traffic, sales, and customer conversion. Analytics will give small business owners detailed insight into the effectiveness of their marketing efforts and can be easy to use if you are willing to spend the time to learn how to use the available analytics tools. Limited budgets and bandwidth mean that small business owners can’t afford to prioritize poorly and the best way to ensure they are prioritizing effectively is to follow their marketing tactics closely with a combination of web and marketing analytics. We recommend first getting acquainted with a Google Analytics account and moving on from there, if need be, to track revenue numbers. Google Analytics is famously awesome at reporting your traffic data, and infamously bad at tracking revenue.

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