Month 7: Work Through the Startup Paperwork Maze
Visit your city's "first- or one-stop" business center-you can usually find it through the government listings in your phone book or through your local chamber of commerce. These offices can provide information about licensing, permits, your particular business type, and running a local business in general. Find more information at your local library in Gale's National Directory of State Business Licensing and Regulation. You can also learn about other laws that may affect you from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission; the agency offers hundreds of free business publications.
Learn how to set up your books through free programs and resources offered by Uncle Sam. Request a copy of Small Business Resource Guide-CD (Publication 3207) by calling (800) 829-3676. Sign up for the IRS's Small Business Tax Education Program (STEP) online.
You should also speak with an experienced insurance agent about purchasing a business owner's policy (BOP) and additional coverage that will protect you against lawsuits and natural disasters.
- Business Startup Basics and How to Legally Establish Your Homebased Business provide information on the ins and outs of business licensing, zoning, insurance and finding an attorney.
- Visit our Tax Center for all the tips, tools and resources you need to comply with Uncle Sam, including paying your taxes online.
- Determine your new business's insurance needs using our free Business Insurance Planning Worksheet; download it from FormNet.
Month 8: Develop Your Marketing and Customer Service Plan
A marketing plan consists of the strategies and devices you use to communicate to your target audience. A customer service plan focuses on customer requirements and ways of filling those requirements. The two work in concert. Descriptions of your market and its segments, the competition and prospective customers should be in your business plan.
Prioritize your tactics and begin with the ones that your research has shown to be the most effective for your audience. For example, a TV repair service's marketing program may be supported mainly by paid advertisements in the phone book, since "Television Repair" is one of the most often looked-up headings by homeowners. For your customer service plan, think about satisfaction and money-back guarantees, buying incentives, and resolution of customer complaints. Your program should evolve as the business grows.
- Learn how to create a marketing budget in How to Budget for Success, and hone your marketing efforts with advice from Marketing Features Vs. Benefits.
- Find low- and no-cost advertising, marketing and promotional ideas in 17 Practical No-Cost Promotions, Promoting for Pennies, Get Your Message Out on a Shoestring and Take Advantage of Free PR Tactics.
- Visit our customer service section to learn how to keep your clients happy.
Month 9: Court Your First Customers
You have a profile of the end user of your product or service. Get in the habit of "talking up" your business-telling everyone you know about it. Ask for referrals from colleagues, suppliers, former employers and other associates. Improve the quality of your referrals by being specific in your request. For example, an insurance broker developed a successful referral network by asking clients whom they know who is "in a two-income professional family with young children," rather than just asking if they know anyone who needs insurance. Consider offering free consultations or an introductory price to first-time buyers. Once you hear from a satisfied customer, ask him or her for a testimonial letter to use in your promotional materials.
- Make the most of customer testimonials with advice from Getting Customers to Pitch for You.
- To find out what networking can do for your business--and how to make the most of your networking efforts--check out our Networking section , featuring articles from networking guru Ivan Misner.
- Learn how to create buzz about your business from Now They Know.
- Read articles from our Marketing Coach Kim T. Gordon or sign up for her coaching program.