Online Business Planning Tools Researched and Recommended - Part 1

The internet is a blessing and a curse when it comes to research. The blessing obviously is all the great info out there. The bad news is how does anyone sort through all the items to focus on what can help.

A simple search will provide an abundance of tools available on-line for starting and operating a business.  The following compilation was created by a team of professionals who sifted through all the tools to provide the “best choices” in the following business planning and research categories. All sites are free and have been researched by the MSU Business Library and/or are recommended and used by the Michigan Small Business and Technology Development Center (MI-SBTDC), a business counseling team.

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. 

The Northern Lakes Economic Alliance (NLEA) offers several tools to aid in the financial planning process:

Market Research  
Market research will help you realize your product’s potential in a given market and its 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 lifecycle, 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

To utilize these on-line resources visit the "Business Tools" page on theNorthern Lakes Economic Alliance website.

MSU Extension has had a unique partnership relationship with the regional economic development organization Northern Lakes Economic Alliance for more than 20 years. Recognizing the strength of combining resources, this partnership focuses on economic development, entrepreneurship growth and community infrastructure throughout a four-county region in the northwest Lower Peninsula, specifically Antrim, Charlevoix, Cheboygan and Emmet counties. As a result, NLEA utilizes resources offered through MSU Extension and the NLEA provides leadership to state-wide programs sponsored by MSU Extension.

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