As part of a 12-week "Start Smart" seminar, Paula Mannillo of Boston's Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) outlines the basic steps to starting a business. Whether you can get it all done in 30 days or 30 weeks, she explains, you and your business will face these important questions before you ever make a dollar:
1. What kind of business are you starting? This question sounds obvious, maybe, but you must decide everything about your product or service in advance--from who will make it to who will buy it.
2. What's the business structure? If it's a sole proprietorship, you may need to register an assumed name (see #4). If it's a partnership, you will need a lawyer to prepare a written partnership agreement. If it's a corporation, you must file documents of incorporation with your state's secretary of state office.
3. Have you picked a location? Try to see your location through your customers' eyes. Depending on your business, location can be either absolutely critical or entirely unimportant. Where will your mail be sent?
4. Have you chosen a name? Every baby needs a name, as does every newborn business. If you are doing business under a name other than your own--for example, as "Smith's Designs" rather than simply "John Smith Designs"--you must file a business certificate or "doing business as" (d.b.a.) form.
5. What's your number? Will you have a business telephone number or will you use your home phone? Tip: Do not allow children to answer a business phone; instead, use either an answering service or an answering machine.
6. Have you unraveled the red tape? Check with your state's division of registration to determine its permit and license requirements. Also call your local licensing and zoning boards to learn what their requirements are.
7. Are you ready to pay your taxes? Alas, it's inevitable. Call the Internal Revenue Service (800-829-1040) for a free copy of their "Small Business Tax Kit" and Publication 334, The Tax Guide for Small Businesses.
8. Are you covered? Contact an insurance agent to find out what coverage you may need in the following areas: liability, casualty, workers' compensation, health and disability.
9. Do you know who your customers are? Define your marketing plan. Analyze the competition. Price your product. Determine distribution. Budget for advertising.
10. Do the numbers add up? Set up a bookkeeping system. Open a business checking account. Determine the capital necessary to open and operate your business in the initial stages--before you can count on profits.