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A Complete Resource Guide to Start a Business in 2012 Use this list of free -- or almost free -- tools to turn your business idea into a reality in the new year.

By Catherine Clifford

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If you're planning to launch a business in 2012, you'll need every last penny you can get your hands on. That's why we put together a guide to free and low-cost resources to help you ease smoothly into the world of entrepreneurship.

It's still tough out there. Credit remains relatively tight, and consumers are cautious. So arm yourself with valuable information that will help you to get off to a winning start. We're here to help. Here are the essential steps you'll need to take to get your new business off the ground.

Figure out the right concept. To be successful and happy in your own business, you need to think seriously about how you like to spend your time and where you want to live. After you've come up with a business concept that suits you personally, the next step is to research the competition, your prospective customers and the cost of getting started.

Related: Five Affordable Consumer Research Tools

Create a business plan. Putting your goals on paper will help you focus your concept. A business plan typically includes details about the product or service, the competition and target consumers, plus a cash-flow projection. You'll also want to come up with a clever name for your startup.

  • Explore our how-to guides on business plans, including the basics of writing your plan, what you must include and where to find help.
  • As you consider names for your business, be sure to check the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's website to make sure they aren't already taken.
  • You'll need to determine the structure of your business for tax purposes. Study the SBA's list of possibilities and tax implications for each one.
  • Find your local chapter of SCORE, a nonprofit association created to educate and mentor entrepreneurs. It may be able to refer you to local business owners to serve as advisers.
  • If you plan to recruit employees, look for guidance in our hiring center, including how to start employees on the right track. You can also review the SBA's 10 steps to making your first hire.

Find Financing. The idea is hatched, the plan is set. But nothing happens without some green. Getting a loan could prove challenging because banks often are hesitant to lend to someone without a track record. And another traditional credit source—the home equity loan—has become harder to come by since the housing market cratered and home values plummeted. So it just might be time to hit up friends and family and draw on your personal savings.

Related: What Technologies Banks Should Be Using to Keep Your Money Safe

Develop and execute a marketing plan. In the Internet age, you can choose from an ever-expanding array of marketing tools, including traditional media, social networks, blogs, email and pay-per-click ads. They all require time and money, and the trick is to determine which offer the best return on investment for your particular business.

Related: Seven Tips for Improving Pay-Per-Click Campaigns

Start selling. When you hang out the "open" sign, be ready to meet your new customers with enthusiasm and the right sales pitch. Once you start attracting customers, you'll need to figure out how to keep them coming back with great service, new products and promotions.

Related: Two Weeks to Startup

Catherine Clifford

Frequently covers crowdfunding, the sharing economy and social entrepreneurship.

Catherine Clifford is a senior writer at Entrepreneur.com. Previously, she was the small business reporter at CNNMoney and an assistant in the New York bureau for CNN. Catherine attended Columbia University where she earned a bachelor's degree. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. Email her at CClifford@entrepreneur.com. You can follow her on Twitter at @CatClifford.

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