12 Months to Startup

Follow these 12 steps to have your business up and running in a year.

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.

Resource Guide

  • Determine if your business idea really suits you with the quiz in Hot. . . or Not?

Month 2: Research and Evaluate Your Idea

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.

Resource Guide

  • Download these free forms from Entrepreneur.com's FormNet: Survey Questionnaire, Demographic Comparison and Industry Analysis Worksheet.

Month 3: Choose a Business, a Location and its Structure, and Name It

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 U.S. Patent and Trademark Office site to research names already in use or similar to yours. Determine if your chosen name has an available domain name for your future Web site, and reserve it. Be sure to choose a name that you can live and grow with.

Resource Guide

  • Conduct a free trademark search on NameProtect.com. Search through federal trademarks, Canadian and European trademarks, and domain names.
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