What are you going to be doing a year from now? If your answer is "Same old job, same old life," then it might be time to shake things up and start that business you've been dreaming of. To help you out, we've outlined 12 monthly tasks that'll put you on the path to entrepreneurial success. By this time next year, you don't have to be in the "same old job"-you can be in business.
Month 1: Take a skills and interests inventory
Begin a soul-searching process to determine which business is right for you. You'll definitely have an advantage with a business that's a spin-off of your background or experience. You can also enjoy success in an area where you have strong interest yet lack experience, though you may need to qualify yourself through entrepreneurial training or professional certification programs.
Jot down the skills in your talent bank. What do you like to do with your time? What technical skills have you learned or developed? Do you have hobbies or interests that are marketable? Don't forget the personality factor. Do you like working indoors or outdoors? Do you enjoy working with the general public or with a few close clients? Every business has its own personality, and your own personality should be a complement to the one you finally choose. Talk with others in businesses similar to the ones you're considering about the traits and temperaments needed to be successful.
Keep searching until you find an idea that couples your love for the work with your marketable talents.
Month 2: Research and Evaluate Your Interests
Many people have great ideas, but their businesses flounder in the marketplace because there really isn't an audience for the product or service. Thorough research will help support expectations about a business's success as well as uncover any potholes in your thinking. Ask yourself these questions: What problem does my product or service solve? Whose problem does it solve? Does my idea flow with the direction society is moving in? For example, our society is becoming more mobile, reliant on technology, culturally diverse, and pressed for time. How does your idea fit in? Dig up trends, statistics, surveys and other data from sources like Business Information Centers, the U.S. Census Bureau, the Economic Statistics Administration, Government Research Centers and industry associations. Once you're able to substantiate the viability of your idea, then you can confidently move ahead.
Month 3: Choose a Business, a Location, a Structure, and Name
Gather books and other resources related to your respective business, i.e. "How to Open & Operate a. . . ." Use this material to determine how to best make your business real. Ponder how well a home office space will professionally accommodate your business choice. Then check out local home business zoning ordinances, so you can comply.
Your legal structure can make a big difference in how you pay taxes, handle lawsuits, or dissolve or pass on the business. Will you operate as a sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation or limited liability company? Seek advice from a professional on how to pick the structure that'll best manage your liabilities.
An effective name will establish your marketplace presence, convey what you do, and create a memorable impression. Thumb through phone books, DBA filings, directories and The Trademark Register of the United States to research names already in use or similar to yours. Determine if your chosen name has an available domain name for your future website, and reserve it. Be sure to choose a name that you can live and grow with.
Month 4: Calculate the Costs
It's critical to determine how much cash you'll need. Create a checklist of expenditures. List the equipment, supplies and people needed to operate your business. Itemize startup costs for inventory, signage, sales and marketing literature or tools, research, licenses, permits, operating capital, and legal or professional fees. Calculate your monthly overhead for rent, supplies, utilities, business and health insurance, taxes, Internet access and other services. Factor in your salary and employee or contractor wages. Refer to industry specific startup books and resources for additional costs that may apply to your respective business type. Tally and double-check the numbers before you begin your money hunt.
Month 5: Write Your Business Plan
You gain an advantage by building your business on paper first. A business plan's value goes beyond its ability to help secure a loan package for you. It's a working document that helps you prepare for opportunities as well as difficulties.
The body of a business plan can be divided into four sections: the description of your business, the marketing plan, the financial management plan and the management plan. Addenda to the plan should include an executive summary, supporting documents and financial projections.
Writing a plan forces you to think through every aspect of your venture. The process will convince you to proceed with your idea or look for a new one. Glean some inspiration and guidelines from resources below.
Month 6: Identify Sources of Startup Financing
Many entrepreneurs self-finance their businesses through personal savings, loans or credit cards. You may also be able to match your qualifications with a microloan: Private and SBA-backed agencies make loans from a few hundred dollars to $25,000. You can find a local microlender through the SBA's website.
You may also qualify for a niche or specialty loan. A new lending and learning organization called Count Me In makes loans from $500 to $10,000 to women entrepreneurs. Wells Fargo and Bank of America offer special loan programs for women, minorities and small-businesses.
Although there's no such thing as "free money" for small businesses, there are some cash awards, prize money and minigrants offered by a dwindling pool of organizations. Begin your search in Awards, Honors & Prizes, a publication by the Gale Group that should be available at your local library.
Whatever your funding source, remember to incur any debt in moderation. You'll make better business decisions when you're not under the pressure of heavy debt.