7 Essential Startup Steps
Make sure you've covered all your bases before you launch.
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Yes, there are thousands of businesses you could start, with more emerging daily thanks to new technology and good old-fashioned ingenuity. Yet despite the vast universe of possibilities, there are a few essential steps you need to take before starting a business, any business.
- Do your market research: Just because you build it or sell it doesn't necessarily mean anyone will buy it. The first essential step is to research your potential market. Who needs what you are offering? Is there space for your product or service in the market or is the market saturated? Is the market national? Is it a niche? Can you define your ideal customers? These are all questions that need to be answered before you even consider starting a business. Too many entrepreneurs have found out the hard way that there was not enough market share for them to capture. Others have realized that their target market audience was far too limited to make their business work.
- Show yourself the money: You can't start a business without capital. Determine what you have, what you will need and how you will go about getting it. If you plan to seek investor funding or financing, start writing a business plan and practice your pitch. Research the costs associated with your business. Know how much money you'll need and decide where it could come from.
- Hire a good business attorney: You don't necessarily need to have an attorney on a retainer, but you'll want to hire an attorney experienced with new businesses to help you get started. Your attorney can advise you about such things as drafting contracts, reviewing your lease and determining the right business structure. "A good attorney will know what it is that you are trying to do and help you structure your business in a way that will be beneficial to you," says Chris Talis, senior partner at Hedgerow Mergers Acquisitions in Teaneck, N.J. The best way to find a good attorney is by referral or through networking.
- Hire a good accountant: An accountant will work in conjunction with your attorney and be instrumental in determining the best form of ownership. He can also help you establish bookkeeping and other record keeping procedures that can keep you on track for years. Most important, a good accountant will help with tax planning. "You will also want an accountant who understands the state laws, since every state has its own little intricacies, such as sales tax issues," Talis says, adding that it's important for your accountant to be familiar with startup ventures.
- Decide on a business structure: Your choices include sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, "S" corporation or limited liability corporation (LLC). Personal liability, taxes, paperwork and regulations vary greatly among the different legal business structures. Your attorney and accountant will play a key role in assisting you in this important decision.
- Decide on a business name: It may seem obvious and simple, but the name is how your business will be known to the world. The right name says a lot about your company. Make a list of potential names and narrow the list down to the one that best describes your company in a few words, while being catchy, easy to remember, easy to pronounce and easy to spell. You should also consider how it will translate to a web domain name. You'll also need to do research to see if there are a) similar business names and b) similar domain names.
- Get all necessary licenses and permits: Along with a business license, you may need to get additional licenses depending on the type of business and local laws. Many professionals, such as contractors and real estate agents, need to be licensed in the states in which they work. Additionally, you may need licenses to manufacture and/or sell specific products such as liquor, firearms or even lottery tickets. Research all licenses applicable in your county and your state. It's also extremely important to know the zoning laws before you open a business. Don't assume the zoning laws don't apply to you. You can get information on zoning from your local county clerk's office.
There are definitely other important steps to getting a business off the ground, such as finding a technical expert and launching a website (a must in today's competitive market). However, if you've taken the seven steps above, you will find yourself in a confident, business-ready position.