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Professional Development

How do I create and perform self assessments? 

The following two PDF'S are separate examples of self assessments, and how they can be performed:

Board Self Assesment Example 2.pdf

How do I promote Myself in Local publications and media?

Your work isn’t going to promote itself!

To help, we’ve put together a list of local newspaper and news media that you can reach out to for press releases and advertising. If you’re releasing new work, hosting an event, or showing in a gallery, share your information with local media outlets and you could end up with an event listing or a story about your work.

If you’re sending out press releases, be sure to do so in a digital format, as it will be easier for you to send to reach many publications, and easier for them to review the material. If you’re including media, be sure to send the highest resolution photos that you can.

Lansing State Journal
300 S. Washington Square 
Suite #300 
Lansing, MI 48933 
Homepage: http://www.lansingstatejournal.com/

The Lansing State Journal also has Community Weeklies, which make it easier to get your work published locally:

§  Delta-Waverly
§  East Lansing
§  DeWitt-Bath
§  Williamston
§  Clinton
§  Charlotte

CityPulse
1905 E. Michigan Ave. Lansing, MI 48912
Tel: (517) 371-5600
Advertising inquiries: (517) 999-5061
Homepage: http://www.lansingcitypulse.com/lansing/

Creative Many Michigan
Homepage: http://www.creativemany.org/
Resources: http://www.creativemany.org/resources/
Email: cezanne@creativemany.org

REVUE West Michigan
65 Monroe Center, Ste. 5 Grand Rapids, MI 49503
Tel: (616) 608-6170
Homepage: http://revuewm.com/
Email: editor@revuewm.com

Capital Area Women’s LifeStyle Magazine
614 Seymour Avenue Lansing, MI 48933
Tel: (517) 203-0123
Homepage: http://www.cawlm.com/
Contact: http://www.cawlm.com/contact/
Advertising: http://www.cawlm.com/advertise/

Lansing Area Capital Gains
119 Pere Marquette Drive Lansing, MI 48912
Contact, Advertising: feedback@capitalgainsmedia.com

The New Citizens Press
Contact: rinarisper.tncp@gmail.com
Homepage: http://www.tncp.net/

WKAR Public Broadcasting
Michigan State University
283 Communication Arts & Sciences Bldg. East Lansing,
MI 48824-1212
Tel: (517) 432-9527
Homepage: http://wkar.org/
Contact: newsinfo@wkar.org

WLNS TV 6
2820 East Saginaw Street Lansing, MI 48912
Tel: (517) 372-8282
Homepage: http://www.wlns.com/
Contact: newstips@wlns.com

WSYM FOX 47
600 W. Saint Joseph St. Suite 47 Lansing, MI 48933
Tel: (517) 484-7747
Homepage: http://www.fox47news.com/

How do I photograph my art?

There are numerous reasons that a work of art's owner might require a photograph of the painting, drawing or object in question. You might be building an online portfolio, trying to sell your work, filing an insurance claim, or just sharing a new piece with your friends and family.

In any of these cases, everyone involved is going to be happiest looking at the best images you can shoot. Assuming you do not own a high-end camera, professional lighting equipment, release cables and tripods, there remain at least four steps anyone can take to ensure reasonably good pictures of art.

Think Like a Carpenter

How you compose your shot matters, and here you want to be "square, plumb and level." Get your camera at a right angle to the piece being photographed. If it is hanging on the wall, center *yourself* in order to point the lens squarely. It's also important that the lens and the work of art are on parallel planes when you shoot. Angling your viewfinder up, down or sideways is not going to achieve the best result, face your work directly.

If the work is a large painting or drawing, lay it flat on the floor and shoot from above looking down (use a chair or step-ladder to obtain ample distance if it's really large). Tilting it against the wall from the baseboard or the edge of a table -- however slightly -- will distort the view.

Additionally, if you are taking a picture of a three-dimensional object that is sitting on a flat surface, position yourself at eye level with the object. This may mean kneeling.

Indirect Lighting is Good

And natural indirect lighting is even better. A room with windows can offer indirect sunlight, even on an overcast day. You do, however, want to avoid sunlight striking your object directly, as this will cause glare. (It's also an absolutely horrible idea to put most works of art in direct sunlight, but that's another story.)

Now, if you haven't got windows or are stuck in the gloom of monsoon season, artificial lighting will work. In this scenario, two or more light sources -- preferably of similar wattage strengths -- should be set at about 45º angles to the piece, off to either side. "Off" as in: out of the peripheral vision of both you and the camera lens. Your goal here is to light semi-naturally but not, I repeat not to cast shadows. Manipulate wisely with an eye toward even lighting.

No Tripod? No Problem.

Yes, well. It really is something of a problem, because still photography is best done with a tripod. Lacking this piece of equipment, however, you can do the following to minimize any motion:

Make your own tripod: If you have a stool, or a chair that you can set your camera on at the right height, do this. Just make sure the surface is level and stable. If possible, frame your shot and then use your camera’s timer to take it. You will have a clearer, more stable shot with your hands off of the camera.

If a freehand shot is necessary, use both hands to hold the camera. Draw both elbows in to your midpoint until they're close to touching one another, then firmly hold elbows and as much of your forearms as possible to your torso/chest. Your hands will be free to aim and shoot, but your arms won't be moving much. Hold your breath just before and while hitting the shutter.

If you’ve got a few extra bucks on hand, you can find a decent tripod online for under $15.

Turn OFF the Flash!

Paraphrasing the words of Frankenstein's monster, "Flash BAD."

Unless you know how to "bounce" flash from the camera to a middle surface and then to your object, turn this function off. In all seriousness, a flash aimed directly at the piece is, 99 times out of 100, your enemy when photographing art. If there is a highlight or shiny area to be found, your flash will find it, spotlight it brilliantly and render it nearly unrecognizable in the resultant image. The glaring spot will bear little
resemblance to that which a person actually sees with the naked eye.

The flash function also has an amazing talent for leveling tones, evening out contrasts and wiping away shadows. While this may prove a blessing in select pictures from family reunions, it is not one bit helpful in faithfully representing your work of art. You -- and anyone else who's looking-- want to see the piece the way the artist composed and executed it, not as your flash decides is optimum.

In summary, to take the best possible shot of your work of art you need to:

§  Make sure your view is square, plumb and level;

§  Use indirect lighting;

§  Keep your camera steady;

§  Turn off your flash.

Additionally, if your camera has multiple settings, shoot at the highest resolution possible. This will give viewers the best experience with a larger, higher-quality photo.

Yes, it's really just that simple! For those about to shoot, we (who will be viewing the results) salute you.

Here is a further reading: http://www.dallasartsrevue.com/resources/How-to-Photo-Art.shtml

Where can I create an online portfolio?

Creating an online portfolio is a must for any artist nowadays. Luckily, there are many websites that make doing so fast and easy. Having an online portfolio will boost your audience, allow you to share your work at no cost, and let fans of your work pass it on with ease. Here are a few websites where you can get started:

http://carbonmade.com/

Carbonmade offers free, great looking portfolio’s that are simple to set up. Unlike a wordpress site however, you are limited to a portfolio of your work and a simple about page.

http://www.behance.net/

The Behance Network provides free, clean and professional portfolios. Artists are allowed unlimited space for the media at no cost. However, new users must request an invitation to join by submitting a description of your creative work.

http://www.flickr.com/

Flickr has a wide user base of artists and photographers. You can upload your photos, organize it into sets, and write descriptions for each. Flickr lets you follow other users and each photo has multiple viewing options and room for comments. An unlimited-storage, “pro” account costs $2 a month, though you probably won’t need it. Tip: Join groups such as the Lansing Flickr Pool to get started and find others from your community.

http://wordpress.org/

Wordpress offers users a free blog. However, the beginning setup is very bare and you will probably want to install a new theme, many of which are available for free in portfolio formats. The upside to using Wordpress is that you will have more flexibility in adding multiple pages and writing about your work.

How do I promote myself through social media?

By keeping up to date with a few social media sites throughout the week, you can build your presence as an artist and make new connections with fans and artists alike.

https://twitter.com/

Twitter can seem pointless or confusing to users not already familiar with the service, but once you dig in, there are many benefits to using it.

You can connect with people you know, follow others’ whose work you like, and discover new artists. You can use Twitter gives you an inside look into others’ processes and work. Don’t be afraid to start conversations, and make sure your own profile is set to public to make the most of the service. Be sure to say “hello” to us @ArtsCouncilGL.

You can learn more at 10 Twitter Tips for Artists

https://www.facebook.com/

Facebook can be a powerful tool to engage and grow your audience with. One of the major positives to using the service is that most people will already have a profile that you can connect with. Start by creating a page for yourself as an artist, then upload some of your work. Whenever you have work to share or news regarding your art, be sure to post it on your Facebook page. The Huffington Post has written a more in-depth article on How Artists Can Use Facebook.

https://www.tumblr.com/

One of the fastest, easiest ways to both put your work online and have a place to share your thoughts is Tumblr.com. Their blogging platform is known for its simplicity, and they make it easy to create a great looking place to put your work online. Tumblr also has a huge focus on sharing others’ posts, so if you interact with others and they like your work, it’s very easy for them to pass it along.

How do I write an artists statement? 

Why is an artist statement important?

An artist statement is an essential part of a good portfolio. Gallery owners respect the professionalism of a good statement. A good statement allows people who love your work to find out more about you, offers your audience more ways to connect with you, and increases their appreciation and perceived value of your work. Think of an artist statement as a complement to an artist’s work that emphasizes key aspects of the artist and his/her work. It’s an introduction that covers facts, and not instructions on what to experience or how to think and feel. Just about all artists want as many people
as possible to appreciate their art. A good artist statement works towards this end by informing the audience where the artist cannot.

What makes a good artist statement?

Three things: Clarity, Brevity, and Focus.

Clarity. Get to the point but don’t exhaust the viewer by doing it. Saying too much can ruin the message. Good writing is clear, easy to read, and direct. Language that everyone can understand. Make your writing less complex by avoiding long sentences, obscure references, and artspeak.

Brevity. Be concise. Rare is the good statement that is more than 300 words (one page, single-spaced). For some exhibitions, statements can be restricted to as little as 100 words. Most people read only two or three paragraphs (if that), which is why the key
information should be at the top of the statement.

Focus. Before even thinking about the specifics, ask yourself: What am I trying to accomplish as an artist? What is this specific piece trying to accomplish? What influenced me while creating it? Is the theme communicated well? Then write your statement accordingly.

What is the most important thing in an artist statement?

1.     Why you create your art, and what it means to you.
2.     What does it signify, what are you trying to say?
3.     How did you make it and what is it made out of?
4.     What it means to you. (brief)

Don't bog readers down, but rather entice them to want to know more. As with any good first impression, your statement should hook and invite further inquiry, like a really good story is about to unfold. Give too little, not too much. Address and answer commonly asked questions about your art. Save the complicated stuff for those who progress to the next level.

What things should an artist leave out of a statement?

This is hard to generalize, as different artists emphasize different things. As a rule though, art theory should be used sparingly. Artspeak and complex ideas may muck up a short artist statement. If there are key aspects that steer your work, then certainly include them, but do it in an accessible and concise fashion. Avoid categorizing your work or comparing yourself to others.

What should the tone of an artist statement be?

Your statement is about you, so personalize it. Write it in the first person, not like you're talking about yourself in the abstract. Infuse it with your unique perspective. Whenever possible, make it conversational, like you're speaking directly to readers (Note: A good editor can work wonders here). The more complicated, theoretical, or impersonal your
statement, the more trouble people will have trying to hack through it and connecting with you and your art on meaningful levels.

A lot of artists approach self-promotion with dread—it may not be natural for them, and they would just prefer to let their work speak for themselves. Even renowned artists worry about the details of their marketing. All artists must promote themselves to be successful. And most artists do a lot of their own promotion. Make the process self reflective. It can be enriching and actually help you understand your own work better.

How do I write a press release?

Below is an example of how a general press release could be made.

For Immediate Release
[or include thedate you want to release] – for example: 

For Release After [TODAY’S DATE]
Media Contact: [NAME]
[PHONE NUMBER]

[Your press release should be a clear summary of your story –written in third person – answering the basic of who, what, why when and where. Your press release should also be double-spaced, leaving margins of at least
one inch.]

CATCHY TITLE

[Begin with City, State] Lansing, Mich.—Answer the “what” question about the story in your opening paragraph. Stick to facts and include all pertinent titles, dates, and locations for the activity.

Second paragraph continues by answering “why” and ‘how” questions and should tie in with the first paragraph.

At this point in there lease, it is a good idea to include at least one quote that relates to your organization, your business, or come from an artist involved with your story. It is important to acknowledge the source as well. Adding the name of the source, and their title, if applicable, will add credibility to your story.

Continue to elaborate upon your story in the body of the press release if you need to. It will be important to be clear, concise and to write in the third person. You may include industry facts and figures, and other supporting information here.

Call to action paragraph – what do you want the reader to act upon? It could be as simple as “Sign up online now to receive free tickets to Saturday’s performance.”

Closing paragraph should include summary of your business and where you are located or how the reader can find you.
 
###

[Use three centered number signs to denote when press release ends]

HOW do i speak to others about my art?

Distancing yourself from your own artwork can sometimes be challenging. However, it's important to articulate the ideas behind your work to objective listeners and audiences. In doing so, you can help guide their interpretation of the work. While this may seem wrong, and you could argue that the art should stand on its own, your discussions will help others connect and build an interest in the work.

“Make sure that you tell your art's story. The story behind an object, even when the object isn't worth big bucks, is often what entertains intrigues and attracts viewers. A work of art without a story is just another pretty picture.” –Alan Bamberger, art consultant

Tips for speaking about your work:

Introduce yourself to people as an artist. Practice smiling and meeting their eyes.

“Hi, I’m Charlotte. Thanks for taking a look at my new work. (I loved making these paintings because....) (This series is about...)”

Practice describing your work in one or two sentences. Be honest about what pulls you forward in your work. Try not to think about your listener’s reactions.

Don’t be negative or describe yourself as a serial beginner.

“Talk like a professional artist, even if your art career is part-time. When someone asks if they can visit your studio, don’t say, 'I paint in my kitchen when my husband and kids
are away.' Instead, say, 'My studio is a small, working studio that doesn’t accommodate visitors, but I would be happy to bring a selection of my work to you for a private viewing.' –D.L. Hawley, Painter, “Looking Like a Pro”, The Artist’s Magazine

Be yourself: let your personality/enthusiasm/quirkiness out.

“I love big, beautiful, colorful flowers and leaves that curl and I can’t resist painting them.” –Sue Woodfine

“It belongs to me. God told me if I painted it enough I could have it.” –Georgia O’Keeffe

Ideas to consider beforehand:

Considering these questions beforehand will make you more comfortable when talking about your work:

§  Why did you choose that particular subject(s)?
§  Did you intend any specific meaning to be read into your subject?
§  Have you used symbolism (overt or hidden)?
§  Do the colors have any special significance to you?
§  Why did you give it the title you did? (Or why haven't you decided on a title yet?)
§  Why did you paint it that size?
§  If you regularly use different mediums, why did you select the one you did for this particular painting?

Keep your answers short. More than three sentences and you'll have lost one's attention. Don't use lots of art-speak. Be genuine and mean what you say. Don't try to impress, but don't hesitate to be emotional and passionate about your art.

What do I include in a resume?

General Comments

The artist resumé conventions presented here are designed primarily for use with commercial galleries. While its length, one to four pages, is similar to the “short curriculum vitae,” or “short cv,” it is not intended for academic situations.

Avoid making the artist resumé complicated. It is meant to be short and simple to review. Galleries may receive dozens of applications per week, so you will want to make it easy on the eye. Select fonts and font sizes that facilitate reading. Use white space well.

Sample Artist Resumé (with Commentary)

1. Basic Info
Name (in bold or larger font):
Preferred mailing address:
Phone Number(s):
Work:
Studio:
Home:
Fax:
Email:
Personal Website: (if appropriate)

Comments: If a gallery gives you a show or takes you in as a stable artist, they may eliminate much of the information in this category. They will probably remove your address, phone numbers, etc., and provide your date or place of birth. This is a common practice because the gallery wants the potential buyer to contact them directly regarding any inquiries about your work.

2. Education
MFA 1998 Sculpture University of Kansas
BFA 1995 Studio Art University of Oklahoma
BA 1992 French Southern Methodist University (cum laude)

Comments: List all of the academic degrees you have earned (noting honors). It is not uncommon to have studied art at a university without completing the degree. You may want to list these periods of study after the list of degrees earned.

3. Grants/Awards (Grants/Fellowships, Awards/Honors, etc.)
1998 New York Council for the Arts Fellowship

4. Solo Exhibitions (One-Person Shows, Solo Shows, etc.)
1998 New Work, Kirkland Art Center, Clinton, New York
1999 MFA Thesis Exhibition, University of Kansas

Comments: As your career progresses, it is likely that you will use the heading “Selected Solo Exhibitions.” For artists in certain time-based media, an exhibition might be referred to as a “Screening.” In that case, the heading might read “Exhibitions/Screenings” or “Exhibitions/Screenings/Performances” instead of “Exhibition Record.” For performance artists, the heading “Performances” may be adequate. Others may require the heading “Exhibitions/Commissions.”

For those doing digital or technological art as well as video or performance art, please note whether or not the work is collaborative. If it is, develop a simple method for identifying individual contributions.

5. Group
Exhibitions (Group Shows)
1998 New York Fine Arts Association National Competition, Utica, NY
Sculpture Carved and Forged, Tampa Museum of Art, Tampa, FL
1997 They Landed in Lawrence, Lawrence Art Association, Lawrence, KS

6. Commissions (if applicable)

7. Collections (Public, Private, Corporate)
Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, NY Lawrence Art Center, Lawrence, KS

Comments: In the case of private collectors, be sure to have permission to list their name(s). Some private collectors like to keep a low profile because of security reasons.

8. Bibliography (Selected Bibliography)
Diane Terrel, “New Work in Central New York,” Sculpture 17, no. 1 (January 1998): 63.

Comments: If you are in need of a style guide for listing articles and reviews about you, you might consider using the Art Bulletin Style Guide.

The inclusion of your work in books, magazines, major newspapers, and important catalogues is important for major galleries. Exhibition announcements and reviews in newspapers of smaller communities are less important.

9. Current Employment
Visiting Assistant Professor, Hamilton College, Clinton, NY

Comments: It is not necessary to list your entire employment history. In the case of an individual who has taught at several major art institutions, it may be useful.

10. Current Gallery Representation

Where can i find an artist residency program?

Artist-in-residence and other residency programs give visiting artists a chance to stay and work so they may focus on practicing their art. Each residency program is different. Some focus on one discipline of art, and others allow for nearly any category of artist. Program length can very from weeks to months, and all programs have differences in facilities, financial details, and application processes.

In order to assist you in finding an artist residency program, we have compiled a list of resources which offer options nationally and worldwide.

§  ArtistCommunities.org compiles lists of artist in residence, artist colony, and artist retreat programs that you can browse by region: 
http://www.artistcommunities.org/about-residencies/directory

§  ResArtis is a worldwide network of artist residencies, and has a list of nearly 400 opportunities for artists locally and across the globe:
 http://www.resartis.org/en/residencies/

§  The Michigan State University Department of Art and Art History compiles a list
of residencies available to artists. The programs range from local studios to international residency programs: Artist & Scholar Residencies: http://www.art.msu.edu/?page_id=372

§  Crankbrook Academy of Art has a listing of various residency programs across North America: http://www.cranbrookart.edu/library/research/residencies.htm

What are the best ways to organize and manage my events?

It can be hard to communicate with a group, manage RSVPs, ticketing, scheduling, and the other tasks that come along with managing an event. Luckily, you don’t have to do it by hand, or even pay for a professional service. There are many online services and applications that make it simple to you manage your event, or even entire event calender, like a pro.

Eventbrite

Eventbrite lets you publish a custom online event registration page. You can invite guests via email as well as promote the event through a variety of social media sites (facebook, twitter, linkedin, more). Once the event is made, you can track attendees through lists, charts, and graphs that make it simple to see what everyone is doing. Eventbrite also has features for managing ticket sales (or even accepting donations), and you can accept payments securely right through the service itself. If your event is
free, so is Eventbrite. There is a small per-ticket fee if you plan to sell tickets through the service. For more info, see http://www.eventbrite.com/features

Similar services: TicketLeap, eventbee.

Google Calendar

Google Calendar is a free, full featured calendar application. It can be viewed online, through many mobile phones, and can be synced across other calender applications. Additionally, it has many features that make managing an event easier. You can invite others to events, and guests can RSVP by either email or via Google Calendar. For more info, see https://www.google.com/calendar/

Financial

Who can help me raise capital?

Local Resources
These organizations work specifically to help bring capital to developing businesses in Greater Lansing.

City of East Lansing
The Downtown/Cultural Entrepreneurship Program provides grants and/or loans designed to support entrepreneurship in retail and art-related businesses.

Entrepreneur Institute of Mid-Michigan
The Entrepreneur Institute of Mid-Michigan offers a Micro-Loan program for entrepreneurs who cannot obtain credit through traditional means: http://www.yourfoundationforbusiness.com/

The Lansing Economic Development Corporation
The LEDC has a variety of business development programs offering loan and grants: https://edc.lansingmi.gov/355/Lansing-Economic-Development-Corporation

Resources for Creatives

Fractured Atlas
Provides fiscal sponsorship, insurance, ticketing software, online tools, and special offers for members of the creative community.  www.fracturedatlas.org

Artist Help Network
Artist Help Network is an online career resource for artists of all disciplines, and includes extensive resource lists on grants and funding, accounting and bookkeeping, business volunteers for the arts, accountants, pricing, grant writers, and bartering organizations, as well as other career concerns for artists. www.artisthelpnetwork.com

Craft Emergency Relief Fund (CERF)
CERF+ is a national artists’ service organization whose mission is to safeguard and sustain the careers of craft artists and provide emergency resources. 
https://cerfplus.org/

GYST
GYST provides software, publications, and other services for artists by artists including database software and technology solutions.  http://www.gyst-ink.com/

Big Cartel
Big Cartel provides clothing designers, bands, jewelry makers, crafters, and other artists with their own customizable store to sell their stuff online.  www.bigcartel.com

Ponoko and Spoonflower
Make your own products on Ponoko by uploading product designs and selecting your materials. Pay instantly for your products, have them delivered, and then exchange your product ideas online. Spoonflower helps you design, print, and sell your own fabric, wallpaper, and decals. 
www.spoonflower.com 
 www.ponoko.com 

General Business Resources

Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC)

MEDC has a number of resources available for entrepreneurs and small businesses including the Michigan Business One Stop which includes an online resource center to help you begin operating a business in Michigan. The site includes a toolkit, a “resource navigator,” information on opportunities, and access to other business support
organizations.  http://www.michiganbusiness.org

Small Business & Technology Development Center (SBTDC)
Funded by the Small Business Administration, the SBTDC offers resource centers, classes, and counselors across Michigan. Classes and one-on-one support is available for the development of business plans, marketing plans, health care, and financial needs including financing and microloan assistance.  http://sbdcmichigan.org/

Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE)
Supported by the Small Business Administration, SCORE is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground, grow, and achieve their goals through education and mentorship.  www.score.org

Funding

Great Lakes Entrepreneur Quest (GLEQ)
Great Lakes Entrepreneurs Quest is a statewide business plan competition generating new business ideas and fostering emerging companies through business plan development coaching, mentoring and investor feedback.  http://mtecsz.com/?q=node/336

Opportunity Resource Fund
The Opportunity Resource Fund provides loans through careful and flexible resource allocation to benefit Michigan communities. Micro-enterprise/small business loans and affordable housing loans are available.  www.oppfund.org

Foundation Center
The Foundation Center is the leading source of information about philanthropy worldwide. Through data, analysis, and training, it connects people who want to change the world to the resources they need to succeed. www.foundationcenter.org

Crowd Funding Sites
Crowd-funding works in that people 'pledge' their interest in a project, usually for a nominal fee or for a significant amount of money. If the funds reach the target, the product–be it a theatre production, or funding for schools in Kenya—receives funding, and often gets taken up by a pre-existing company, and everyone's a winner.

What are the best ways to keep track of my finances?

As an artist, it’s important to keep track of your your sales and stay on top of your financial records. At the least, you should be keeping a journal of expenses with receipts of sale.

We’ve compiled a list of resources that can help you sell your art and improve your record keeping.

Freshbooks (limited free plan) is an online applications for invoicing, bookkeeping, time tracking, and payment collecting. You can send invoices through email, or even regular mail. Freshbooks allows you to get paid directly, in any currency, and can export all of the information you need when tax time comes along.

Quickbooks (30 day trial) Offers a variety of products for online, Mac, and PC users.

Billings for Mac (21 day trial) makes billing simple, and handles time tracking, invoicing, and sending statements as well. The Pro version (Billings Pro) also features iPhone and online applications.

Zoho Invoice (free for 5 invoices/month) is an online application that lets you send and manages invoices, track your expenses, manages your books, and collect payments.

Kashoo (30 day trial) is an online accounting application with the ability to import data from your bank accounts as well as Freshbooks.

Xero (180 day or 5 invoices trial) is an online application for accounting, invoicing, and
accepting payments. You can also import transactions form your own bank account.

How do I write a business plan?

Why write a business plan?
A business plan will not only help you get your business off the ground, but will continue to act as a guide and reference as you grow. A few ways that a plan will assist your business venture are that:

§  The process of putting a business plan together, including the thought put in before beginning to write it, forces one to take an objective, critical, unemotional look at the business project in its entirety.

§  A business plan is an effective operating tool. If properly used, a business plan will help manage the business and work effectively toward its success.

§  Lenders require one. A completed business plan communicates ideas to others and provides the basis for a financial proposal.

If you haven't written your plan yet, your business is still in the fantasy stages. That isn't harsh; it's how it is in the real world. A company's business plan is what lenders such as banks and the U.S. Small Business Administration use in deciding to lend you money. It's the main company document that your employees —- and you -- use to gauge your
company's success and to make decisions about what you should do first, second, or not at all.

If you're starting a home-based business on a shoestring, some of these suggestions probably aren't necessary, but you still should create a plan that outlines your goals, expected costs, marketing plan and exit strategy. A business plan is your road map for how you expect to succeed and how you'll measure success. Creating the plan

Guide to Business Plans
Here’s a quick nine-step guide to what you will need in your company's business plan:

1. An executive summary outlining goals and objectives. 
The executive summary introduces your business strategy and probably is the most important section for lending institutions. If you can't persuade a loan officer in the first two or three pages that you've got a viable business proposal, you're going to leave
empty-handed. This summary is also important as a communication tool for employees and potential customers who need to understand -- and get behind -- your ideas.

2. A brief account of how the company began. 
Clearly explain the origins behind the company's creation and how you or your business associate came up with the idea to start your business.

3. Your company's goals. 
Explain in a few paragraphs your short- and long-term goals for the company. How fast do you think it will grow? Who will be your primary customers?

4. Biographies of the management team
The management section should include the names and backgrounds of lead members of the management team and their respective responsibilities.

5. The service or product you plan to offer. 
A key aspect of this section will be a discussion of how your product or service differs from everything else on the market.

6. The market potential for your service or product. 
Remember that you've got to convince lenders, employees and others that the market you're after is relatively large and growing. You'll need to do some research for this section. If it's a locally based business, you need to assess the demand for your
offering within an xx-mile radius, based on what you determine is a reasonable
distance from your business. If it's a Web-based business or a business that relies on both the Internet and local traffic for revenues, you'll need to evaluate demand on a local and/or a national basis. A research report from sites such as Forrester Research can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars. But you may be able to get some basic information simply by using the Web and its many search engines and directories.

7. A marketing strategy. 
How do you plan to tell the world you're open for business? Will you rely exclusively on word of mouth (not a good plan unless you've already got a reputation)? Will you advertise in print, television or on the Web (or all three)? Will you use online services to get your company listed on search engines and advertised on other Web sites? You'll also need to include how much you plan to spend on marketing.

8. A three to five-year financial projection. 
This section should include a summary of your financial forecasts, with spreadsheets showing the formula you used to reach your projections. You'll need balance sheets, income statements and cash-flow projections for the entire forecast period. The summary in this section is also where you would tell prospective lenders how much money you'd like to borrow to cover your startup costs. The assumptions that you make in this section will make or break your company's success. If you're unsure about using this kind of financial modeling, consult a professional or invest in financial management software. It's worth the money.

9. An exit strategy. 
All good business plans include a section that lays out the benchmarks you'll use in
deciding to call it quits. The strategy could be based on a dollar figure, revenue growth, the market's reception to your idea, or a consensus among partners.

Additional Resources

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation has created a 60+ page Guide to Starting a Small Business (.PDF) that walks you through each step of the process and provides plenty of valuable information.

How can I budget better

Planning for and recording the finances associated with your personal life and work alike can seem like a daunting task. However, it’s important to stay on top of your finances, and the records you create will help immensely when tax season comes along. These tips and resources should make the process easier and more manageable.

General Budgeting Tips

Adapted from: ABMG: Budgeting Tips

1.Evaluate your spending. First, make a master list of all your expenses. List living expenses and necessities first: rent, mortgage, food, utilities, taxes, clothing, insurance, medical costs. Then add a line for entertainment. Finally, the last line should be for
investments and savings. If you budget for investments and savings as a regular
expense, you'll be more likely to set money aside.

2.Earmark a percentage of your income for each expense. Figuring out how much of your income goes toward each expense is a key step in developing a successful budget. Once you have done so, if you classify expenses as either fixed or flexible, it will be easier to make cuts. Remember, it is generally flexible expenses that erode earnings.

3.Rank your spending priorities. Label your expenses according to importance, from "essential" to "unimportant." You can then look at eliminating some lesser-important
items, which may free up enough funds for a modest investment program.

4.Pay yourself first. Write a monthly check to a special account rather than leaving the amount in your regular checking account. Your special account could be a savings account, money market fund, or Individual Retirement Account (IRA). Alternatively, many insurance companies and mutual funds have monthly checking account deduction plans that allow you to make a regular contribution to a wide variety of funding choices. However you choose to do it, paying yourself first is the foundation of a disciplined approach to savings.

Mint.com
Mint brings all your financial accounts into one place, where you can set budgets and track your spending. The service is 100% free, and uses the same security that regular banks do. http://www.mint.com

Bundle.com
Similar to Mint, online money management service Bundle adds a social aspect to the online budgeting. With Bundle, you can see data from your city, and improve your budgeting by seeing what others are doing. Like Mint, bundle is free of charge and uses bank level security. http://www.bundle.com/

Where can I find a tax accountant, and why would i need one?

While we can’t recommend specific accountants for you, sites such as 
http://www.accountant-finder.com/ have put together directories of accounting professionals across most localities. Use them in combination with the following guide in order to find a tax professional that suits your needs.

Taxpayers of all types can benefit from hiring a tax accountant. Before you spend your hard-earned cash, here are some simple steps you can take to protect yourself and find the right professional for your situation.

Understand Why You Need a Tax Accountant

You should take some time to focus on exactly what you need your tax accountant to do. Here are some common situations:

§  Preparing your own taxes is time-consuming, stressful, or confusing.
§  You want to make sure your tax returns are accurate.
§  You need specialized advice and tips.
§  You would like to pay as little taxes as possible, and need detailed planning and advice.
§  You are facing a tax problem, such as filing back taxes, paying off a tax debt, or fighting an IRS audit.
§  You run a business, invest in the stock market, own rental property, or live outside the United States.

Finding Tax Accountants
You should find an experienced tax accountant who specializes in the areas you need help with. Here are some tips for finding the right professional who has the specialized tax expertise you need:

§  Referrals can be your best bet. Ask everyone you can think of: family, friends, business owners, financial advisers and attorneys. It will help to ask someone who has a similar tax situation to yours.

§  Be wary of an accountant who promises you big refunds or that says you can deduct everything. You, not the accountant, are ultimatel responsible for the information on your tax return.

§  Do not be afraid to shop around or to change accountants if you are not comfortable.

§  Retail tax franchises such as H&R Block, Jackson Hewitt, and Liberty Tax Service offer tax services for individuals who need to file relatively straight-forward tax returns. Some tax preparers will be more experienced than others, and you can sometimes find CPAs and Enrolled Agents working in these offices. (Here's a tip: Prices are often determined by how many tax forms need to be filled out. Ask if you can meet with a CPA, enrolled agent, or senior tax preparer. You'll pay the same, but you'll get to speak
with a seasoned professional.)

§  Local, independent tax firms often specialize in the tax needs of individuals and small businesses in their neighborhood. Again, some independent tax accountants will be more experienced than others. Ask if the firm has the expertise to handle your taxes.

Types of Accounting Professionals:

Enrolled Agents (EAs) are tax professionals who have passed a rigorous test and background check administered by the IRS. Enrolled agents often specialize and are best for complex tax situations.

Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) are accountants who have passed the rigorous CPA
Exam and are licensed by the state they work in. CPAs will specialize in a specific area, such as audits, tax, or business consulting. CPAs are best at complex accounting work, and not all CPAs handle tax issues.

Tax Attorneys are lawyers who have chosen to specialize in tax law. Attorneys are best at complex legal matters, such as preparing estate tax returns or taking your case before the US Tax Court.

Additional Info:

Along with finding a accounting professional, it’s important to keep track of your own finances.