Five MORE cheap franchises to start with less than $10,000

We can all take a shot at starting our own businesses, and it doesn’t have to cost a lot. Here are five businesses you could launch with very little in the way of capital investment.

This is a follow-up to one of the most popular blog posts on this site: Five cheap franchises to start with less than $10,000. Here are five MORE businesses you could launch with very little in the way of capital investment:

1) Stroller Strides. Stroller Strides offers fitness programs for new moms and their babies. Since the business serves new mothers, it makes sense to have mothers run the company’s franchised outlets. Currently, Stroller Strides boasts of more than 1,200 locations in 44 states. Start-up costs range from $4,000 to $18,000 (per Entrepreneur).

2) GarageExperts. GarageExperts helps consumers “unclutter their worlds” by redesigning their garages to maximize storage and cleanliness. The company offers cabinets, floor coatings, racks and more. Start-up costs range from $4,600 to $20,500 (per Entrepreneur).

3) Buildingstars. A commercial cleaning company based in St. Louis, Buildingstars added 34 new franchisees in 2011. The company’s emphasis on “green cleaning” could be a part of that as it not only lowers costs for businesses, but protects the environment, too. Start-up costs range from $2,200 to $52,800 (per Entrepreneur).

4) Jazzercise. Jazzercise offers cardio classes that fuse jazz music, Pilates, yoga, and kickboxing for a one-hour workout that burns up to 600 calories. The company now has nearly 8,200 locations across the country. Start-up costs range from $2,980 to $76,500 (per Entrepreneur).

5) Fairway Divorce Solutions. A company that helps its clients agree on the best financial and custodial options during a divorce, Fairway serves as a mediator during the often-painful process of splitting up. The company added eight locations in 2011. Start-up costs range from $10,000 to 35,000 (per Entrepreneur).

Other low-cost franchises include In Home Pet Services ($7k+) and restroom deodorizing company Aerowest/Westair Deodorizing Services ($8.5K+).


How to start a B Corporation

Certifying your company as a B Corporation isn’t a walk in the park. You’ll have to submit to random audits, pay annual fees and alter the legal structure of your company. But there are a lot of instances where it makes sense.

While you don’t get any special tax benefits (unless you happen to be based in Philadelphia), certifying your business as a B Corporation demonstrates to the world that you company is committed to solving social and environmental problems. I also suspect that in the future, consumers as well as local, state and the federal government will start showing B Corporations preferential treatment (and that means earning the designation could be good for your bottom line AND for the wider world).

Before you run out and sign up, though, realize that becoming a B Corporation isn’t as simple as filling out a registration form and paying an annual due. If you meet B Lab’s requirements for earning the designation, you’ll probably have to modify your company’s legal structure to limit management’s ability to bypass B Corporation values. That means giving a lot more power to your shareholders AND your stakeholders. You’ll also have to agree to random audits designed to verify your adherence to B Corporation standards.

If you’re committed to running a company that doesn’t just make you money but makes the world a better place in the process, here are the steps to earning a B Corporation designation:

1) Register for a B Impact Assessment. Since every industry has different social and environmental impacts, you’ve first got to submit information regarding your industry, business size, revenues, employee hours and more to B Lab (the certifying body for B Corporations). After you’ve submitted this information, your company will receive a specific B Impact Assessment form to complete. You can register to receive the appropriate B Impact Assessment form here.

2) Complete your B Impact Assessment. After completing your registration, you’ll be sent a custom username and password that you can use to complete your industry and business size’s specific B Impact Assessment. Before beginning, you may want to assess how transparent you’d like to be with your business practices. B Impact Assessment’s are freely available to the public.

3) Review your survey with a B Lab staff member. You’ll need to walk through all of your Impact Assessment answers with a representative from B Lab so he or she can be sure you correctly answered all the questions on the form.

4) Supply documentation verifying your assessment answers. To get certified, your company will have to supply B Lab with documentation verifying roughly 20 percent of your answers to the survey questions. If you can’t verify key questions on the survey, your certification will be denied.

5) Modify your company’s legal structure. If the results of your survey are approved, you’ll have to modify your company’s legal structure to institutionalize stakeholder interests in your business. B Lab provides a legal roadmap to help you do just that. Visit the page linked above to select the type of corporation you run and the state where you’re incorporated. B Lab will provide you with reference language to help you update your company’s legal structure.

6) Sign your new B Corporation documents. If your company is approved as a B Corporation, you’ll have to sign a term sheet specific to the state where you’re incorporated.

7) Set aside funds to cover your company’s B Corporation certification. Fees for B Certifications vary based on the annual revenue at your company. The cost ranges from $500 a year for a company with less than $2 million a year in sales to $25,000 a year for companies with more than $100 million in sales.

8) Be prepared for random audits. One in five B Corporations (20 percent) are randomly selected for audits every two years. Should your company be audited, you’ll be expected to verify all of the information you submitted while filling out your B Impact Assessment survey. If you fail the audit, your company runs the risk of being publicly de-certified (and no one wants that!).

How much does it cost to become a B Corporation?

At the time of this writing, fees for B Corporation certification are based on your annual sales as follows:

Annual Net Sales Annual Fee
$0 – $1,999,999 $500
$2 M – $4,999,999 $1,000
$5 M – $9,999,999 $2,500
$10 M – $19,999,999 $5,000
$20 M – $99,999,999 $10,000
$100 M + $25,000



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How to file a patent

Here are eight tips on how to file a patent whether you choose to file on your own or by using a patent attorney.

Got a great idea you want to patent? Chances are, you’re thinking about the rewards that it will reap you. In an ideal world, your discovery is so revolutionary that a Fortune 500 company’s willing to license it, then sign and deliver checks to your mailbox every month. A patented idea can be as good as money in the bank if it’s something the marketplace genuinely needs.

The truth is quite a bit more sobering, though. Estimates range from one in every 500 to one in every 5,000 patents that actually end up becoming commercially successful (per Those aren’t good odds, and that makes it all the more important that you think through you decision to file a patent and fully commit to your idea before moving forward.

A recent article in Entrepreneur magazine estimates that the most basic patents cost anywhere from $7,000 to $15,000 in attorney fees, take hundreds of hours in paperwork and can take up to six years to get approved.

If you’re still committed to forging ahead, though, here are eight tips on how to file a patent:

1) Decide whether or not you really need a patent. In theory, you’d think filing a patent on your brand new idea is a no-brainer. In practice, though, there are plenty of reasons why you might not need or want to file a patent. Think about the following factors before deciding whether filing is really going to pay off:

  • Will your design still be relevant in three to six years? If your design applies to a fast-changing field like technology, odds are, it’ll be out-dated before the patent office even looks at your application.
  • Are you certain you can turn your idea into cash? If at all possible, prove that your idea has legs before taking on a second mortgage. Hire a web designer to build a site advertising a product that’s similar to your idea, then track the number of visits and social buzz it builds.
  • In my experience, plenty of great ideas fail, and plenty of terrible ideas succeed. It all has to do with the commitment and passion of the inventor. Assess whether you realistically have the time, energy and focus to devote to marketing, filling out forms and meticulously documenting your invention. On top of that, will you be able to market your idea, even if it’s rejected by the marketplace for months or years?

2) Choose your approach. Filing a patent is a difficult process – particularly for the uninitiated. If you’ve got the commitment and gumption to go it alone, the DIY route is doable. Entrepreneur says to budget at least 150 hours to file your patent over several months (and anticipate lots of additional work in the years to come). Based on some digging I’ve done online, it looks like you should be able to file your own patent for somewhere around $3,000, payable throughout different stages in the patent process.

3) Find a patent attorney. The United States Patent and Trademark Office maintains a list of registered patent attorneys by geographic region. Search the list by state to find several attorneys in your area. Call around to find one that specializes or at least has experience in your specific industry.

4) Determine the type of patent you’re going to file. Currently, they fall into three categories: 1) Utility applications for a “new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or compositions of matters, or any new useful improvement thereof”; 2) Design applications for a “new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture”; and 3) Plant applications for “anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant.”

5) Research the process for your specific type of patent. The U.S. Patent Office’s web site is a treasure trove of information. Depending on the type of patent you plan to file, you can click on the links below to start reading through background information, download forms and get guidance on the next steps to patent your idea:

6) Electronically file your patent. Once you’ve put together all the drawings, written descriptions (aka “claims”) and filled out all the relevant forms, you can submit your patent application online at on the Patent Office’s EFS-Web site.

7) Wait for a response. You should hear back from the patent office somewhere between 18 and 36 months after you’ve submitted your patent application. In most cases, they will have rejected your patent (according to Douglas Baldwin) because of competing patents that have already been accepted. Don’t get discouraged. The Patent Office should give you specific reasons why your patent is too similar to those existing patents, though, and you’ll have three months to organize and file a detailed appeal.

8) Wait for the results of the appeal. In one to two years, you should get a final response to your appeal. If your patent was rejected, you can appeal yet again, but we’ve got our fingers crossed for you. Hopefully, you’ll be the proud owner of a patent. And then the real work truly begins.



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Crowdcube: How to invest in tech startups gives investors the opportunity to invest as little as £10 ($16.40) in private tech start-ups long before they’ve hit the IPO stage.

There’s something infuriating about getting locked out of investing in high profile tech companies like Facebook and Twitter by virtue of being too broke. If you’ve got a net worth of $1 million or more, you’re more than welcome, though, to sign up to buy shares in Facebook and Twitter via secondary exchanges like SecondMarket.

A small UK-based Web site is trying to change that with last month’s launch of The site gives UK investors the opportunity to pony up as little as £10 ($16.40) to invest in private tech start-ups and small businesses long before they’ve hit the IPO stage.

“We want to enable people to have a real share – real equity in the business,” Luke Lang, one of Crowdcube’s co-founders tells GrowthBusiness. “We want to make investing open to everyone so that the ordinary man or woman in the street can invest in a limited company.”

Crowdcube takes, which allows individuals to contribute cash to creative projects in exchange for gifts or recognition, a step further by offering up the real deal: equity. Prospective investors can peruse fully-developed, vetted business plans and video pitches as well as interact with entrepreneurs in Crowdcube’s forums before deciding to invest.

Pretty snazzy. As of today, there are 13 start-ups soliciting investments on Crowdcube. They range in scope from an online auction software developer to a mobile advertising company and a “Fairtrade certified bodycare products” manufacturer.

The business plan that has me most excited, though, is Crowdcube’s itself. The company’s currently waiving its £250 ($410) listing fee for entrepreneurs. If a start-up hits its funding goal, Crowdcube skims 5 percent off the top in addition to a £1750 ($2,871) legal fee. A lot of 5 percent cuts could quickly add up if Crowdcube hits critical mass. Now, I just wish the site would offer up equity in itself for early-stage investors.



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3 reasons to buy LinkedIn shares during IPO Mastering how to make money on Twitter

Entrepreneurs are often obsessed with coming up with the next big business idea, especially in the tech realm.’s success monetizing tweets on Twitter is proof that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

While Twitter may not have a bullet-proof business plan yet, other companies have figured out how to mint money off their service. – a tiny marketing boutique based in Beverly Hills – inks contracts with celebrities who agree to send out marketing tweets on the company’s behalf. In exchange for pimping products, the celebs get paychecks that range from $200 to $25,000 per tweet.

How does make money?

1) Marketers who want to promote a product approach to launch a social media marketing campaign.

2) helps marketers pick 12 to 50 celebrities from the company’s stable of 1,000+ public figures to promote a product or service on Facebook and Twitter.

3) writes content for tweets that will appear on Twitter and/or status updates that will show up on Facebook.

4) Celebrities sign off on the content written by

5) sends out the tweets and/or Facebook status updates – typically with a link back to the product or service a marketer wants to promote.

How much do celebrities make on

That depends on the clout of the celebrity, but according to the Los Angeles Business Journal, anywhere from $200 to $25,000 per tweet.

How much do marketers pay for’s services?

$25,000 on the low end and more than $100,000 on the high end. To date,’s most successful campaign had Charlie Sheen advertising’s services on Twitter. CEO Arnie Gullov-Singh didn’t divulge the cost of the campaign, but he did say it was “the highest amount ever paid in the company’s history.”

“I’m looking to hire a #winning INTERN with #TigerBlood. Apply here – #TigerBloodIntern #internship #ad,” Mr. Sheen tweeted on March 7. Forty-eight hours later was inundated with more than 74,000 applications for the position.

The moral?

Entrepreneurs are often obsessed with coming up with the next big business idea – especially in the tech realm.’s success is proof that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. The start-up just piggy-backed on the success of Twitter and Facebook while carrying celebrity endorsements into the 21st Century. They’re getting rich in the process, too.



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Rovio stock suddenly becomes hot commodity

Will Rovio sell out or look to go it alone and IPO? Possible suitors aren’t difficult to imagine from Google, Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) to The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS). If I were them, I’d be booking a flight to Rovio’s headquarters as soon as possible.

With the news that Angry Birds-maker Rovio Mobile has secured $42 million in Series A funding, Rovio stock has suddenly become another hot stock that investors can’t buy. The funding round was led in part by venture capital firm Accel Partners, which got in early on Facebook, Groupon and AdMob.

Accel’s not quite got the cache of Digital Sky, but the venture capital firm is well on its way. Accel was founded by Niklas Zennstrom – the same Zennstrom who co-founded the file-sharing site Kazaa and the soon-to-IPO Skype.

Zennstrom has a knack for sniffing out up-and-coming tech trends, and he’s apparently pouring a lot of heart into Rovio Mobile. He’ll sit on the company’s board of directors as Rovio looks to transform Angry Birds from a mobile game to a multi-platform global phenomenon.

Already some 40 million users play Angry Birds every month and Rovio boasts that the game is the No. 1 paid app on the iPhone in 67 countries from the U.S. to Kazakhstan and Macau. Talk about a success story. It’s hard to wrap your mind around just how explosive the growth in Angry Birds has been.

Rovio was on the cusp of bankruptcy before starting work on Angry Birds in 2009. The company had made 51 mobile games for other companies, and the time had come – they decided – to start marking their own games. Rovio’s founders thought they’d have to make 10 or 12 games, Wired reports, before coming up with a blockbuster. It only took one.

Now, on the strength of Angry Birds downloads, stuffed toy sales and licensing deals, Rovio’s revenue is estimated at $50-70 million. With just 50 employees, the company’s already profitable, and the fun is just getting started. Angry Birds is available on all of the major mobile platforms (outside of the Blackberry), and it will be available on major game consoles including the PS3, XBox 360, and Wii next year.

A broadcast cartoon is in the works. Rumors of a movie deal are floating in the ether, and a Facebook App should launch in May. Rovio, it seems, is doing what Zynga hasn’t been able to do. It’s turning itself into more than a mobile game developer. The latest funding round is proof of that, and I’m a believer. Now, I just wish I could buy some shares off a disgruntled employee.

Since that probably won’t happen, the question becomes whether or not Rovio will sell out or look to go it alone and IPO. Possible suitors aren’t difficult to imagine. How about Google, Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) or The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS)? If I were them, I’d be booking a flight to Rovio’s headquarters as soon as possible. Accel’s cash infusion may have shut the door on acquisition talks in the short-term, though. Why look for a buyer when the birds are just taking flight?



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Groupon CEO is a weird guy with good advice


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Groupon CEO is a weird guy with good advice

Groupon’s CEO Andrew Mason is proof that we can all accomplish great things by ignoring the naysayers and forging ahead … just like little Frodo on Mount Doom.

Deal-of-the-day web site vaulted from obscurity to multi-billion dollar company in two years. Indeed, it’s predicted to “make $1 billion in sales faster than any other business, ever,” according to Forbes. Now, we’ve gotten a peek behind the curtain with the so-called “Frodo Memo” that ended up in the hands of the Wall Street Journal.

The memo, which was sent late last month, shows just how unusual Groupon’s CEO Andrew Mason is. In it, the CEO holds back little of his enthusiasm, pride and ambition, and he offers a few nuggets of wisdom that entrepreneurs everywhere should heed:

1) You’re your own worst enemy. Mason argues sites like MySpace, Friendster, AOL and Yahoo! didn’t lose to competitors, but rather lost the battle on their own. “MySpace essentially handed Facebook the keys to the castle by devolving into a service that wasn’t delighting its customers,” he writes. How did they do that? By digging a rut and being unable or unwilling to innovate.

2) Enjoy the ride you’re on. When you’re overwhelmed with the day-to-day operations of your business or job, you can lose sight of what you’ve accomplished so far. It’s OK to revel in your success. Use it to feed your desire to make your business even better. “The earth is super old – thousands of years, some say – and no one has ever done anything like this,” Mason writes. “You should all exude a borderline-annoying sense of pride in what you’ve achieved. You should be wearing a big, toothy grin – the kind that makes people want to punch you in the face.” If you take pride in your business, you’ll make the decisions that will lead your customers back to your trough.

3) Give your customers a reason to pick you. Mason’s well aware that just about every programmer and multi-national tech company in the world is working on a way to poach clients from Groupon. “They are coming HARD,” he writes. “If you feel a little like Frodo climbing Mount Doom, you can’t be blamed.” But Mason argues that Groupon can stay ahead of its competitors by surprising the company’s clients. “Life is too short to be part of another cookie cutter company,” he writes. “Surprise reminds people that they are alive, that they haven’t seen it all.”

Take heed. Mason graduated from Northwestern University in 2003 with a degree in music. That makes him, what, 31? A thirty-something with a music degree has built a rapidly-growing Internet marketing juggernaut the likes of which the world has never seen. He’s proof that we can all accomplish great things by ignoring the naysayers and forging ahead … just like little Frodo on Mount Doom.



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Start your own business ideas: 3 tips from an incubator

Few people have sat through as many business pitches as the founder of Y Combinator, Paul Graham. Use his ideas to determine whether or not your business idea has legs.

Few people have sat through as many business pitches as Paul Graham. The founder of Y Combinator (YC), Graham’s life work is devoted to helping entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground. Twice a year, YC invests in a small group of start-ups (at an average cost of $18,000), moves them out to the Silicon Valley for three months and helps them refine their business pitches. It’s not necessarily an incubator, per say (since entrepreneurs are supposed to work out of their own homes), but, at the end of the three months, all of the start-ups get a chance to pitch a large group of investors on “Demo Day.” If they’re lucky, they get the kind of cash they need to turn their ideas into businesses.

During a recent interview with Entrepreneur magazine, Graham dished on what draws him to particular business ideas. Here are three of his most intriguing points. Use them to determine whether or not your business idea has legs:

1) Are you determined? The founder’s drive is the most important part of any start-up. “If you imagine someone with 100 percent determination and 100 percent intelligence, you can discard a lot of intelligence before they stop succeeding,” Graham says, “but if you start discarding determination, you very quickly get an ineffectual and perpetual grad student.” Access whether or not you’re truly committed to the business you hope to start. If you are, you’ll be able to will it into reality.

2) Do you know your industry? When asked what most impresses when he hears a business pitch, Graham claims its a founder who truly understands his or her niche. If you’re treading water in a realm outside of your expertise, you’re probably going to scare off investors. Stick to what you know, and your business idea has a much better chance of succeeding.

3) Is your idea groundbreaking? My favorite quote from Graham comes when he’s asked how he spots a great idea. “It often sounds like a bad idea,” he says. He goes on to give the example of Facebook. In its early days, who would have wanted to invest in a social directory aimed at Harvard students? “The very best startup ideas, the ones that are the biggest success, tend to be the ideas that you don’t know are even going to work,” Graham says. The moral? The more nervous your idea makes you, the better it might be. If you truly have the grit to see it through, it just might be successful.



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Will Gogo IPO in 2011?

Aircell CEO Michael Small is coy when asked whether or not Gogo will IPO in 2011. He believes the company, which provides in-flight internet access on commercial and private flights around the world, is a viable IPO candidate, but claims an IPO decision hasn’t been made yet.

Onerous FAA regulations, high infrastructure costs and rapidly-changing technology have slowed the widespread adoption of in-flight internet access. One company finally appears to be breaking ahead of the pack, though. Gogo, a subsidiary of Aircell, commands 82.9 percent of the worldwide market for internet access on commercial flights. All told, 1,287 commercial jets around the globe offered some form of Web access in 2010, and Gogo powered 1,067 of those connections.

Earlier this week, Gogo announced a new $35 million round of financing for its in-flight internet. “2010 was the year Inflight Internet went mainstream and Aircell established its leadership in this exciting new mobile Internet venue,” company President and CEO Michael Small said in a press release. “Since securing our exclusive spectrum license in 2006, we’ve raised more than $500 million.”

In an interview with Business Insider, Small was coy when asked whether or not an IPO was on the slate. “He believes the company is a viable IPO candidate but that it hasn’t made that decision yet,” the site writes.

Currently, Gogo operates on 3,800 commercial flights daily in the U.S., and the business market is just as robust with some 6,000 private jets offering Gogo Biz. In 2011, Gogo expects to add Wi-Fi service to average of three planes per day. While we haven’t gotten to glimpse the company’s finances, Small says they’re on the “path to profitability.”

Gogo’s equity funding came from existing investors in the company including Ripplewood Holdings, Blumenstein/Thorne Information Partners and “other investment entities associated with investor/entrepreneur Oakleigh Thorne.” The cash will be used to expand Gogo’s services. Hopefully, it’s a prelude to the company’s IPO, too.



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How to get venture capital for your startup

Knowing what venture capitalists are looking for is knowing what it takes to build a successful company.

There’s a big difference between people who can come up with business ideas and people who can actually turn those ideas into profitable, growing companies. In the latest issue of Entrepreneur, small business investor Kate Lister offers a list of three things entrepreneurs need to have before than can land venture capital for their business or business idea:

1) A great team. Venture capitalists look for specific attributes in a start-up: scalability, experience, and leadership. “Are you the kind of person who can grow a company to $50 million or $100 million in revenue in three to seven years?” Lister asks.

2) A niche. Consumers are very fickle creatures and you’ve got to give them a good reason to buy your product or service. Once you’ve found that reason, you need to make sure you can fend off competition from the industry heavyweights who won’t stand idly by while you siphon off their sales.

3) Financial viability. Venture capitalists don’t invest in small companies out of the kindness of their hearts. They’re looking for the sort of returns most other investors dream about. We’re talking “five to 10 times their investment in five to seven years.”

As Lister points out, only 20 percent of start-ups produce a “significant return” for investors, according to the National Venture Capital Association. Another 40 percent achieve “moderate success,” and the rest of those “great ideas” flop altogether. Venture capitalists demand such big returns on their money because they fully expect your business idea to fail. Knowing what venture capitalists are looking for is knowing what it takes to build a successful company. You can greatly increase your chances for success by staying in the niches you already know, surrounding yourself with brilliant people and pulling up your shirt sleeves and getting to work.



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