By Tami Harris
So you want to start a business? That is so great! You’ve got your big idea all lined up, your must-have product ready to hit the market, your service the world just can’t live without. So let’s hit the ground running, right? Not just yet. There is so much more to starting a business than having a brilliant idea, product or service to provide. There are a number of processes and intangible steps to take before beginning the exciting journey into entrepreneurship and business ownership. Some of those steps can be make or break for a fledgling business so before you go diving in head first, let’s slow down, make a plan and execute it to perfection to ensure your business has the type of longevity in the marketplace that you desire. So here it is. Your step-by-step guide for starting a business.
Step One: Make a business plan
We’ve all heard the saying “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” and unfortunately, it could not be more true when it comes to starting your own business. Every business, now matter how big or small, should have a business plan of some sort. The great news here is that it doesn’t have to be some professionally drawn out document. And it can be as simplistic or detail-oriented as you would like. It is after all your business plan so it should really be a reflection of you! Things to include in your business plan include but are not limited to:
Step Two: Name your business.
What’s in a name? A lot more than you think when it comes to naming a business. It’s often first nature to go for a name that is cute and catchy, but it is important to consider your business name very carefully. Base your name on the product(s) or service(s) you provide. Consider what if anything the name makes your potential customers think or feel when they hear it. Finally, check with your state’s Secretary of State’s office to see if your name of choice is available.This can easily be done online. The last thing you want to do is think you’ve got a great name and brand your business as such only to find out that name already exists in your state.
Step Three: Make it official.
Now that you have chosen a (freely available) name for your business, it is time to make it official by deciding the organizational structure of your business (ie. whether you choose to establish your business as an LLC, sole proprietorship, corporation, etc.) and registering it as such with the government. It’s best to do your own research and compare and contrast each of these business entities to choose the one that is best for you. You will need to pay the corresponding filing fees (which vary depending on the state in which your business is located). Additionally, if your business sells tangible goods, you will need to apply for a vendor’s license as well. Again, this is something you should be able to accomplish easily online via your state’s Secretary of State website and/or your local County Auditor’s website as well.
Step Four: Set up your finances.
This is really a two-fold process. First and foremost, you’ll want to run the numbers to determine your cost of doing business and you’ll want to make sure you include anything and everything you need to run your business in those figures. This includes but is not limited to rent, utilities, internet and phone, website and web domain maintenance fees, any business related subscription services or professional organizations to which you may belong, gas, costs of goods sold, and the list goes on and on. Knowing your cost of doing business, or CODB, is crucial to the success of your new company because after all, the prices of your goods and/or services should be determined by your CODB. Not only does it tell you what your revenue needs to be to keep your business in the black, but it also allows you to know how many appointments you need to run or products you need to sell to turn a profit and ultimately pay yourself a salary.
The second piece to this financial puzzle is to set up a separate bank account for your business. It is always a good idea to keep your business and personal funds separate for reporting and liability purposes when it comes time to pay your taxes. A business account can also be beneficial in that many accounts include an offer of a line of credit to be used to fund startup costs like new equipment or to provide for your expenses in the event of an emergency.
Step Five: Branding, branding, branding.
You’ve got your business name all squared away, and now is the perfect time to start thinking about and planning out your Logo and website? These are the logical next steps in your new business owner journey. Think about the most popular brands you can think of. I bet you know their logos (and maybe even their slogans too) by heart. A lot of thought, time and effort should go into selecting the right logo for your business. You can even go as far as doing some research on which colors to use based on the type of business you own. Should your colors be bright and bold to reflect your fun child care business? Or what about an elegant black, white and gold logo to reflect the timelessness of your wedding photography business. Whether you sell life insurance, own a bakery or are a professional dog walker, the colors, design and overall ‘feel’ of your logo should reflect the arena in when you operate your business. The colors, font and graphics used in a logo can truly leave a lasting first impression to potential customers so it is important to choose them wisely. Next up with regards to branding is your website.
Just as with your logo, your website is often the first impression potential clients and customers will make about your company. What does it say about the product or service that you provide? Are the colors eye-catching and relevant or confusing and distracting? Is the text big and clear enough to be easily read by most viewers? What about the information provided on your website itself? Is it clear and concise or is it far too wordy (and certain to be glossed over or worse, ignored altogether)? Even with so many small details to consider, building a beautiful website is not nearly as difficult as it used to be and it is something you can do on your own with the help of beautifully designed templates from websites like wix.com or web.com. If you are not quite in the financial space to be able to pay thousands of dollars for a professional web designer, websites like those mentioned above are a great, cost-effective, yet professional looking way to establish your business’s online presence.
Step Six: Time to market your business.
Now that your business is branded and has a web presence all its own, it is officially time to hit the ground running and begin marketing your business. This can be achieved any number of ways really, but certainly online is a great place to start. If it’s relevant to your business, set up and maintain social media accounts so that you can consistently get eyes on your business via your friends, family and colleagues. Schedule time to attend local business fairs and networking events. Set up a booth at your local Farmer’s Market. Order business cards, brochures and other hard copy marketing materials that you can leave at places where your target audience frequents. If it’s in your budget (and you’ve added it to your CODB) hire a marketing manager to point you in the right direction). And one of the best ways you can market your business? Don’t be afraid to self promote! There’s an old saying “closed mouths don’t get fed” and it certainly rings true when it comes to a fledgling business. You are your greatest and (most knowledgeable) promoter so tell people what you do. Share with them the services you provided and you’ll be pleasantly surprised how quickly word can spread.
While we’ve barely scratched the surface here of the ins and outs of starting a business, the steps above are a solid start to get you pointed in the right direction. So make that business plan. Know your numbers forwards and backwards so that you can best plan for your business’s financial future. Create a brand that speaks to people and reflects who you are and what you have to offer. Follow local and state guidelines to ensure your business’s legality. And go be the mouthpiece of your brand and just watch how all of your planning, persistence and hard work pay off.