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The executive summary is often considered the most important section of a business plan. This section briefly tells your reader where your company is, where you want to take it, and why your business idea will be successful. If you are seeking financing, the executive summary is also your first opportunity to grab a potential investor’s interest.
The executive summary should highlight the strengths of your overall plan and therefore be the last section you write. However, it usually appears first in your business plan document.
What to Include in Your Executive Summary
Below are several key points that your executive summary should include based on the stage of your business.
If You Are an Established Business
If you are an established business, be sure to include the following information:
- The Mission Statement – This explains what your business is all about. It should be between several sentences and a paragraph.
- Company Information – Include a short statement that covers when your business was formed, the names of the founders and their roles, your number of employees, and your business location(s).
- Growth Highlights – Include examples of company growth, such as financial or market highlights (for example, “XYZ Firm increased profit margins and market share year-over-year since its foundation). Graphs and charts can be helpful in this section.
- Your Products/Services — Briefly describe the products or services you provide.
- Financial Information – If you are seeking financing, include any information about your current bank and investors.
- Summarize future plans – Explain where you would like to take your business.
With the exception of the mission statement, all of the information in the executive summary should be covered in a concise fashion and kept to one page. The executive summary is the first part of your business plan many people will see, so each word should count.
If You Are a Startup or New Business
If you are just starting a business, you won’t have as much information as an established company. Instead, focus on your experience and background as well as the decisions that led you to start this particular enterprise.
Demonstrate that you have done thorough market analysis. Include information about a need or gap in your target market, and how your particular solutions can fill it. Convince the reader that you can succeed in your target market, then address your future plans.
Remember, your Executive Summary will be the last thing you write. So the first section of the business plan that you will tackle is the Company Description section.
This section of your business plan provides a high-level review of the different elements of your business. This is akin to an extended elevator pitch and can help readers and potential investors quickly understand the goal of your business and its unique proposition.
What to Include in Your Company Description
- Describe the nature of your business and list the marketplace needs that you are trying to satisfy.
- Explain how your products and services meet these needs.
- List the specific consumers, organizations or businesses that your company serves or will serve.
- Explain the competitive advantages that you believe will make your business a success such as your location, expert personnel, efficient operations, or ability to bring value to your customers.
Next, you’ll need to move on to the Market Analysis section of your plan.
The market analysis section of your business plan should illustrate your industry and market knowledge as well as any of your research findings and conclusions. This section is usually presented after the company description.
What to Include in Your Market Analysis
Industry Description and Outlook – Describe your industry, including its current size and historic growth rate as well as other trends and characteristics (e.g., life cycle stage, projected growth rate). Next, list the major customer groups within your industry.
Information About Your Target Market – Narrow your target market to a manageable size. Many businesses make the mistake of trying to appeal to too many target markets. Research and include the following information about your market:
Distinguishing characteristics – What are the critical needs of your potential customers? Are those needs being met? What are the demographics of the group and where are they located? Are there any seasonal or cyclical purchasing trends that may impact your business?
Size of the primary target market – In addition to the size of your market, what data can you include about the annual purchases your market makes in your industry? What is the forecasted market growth for this group? For more information, see our market research guide for tips and free government resources that can help you build a market profile.
How much market share can you gain? – What is the market share percentage and number of customers you expect to obtain in a defined geographic area? Explain the logic behind your calculation.
Pricing and gross margin targets – Define your pricing structure, gross margin levels, and any discount that you plan to use.
When you include information about any of the market tests or research studies you have completed, be sure to focus only on the results of these tests. Any other details should be included in the appendix.
Competitive Analysis – Your competitive analysis should identify your competition by product line or service and market segment. Assess the following characteristics of the competitive landscape:
- Market share
- Strengths and weaknesses
- How important is your target market to your competitors?
- Are there any barriers that may hinder you as you enter the market?
- What is your window of opportunity to enter the market?
- Are there any indirect or secondary competitors who may impact your success?
- What barriers to market are there (e.g., changing technology, high investment cost, lack of quality personnel)?
Regulatory Restrictions – Include any customer or governmental regulatory requirements affecting your business, and how you’ll comply. Also, cite any operational or cost impact the compliance process will have on your business.
Once you’ve completed this section, you can move on to the Organization & Management section of your business plan.
Organization & Management
Organization and Management follows the Market Analysis. This section should include: your company’s organizational structure, details about the ownership of your company, profiles of your management team, and the qualifications of your board of directors.
Who does what in your business? What is their background and why are you bringing them into the business as board members or employees? What are they responsible for? These may seem like unnecessary questions to answer in a one- or two-person organization, but the people reading your business plan want to know who’s in charge, so tell them. Give a detailed description of each division or department and its function.
This section should include who’s on the board (if you have an advisory board) and how you intend to keep them there. What kind of salary and benefits package do you have for your people? What incentives are you offering? How about promotions? Reassure your reader that the people you have on staff are more than just names on a letterhead.
A simple but effective way to lay out the structure of your company is to create an organizational chart with a narrative description. This will prove that you’re leaving nothing to chance, you’ve thought out exactly who is doing what, and there is someone in charge of every function of your company. Nothing will fall through the cracks, and nothing will be done three or four times over. To a potential investor or employee, that is very important.
This section should also include the legal structure of your business along with the subsequent ownership information it relates to. Have you incorporated your business? If so, is it a C or S corporation? Or perhaps you have formed a partnership with someone. If so, is it a general or limited partnership? Or maybe you are a sole proprietor.
The following important ownership information should be incorporated into your business plan:
- Names of owners
- Percentage ownership
- Extent of involvement with the company
- Forms of ownership (i.e., common stock, preferred stock, general partner, limited partner)
- Outstanding equity equivalents (i.e., options, warrants, convertible debt)
- Common stock (i.e., authorized or issued)
- Management Profiles
- Experts agree that one of the strongest factors for success in any growth company is the ability and track record of its owner/management team, so let your reader know about the key people in your company and their backgrounds. Provide resumes that include the following information:
- Position (include brief position description along with primary duties)
- Primary responsibilities and authority
- Unique experience and skills
- Prior employment
- Special skills
- Past track record
- Industry recognition
- Community involvement
- Number of years with company
- Compensation basis and levels (make sure these are reasonable — not too high or too low)
- Be sure you quantify achievements (e.g. “Managed a sales force of ten people,” “Managed a department of fifteen people,” “Increased revenue by 15 percent in the first six months,” “Expanded the retail outlets at the rate of two each year,” “Improved the customer service as rated by our customers from a 60 percent to a 90 percent rating”)
Also highlight how the people surrounding you complement your own skills. If you’re just starting out, show how each person’s unique experience will contribute to the success of your venture.
Board of Directors’ Qualifications
The major benefit of an unpaid advisory board is that it can provide expertise that your company cannot otherwise afford. A list of well-known, successful business owners/managers can go a long way toward enhancing your company’s credibility and perception of management expertise.
If you have a board of directors, be sure to gather the following information when developing the outline for your business plan:
- Positions on the board
- Extent of involvement with company
- Historical and future contribution to the company’s success
Next, move on to the Service or Product Line section of your plan.
Service or Product Line
Once you’ve completed the Organizational and Management section of your plan, the next part of your business plan is where you describe your service or product, emphasizing the benefits to potential and current customers. Focus on why your particular product will fill a need for your target customers.
What to Include in Your Service or Product Line Section
A Description of Your Product / Service
Include information about the specific benefits of your product or service – from your customers’ perspective. You should also talk about your product or service’s ability to meet consumer needs, any advantages your product has over that of the competition, and the current development stage your product is in (e.g., idea, prototype).
Details about Your Product’s Life Cycle
Be sure to include information about where your product or service is in its life cycle, as well as any factors that may influence its cycle in the future.
If you have any existing, pending, or any anticipated copyright or patent filings, list them here. Also disclose whether any key aspects of a product may be classified as trade secrets. Last, include any information pertaining to existing legal agreements, such as nondisclosure or non-compete agreements.
Research and Development (R&D) Activities
Outline any R&D activities that you are involved in or are planning. What results of future R&D activities do you expect? Be sure to analyze the R&D efforts of not only your own business, but also of others in your industry.
Next, move on to the Marketing & Sales Management section of your plan.
Marketing & Sales
Once you’ve completed the Service or Product Line section of your plan, the next part of your business plan should focus on your marketing and sales management strategy for your business.
Marketing is the process of creating customers, and customers are the lifeblood of your business. In this section, the first thing you want to do is define your marketing strategy. There is no single way to approach a marketing strategy; your strategy should be part of an ongoing business-evaluation process and unique to your company. However, there are common steps you can follow which will help you think through the direction and tactics you would like to use to drive sales and sustain customer loyalty.
An overall marketing strategy should include four different strategies:
- A market penetration strategy.
- A growth strategy. This strategy for building your business might include: an internal strategy such as how to increase your human resources, an acquisition strategy such as buying another business, a franchise strategy for branching out, a horizontal strategy where you would provide the same type of products to different users, or a vertical strategy where you would continue providing the same products but would offer them at different levels of the distribution chain.
- Channels of distribution strategy. Choices for distribution channels could include original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), an internal sales force, distributors, or retailers.
- Communication strategy. How are you going to reach your customers? Usually a combination of the following tactics works the best: promotions, advertising, public relations, personal selling, and printed materials such as brochures, catalogs, flyers, etc.
After you have developed a comprehensive marketing strategy, you can then define your sales strategy. This covers how you plan to actually sell your product.
Your overall sales strategy should include two primary elements:
- A sales force strategy. If you are going to have a sales force, do you plan to use internal or independent representatives? How many salespeople will you recruit for your sales force? What type of recruitment strategies will you use? How will you train your sales force? What about compensation for your sales force?
- Your sales activities. When you are defining your sales strategy, it is important that you break it down into activities. For instance, you need to identify your prospects. Once you have made a list of your prospects, you need to prioritize the contacts, selecting the leads with the highest potential to buy first. Next, identify the number of sales calls you will make over a certain period of time. From there, you need to determine the average number of sales calls you will need to make per sale, the average dollar size per sale, and the average dollar size per vendor.
Next, if you are seeking financing for your business, you’ll need to complete the next part of your plan – Funding Request.
If you are seeking funding for your business venture, use this section to outline your requirements.
Your funding request should include the following information:
- Your current funding requirement
- Any future funding requirements over the next five years
- How you intend to use the funds you receive: Is the funding request for capital expenditures? Working capital? Debt retirement? Acquisitions? Whatever it is, be sure to list it in this section.
- Any strategic financial situational plans for the future, such as: a buyout, being acquired, debt repayment plan, or selling your business. These areas are extremely important to a future creditor, since they will directly impact your ability to repay your loan(s).
When you are outlining your funding requirements, include the amount you want now and the amount you want in the future. Also include the time period that each request will cover, the type of funding you would like to have (e.g., equity, debt), and the terms that you would like to have applied.
To support your funding request you’ll also need to provide historical and prospective financial information.
Once you have completed your funding request, move on to the next part of your plan – Financial Projections.
You should develop the Financial Projections section after you’ve analyzed the market and set clear objectives. That’s when you can allocate resources efficiently. The following is a list of the critical financial statements to include in your business plan packet.
Historical Financial Data
If you own an established business, you will be requested to supply historical data related to your company’s performance. Most creditors request data for the last three to five years, depending on the length of time you have been in business.
The historical financial data to include are your company’s income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements for each year you have been in business (usually for up to three to five years). Often, creditors are also interested in any collateral that you may have that could be used to ensure your loan, regardless of the stage of your business.
Prospective Financial Data
All businesses, whether startup or growing, will be required to supply prospective financial data. Most of the time, creditors will want to see what you expect your company to be able to do within the next five years. Each year’s documents should include forecasted income statements, balance sheets, cash flow statements, and capital expenditure budgets. For the first year, you should supply monthly or quarterly projections. After that, you can stretch it to quarterly and/or yearly projections for years two through five.
Make sure that your projections match your funding requests; creditors will be on the lookout for inconsistencies. It’s much better if you catch mistakes before they do. If you have made assumptions in your projections, be sure to summarize what you have assumed. This way, the reader will not be left guessing.
Finally, include a short analysis of your financial information. Include a ratio and trend analysis for all of your financial statements (both historical and prospective). Since pictures speak louder than words, you may want to add graphs of your trend analysis (especially if they are positive).
Next, you may want to include an Appendix to your plan. This can include items such as your credit history, resumes, letters of reference, and any additional information that a lender may request.
The Appendix should be provided to readers on an as-needed basis. In other words, it should not be included with the main body of your business plan. Your plan is your communication tool; as such, it will be seen by a lot of people. Some of the information in the business section you will not want everyone to see, but specific individuals (such as creditors) may want access to this information to make lending decisions. Therefore, it is important to have the appendix within easy reach.
The appendix would include:
- Credit history (personal & business)
- Resumes of key managers
- Product pictures
- Letters of reference
- Details of market studies
- Relevant magazine articles or book references
- Licenses, permits or patents
- Legal documents
- Copies of leases
- Building permits
- List of business consultants, including attorney and accountant
Any copies of your business plan should be controlled; keep a distribution record. This will allow you to update and maintain your business plan on an as-needed basis. Remember, too, that you should include a private placement disclaimer with your business plan if you plan to use it to raise capital.
How to Make Your Business Plan Stand Out
One of the first steps to business planning is determining your target market and why they would want to buy from you.
For example, is the market you serve the best one for your product or service? Are the benefits of dealing with your business clear and are they aligned with customer needs? If you’re unsure about the answers to any of these questions, take a step back and revisit the foundation of your business plan.
The following tips can help you clarify what your business has to offer, identify the right target market for it and build a niche for yourself.
Be Clear About What You Have to Offer
Ask yourself: Beyond basic products or services, what are you really selling? Consider this example: Your town probably has several restaurants all selling one fundamental product—food. But each is targeted at a different need or clientele.
One might be a drive-thru fast food restaurant, perhaps another sells pizza in a rustic Italian kitchen, and maybe there’s a fine dining seafood restaurant that specializes in wood-grilled fare. All these restaurants sell meals, but they sell them to targeted clientele looking for the unique qualities each has to offer. What they are really selling is a combination of product, value, ambience and brand experience.
When starting a business, be sure to understand what makes your business unique. What needs does your product or service fulfill? What benefits and differentiators will help your business stand out from the crowd?
Don’t Become a Jack of All Trades-Learn to Strategize
It’s important to clearly define what you’re selling. You do not want to become a jack-of-all trades and master of none because this can have a negative impact on business growth. As a smaller business, it’s often a better strategy to divide your products or services into manageable market niches. Small operations can then offer specialized goods and services that are attractive to a specific group of prospective buyers.
Identify Your Niche
Creating a niche for your business is essential to success. Often, business owners can identify a niche based on their own market knowledge, but it can also be helpful to conduct a market survey with potential customers to uncover untapped needs. During your research process, identify the following:
- Which areas your competitors are already well-established
- Which areas are being ignored by your competitors
- Potential opportunities for your business
Choose Your Business Structure
The business structure you choose will have legal and tax implications. Learn about the different types of business structures and find the one best suited for your business.
A sole proprietorship is the most basic type of business to establish. You alone own the company and are responsible for its assets and liabilities. Learn more about the sole proprietor structure.
An LLC is designed to provide the limited liability features of a corporation and the tax efficiencies and operational flexibility of a partnership. Learn more about how LLCs are structured.
People form cooperatives to meet a collective need or to provide a service that benefits all member-owners. Learn more about how cooperatives are structured.
A corporation is more complex and generally suggested for larger, established companies with multiple employees. Learn more about how Corporations are structured.
There are several different types of partnerships, which depend on the nature of the arrangement and partner responsibility for the business. Learn more about how these are structured.
An S corporation is similar to a C corporation but you are taxed only on the personal level. Learn more about how S corporations are structured
Choose & Register Your Business
Choosing and registering your business name is a key step to legally operating your business and potentially obtaining financial aid from the government.
Your business name will frame its identity. There are many factors to choosing your business name. Here are some tips to get started.
After you have selected a name for your business, you will need to register it to comply with the law. Learn more about how to register your business name.
For some businesses, you need to register your business name with state or local government agency. Find out what the requirements are for your state.
Obtain Business Licenses & Permits
To run your business legally, there are certain federal and state licenses and permits you will need to obtain. These resources will help you understand the requirements for your small business.
Certain businesses, like ones that sell alcohol or firearms, require a federal license or permit. Find out which ones impact your business and how you can comply.
Some states have requirements for specific businesses. Find out what business licenses and permits you need in your state.
SBA has a tool to determine which licenses and permits you need to start and run your business.
Learn About Business Law & Regulations
As a small business owner, you are subject to some of the laws and regulations that apply to large corporations. These resources can help you understand which requirements do apply to your business.
Learn the basic rules when it comes to advertising, labeling and marketing your products or services.
Hiring your first employee or building your business team requires you to comply with a special area of law. This guide will help ensure your small business follows employment and labor laws.
Learn about the financial laws that protect businesses, investors and customers and how you can comply.
Learn how intellectual property law can protect your business interests and find out how to register a trademark or service mark, file a patent or copyright your work.
Whether selling on eBay, or operating an e-commerce site, there are several laws that you must comply with such as how and when to collect sales tax. Learn more about laws for online businesses.
Learn how intellectual property law can protect your business interests and find out how to register a trademark or service mark, file a patent or copyright your work.
Laws to protect the environment could impact your small business. Refer to this guide to find out how to comply with environmental laws.
If you are conducting business transactions outside of your state, you need to comply with the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC). Learn more about UCC requirements.
Learn more about a variety of tools, guides and training materials that can help you comply with occupational safety and health laws.
Be sure to understand all laws and regulations about employee eligibility as you prepare to hire employees.
Need help determining which laws your small business must comply with? These resources can help.
Finance Your Business
Improve your odds of business success by understanding your financing needs as well as the options that are available to help you start, manage and grow your business.
Assess the costs associated with starting, managing and growing your business.
Learn how your personal finances can affect your business finances.
Learn about the importance of understanding financial statements for your small business.
Learn how to determine the amount of cash you need to start, operate and expand your business.
Learn how to determine when your business will break even and begin to make a profit.
Learn what you will need before seeking out financial assistance for your business.
Learn what the requirements are for businesses seeking SBA financial assistance.
Learn how to better manage your business money with Money Smart, an instructor-led business training curriculum.
Explore Loans, Grants & Funding
You have a variety of options when it comes to financing your small business. Explore your opportunities that range from traditional loans to grants and bonds.
If you’re planning to start a business or expand an existing business, you might need financing help. SBA participates in a number of loan programs designed for business owners who may have trouble qualifying for a traditional bank loan.
To start the process, you should visit a local bank or lending institution that participates in SBA programs. SBA loan applications are structured to meet SBA requirements, so that the loan is eligible for an SBA guarantee. This guarantee represents the portion of the loan that SBA will repay to the lender if you default on your loan payments.
The SBA Loan Application Checklist provides a listing of forms and documents you and your lender will need to create a loan package to submit to SBA.
The following are direct links to information about commonly requested SBA programs:
Starting and Expanding Businesses
Gives 7(a) loans to eligible borrowers for starting, acquiring and expanding a small business. This type of loan is the most basic and the most used within SBA’s business loan programs. Borrowers must apply through a participating lender institution.
Provides growing businesses with long-term, fixed-rate financing for major fixed assets, such as land and buildings.
Offers very small loans to start-up, newly established or growing small business concerns. SBA makes funds available to nonprofit community based lenders which, in turn, make loans to eligible borrowers in amounts up to a maximum of $50,000. Applications are submitted to the local intermediary and all credit decisions are made on the local level.
Provide financial assistance to victims of disasters or to individuals in a declared disaster area. You may be eligible for this type of loan even if you don’t own a business.
Assist small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives and nonprofit organizations as they recover from economic losses resulting from physical disaster or an agricultural production disaster.
Export Assistance Loans
Provide exporters and lenders with a streamlined method of obtaining financing for loans and lines of credit up to $500,000. Lenders use their own credit decision process and loan documentation; exporters get access to their funds faster. SBA provides an expedited eligibility review with a response in less than 24 hours.
Offers loans targeted at businesses that are able to generate export sales but need additional working capital to support these opportunities.
Gives term loans that are designed for businesses that plan to start/continue exporting or those that that have been adversely affected by competition from imports. The proceeds of the loan must enable the borrower to be in a better position to compete.
Veteran and Military Community Loans
Provides financial assistance for veterans and members of the military community who want to establish or expand small businesses.
Offers funds to eligible small businesses to meet ordinary and necessary operating expenses that could have been met, but are unable to meet, because an essential employee was “called-up” to active duty in their role as a military reservist.
Special Purpose Loans
Help small businesses meet their short-term and cyclical working-capital needs through the SBA umbrella program called CAPLines.
Provides financing to eligible small businesses for the planning, design or installation of a pollution control facility.
CAIP is a program established to assist U.S. companies that are doing business in areas of the country that have been negatively affected by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). To be eligible, a business must reside in a county noted as being negatively affected by NAFTA, based on job losses and the unemployment rate of the county.
Business Loan Application Checklist
SBA is not the only source for small-business loans. State and local economic-development agencies – and numerous nonprofit organizations – provide low-interest loans to small business owners who may not qualify for traditional commercial loans.
When it comes to applying for these loans, the good news is that most of these other lenders require the same kinds of information. Of course, each loan program has specific forms you need to fill out. But for the most part, you’ll need to submit the same types of documentation. So it’s a good idea to gather what you’ll need before you even start the application process.
Here are the typical items required for any small business loan application:
Loan Application Form
Forms vary by program and lending institution, but they all ask for the same information. You should be prepared to answer the following questions. It’s a good idea to have this information prepared before you fill out the application:
- Why are you applying for this loan?
- How will the loan proceeds be used?
- What assets need to be purchased, and who are your suppliers?
- What other business debt do you have, and who are your creditors?
- Who are the members of your management team?
- Personal Background
Either as part of the loan application or as a separate document, you will likely need to provide some personal background information, including previous addresses, names used, criminal record, educational background, etc.
Some lenders require evidence of management or business experience, particularly for loans that can be used to start a new business.
All loan programs require a sound business plan to be submitted with the loan application. The business plan should include a complete set of projected financial statements, including profit and loss, cash flow and balance sheet.
Here are some resources for preparing your business plan:
- Essential Elements of Writing a Good Business Plan
- Templates for Writing a Business Plan
- Personal Credit Report
Your lender will obtain your personal credit report as part of the application process. However, you should obtain a credit report from all three major consumer credit rating agencies before submitting a loan application to the lender. Inaccuracies and blemishes on your credit report can hurt your chances of getting a loan approved. It’s critical you try to clear these up before beginning the application process.
Business Credit Report
If you are already in business, you should be prepared to submit a credit report for your business. As with the personal credit report, it is important to review your business’ credit report before beginning the application process.
Income Tax Returns
Most loan programs require applicants to submit personal and business income tax returns for the previous three years.
Many loan programs require owners with more than a 20 percent stake in your business to submit signed personal financial statements.
You may also be required to provide projected financial statements either as part of, or separate from your business plan. It is a good idea to have these prepared and ready in case a program for which you are applying requires these documents to be submitted individuall.
The following forms may be used to prepare your projected financial statements:
- Balance Sheet
- Income Statement
- Cash Flow
- Bank Statements
Many loan programs require one year of personal and business bank statements to be submitted as part of a loan package.
Accounts Receivable and Accounts Payable
Most loan programs require details of a business’s most current financial position. Before you begin the loan application process, make sure you have accounts receivable and accounts payable.
Collateral requirements vary greatly. Some loan programs do not require collateral. Loans involving higher risk factors for default require substantial collateral. Strong business plans and financial statements can help you avoid putting up collateral. In any case, it is a good idea to prepare a collateral document that describes cost/value of personal or business property that will be used to secure a loan.
Depending on a loan’s specific requirements, your lender may require you to submit one or more legal documents. Make sure you have the following items in order, if applicable:
- Business licenses and registrations required for you to conduct business
- Articles of Incorporation
- Copies of contracts you have with any third parties
- Franchise agreements
- Commercial leases
- Organizing your documents
Keeping good records is essential for running a successful business, but even more critical when applying for a loan. Make sure required documents are orderly and accurate. All information you provide will be verified by your lender and the organization guaranteeing the loan. False or misleading information will result in your loan being denied. Finally, make sure you keep personal copies of all loan packages.
If you plan on applying for an SBA loan, check out the SBA Loan Application Checklist for specific requirements.
Visit the Finance, Money & Taxes Community Forum to get answers to your questions and discuss financing issues with other small business owners and industry experts.
7(a) Loan Application Checklist
Once you have decided to apply for a loan guaranteed by the SBA, you will need to collect the appropriate documents for your application. The SBA does not provide direct loans. The process starts with your local lender, working within SBA guidelines.
Use the checklist below to ensure you have everything the lender will ask for to complete your application. Once your loan package is complete, your lender will submit it to the SBA. Read more about the SBA loan application process.
- SBA Loan Application – To begin the process, you will need to complete an SBA loan application form. Access the most current form here: Application for Business Loan – SBA Form 4.
- Personal Background and Financial Statement – To assess your eligibility, the SBA also requires you complete the following forms:
- Business Financial Statements – To support your application and demonstrate your ability to repay the loan, prepare and include the following financial statements:
- Ownership and Affiliations – Include a list of names and addresses of any subsidiaries and affiliates, including concerns in which you hold a controlling interest and other concerns that may be affiliated by stock ownership, franchise, proposed merger or otherwise with you.
- Business Certificate/License – Your original business license or certificate of doing business. If your business is a corporation, stamp your corporate seal on the SBA loan application form.
- Loan Application History – Include records of any loans you may have applied for in the past.
- Income Tax Returns – Include signed personal and business federal income tax returns of your business’ principals for previous three years.
- Résumés – Include personal résumés for each principal.
- Business Overview and History – Provide a brief history of the business and its challenges. Include an explanation of why the SBA loan is needed and how it will help the business.
- Business Lease – Include a copy of your business lease, or note from your landlord, giving terms of proposed lease.
- If You are Purchasing an Existing Business – The following information is needed for purchasing an existing business:
- Profit and Loss (P&L) Statement – This must be current within 90 days of your application. Also include supplementary schedules from the last three fiscal years.
- Projected Financial Statements – Include a detailed, one-year projection of income and finances and attach a written explanation as to how you expect to achieve this projection.
- Current balance sheet and P&L statement of business to be purchased
- Previous two years federal income tax returns of the business
- Proposed Bill of Sale including Terms of Sale
- Asking price with schedule of inventory, machinery and equipment, furniture and fixtures
If you’ve ever applied for a charge account, a personal loan, insurance, or a job, there’s a file about you. This file contains information on where you work and live, how you pay your bills, and whether you’ve been sued, arrested or filed for bankruptcy.
Companies that gather and sell this information are called Consumer Reporting Agencies (CRAs). The most common type of CRA is the credit bureau. The information CRAs sell about you to creditors, employers, insurers and other businesses is called a consumer report.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act regulates the collection, dissemination and use of consumer credit information. If your business uses credit reports for the following reasons, there are rules and regulations you must follow to ensure privacy of credit information:
- To extend credit to your customers
- As a pre-employment check for potential employers
- Or furnish customer information to credit reporting agencies
The resources below can provide more information on these requirements and how to comply.
Explains how you, as an employer, can use consumer reports when you hire new employees and when you evaluate employees for promotion, reassignment, and retention as long as you comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
Provides guidance for businesses that are reporting consumer credit information to credit reporting agencies, including rules that must be followed under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
Details how insurance providers using consumer credit reports to underwrite insurance policies and to screen high-risk applicants must comply with privacy regulations under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
Offers a fact sheet for landlords using consumer and credit reports to evaluate rental applications.
Covers how businesses should take appropriate measures to dispose of sensitive information derived from consumer reports. This new federal rule was established to help protect the privacy of consumer information and reduce the risk of fraud and identity theft.
Explains the use of personal information, such as credit reports, used in background screening.
Provides education and guidance to help financial companies comply with the Safeguard Rule.
Filing & Paying Taxes
Find out if your business needs to obtain a tax ID and what the benefits and requirements are.
Learn if the activity you are engaging in qualifies as a business or a hobby and what the tax advantages and requirements are for each.
Learn where you can obtain your federal tax ID.
Find out what the federal tax obligations are for your small business.
Each state and locality has its own tax laws for businesses. Find out what the requirements and benefits are for your state.
Knowing when the tax year starts for your small business is important to meeting filing requirements. Learn more about your tax year and when you need to file.
Ask your questions in the SBA community and get advice on starting, growing and managing your business.
Choose Your Location & Equipment
These resources can help ensure your small business is compliant with leasing terms and zoning ordinances. It also provides information about buying or leasing equipment or buying government surplus.
Learn how to find the right location for your small business and what you need to know before you begin your search.
Learn about local zoning ordinances and regulations that may apply to your small business.
Home-based businesses may be required to comply with local zoning laws. Find out which ones apply to your small business.
Find out what to expect when leasing a commercial office space for your small business.
Purchasing surplus goods from the government is an easy and affordable way to equip your new and expanding business. Find out how to acquire government surplus for your small business.
There are several options available when it comes to acquiring equipment you need for your small business. Find out the benefits of buying or leasing equipment.
Hire & Retain Employees
Ready to hire employees for your business? Learn about employment and labor laws to make sure your business is in compliance.
Hire Your First Employee
If your business is booming, but you are struggling to keep up, perhaps it’s time to hire some help.
The eight steps below can help you start the hiring process and ensure you are compliant with key federal and state regulations.
Step 1. Obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN)
Before hiring your first employee, you need to get an employment identification number (EIN) from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. The EIN is often referred to as an Employer Tax ID or as Form SS-4. The EIN is necessary for reporting taxes and other documents to the IRS. In addition, the EIN is necessary when reporting information about your employees to state agencies. Apply for EIN online or contact the IRS at 1-800-829-4933.
Step 2. Set up Records for Withholding Taxes
According to the IRS, you must keep records of employment taxes for at least four years. Keeping good records can also help you monitor the progress of your business, prepare financial statements, identify sources of receipts, keep track of deductible expenses, prepare your tax returns, and support items reported on tax returns.
Below are three types of withholding taxes you need for your business:
- Federal Income Tax Withholding
Every employee must provide an employer with a signed withholding exemption certificate (Form W-4) on or before the date of employment. The employer must then submit Form W-4 to the IRS. For specific information, read the IRS’ Employer’s Tax Guide [PDF].
- Federal Wage and Tax Statement
Every year, employers must report to the federal government wages paid and taxes withheld for each employee. This report is filed using Form W-2, wage and tax statement. Employers must complete a W-2 form for each employee who they pay a salary, wage or other compensation.
Employers must send Copy A of W-2 forms to the Social Security Administration by the last day of February to report wages and taxes of your employees for the previous calendar year. In addition, employers should send copies of W-2 forms to their employees by Jan. 31 of the year following the reporting period. Visit SSA.gov/employer for more information.
- State Taxes
Depending on the state where your employees are located, you may be required to withhold state income taxes. Visit the state and local tax page for more information.
Step 3. Employee Eligibility Verification
Federal law requires employers to verify an employee’s eligibility to work in the United States. Within three days of hire, employers must complete Form I-9, employment eligibility verification, which requires employers to examine documents to confirm the employee’s citizenship or eligibility to work in the U.S. Employers can only request documentation specified on the I-9 form.
Employers do not need to submit the I-9 form with the federal government but are required to keep them on file for three years after the date of hire or one year after the date of the employee’s termination, whichever is later.
Employers can use information taken from the Form I-9 to electronically verify the employment eligibility of newly hired employees by registering with E-Verify.
Visit the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s I-9 website to download the form and find more information.
Step 4. Register with Your State’s New Hire Reporting Program
All employers are required to report newly hired and re-hired employees to a state directory within 20 days of their hire or rehire date. Visit the New Hires Reporting Requirements page to learn more and find links to your state’s New Hire Reporting System.
Step 5. Obtain Workers’ Compensation Insurance
All businesses with employees are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance coverage through a commercial carrier, on a self-insured basis or through their state’s Workers’ Compensation Insurance program.
Step 6. Post Required Notices
Employers are required to display certain posters in the workplace that inform employees of their rights and employer responsibilities under labor laws. Visit the Workplace Posters page for specific federal and state posters you’ll need for your business.
Step 7. File Your Taxes
Generally, employers who pay wages subject to income tax withholding, Social Security and Medicare taxes must file IRS Form 941, Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return. For more information, visit IRS.gov.
New and existing employers should consult the IRS Employer’s Tax Guide to understand all their federal tax filing requirements.
Step 8. Get Organized and Keep Yourself Informed
Being a good employer doesn’t stop with fulfilling your various tax and reporting obligations. Maintaining a healthy and fair workplace, providing benefits and keeping employees informed about your company’s policies are key to your business’ success. Here are some additional steps you should take after you’ve hired your first employee:
Set up Recordkeeping
In addition to requirements for keeping payroll records of your employees for tax purposes, certain federal employment laws also require you to keep records about your employees. The following sites provide more information about federal reporting requirements:
- Tax Recordkeeping Guidance
- Labor Recordkeeping Requirements
- Occupational Safety and Health Act Compliance
- Employment Law Guide (employee benefits chapter)
- Apply Standards that Protect Employee Rights
Complying with standards for employee rights in regards to equal opportunity and fair labor standards is a requirement. Following statutes and regulations for minimum wage, overtime, and child labor will help you avoid error and a lawsuit. See the Department of Labor’s Employment Law Guide for up-to-date information on these statutes and regulations.
Hire a Contractor or an Employee?
Independent contractors and employees are not the same, and it’s important to understand the difference. Knowing this distinction will help you determine what your first hiring move will be and affect how you withhold a variety of taxes and avoid costly legal consequences.
What’s the Difference?
An Independent Contractor:
- Operates under a business name
- Has his/her own employees
- Maintains a separate business checking account
- Advertises his/her business’ services
- Invoices for work completed
- Has more than one client
- Has own tools and sets own hours
- Keeps business records
- Performs duties dictated or controlled by others
- Is given training for work to be done
- Works for only one employer
Many small businesses rely on independent contractors for their staffing needs. There are many benefits to using contractors over hiring employees:
- Savings in labor costs
- Reduced liability
- Flexibility in hiring and firing
Why Does It Matter?
Misclassification of an individual as an independent contractor may have a number of costly legal consequences.
If your independent contractor is discovered to meet the legal definition of an employee, you may be required to:
- Reimburse them for wages you should’ve paid them under the Fair Labor Standards Act, including overtime and minimum wage
- Pay back taxes and penalties for federal and state income taxes, Social Security, Medicare and unemployment
- Pay any misclassified injured employees workers’ compensation benefits
- Provide employee benefits, including health insurance, retirement, etc.
Visit the IRS Independent Contractor or Employee guide to learn about the tax implications of either scenario, download and fill out a form to have the IRS officially determine your workers’ status, and find other related resources.
There is no single test for determining if an individual is an independent contractor or an employee under the Fair Labor Standards Act. However, the following guidelines should be taken into account:
- The extent to which the services rendered are an integral part of the principal’s business
- The permanency of the relationship
- The amount of the alleged contractor’s investment in facilities and equipment
- The nature and degree of control by the principal
- The alleged contractor’s opportunities for profit and loss
- The amount of initiative, judgment, or foresight in open market competition with others that is required for the success of the claimed independent contractor
- The degree of independent business organization and operation
Whether a person is an independent contractor or an employee generally depends on the amount of control exercised by the employer over the work being done. Read Equal Employment Opportunity Laws – Who’s Covered? for more information on how to determine whether a person is an independent contractor or an employee, and which are covered under federal laws.
Pre-Employment Background Checks
When you are hiring employees, you might need more information on a candidate to make an informed decision.
The following list includes the types of information that employers often consult as part of a pre-employment check, and the laws governing access and use for making hiring decisions.
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), businesses must obtain an employee’s written consent before seeking an employee’s credit report. If you decide not to hire or promote someone based on information in the credit report, you must provide a copy of the report and let the applicant know of his or her right to challenge the report under the FCRA. Visit the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection’s website for more information.
To what extent a private employer may consider an applicant’s criminal history in making hiring decisions varies from state to state. Because of this variation, you should consult with a lawyer or do further legal research on the laws of your state before exploring whether or not an applicant has a criminal past.
For Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) checks, consult these resources:
Lie Detector Tests
The Employee Polygraph Protection Act prohibits most private employers from using lie detector tests, either for pre-employment screening or during the course of employment. The law includes a list of exceptions that apply to businesses that provide armored car services, alarm or guard services, or those that manufacture, distribute, or dispense pharmaceuticals.
Even though there is no federal law specifically prohibiting you from using a written honesty test on job applicants, these tests frequently violate federal and state laws that protect against discrimination and violations of privacy.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers cannot discriminate based on a physical or mental impairment or request an employee’s medical records. Businesses can, however, inquire about an applicant’s ability to perform specific job duties. Some states also have stronger laws protecting the confidentiality of medical records.
Bankruptcies are a matter of public record and may appear on an individual’s credit report. The Federal Bankruptcy Act prohibits employers from discriminating against applicants because they have filed for bankruptcy.
Military service records may be released only under limited circumstances, and consent is generally required. The military may, however, disclose name, rank, salary, duty assignments, awards and duty status without the service member’s consent.
Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and similar state laws, educational records such as transcripts, recommendations and financial information are confidential and will not be released by the school without a student’s consent.
Workers’ Compensation Records
Workers’ compensation appeals are a matter of public record. Information from a workers’ compensation appeal may be used in a hiring decision if the employer can show the applicant’s injury might interfere with his ability perform required duties.
Required Employee Benefits
Employee benefits play an important role in the lives of employees as well as their families. For that reason, the benefits you offer can be a deciding factor for a potential employee’s decision to work at your business.
There are two types of employee benefits must provide by law those the employer must provide by law and those the employer offers as an option to compensate employees. Examples of required benefits include social security and workers’ compensation, while optional benefits include health care insurance coverage and retirement benefits. Both required and optional benefits have legal and tax implications for the employer.
This guide helps employers understand what they need to do to supply employee benefits required by law.
Social Security Taxes
Every employer must pay Social Security taxes at the same rate paid by their employees.
The following sites from the Social Security Administration can help you comply:
- Information and Resources for Employers
- Social Security: Business Services Online
- Employer W-2 Filling Instructions and Information
- Instructions for Hiring Employees Not Covered by Social Security
Businesses with employees may be required to pay unemployment insurance taxes. If your business is required to pay these taxes, you must register with your state’s workforce agency, which can be found on our State and Local Tax page
Businesses with employees are required to carry Workers’ Compensation Insurance coverage through a commercial carrier, on a self-insured basis, or through the state Workers’ Compensation Insurance program. Visit the Workers’ Compensation page for more information.
The following states and territories require businesses to provide partial wage replacement insurance coverage to their eligible employees for non-work related sickness or injury:
The majority of common leave benefits offered by employers are not required by federal law, and are offered to employees as part of the employer’s overall compensation and benefits plan. These leave benefits include holiday/vacation, jury duty, personal leave, sick leave and funeral/bereavement leave. However, employers are required to provide leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
Family and Medical Leave
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitles employees up to have 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave during any 12-month period for any of the following reasons:
- Birth and care of the eligible employee’s child, or placement for adoption or foster care of a child with the employee
- Care of an immediate family member (spouse, child, parent) who has a serious health condition
- Care of the employee’s own serious health condition
FMLA requires group health benefits to be maintained during the leave as if employees continued to work instead of taking leave. FMLA applies to private employers with 50 or more employees, and to all public employers. Visit the Department of Labor’s website for more information.
Optional Employee Benefits
In addition to required employee benefits, businesses can provide optional benefits and incentives that can improve the lives of their employees and families.
This guide will help explain legal and tax implications of these benefits and highlight some common employee incentive programs.
Group health plans
Businesses that offer group health plans must comply with a federal law. Visit DOL’s Health Benefits Advisor interactive Website for a step-by-step guide on how to determine which laws apply to your business.
DOL also provides guides to understanding your fiduciary responsibilities under a group health plan and reporting and disclosing employee benefit plans [PDF]. For more information, visit DOL’s website.
Affordable Health Care Act
The Affordable Care Act aims to lower health care costs for small business owners and expand coverage options for employees. To learn about the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit and find more resources about the law, visit the Health Care and Health Care Reform page.
Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) provides certain former employees, retirees, spouses, former spouses, and dependent children the right to temporarily continue health coverage at group rates. Businesses are required to provide COBRA benefits when employees are terminated or laid off. The following Department of Labor (DOL) resources describe an employer’s requirements under COBRA:
Retirement Plans and Pensions
The federal government has a wide range of resources to help small business owners select a plan retirement or pension plan for their employees including the following:
Visit the following resources to learn more about specific retirement or pension plans for your small business:
Employee Incentive Programs
A small investment in providing incentive programs for your employees can pay large dividends. These programs can help boost morale through engagement and reward, stimulate productivity and encourage group participation in your business success. The following are just a few of many incentive programs your small business can offer employees:
- Flex time: One of the biggest reasons work-at-home business owners enjoy what they do is not necessarily that they are their own boss, but that they can work the hours that work for them. Likewise, offering the opportunity for flexible hours can be a great incentive for attracting and retaining high performing and motivated employees.
- Family events: Your business success depends not only on your employees, but also the support of their families. Plan company functions and events that are oriented towards employees and their families such as picnics, movie nights, take your child to work days – the choice is yours and doesn’t need to break the bank.
- Project completion perks: Incentivizing employees for goal-oriented project completion is a great way to build a team but also to engage and stimulate your employees to support your business objectives. This can involve recognizing individual achievement or team success. Consider catered lunches, on-site massage therapy, and other perks to keep employees motivated as they work towards a team goal.
- Workplace wellness programs: What better way to show your investment in your employees than to help them invest in their wellness? And it doesn’t have to involve a great deal of money or administrative work. Survey your employees’ wellness priorities – whether it’s losing weight, quitting smoking, or enhancing the workplace team environment. From there, compile a calendar or schedule of activities. Wellness initiatives can also be tied to incentives and perks. Incentivize employees to quit smoking by offering a prize or bonus to those who quit or look for ways to encourage other healthy lifestyle choices such as introducing a 30-minute lunchtime team walk.
- Corporate memberships: Discounted or free corporate memberships can help promote employee wellbeing (e.g. gym memberships) while also enabling and promoting company goals. Recreational or entertainment memberships can act as venues for client entertainment and can be tax deducted.
Writing Effective Job Descriptions
Job descriptions are an essential part of hiring and managing your employees. These written summaries ensure your applicants and employees understand their roles and what they need to do to be held accountable.
Job descriptions also:
- Help attract the right job candidates
- Describe the major areas of an employee’s job or position
- Serve as a major basis for outlining performance expectations, job training, job evaluation and career advancement
- Provide a reference point for compensation decisions and unfair hiring practices
A job description should be practical, clear and accurate to effectively define your needs. Good job descriptions typically begin with a careful analysis of the important facts about a job such as:
- Individual tasks involved
- The methods used to complete the tasks
- The purpose and responsibilities of the job
- The relationship of the job to other jobs
- Qualifications needed for the job
What to Avoid
Don’t be inflexible with your job description. Jobs are subject to change for personal growth, organizational development and/or evolution of new technologies. A flexible job description encourages employees to grow within their position and contribute over time to your overall business.
What to Include
Job descriptions typically include:
- Job title
- Job objective or overall purpose statement
- Summary of the general nature and level of the job
- Description of the broad function and scope of the position
- List of duties or tasks performed critical to success
- Key functional and relational responsibilities in order of significance
- Description of the relationships and roles within the company, including supervisory positions, subordinating roles and other working relationships
Additional Items for Job Descriptions for Recruiting Situations
- Job specifications, standards, and requirements
- Job location where the work will be performed
- Equipment to be used in the performance of the job
- Collective Bargaining Agreements if your company’s employees are members of a union
- Salary range
Proper Language in the Job Description
Keep each statement in the job description crisp and clear:
- Structure your sentences in classic verb/object and explanatory phrases. Since the occupant of the job is the subject of your sentence, it may be eliminated. For example, a sentence pertaining to the description of a receptionist position might read: “Greets office visitors and personnel in a friendly and sincere manner.”
- Always use the present tense of verbs.
- If necessary, use explanatory phrases telling why, how, where, or how often to add meaning and clarity (e.g. “Collects all employee time sheets on a bi-weekly basis for payroll purposes.”)
- Omit any unnecessary articles such as “a,” “an,” “the,” or other words for an easy-to-understand description.
- Use unbiased terminology. For example, use the he/she approach or construct sentences in such a way that gender pronouns are not required.
- Avoid using adverbs or adjectives that are subject to interpretation such as “frequently,” “some,” “complex,” “occasional,” and “several.”
An employee handbook is an important communication tool between you and your employees. A well-written handbook sets forth your expectations for your employees, and describes what they can expect from your company. It also should describe your legal obligations as an employer, and your employees’ rights. This guide will help you write an employee handbook, which typically includes the topics below.
Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) and Conflict of Interest Statements
Although NDAs are not legally required, having employees sign NDAs and conflict of interest statements helps to protect your trade secrets and company proprietary information.
As a business owner, you must comply with the equal employment opportunity laws prohibiting discrimination and harassment, including the Americans with Disabilities Act. Employee handbooks should include a section about these laws, and how your employees are expected to comply. Visit the Employment Discrimination and Harassment page for more information
Clearly explain to your employees that your company will make required deductions for federal and state taxes, as well as voluntary deductions for the company’s benefits programs. In addition, you should outline your legal obligations regarding overtime pay, pay schedules, performance reviews, salary increases, time keeping records, breaks and bonuses. Visit the following pages for more information.
Describe your company’s policies regarding work hours and schedules, attendance, punctuality and reporting absences, along with guidelines for flexible schedules and telecommuting.
Standards of Conduct
Document your expectations of how you want your employees to conduct themselves including dress code and ethics. In addition, remind your employees of their legal obligations, especially if your business is engaged in an activity that is regulated by the government.
General Employment Information
Your employee handbook should include an a overview of your business and general employment policies covering employment eligibility, job classifications, employee referrals, employee records, job postings, probationary periods, termination and resignation procedures, transfers and relocation, and union information, if applicable.
Visit the following pages for more information.
- Employment & Labor Laws
- Foreign Workers, Immigration & Employee Eligibility
- Performing Pre-Employment Background Checks
- Terminating Employees
Safety and Security
Describe your company’s policy for creating a safe and secure workplace, including compliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s laws that require employees to report all accidents, injuries, potential safety hazards, safety suggestions and health and safety related issues to management.
Safety policies should also include your company’s policy regarding bad weather and hazardous community conditions.
Add your commitment to creating a secure work environment, and your employee’s responsibility for abiding by all physical and information security policies, such as locking file cabinets or computers when not in use.
The Workplace Safety & Health guide provides information on your legal requirements as an employer.
Computers and Technology
Outline policies for appropriate computer and software use, and steps employees should take to secure electronic information, especially any personal identifiable information you collect from your customers.
Visit the Information Security page related to privacy for more information on your legal requirements as a business owner.
It’s a good business practice to have a single point of contact for all media inquiries. Your employee handbook should include a section that explains how your employees should handle calls from reporters or other media inquiries.
Make sure to detail any benefit programs and eligibility requirements, including all benefits that may be required by law.
This section should also outline your plans for optional benefits such as health insurance, retirement plans and wellness programs.
Your company’s leave policies should be carefully documented, especially those you are required to provide by law. Family medical leave, jury duty, military leave, and time off for court cases and voting should all be documented to comply with state and local laws. In addition, you should explain your policies for vacation, holiday, bereavement and sick leave.
Employee Handbook Template
This basic Employee Handbook Template covers the topics listed above and can be customized using your company’s specific policies.
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Phone: 714-550-7420 / TDD 800-877-8339