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How to Start a Business

Last Updated: Sep 9, 2018
Wondering how to start a business? This startup guide will help you understand what it takes to start a business and turn your business idea into a profitable small business. 

Are you thinking about starting a business?  If so, you’re in good company. Each year, hundreds of thousands of people start businesses in the United States, alone. 

Like you, they are men and women who dream about becoming their own boss, controlling their own destiny, and possibly making more money in their own business than they can working for someone else.

These business startups are as varied as the people who start them. They’re hair salons, software development companies, retailers, social media consultants, HVAC services, health coaches, and just about every imaginable type of business.  

The one thing many of these would-be business owners have in common is that they know what they want to do, but  they aren’t sure how to start a business and make it profitable.

There are a myriad of resources out there that provide tips, do’s and don’ts and success stories. But trying to weed out the sales pitches from the practical information is time consuming. That’s why we created this guide for starting a business. We suggest you read this guide first, and when you’re ready to move forward, use our business startup checklist to make sure you complete all the important steps.

The best way to start a business is to break the project down into small steps and complete those steps one by one. The first step is to know whether you’re cut out to run your own business.

Dreaming about starting your own business is easy. Setting up a small business and  working at it until it becomes profitable isn’t so easy. It’s going to require time, money, focus, persistence and a whole lot of things no one talks much about. In fact, if you ask experts  “what does it take to start a business,” the standard answers you’ll get will usually focus on skills, interests and experience.

While those things are important (they are first on the bulleted list below), your personality, attitude and soft skills are equally as important. Before you start your business be sure you ask yourself and honestly answer all of these questions:

RELATED: Tips for succeeding in your own business

If you aren’t sure what kind of business you want to start, think about your interests and skills, and the types of businesses that may be related to those skills. Use our business ideas section and our list of 300+ businesses to start to help you generate your own ideas.

Once you have a business idea in mind, you need to research the business so you can determine the likelihood that customers will want what you sell and so you know what will be involved in operating the business.

Market research will give you insights into who your customers will be, what they are looking for, and how you’ll need to sell to them.

Figure out who your customers are and where you can find them with this free, fillable Market Research Worksheet.

Industry publications and local resources such as a local office of the Small Business Development Corporation (SBDC) or SCORE can often help you locate much of the research information you need.  If you need more specific data than you can find for free, or if you don’t have a lot of time to spend hunting down sources of information, you can purchase a variety of research reports from Bizminer. The company is an excellent source for industry and location-specific financial analysis and market research data, as well as other data helpful for writing business plans. (Note: BusinessKnowHow is an affiliate for Bizminer and will make a small commission if you buy through our links.)

Buying an existing business or a franchise can be advantageous to starting your own business in some cases. If the business you want to buy is doing well and gets repeat business, your initial marketing chores will be easier. Your startup will be less stressful, too, if the existing owner is willing to show you how they run the business. If you plan to buy a well-known franchise, your new business will have immediate name recognition, and the franchise will provide some training.

Despite the apparent advantages, there are still no guarantees of success. In either case you’ll be laying out a lot of money up front and possibly incurring a lot of debt.  Thus, before you proceed, look carefully at issues like these:

If you are thinking about buying a franchise, we suggest purchasing The Franchise Buyer’s Manual. The book  is written by industry expert Ed Teixeira, and is sold by BusinessKnowHow in the Business Know-How store.  

Before you go ahead with the purchase of either an existing business or a franchise we suggest you consult your own accountant and attorney.

To be honest, a lot of one-person startups skip this step or gloss over it. But that’s not a good idea. A business plan forces you to look at all the marketing, operational and financial information you’ve collected, and to lay out specific plans, goals and timetables. Once it’s written, it will serve as a roadmap to keep you on track and help you reach your business goals. That’s why it’s important whether you’re planning a business that will require a lot of money to start, or just want to be a one-person business. 

Business plans typical include these elements: 

Executive summary  Written last, this summarizes the key points in the plan. It’s critical if you are seeking investors. If the summary doesn’t excite potential investors, they won’t read the rest of the plan. 

Business description This section describes the nature of your business, the industry it fits into, and the need your business will fill.

Products and services you sell

Sales and marketing information and goals (how big is the market you can reach, why will they buy from you, how will you reach them, what competition you’ll face)

Operational information (location, equipment, employees, management, production, distribution, form of business and other operational details)

Financial details (projected startup costs, financing, projected monthly expenses and profits  and break even point)

No matter how big or small a business you’re planning to start, be sure that all of the information and projections are based on facts you’ve researched.  If you won’t be seeking investors and won’t be spending a lot of money to start your business, your initial business plan can be fairly short and simple.

If you will be investing a lot of money into your startup or seeking investors, you’ll need to include enough details to support your assumptions and show how the investment will pay off.  In either case, business plan software such as LivePlan can make the process of writing your business plan easier. [Note: BusinessKnowHow is an affiliate of Live Plan and Palo Alto software and will make a small commission if you buy through our link.)

RELATED: Where to Find Money to Start a Business

Now you’re ready to deal with the nuts and bolts of launching your new business. The specific tasks you’ll need to complete will depend on the nature of your business. Among them will be naming the business and making sure you have the right to use the name, registering the business with appropriate authorities, choosing a form of business, getting business licenses and certificates, getting a tax ID if you will have to collect sales tax, renting space (if necessary) and getting an accounting system set up. You’ll also want to get a website and social media accounts set up for the business.

The easiest way to keep track of all of these startup tasks is to create a checklist. This startup checklist will help you decide what should be on your own list.

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Starting a business can be overwhelming! Use this free
Business Startup
to make sure you don’t miss any important steps. This
downloadable Word document lists the steps you need to take to get your business
up and running, and includes space for you to note your own comments and
deadlines. You can get the checklist free when you subscribe to the free
Business Know-How Newsletter.

Request your free Business Startup Checklist

Now it’s time to let the world know you’re in business and welcome customers. Even if you are opening a shop in a busy downtown area, you can’t expect customers to miraculously show up on your doorstep. You have to start marketing and selling. Do everything you can to build word of mouth. Send out publicity. Create fliers and brochures. Get to network meetings. Tell all your friends. Ask for referrals. Get on social media. Place ads you want to place. If you need more suggestions for finding customers read these articles:

Most businesses don’t become successful overnight. So don’t be discouraged if it takes time to get a steady stream of customers. Keep marketing and talking to potential customers. Ask customers and prospects for feedback (and referrals!) and make adjustment to your business plan if necessary.  

© 2018 Attard Communications, Inc. All Rights Reserved. May not be reproduced, reprinted or redistributed without written permission from Attard Communications, Inc.

About the author:
Janet Attard is the founder of the award-winning  Business Know-How small business web site and information resource. Janet is also the author of The Home Office And Small Business Answer Book and of Business Know-How: An Operational Guide For Home-Based and Micro-Sized Businesses with Limited Budgets.  Follow Janet on Twitter and on LinkedIn


Time Management Tips for the Self-Employed

Last Updated: Apr 6, 2018
Having to wear all the hats in your business can be overwhelming. From apps that can help you get organized and work more efficiently to time-saving hacks, these tips can help you manage your time better.

Your one-person small business can feel like one of those decades-old TV shows that takes place in a small town. The mayor is also the sheriff, the gas station owner, the snow plow operator, and the preacher. You do what needs to be done because your business isn’t big enough yet to hire staff.

Or, maybe you’re a consultant or own some other type of business where it may never make sense to hire employees. How do you get everything done? We put together a list organized by different work areas.

Technology Time-Savers

Control Your E-mail- Did you know that the average worker spends 28% of their workweek on managing their inbox? That’s 11 hours of valuable weekly time. Don’t keep your e-mail open all day and don’t send any more than required. Only reply all or send to all if necessary. Sending e-mail creates more e-mail. You have more power to control your inbox than you think. Don’t discourage people from contacting you. Just be strategic about what you send.

Use an App- Having trouble organizing your schedule? Use Google Calendar. Are your files scattered and hard to get to when you’re away from the office? Use DropboxGoogle Drive, or Microsoft OneDrive. Do you coordinate with other people for clients? Use Slack or GroupMe. Other favorites for keeping organized are Evernote and Trello. There are plenty of free apps that help to keep you organized.

RELATED: Where to Find Free Calendars, Schedulers, and Organizers

Build an E-mail List. You don’t need complicated software. Low-cost options like Constant Contact allow you to keep your marketing list organized while making great looking e-mail quickly. Constant Contact also integrates with forms processors and CRMs. (Disclosure: BusinessKnowHow is a Solution Provider for Constant Contact.)

Work with Dual Monitors- Studies have shown that working with more than one monitor can increase your productivity by as much as 44%. You can hook your laptop up to a second monitor just as easily as a desktop computer. There are even options for tablets.

Cut Your Social Media Time – You can spend way too much time on your social media if you’re not careful. Instead, use a free app like Hootsuite to schedule posts on all of your social channels.

RELATED: How to Save Time on Social Media

Don’t Buy More Than You Need- You can dump a lot of money into the enterprise level CRM or accounting system but you’ll waste a lot of time trying to learn something that’s too big for your small business. You don’t need something that requires an IT person to figure out. You just need something that will grow with you.

Office Hacks

Make a Plan- What will you accomplish this week? What can wait until next week? Don’t figure things out as you go. Make a solid plan with measurable goals. You’ll be more productive maxing out one or two things instead of bouncing from task to task.

The 2 Minute Rule- Some productivity experts say that if something will take less than 2 minutes to complete, do it as soon as the request comes in. It will help to keep your to-do list from getting out of control.

RELATED: How to Increase Your Productivity

Know When to Farm Out- Some things cost a lot of money and you might be tempted to try and do it yourself. As a business owner, your time is valuable. Every minute you’re not doing whatever drives revenue for your business, that’s money out of your pocket. You tried to save money by learning to do something yourself but it took all day. You could have paid somebody less money to do it in a couple of hours. Redefine your definition of saving money.

Minimize Meetings- Of course meetings are sometimes important but if you don’t need one, try to get out of it. Why? Because sitting in a meeting probably isn’t making you much money unless you directly charge people for your time. Communicate by phone, e-mail or messenger app. Building relationships is important, however, so be sensitive to when a meeting might serve that purpose more than productivity.

Scan—Don’t Read– A lot of people will try to communicate with you but you don’t have time to read everything. Scan for keywords important to your business to determine if it’s worth extended study.

Hire Somebody When it Makes Sense– Once your business gets large enough that you find yourself spending a significant amount of time doing clerical-type tasks, it’s time to hire somebody. If you can pay somebody a few dollars above minimum wage in your state (or even a lot more than that depending on the value of your time) to do the tasks that will allow you to spend more time on income-producing activities, that’s money well spent.

Personal Hacks

Manage Your Energy Instead of Time– In his book, The Corporate Athlete, Jack Groppel says that managing your energy is more important than managing your time. Get enough sleep, eat right, take breaks, get away from your work and do something fun, take time off, and have hobbies you love. You can have plenty of time but if you don’t have the energy to be productive, time is of little use.

Use “Lost” Time Wisely- Instead of listening to music in the car, listen to an audio book or something else that could count as continuing education. While waiting at the doctor’s office, have a book or something business related to work on.

Wake Up Earlier- If you’re not a morning person, stay up later. If you’re working when others aren’t, you don’t have to contend with those constant disruptions.

Smarter, Not Harder- Sometimes you have to do both but productivity experts say that once you work more than 40 hours, you’re not as productive. Work harder for 40 hours and use some of those extra hours as a way to re-energize.

Bottom Line

Sometimes you just have to dig in and get the job done but resist the urge to get everything done in a sort of panic mode. Plan things, look for technology that can help, and know when it’s time to take a break.