For millions of Americans, starting a business is not only an adventure: it’s the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. To these dreamers, running a successful business is a capstone of achievement—the result of hard work, dedication, and care. Indeed, the elbow grease and toil that goes into planning and executing a successful business can itself be a satisfying reward. But many Americans who are interested in starting their business adventure don’t know where to begin, and find themselves unaware or uncertain about what to do in order to take their first steps into the business world. For some, for whatever reason, starting their own business could be something they would like to or need to begin quickly.
If you’re interested in getting your own business started up quickly, here are a few steps to help you get going. And it’s important to remember that, especially in your early steps, beginning a business will be a constant but hopefully enjoyable dance of overcoming and learning. In business, as in life, the process is just as important as the success!
Visualize Your Business
The first and most basic thing you should ask yourself if you want to create a successful business is: what need are you trying to fill? You can get a good start on this by looking at your own needs and habits: what kind of businesses do you frequent? Why do you frequent them? Is there a way to offer what these businesses offer, but with some improvement? Or maybe you spot a hole in the market that these businesses aren’t filling; could you start a business to fill that hole and attract customers? The important thing is that you find a problem that people would pay you to solve, whether that’s something common like food service or something more niche. Give a special look into areas of your own interest, as those will be the areas you already love and that will translate into more passion and better ideas.
Another option for opening a business is to look into franchising. Franchising has many benefits: someone else has gone through the trouble of finding a comfortable place in the market and building from there, and you will likely have an established customer base who are fans of the brand or business you’re opening the franchise for. If you’re looking for a quick way to start a business, starting a franchise is most likely to be your fastest route as much of the grunt work has already been completed.
Decide What Kind of Business You Want to Create
The kind of business you file to become is a very important decision to make, and a vital beginning step. The kind of business you decide on will be vital to the entire future of your business. For this, you have many options.
- If you want to run everything by yourself, your business can be a sole proprietorship. This will place you in charge of debts, finances, and all other obligations your business will accrue.
- A partnership is splitting that charge between you and another person. A partnership can be beneficial to startup finances and help relieve the work, but be careful to note that you and your partner are responsible for each other’s actions that affect the business, so if one of you mess up you are both responsible. Also keep in mind that the profits and charge are split equally.
- A corporation is a bit trickier. Making your business a corporation means, essentially, making that corporation a separate entity from you; it is almost like making it a person of its own, and indeed, in the eyes of the law that’s just about what it becomes. That means the business can sue or be sued, own property, and pay taxes just like a person, and your personal liability is largely cleaved from the corporation’s liability. Creating a corporation protects you more from the corporation’s debts and actions, more readily attracts investors, and creates a clear-cut power structure. However, keep in mind that a corporation has to follow many strict legal guidelines, requires a lot more work, and gets taxed much more.
- A Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) is very popular for new business owners, as well as business owners in general, because it provides the legal benefits of being a corporation (by separating liability) with the tax benefits of being a sole proprietorship or partnership. Keep in mind that investors may not be as drawn to LLCs as they are to corporations, and that ownership is spread among members instead of singularly by you or you and your partner.
Choosing which of these business types to pursue can have implications on your responsibilities to the business and to the taxes, so make sure your decision lines up with the goals of your business! Once you’re done with that, you will need to register your company through your clerk’s office or state government, depending on your state.
Research Your Funding Options
Most people view money as an end goal to creating a successful business, but it’s also vital to the first steps. It’s advisable to save up as much as you can before you begin your venture: should things for any reason go south, some saved up cash can be the difference between a light stumble or a hard fall. But if you don’t have quite enough to start the business yourself, as most don’t, there are options available to you! To get your business started, you could try crowdfunding, asking friends and family to lend you some money, or you can apply for small business loans.
The Small Business Administration gives loans to help small business owners, and to get these loans you apply for them through banks such as Bank of America, Wells Fargo, or Chase. It can be very difficult to receive loans for starting your first business, as banks will be uncertain and wary about your future as a business owner due to your lack of experience. If you need a loan from a bank, you’ll need to be prepared.
First, the bank should be one you have a good rapport with. Make sure your own financial affairs are in order before approaching a bank. When preparing to go in, make sure you have enough of your own money saved up that you can show the bank that you’re going to help fund it yourself. Be sure to prepare a resume with a detailed explanation of who you are and why you’re reliable and confident you’ll use the money successfully for your business. Include testimony from reliable people and monetary projections for the first year. You should also have a business plan prepared, but more on that in a bit.
If you can’t get a loan through a bank, there are other options available as well.
- You can apply for loans through microlenders. Microlenders offer smaller loans (“micro”) that are easier to attain than loans from banks. If you have difficulty getting loans due to credit scores or for other reasons, microlenders may be your best option.
- Online lenders, such as QuickenLoans or Kabbage, give fast loans, but their APR is generally not as good as bank loans.
- Venture capital firms will give you startup money, and in exchange, your backers will join you in running the business.
If you’re in a hurry, a microloan, online lender, or other quick methods like crowdfunding may prove the most fruitful.
Hammer Out the Details In Your Business Plan
Now that you’ve got your idea for your business, your target audience, your business type, and your finances, it’s time to lay it all out and put the nails and bolts into your ideas with a business plan. But what is a business plan? Well, it’s essentially your plan of attack: you lay out your mission statement, how your business will be structured, your finances to present for loans, your target audience, your plan to attract that audience, your financial projections, and many other things. A business plan can be very helpful not only to show to investors, banks, and the like, but also to present a clear and succinct path for you to follow to achieve your goals in your business. Writing a business plan may seem daunting, but it’s actually one of the most fun and interesting parts of the whole process. It’s your chance to really show your creativity and let your idea shine. Keep in mind that your business plan is an integral part of what you display to get money to start or help your business, so make sure you show promise!
For a detailed guide to your business plan, you can visit the Small Business Administration’s website here.
Get a Professional Website
The importance of creating a website for your business cannot be overstated. For most businesses, their website is the central hub for their branding activity. Not only does your website provide a place for you to sell your products or services, but it also typically is the place 80% or more of your potential customers will develop their first impressions about your company.
There are not many more significant mistakes a business owner can make than either not having a website, or getting a cheap looking website that represents their business in a poor light.
So make sure you take the time to find and hire a excellent website designer or web design company. For as little as $2,500 you can get a website that will make your business look like a professional, mature, company. Which should help you grow your brand and your business revenue.
Get Help Creating A Marketing Plan
At the same time as you’re having your website designed you should also be mapping out a marketing plan for your business. Marketing plans come in a wide variety of formats and encompass any number of techniques from very expensive television advertising to virtually free word of mouth marketing.
In general, for small to medium sized businesses operating with a moderate budget, you’ll want to focus on a combination of content marketing, SEO (search engine optimization), social media marketing and PPC (pay per click marketing). You might also include some direct mail marketing if you have a physical storefront that can benefit from highly targeted local shoppers.
Because marketing is a broad subject with tons of options, most business owners simply don’t have time, nor desire, to learn all the in’s and out’s of various marketing possibilities. That’s why it’s a good idea to hire a professional marketing team that can create and implement your marketing strategy for you.
Congratulations on Staring Your Business!
Hopefully now you’ve got all the information you need to start your business quickly! Remember, starting and running a business will be a constant challenge, but a fulfilling and hopefully lucrative one. Shoot for making profit within the first few months, but don’t be put out if it takes longer, as many businesses take some time to find their feet. Best of luck!