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How to Start a Business in 10 Steps

A little less than two-thirds of Americans want to start their own business. Perhaps surprisingly, this is true among both younger and older workers. Like the drive to write a book ( 81% of Americans) or work as a full time freelancer (soon to be half of all workers), starting your own business is a widely shared dream.

For good reason. People who work for themselves tend to love it. Although it comes with the complexity of having to manage every piece of an operation, as well as the stress of knowing that success rides completely on your own shoulders, there’s nothing quite like being your own boss.

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It’s also very possible. Here’s how.

1. Research Your Market

This guide will assume that you already know what your business will do. If not, we have an excellent guide to coming up with your small business idea here.

Once you have your idea set, you need to do your research.

Starting your business will inevitably be a learning experience, but you want to get as much information as you can beforehand. So take some time to study your planned market. Ask questions like:

• What kind of competition will you face?

• Who is your target consumer?

• Where will you locate your business?

• What are the logistical and practical concerns about that location?

• What do consumers like and dislike about the existing market for your product?

• What do consumers say they want right now?

• What kind of spending power does your target consumer have?

Your market will be different depending on the nature of your business venture. A corner store has entirely different demographics and challenges than a web-based service vendor. In both cases, though, it pays to know your audience. Literally.

2. Write a Business Plan

The business plan is the blueprint for your company. It’s where you’ll apply your research and planning into one document that describes in detail the who, what, when, where, how and why of your new business. In it you will address issues such as:

• Who you will market to;

• What you plan to sell;

• When you anticipate hitting certain benchmarks, your timeline for development;

• Where you will locate this business, whether online or brick and mortar;

• How you will operate this business day-to-day;

• Why this business, what opportunity did you see in the market.

Your business plan should also address critical issues such as:

• Monetization and cash flow. How do you anticipate making your money and turning a profit?

• How much will it cost to run this business? Don’t miss the details.

• When do you expect to become profitable?

• Specific challenges you anticipate and how you will overcome them.

• What will it take, step by step, to operate this business and create this product?

The business plan article linked above goes into more detail, and the Small Business Association has a template here. Both are worth reading in further detail, because starting a business without a business plan is like setting off on a road trip without a map or GPS.

And, of course, don’t forget to pick a terrific name.

3. Get Feedback

Now stop.

Writing your business plan should be exhausting. This should be a detail-oriented document that takes a hard look at your planned venture and how, precisely, it will work. If you’ve done it right, by now you should be ready to tear into the building phase of your new business.

Instead, take a step back and solicit feedback. Call friends, family and colleagues who might have some knowledge of the industry you’d like to enter. Seek out mentors or professional guidance if possible. Get their opinion of your business plan. They might have questions you didn’t think of or notice something that slipped by you.

Hopefully this business will be around for years to come. You can afford a small delay while you get a few more eyes on your proposal.

4. Find the Money

Cards on the table, this is the hardest part for most entrepreneurs.

Not every business needs a lot of startup capital, but you will almost certainly need some. How much will depend a lot on what you want to do. A web-based services firm might require very little in the way of funding, while a retail store can require a substantial amount of cash to pay for rent, inventory and staff.

Regardless of how much, now is when you need to find this money.

This is something every entrepreneur faces, and small business owners turn to a variety of sources for startup capital. No matter where you get funding, expect to invest at least some of your own money. Lenders and investors will want to see that you have “skin in the game,” to use industry speak. Beyond your personal accounts, called self-funding, small business owners also rely on:

Bank Loans

Many businesses start with a small business loan from local banks.

You will need to have all of your paperwork in order to pursue a loan. Expect the institution to ask for details from your business plan, including monetization strategy and financial projections. If you have trouble securing a loan, you can turn to the Small Business Association which runs a loan guarantee program to help make this type of financing more accessible.

Personal Loans

While not an option for every entrepreneur, many people do rely on loans from family and friends.

If possible this is typically better than securing a loan through the bank. You’ll likely pay little interest and will have more generous terms in case of default. However, it also depends on knowing people who have that kind of cash lying around.

Grants

While not lavishly funded, programs such as Grants.gov operate small business grants for entrepreneurs.

Investment

Professional investors typically look for potentially large-growth business opportunities. Depending on the nature of your intended company, this could be a good fit for you.

A venture capital firm is unlikely to sink money into a small legal practice or restaurant. These tend to be low-growth relative to the returns that they seek. However, someone looking to launch a new product or web-enabled service, something with high potential scalability, might be a good fit for the private investment model.

Local angel investors, such as those found through AngelList, are more likely to invest in a regionally focused business. While beyond the scope of this article, you can learn more about finding private investors here.

Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding has become an increasingly common source of startup capital for small businesses. This model tends to reward retail style projects (someone looking to create a specific thing that catches the public’s eye). It can also be an excellent way to hone your sales pitch to a general audience.

For more information on financing, the SBA has a comprehensive information sheet on common sources of funding here.

5. Choose a Location

Where you locate may determine some of your legal obligations and paperwork, so it’s best to get that done at this step.

As much as possible you should try and do this with specificity. While you’re not ready to sign a lease just yet, the closer you can come to a specific address the better. Meanwhile, if you’ll be starting this company online, now’s the time to pick up your domain if you haven’t already.

Pay attention to local laws! We cannot overemphasize this. The best location can be killed off by a zoning ordinance that makes your business illegal on that particular street corner. Municipal laws can be petty and confusing, so make absolutely sure your business is street legal.

6. Establish Legal and Tax Structures

If at all possible, at this step you should retain the services of a lawyer and/or accountant. You will absolutely want professional advice. Otherwise, you run the risk of missing details that come back to bite you down the road. We also must note that nothing here constitutes legal advice. This is just a general primer on what you need to know.

Now is when you’ll actually begin forming your business and filling out the necessary paperwork with federal, state and local governments. This can involve (but is not limited to):

Choosing Your Corporate Structure

There are many types of businesses you can form, including LLCs, S-Corporations, partnerships, sole proprietorships and more. Those listed here are the most common corporate forms for a small business. The right one for you will depend on issues like cash flow, number of participants and how you want to structure potential liability. You can read more about this issue here and here.

Register Your Business

How you have to register, and with who, will depend on your specific corporate form. However, if you have formed a corporation of some sort you will have to file articles of incorporation to create this legal structure. For more information on registering your business, see this resource.

Register With State and Federal Tax Agencies

You will need a tax number and may need an employer ID number. The SBA has a guide to finding and filling out your appropriate tax forms here.

Determine Any Licenses and Permits That You Need

Depending on the nature of your business, you may need a license to operate. The SBA has a database of federal and state licensing requirements here.

Be certain to also look up zoning and location-based regulations. You may need additional permits based on where you’ve chosen to operate your business. These are typically a city-level concern.

7. Open Bank Accounts and Sign Leases

Once your business has been properly formed you can begin to act in its name. Now is when you can start actually executing on many of the opportunities you’ve already lined up.

Open bank accounts in your new business’ name. Take out a corporate credit card and, if your bank offers it, work to pre-establish a line of credit. You will find this easier to do now that your company exists and has established funding, although it may not become an option until you have operated for some time.

Go out and actually get the funding you secured earlier, because now you have someplace to put it. You should have already gotten the “yes” by now from someone, but you don’t want to deposit corporate seed money into your personal checking account. This may technically constitute a felony that rhymes with “schmembezzlement,” and is poor form either way.

With the money in hand and a functional checkbook, now is when you sign the necessary leases on real estate.

8. Take Care of Little Details

Once again step back and take stock, because the best ideas can be broken by the smallest details.

Make sure your business has comprehensive insurance for issues ranging from fire to property damage and legal liability. Many business owners overlook that last issue, and it can be a career killer if someone slips and falls or even just decides they don’t like you.

If you will hire employees put a documented process in place for hiring and firing. Have your workers compensation and unemployment insurance paperwork filed and in order.

If you haven’t already, talk to both a lawyer and an accountant. This is especially critical if you will employ people. Even if you don’t formally retain an attorney, buy a few hours of an employment lawyer’s time to make sure you have your bases covered. Figure out how your business will do its accounting and have that system set up and operational, whether you’ll do it yourself or have hired a professional.

9. Start Making Things

Now, at long, exhaustive last, we get to the fun part. It’s time to start actually making things.

You have the money, you have the location. You have all of your paperwork filed and are legally bulletproof. Now begin making your product.

How you do this will, obviously, depend entirely on what you specifically do. A manufacturing company will need to source suppliers for raw materials and the necessary machinery. (Because you took our advice and checked out all the local laws you won’t need to worry about any noise complaints from the neighbors.) A retailer will source vendors and set up an inviting, fun storefront. A consultant will finish making her office look tasteful and professional.

A restaurateur should stock the kitchen, buy appliances and write out a menu.

The details of getting to work depend entirely on your industry and profession. Fortunately, you’ve got a well written business plan for figuring out what those details are. Whatever you do, though, now’s the time to start actually doing it.

10. Scale and Hire

Your business is operational. Now’s the time to think about how to keep the lights on.

Some businesses will require employees from the very beginning. A cafe, for example, is almost impossible to run alone. Those employees are part of your startup costs and will be with you from the very beginning. As your business grows you may have the luxury of hiring more people to take some of the work off your plate.

Now is also the time to begin marketing.

To be fair, this is something you should be considering all along. You should always think about how to get your business’ name out into the community. Don’t let up once the doors open. Look to social media, advertising, foot traffic and local networking to get people in. Talk with other businesses in the area about collaboration efforts.

This is where you get to be creative. This is the fun part of being an entrepreneur. If you’re at step 10 you’ve earned it. So enjoy, because this is your business.

Source: How to Start a Business in 10 Steps – TheStreet

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10 Small Business Apps, Services And Tech Platforms Every Entrepreneur Should Know About

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If you want to know the best place to keep up with technology for your business, follow my weekly tech roundups for entrepreneurs each week. You’ll learn because I’m always learning.

So what have I learned? Businesses that invest in the right technologies are assuring future growth and success.  I’ve also learned that there are a few apps, services and technologies – about ten categories in all – that are critical for small businesses in 2019. So in honor of National Small Business Week, I thought it would be helpful to share.

Customer Relationship Management

Don’t be fooled by CRM. People like to complicate this stuff and it’s not that complicated. It’s just a database of every person and company who you do business with – from prospects and customers to vendors, suppliers and partners. A great CRM system will integrate with your email and calendars and ensure that nothing falls the cracks and everyone in your company is sharing the right information. It will be mobile, include workflows and automation and integrates with tons of other great apps to do marketing and other functions. If implemented the right way (which is easier said than done) it will be an instrumental asset to your organization. There are many great CRMs for small businesses. I recommend looking at Salesforce.comMicrosoft Dynamics and Zoho CRM.

Managed Service Providers

If your inventory, order entry or other business critical application is older or located on your internal server you need to move it out of your office and into the hands of a managed service provider. Well-managed service providers will ensure that your data is secured as best possible and will likely have better security tools that you have internally. Your applications can be accessed by your team from anywhere and on any device. Many of them rely on public cloud services from Amazon, Google and Microsoft and that’s fine. With internet speeds hitting 5G, a well-managed service provider will deliver the performance, reliability and accessibility of your data at a cost that makes sense. Recommended providers include Right NetworksCloudJumper or any number of information technology firms.

Cloud Accounting

If your accounting application is located on your server, it won’t be for long. That’s because most accounting vendors are moving quickly to the cloud. It makes sense for them, and for you. You pay a monthly fee and they get a revenue stream. In return, the software provider can provide faster support, upgrades and technical services. Cloud applications are also much easier to integrate with each other. Today’s cloud accounting apps provide the added benefit of doing invoicing, cash receipts or retrieving reports from any device, anywhere. It’s a crowded field of cloud accounting options so do your due diligence and lean towards good companies with big communities. I see QuickBooks OnlineXero, and FreshBooks being used often by business owners.

Back in the day, there wasn’t much you could do with a scanned invoice or document other than file it away. But with today’s Optical Character Recognition technology there’s a growing crop of applications that can extract data from any scanned document – from vendor invoices to airline receipts – and put it in a format so that someone in your office can easily review and then import into most popular accounting applications. This saves time, improves accuracy and cuts overhead. Recommended applications: Bill.com, EntryLessExpensify.

Human Resources

HR platforms are exploding and, in my opinion, any company with more than five employees should have one. Why? Because they’re affordable and with a good HR platform your employees will be able to – usually through a mobile app – track payroll, update forms, schedule vacation, alert for sick days and even manage their performance reviews. The more your employees use the application, the less administrative time will be needed by your office staff – and that means less overhead and more productivity. Check out: PaychexGusto and BambooHR.

Office Collaboration

Back in the day, there were telephone calls, instant messaging, text messaging, emailing and lots and lots of yelling. Yes, we’re still yelling. But the good news is that today’s office applications have brought all those other things together under one umbrella so that your employees can conduct their communication, document management and collaboration activities – including video calls, file storage and sharing, messaging as well as alerting and reminders – from any device and wherever they are. Not only that, but today’s collaboration and communication systems have powerful searching tools to find old conversations and exchanges. The systems can even be configured for outsiders to access too. Applications that focus on collaboration include Microsoft Office 365Google G-SuiteBox.

Virtual Phones

Our company, like many small businesses, uses contractors and employees who frequently work out of the office. The thought of maintaining an on-premise phone system seems expensive…because it is. That’s why, for the past ten years, we’ve been using a virtual phone service. Our service provides a toll-free number, dial by name directory, voicemail for all users including transcription and archive recordings and…well, you get it: a total phone system (even hardware) that makes my small business look like a big business. I pay by the mailbox (about $12 per month) and love it. Recommended applications: GrasshopperVirtualPBX and Ooma.

E-Commerce and Payment

If you’re in retail then please pay attention to this word: convergence. It means getting a point of sale system that not only works in your store but works online too. That’s because you want to sell your products both from your store and over the web because that’s what successful retailers are doing to thrive. The best point of sale systems not only use tablets (a must for good customer service) and integrate with popular payment services, but they also provide the ability of setting up an ecommerce site that relies on the very same database you’re using in-store. Recommended applications: Paypal, SquareShopify, Magento.

Yeah, yeah, I’m leaving some stuff out. Like email apps (but don’t we all have them by now?) and project management solutions such as Basecamp and Asana.

Cloud Storage

There was once a time when everyone in my company would be saving multiple versions of multiple documents and spreadsheets on their laptops, desktops and our servers. That…was a mess. But not today. Today, we all save to a cloud storage service which synchronizes the files (that we choose) to our respective devices. Everything is updated and I no longer fear what happens if someone leaves their device on the subway. To me, a business without a cloud storage service is a business that’s losing money. Applications that focus on this space: Dropbox, Microsoft OneDriveGoogle Drive.

Security

Ransomware has become a billion-dollar business and that makes sense: it’s finally a way for clever hackers to actually make money with their malware. We read about the stories of hotels, transit systems and city governments brought to their knees by security breaches like this, but we don’t hear of the thousands of small businesses that are also affected. To protect yourself you need to use a good cloud backup service, keep your operating systems updated and use a good security application in your company.  Recommended applications: Carbonite (for backup), Malware Bytes,Barracuda.

What else am I missing? You tell me and maybe I can expand this list in a future column.  In the meantime, take a moment to review the techs, services and apps you’re using in your business. Have you got all the bases covered?

Author’s Note: I have not been compensated by any of the companies listed above to be mentioned in this article. 

 

Gene Marks owns The Marks Group PC, a 10-person technology consulting firm and is also a small business expert, speaker and columnist at other major outlets.

I was a former senior manager at KPMG and since 1994 the owner of the Marks Group PC, a 10-person customer relationship management consulting firm based outside Philadel

 

Source: 10 Small Business Apps, Services And Tech Platforms Every Entrepreneur Should Know About

Apple Today, Powell Tomorrow: Busy Earnings And Fed Week Continues

It’s a fully packed day with earnings from Apple, the start of a Fed meeting, several other major companies reporting, and more concerns about U.S. relations with China. U.S. stocks had a mixed tone in pre-market trading following a similar pattern in Europe and Asia. A development just after the closing bell yesterday could be a factor, as U.S. prosecutors filed criminal charges against Chinese smartphone maker Huawei Technologies. One thing markets tend to dislike is uncertainty, and this might create even more. Asian markets took some heat Tuesday, and the Chinese government told Reuters the charges were unfair……….

Source: Apple Today, Powell Tomorrow: Busy Earnings And Fed Week Continues

New Survey Shows China Not Dead Yet

China’s services sector growth rose for the second month in a row and hit its highest level since June 2018 , according to the Caixin China General Services Business Activity Index, released on Friday. Caixin said that increased foreign demand for Made in China goods and improving business confidence helped. The Index hit 53.9 in December from 53.8 in November and 50.8 in October. While the number is generally flat from November, it is much higher than the third-quarter average and comes at a time when trade tensions remain high.

Source: New Survey Shows China Not Dead Yet

The A-Z of How to Write a Business Proposal

How to Write a Business Proposal

Success for small businesses is about getting new business. That’s what a business proposal is designed to do. These tips help you to organize, put your best business foot forward and close deals when you get a request for proposal (RFP).

How to Write a Business Proposal

Meet with The Client

To understand what a client is really looking for you need to meet with them before you write the proposal up. This is the best way to get some general information about the business, its management and employees.

Brainstorm

Understanding the best approach means brainstorming some options within your small business. Here you’ll need to tackle on some practical items like how much to charge the client to make it worth your while. A good rule of thumb is to multiply the costs by 1.5 to account for any unseen issues.

Your team needs to tackle questions like who will do the work, what needs to be done, how it will be accomplished and what the scheduled milestones are.

Organizing all the information you’ve gathered is easy using digital tools like Evernote.

Start Writing

Once you gone through the previous steps you’re ready to start writing your proposal. Although some of the details might vary, most of these business proposals follow a traditional template.

Create an Introduction for Your Business

Here is where you introduce your company again to the potential client. Include the name of your company, the nature of your business, and a quick industry profile.

Restate the Issue

This is a good place in any business proposal to repeat the problem or issue that prompted your prospect to ask for a proposal in the first place. It’s a good idea to keep in mind that the tone and style make a big difference. Plain language is always better than more colorful words.

Remember the old adage that you don’t need to use a five dollar word when a five cent one will do.

Be Specific About Methods and Goals

Being specific helps when you outline the goals that you hope to accomplish. This is a part of any business proposal that other businesses are listening to closely. Outline the methods you’re going to use here to but remember to be direct and to the point.

Keep in mind you don’t want to leave anything out . It’s very important to go through each and every step in your methods.

Be Clear about Costs and Time to Completion

There’s more meat and potatoes stuff. Transparency is one of the biggest ingredients to landing any deal with a good business proposal. That means you’ll need to be clear about how much time each and every step will take and what it will cost.

Explain Why You’re Qualified

Here’s the part of your business proposal where you sell your company. Again, you want to keep away from flowery language and stick to the facts. Don’t forget to stick with plain English. Keep in mind here that if this is your first business proposal, writing in journalistic simple style might be a challenge.

Hiring a proposal writer can grease the wheels of the whole process so you close the deal quicker. If you’re planning on using graphs and charts, you might want to hire a freelance designer too.

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