How Do I Start a Business On My Own?
Let’s Learn About: Starting a Business
Creating a business plan to set the trajectory of your sales and spending is crucial to your success.
Use any and all opportunities to promote your goods and services to your target audience.
Consider utilizing online options and seasonal promotions to secure a wider reach for your business and help sell your products or services.
Before you start a business, there are a few steps you may want to take. First, talk to your Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or tax professional about incorporating your business or forming a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC). You may also need to apply for a Federal Employer Identification Number, as well as any state, city or county operating licenses. Opening business bank accounts will help you keep your personal expenses separate from your business expenses.
Those are just some of the details, however. A great deal goes into launching a successful business. Below are a few bigger picture things to consider.
Make a plan
Your business plan acts as the foundation on which your business is built, driving the business decisions and actions, helping you evaluate which opportunities to pursue, and shaping the messages and brand identity you project.
Creating one that both accurately conveys your vision and uses factual information that drives actionable goals can be a challenge, even for skilled entrepreneurs.
Choose a format that fits. To identify the best plan format, the Small Business Administration (SBA) says to first consider what you hope to accomplish. If you want to secure bank or investor funding, you might choose a traditional format that includes current and projected business financials.
If you’re creating a business plan to formalize your vision or just put your mission and business goals on paper, you have more flexibility, so long as your plan communicates critical business ideas such as key partnerships, points of differentiation and your strategies to gain a competitive advantage.
Research your competition. The more you understand about the competitive environment, the better equipped you are to establish a unique proposition in your plan that sets your business apart. The more accurately your plan addresses your market position relative to the broader competitive space, the more valuable it might become.
Identify the critical tipping point. Your competitive market analysis will use a combination of facts, figures and analysis to demonstrate market need, demand and opportunity. Then, you may want to bring those numbers to life with a storytelling structure, and identify the critical tipping point that will emerge when your business gains ground against competitors.
Document every claim. You’ll likely want to substantiate your business plan with factual data that is credible and convincing. If you cannot find the statistics that prove the demand you say exists for your product or service, keep researching until you have proof. Free data sources like American Fact Finder and Business Dynamics Statistics (both available from the U.S. Census Bureau) can help you unearth actionable data about potential target audiences and competition in a given region.
View the plan as fluid. Some business owners can get so overwhelmed by creating a plan that they lose sight of the true objective: address and identify business opportunities and actionable goals. Focus of the business plan only to those aspects of the business that will drive real value.
Plan for startup credit
A key factor in qualifying for a business line of credit or business loan is a high credit score. Once your business has been established, you may want to talk to your local bank or credit union regarding adding a line of credit to your business. If you’re the business owner, the bank likely will run your credit to help determine if you qualify, and your credit score—combined with your income—can be influential in whether or not you qualify for a loan.
A business credit card is another way to get access to funds. Depending on the credit card, you might earn rewards like cash back or have the ability to add employee cards to your account.
If you get a business credit card, make sure you’re paying it off in full and on time every month. Healthy credit behavior like this could help to maintain your credit score and to keep your credit utilization ratio low, potentially allowing you to apply for more credit at a low interest rate in the future as your revenue grows.
Ultimately, a credit card is an important tool in getting a new company off the ground. A larger line of credit will help you fund the set-up while you’re growing your business. When starting a business, shop around carefully for a business credit card that best meets your needs.
By choosing your marketing strategies carefully, you can stretch your marketing dollar and avoid investing too much of your valuable time on activities that generate few (or no) new customers. If you’re a time-strapped small business owner struggling to find time for marketing, these five marketing strategies could help.
Find your social media niche. Social media has become an increasingly large part of people’s personal and business lives. Yet you may not know that, in addition to the standard, most popular platforms, there may be other platforms that present more targeted opportunities to find customers. There are a few social media platforms targeted to specific industries, from real estate to graphic design.
Sponsor a local team or event. Even in the digital age, local sponsorship may be an effective marketing tool. You might look for sponsorship opportunities that align with your typical customer. For example, if your target market includes parents of school-aged kids, consider sponsoring a local kids’ sports team. If your customer profile includes individuals concerned about environmental issues, you might sponsor an annual park or beach cleanup.
Before committing to a sponsorship, consider the cost, the work involved and the promotional opportunities the sponsorship will provide to your business.
Become a local expert. Increase your business profile with the help of local media. Build relationships with local reporters by asking what they’re working on, and if you can help. Be helpful, but not obtrusive. For example, offer to answer questions in your field of expertise for a local radio station, television station, newspaper, or website.
Market through referral incentives. You might want to consider offering your customers a generous discount for a future purchase when someone they refer buys something. Businesses large and small use referral incentives to attract new customers because they’re easy to launch and maintain. Advertise your incentive, such as, “Refer a friend who makes a purchase and get a discount off your next order,” and then track referrals through your customer management or loyalty service.
Cross-promote with other businesses. Consider cross-promoting with another business that shares your demographic. Do this by offering coupons, discounts, or free samples to the other business’s customers.
For example, if you’re a wedding photographer, you might team up with a wedding planner and agree to give their customers a coupon for 30 percent off on your photography services. In turn, your own customers will get a coupon for 30 percent off the wedding planner’s services. Visit a business social media platform and search for other local businesses that share your demographic.
Plan seasonal strategies. Review your marketing plan for any seasonal pushes, such as holiday retail sales, or services — imagine a gardener ramping up for summer. You might weigh ramping up targeted social media advertising, finding new advertising channels, and creating holiday or season-specific advertisements or language.
Open an online store
Launching an online store may be as easy as pressing a few buttons to make a website live. But really succeeding in the online space takes some thought and preparation.
For example, consider which platform you’ll use based on your business needs. A cosmetics company might focus on celebrating the beauty of each user, and that unique brand could be evident on its site by featuring beautiful photos of everyday people.
But in addition to determining how to showcase your unique brand online, you should also think about security and website maintenance. You don’t want to make the news for owning a business that put customer data at risk.
Before choosing a platform, it’s important to think about your goals for your store: If you plan to sell handmade items, an established online platform may be able to simplify the process. But while third-party platforms may allow you to sell through their sites, offering you access to more buyers, it can be more difficult to establish your own brand.
There are also costs involved and you should be prepared. For instance, you’ll need to maintain a product inventory to be able to fulfill orders quickly, so research the costs of building an inventory of the items you want to sell
In addition, your online business will also incur domain or hosting fees. Look into the prices of different domain providers. In many cases, you may be able to get discounts by purchasing several years of domain hosting at once.
You’ll also need to decide how to handle shipping and returns. Some online retailers offer free shipping with purchases over a certain dollar amount. Remember, it is a benefit you’re providing your customers, so you get to make the rules. Same with returns.
Weigh any seasonal needs
Valentine’s Day, wedding and graduation season, the summer rush — they can all bring more customers your way. Regardless of when seasonal swings occur, it’s wise to be prepared.
A good first step you could take in preparing for seasonal flows is looking at what you did last year. You can use your prior year’s sales figures to help gauge what you can expect for this year, then use that number to decide how much inventory to order.
You’ll also need to make sure you have enough staff to handle potential seasonal customer demand. Seasonal hires should be trained to follow the same customer service practices as your regular staff.
Consider your displays and make sure they’re staged appropriately to draw attention to the items you’re running sales for over the season. Online, consider updating the theme and brand messaging to match the season. Make sure sales and promotions are prominently displayed in your banners. Analyze your site metrics so you understand where your customer traffic is coming from, then optimize your site to make customer experiences as streamlined and seamless as possible. And crash test the site to ensure that it’s functioning properly on desktop and mobile devices. Finally, go behind the scenes to look for any potential snags that could disrupt order processes.
This guide isn’t exhaustive — you’ll likely consult many more resources when it comes to opening your business. But these highlight some of the most vital areas to consider as your business dream becomes reality.
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