On-Demand Delivery: a Game Changer for Small Businesses and Freelancers

This holiday season has seen the rise of on-demand courier services, and it promises to spice things up for small, local businesses looking to make fast, cheap deliveries of their products to customers.

The concept of on-demand delivery is certainly not new (think: failed dot com company, Kozmo.com, which promised to deliver a variety of goods at any cost to customers in less than an hour). But, with recent announcements by both Uber and Amazon that they have launched their own courier services to deliver packages, it’s now a viable reality.

And that is very good news for small businesses looking to expand. In October, Uber began offering its delivery services in Chicago, San Francisco, and New York City in a partnership with local businesses. As the company states on their website: “In hundreds of cities across the globe, you can press a button and get a ride in minutes. Now, through UberRUSH, business owners can use that same technology to get customers pretty much anything in minutes.”

By partnering with UberRUSH, businesses can not only easily, quickly, and cheaply manage deliveries, but they can expand their delivery zone. This is made possible by the fact that new couriers are always available, and they don’t need to make round trips. To make the deal even sweeter, Uber has joined up with eCommerce platforms, such as Shopify and ChowNow, to provide the smoothest customer experience possible.

Shortly following Uber’s announcement, Amazon.com revealed its own entry into the logistics space. Amazon’s initiative, called Amazon Flex, relies on contractors who have their own cars and smart phones to instantly deliver products that were purchased via its online sales platform. Flex is currently offered as part of Amazon’s premium one-hour delivery service, Prime Now.

One of the direct results of Amazon’s and Uber’s entry into the on-demand delivery space is the rise of the freelance delivery industry. As the demand for freelance couriers increases, we’ll likely see a number of individuals launching part-time or full-time businesses performing deliveries. Or, a more elaborate example: how about a person who invests in a small fleet of electric bikes, then hires other people to make the actual deliveries? There are many possibilities and a lot of potential all of which is poised to help the local economy- this year and beyond.

The Franchise Forecast

The franchise forecast for 2013 is ‘partly cloudy’. The US Census Bureau, in its first comprehensive statistical report on franchise businesses, issued in 2010, stated that franchises comprise a very respectable 10.5% of businesses surveyed and were responsible for a disproportionately high figure of close to one sixth of total sales. However, the 2013 franchise growth rate, predicted by IHS Global Insight, is expected to reach 1.4% (lower than 2012’s 1.5%).

If you are considering investment in a franchise, it pays to do your homework. Honest self-assessment, combined with careful study of the current franchise climate, is essential to forecasting your personal success in the marketplace.

Positive Pointers

There are three main factors that point the way to success in franchise investment: affordable rates for small business bank loans, easy availability of commercial space in most areas, aggressive wooing of investors by franchisors, including fee discounting. If the ground is fertile, then it’s time to assess your franchise dreams.

What Works

Look at the 10 most successful American franchise businesses – Hampton Hotels, Subway, Jiffy Lube International Inc., 7-Eleven Inc., Supercuts, Anytime Fitness, Servpro, Denny’s Inc., McDonald’s and Pizza Hut Inc. See how they function, what level of investment they demand and whether joining their team would be a comfortable fit for you.

What’s Strong

Strong franchise industries in 2012 were food, fitness, eldercare and child related services. These are continuing to maintain a strong presence in 2013.

What’s Hot

Providing products and services for mobile computing devices – smartphones, tablets and their ilk – heads the list of cutting edge businesses right now. Franchises that can provide this technology are hot, smoking hot.

Learning technology is also hot. Online tutoring services, which are more cost efficient and flexible than the traditional model, are a new field with potential.

Disaster clean-up, such as water damage restoration services, is big as are mobile trucks for services ranging from car detailing to pet grooming, following the food truck gravy train, show signs of taking off.

What’s Not

There have unfortunately been some spectacular failures in the franchise field lately. The worst performing group in 2012 was Golf Etc., with a failure rate among its franchisees of 71.08%. Ouch! Study the worst performers as well as the best so you will have an idea of what to stay away from.

Know Yourself

Inventory your financial assets. Know exactly how much of an investment is required of you, as well as the expected rate of return. Make sure that your sources of liquid assets are in place. Keep a prudent reserve to live on and cover emergencies for at least six months while you get the business off the ground.


Just as important is taking stock of your character. An excellent prognosticator of successful franchise management is the ability, quite simply, to manage. Unlike many small businesspeople who started their enterprise because they love the field, as a franchisee you do not, “necessarily have to be passionate about what your business does … but you have to be passionate about running a business and following a franchise model,” explains Franchise Business Review in its Spring 2013 issue.

Good Luck

After doing your homework and coming up with accurate and detailed information, you will be in a position to make a clearheaded, honest decision. This will be a major factor in determining your personal franchise forecast.

Is Your City Entrepreneurial?

With so many small businesses trying to make it, and with local governments forever seeking to attract entrepreneurs and give their city an economic boost, a recently raised question has been making headlines and causing a flurry of discussion among inquiring business minds. In a policy brief published by Harvard’s Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston, economists William Kerr and Edward Glaeser ask the question: What makes a city entrepreneurial?

According to the report (based on two articles by Glaeser and Kerr: Clusters of Entrepreneurship and Entrepreneurship: How Much of the Spatial Distribution Can We Explain?) there are several factors regarding the correlation between geography and entrepreneurship:

  • High levels of entrepreneurship (that is, the number of small businesses in an area) closely corresponds with regional economic growth (and conversely, areas with fewer new start ups are associated with a decline in job growth).

  • The greater the number of small businesses, the greater the infrastructure (i.e., the presence of venture capitalists, independent suppliers and an entrepreneurial culture) and therefore the easier it is for new businesses to enter the marketplace.
  • Startup growth tends to be greater in areas with a more educated workforce (who in turn tend to gravitate towards areas with favorable climates).
  • A profusion of small, independent businesses bodes well for an area’s sustained economic growth.

  • Strategies to improve a city’s quality of life go a long way in attracting bright young entrepreneurs.

  • There is a strong link between educational institutions and certain types of businesses (for example, the success of Silicon Valley is attributed in part to the involvement of students and faculty from Stanford University).


Under30CEO.com recently polled their readership to discover which cities offered the best resources, schools, events, climate and social scene for a young entrepreneur. Here’s what they ended up with:

  1. New York, NY  As the home of several industries, including “Silicon Alley,” it’s got the biggest scene of them all.
  2. San Francisco, CA  Its proximity to Silicon Valley means it’s a hub for high-tech.
  3. Austin, TX  The capital of live music begets a burgeoning corporate culture and a low cost of living.
  4. Boston, MA  Education, education, education. Beantown’s a hub for brains, incubators and deep pockets.
  5. Denver, CO  It’s a growing center for folks who like to work hard (inside), then play hard (outside).
  6. Chicago, IL  It’s a longtime financial center that’s slowly ceding its khaki culture to a more digital community who doesn’t like living out in the ‘burbs.
  7. San Diego, CA  Big tourism and big population allows this sunny clime to take advantage of California’s smartest.
  8. Portland, OR  Major green credentials, a temperate climate and a growing local food scene (plus one hell of a cup of coffee) has Portland on the radar of many young entrepreneurs.
  9. Washington, D.C.  President Obama may be a Democrat, but his youth has inspired younger folks of all political persuasions to relocate to the nation’s capital in a wave not seen since the 1950s.
  10. Seattle, WA  This hub for technology and industry — from Amazon and Microsoft to Boeing and Starbucks — is also a doorstep to Asia. It doesn’t hurt that it has a highly-educated population, either.

So when it comes to entrepreneurship, how does your city measure up?

How to Turn Your Hobby into a Successful Business

Recently, I saw this article over at Entrepreneur.com where the author highlighted several people who turned their hobbies into successful mega businesses, and it got me thinking. Aside from these superstars, plenty of people try and fail to make a buck off their favorite pastimes. What’s the secret sauce?

Though not every hobby will net you many millions of dollars it is certainly possible to make a profit off those activities and interests you enjoy and even to build a sustainable business model around them. What separates those who make it from those who don’t? Here are five factors to consider:

1. Determining if you truly want to start a full fledged business or just earn money on the side. Are you prepared to start up a company? Can you make the necessary commitment of time and money? Do you have any experience running a business, and if not, do you know where to go to get it? Starting a business doesn’t just happen on its own. It typically takes a tremendous amount of time, money, skill, and expertise to get it off the ground and keep it running over the long haul.

2. Developing a viable business plan. Though it may be better to start a business based on a hobby than something else due to the fact that you’re already connected with it, you understand the vernacular, the concepts, the community, and the demographics of the market, not everyone is business owner material, and not every hobby can be translated into a sustainable business. You need a plan- one that’s based on more than just hopes and hunches.

3. Figuring out how to monetize your hobby. Even if there a captive market looking for the information or services you can provide, can you turn that demand into an income? Knowing how to properly monetize your hobby-based business can be one of the biggest challenges you’ll face. If you are really intent on finding something then make sure you are connected to your target market and be prepared to think outside of the box. For example, an avid stamp collector could make a business of creating an online community where particular stamp buyers and sellers can come together, or he or she could develop some kind of stamp collecting guide, or for-pay webinar series.

4. Understanding the growth potential. As more and more people are exposed to your products or services, you may find that your operations need to expand to accommodate an increase in demand. This expansion may take the form of increased space or productive capacity, an increase in the number of hired employees, or an expanded product or service line. Either way, while you may not be able to predict how popular your business idea may become at the beginning, you will need to recognize the growth potential as it comes and be able to make the strategic decisions that will take your business to the next level.

5. Don’t leave your enjoyment at the door. As your hobby-turned-business grows and develops, pay special attention to your levels of enjoyment and passion. You don’t want your the new-found work and responsibility to ruin the pleasure your hobby once gave you. The fun doesn’t have to get lost, and if it does, then stop to re-evaluate the situation.

In short, your hobby could be a potential goldmine of income, but to bring these earnings out, you need to act smartly. And that means you need to start treating your hobby not just as a pastime, but also as a business.

Shelf Corporations: Attractive But Potentially Risky

The internet is rife with offers of businesses for sale. A little research often reveals that some of the most attractive of these offers are shelf corporations.


A shelf corporation is a company that was established and then was “left on the shelf”- meaning that it has been inactive for several years. After a period of time, it could be sold to an entrepreneur looking for an established business with longevity.

The longevity factor is appealing for two reasons: 1. there is a greater chance of receiving bank loans, and 2. the business is more familiar and attractive to customers. In other words, banks and customers trust existing businesses more than new ones. An entrepreneur starting a new business could also avoid the work of incorporating and receiving an IRS number by buying an existing shelf corporation.

Recently, shelf corporations have become a favorite among scammers and swindlers. In one scenario, they set up several businesses in a certain area, and then charge and pay expenses among the businesses. In the eyes of the credit rating agencies, these businesses are upstanding. They demonstrate income, and they pay their bills on time. In reality, though, these “businesses” have not bought or sold anything.

For many would-be small business owners purchasing a shelf corporation is a very tempting proposition- especially where bad credit is an issue. Suddenly having a solvent business to present to the lending bank would seem like a godsend. Replacing a failing business with a robust shelf corporation seems like a simple method of securing capital from the bank.

But those who are considering purchasing a shelf corporation out of desperation may want to think again. Misrepresenting one’s business is always risky, and it exposes the business owner to a Pandora’s box of legal issues.

As many more small business owners struggle to secure bank loans, they have been turning to popular financing alternatives, such as accounts receivables financing, equipment leasing, and business cash advances. Though a shelf corporation may sound like a lucrative idea, business owners are better off finding some other means of infusing cash into their business.

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What to Consider Before Taking the Franchising Plunge

Getting started with a franchise may seem like an attractive, more secure option for would-be entrepreneurs looking to run their own business- especially among those who have experienced layoffs, work reductions, or the inability to find work in the first place. But becoming a franchisee generally involves a considerable investment of time and money, and one needs to know how to pick the good franchising opportunities from the bad ones.

To that end, I have compiled a quick checklist of what to consider before entering a contract with a franchisor:

1. Is the Franchise Disclosure Document (FDD) clear, thorough, and accurate? The FDD is one of the most important documents a prospective franchisee will have. The franchisor is legally required to provide specific information about its operations to help the would-be franchisee decide whether or not to work with the company. Since first time franchisees may not know what to look for, it is advisable to hire a franchise attorney.

2. Does the prospective franchisor have a good background and reputation? Has the franchise operated successfully within several different locations for at least 3-5 years? Are there any complaints or litgations against it? Is there a solid business model that is both doable and potentially profitable? Both the Federal Trade Commission and the Better Business Bureau have information on various franchises for prospective fanchisees needing to conduct backgound research.

3. How much support and communication exists between the franchisor and the franchisee? Does the franchisor provide any training to new franchisees? Will it provide any further assistance and support?

4. What does the management look like? Does the management team behind the franchise have the experience and know how to run a successful franchise operation?

5. What is the industry like? Is there growth potential within the industry being considered? What are the current economic trends, and, where applicable, what is the profile of the local market?

6. Are you interested and/or experienced with the particular industry? Do you have the necessary skills and background to be successful in this kind of business?

7. What are the start-up and operational costs associated with this franchise? What kind of area, if any, will need to be leased to operate the business? What about equipment, employees, and supplies?Do you have the financial means to buy into the franchise, expand, or renovate?

8. What is the expected investment of time per week, and what is the projected level of income? This is an extremely important factor to consider when looking into a franchise. Even a franchise operation that offers a well-known brand name and a comprehensive support system, will still require a lot of effort on the owner’s part to open and operate, and a considerable amount of time may pass before the owner breaks even on the investment. This holds even more true for a lesser known brand, with weaker support.

In short, the bottom line for any prospective franchisee is to exercise full due diligence so that precious time, energy, and money are invested in something that will provide an adequate return.

10 Profitable Home-Based Business Opportunities

According to statistics from the US Census Bureau approximately half of all US businesses are home-based, and as the ranks of the unemployed continue to swell, this percentage will only get higher.

So if the thought of working in your pajamas or “commuting” to your kitchen table sounds appealing then you might want to consider some of these profitable home-based business occupations:

1. Virtual Assistants: As businesses clamor to cut costs, it is often cheaper and easier for them to outsource some or all of their administrative duties. You can start your search for job opportunities on craigslist or virtualassistantjobs.com.

2. Consultants/Advisers/ Coaches: This is a big category that includes everything from small business consultants, fashion consultants, financial advisers, and even life coaches. This kind of self-employed business opportunity is typically for those who are trained or experienced in a professional area

3. Brokers: Being a “middleman” can turn into a lucrative business. Two of the best performing occupations to date include insurance brokers,as well as those who specialize in the sales of securities

4. Writers: Freelance writers and editors require very little initial overhead. In the race to increase their content pool, many sites pay per article published or edited and/or give writers a share in ad revenue. There are also several sites where freelance writers can connect with potential clients and “bid” on the chance to complete a particular project. .

5. Designers: Those who are trained in any kind of designing, such as interior, industrial, or graphic design, can promote their skills as an independent contractor.

6. Product Repair and Maintenance: This self-employment opportunity is generally recession-proof. Things will always break down and need to be fixed- in good times and bad. The most lucrative areas include: electronic or precision equipment repair and home care.

7. Event Planner: If you love to organize and plan, then you could help others coordinate their weddings, fund raising benefits, or parties.

8. Network marketing/MLM: These ubiquitous marketing schemes do have the potential to legitimately make you money (with some hard work), but there are a lot of scams out there. You should do your research before signing on to any such programs. Here’s a good article on the topic

9. Medical and Legal Transcription/ Medical Claims Billing: If you have any experience with transcription and access to the needed equipment, you can work from home for a variety of companies. There are several transcription training courses available online. Click here for more information.

10. Caterers and Personal Chefs: If you have a flare and a passion for cooking you could start your own catering or personal chef business. Where possible, try to target a specific niche. Keep in mind that caterers must secure a food establishment license and must meet any state and federal health requirements.