With the state of affairs today, the Dow Jones can look like a limbo bar that just keeps getting lower. Thousands have already lost their jobs and many more live in fear of that stark reality. If you’re one of the millions worrying that Friday’s pay check will be replaced with a pink slip, there are options. When each day of work seems a small miracle we tend to feel trapped, buckle down in hopes of staying afloat, or jump ship. While you could simply save up a nest egg or keep a weather eye on the horizon for new openings, why not become the boss yourself?
Surprisingly, this isn’t a bad time to go into business for yourself. With so many big corporations floundering, lots of niche companies are popping up. Buy local initiatives across the country are encouraging everyone to band together and support their communities, especially small, local businesses.
Whether you’ve already lost a job, or you feel that day approaching, now is as good a time as any to kick start the business of your dreams. Here are areas of concentration to get you thinking:
1. First decisions – What will your business do? Consider your own talents as well as uncovered territory in your area. Mixing products or services can lure clients in; remember the Sew/Vac stores? Look around your community to find a niche.
a. What structure will your business adhere to? Sole proprietorship? Limited liability corporation (LLC)? There are several choices out there, research them all before deciding. For details and tax implications on each, visit http://taxes.about.com/od/taxplanning/a/incorporating_2.htm.
b. Come up with a name that says it all. Brainstorm ideas and bounce them off friends, family, others in your industry. Make sure it’s catchy, memorable, easy to pronounce and spell. If you’ll have an online presence, check there for similar names and websites.
2. Location, location, location – where will this business live? Depending on what you’re planning to do, you could start off out of your home or renovate the garage to suit your needs; otherwise you’ll be looking at renting retail or office space. Consider your potential clients and chose a location that will be handy for them and not too much of a commute for you. Talk to the local zoning and planning boards about where your business is ALLOWED to be before you get your heart set and then broken. Certain businesses may be prohibited in different zones; these requirements will vary from town to town. Wherever you’re thinking of, look around to be sure the competition won’t be too fierce.
3. Make a wish list – starting a business takes lots of “things,” brainstorm what they are and catalog them according to wants/needs and start up/recurring items. Some things (like lumber for building or a desk) are one-time purchases where others (like paper goods) will need to be replenished frequently. Remember to include software like QuickBooks in this list and also check out cheaper online versions of popular programs, like FreshBooks for invoicing and time tracking. Visit http://www.inc.com/ss/10-free-or-cheap-tools-start-ups#9 for other ways to save on start-up software.
4. Research – you don’t want to jump in without knowing what’s on the other side!
a. Every town has specific business requirements and procedures; you’ll want to be familiar with your town’s in order to make any headway. Visit your town clerk or town and state websites to get started.
b. You’ll have to get a license or licenses depending on the type of business and local laws. Along with a business license, you may need to get additional licenses for your field or to manufacture or sell certain items like liquor or firearms. Professionals, such as contractors and real estate agents, need to be licensed in the states in which they work. Research all licenses applicable in your county and your state.
c. You’ll also need to do market research, just because you provide a service or build something doesn’t necessarily mean anyone will buy it. Who needs what you are offering? Is there space for your product or service or is your local market saturated? Who’s your competition and what are you bringing to the table that’s different?
5. Plan – you’ll need to create a business plan. What’s that? Basically it’s a thorough description of what you plan to do and how you plan to do it. It should include financials needed, projected income, management strategy, marketing plans and can include much more. For ideas and a basic outline, visit http://www.sba.gov/smallbusinessplanner/plan/writeabusinessplan/SERV_WRRITINGBUSPLAN.html.
6. Asking permission – you may need to petition your local zoning and/or planning board before you open up. Ask your town or county clerk about this process and be prepared to get stuck in murky territory and litigations if you don’t have everything together. If a board isn’t keen on letting you open, you might be held up for a while or get turned down altogether.
a. Registering name with state. Find out requirements here http://www.business.gov/register/business-name/dba.html.
7. Capitol – where will the start-up funds come from, will you get a loan or do you have savings for this purpose? If you don’t already have the money squirreled away, consider alternatives to traditional bank loans, like angel investors, venture capitalists, government programs and partnerships. Approach each option in its own right after investigating thoroughly.
8. Setting up – If and when you’re all approved and the capitol is there, be wary as you begin to set up shop. It’s very easy to get sucked into spending much more than you’ve budgeted for and construction costs can quickly add up out of control. Try to curb your excitement and think each step through logically to maximize your potential as you begin. Saved money can be used on advertising later or saved for a rainy day.
9. Networking – as you’re getting ready to open you’ll want to begin networking so that you’ve got customers right off the bat. Print up business cards, join local chambers of commerce, Business Networking International (BNI), or other area networking groups to start getting the word out. Social media and online activity can be a really cheap (free but for your time) way to spread awareness of your new business. Business is all about making connections and creating relationships.
10. Grand Opening – chose a date about a month out that will mark the big day. You may actually open a bit before this, but the festivities will be centered around one main event. Some places have multiple grand opening events, but that just seems hooky to most. Plan to have food (always a draw), activities, raffles, entertainment, and whatever else seems appropriate for your industry. Advertise in local papers, contact the media for possible articles (you can even write some yourself and submit), post flyers, and chat it up on the internet as much as possible. Hire a clown to stand on the corner if that’s what it takes, you want your community to know you’re here to stay.
For more information visit http://www.inc.com/guides/start_biz/. Then make a New Year’s resolution to promote yourself to the boss of your very own business. Good luck!