If starting a business was one of your resolutions for 2018 but you're still working for someone else, don't worry -- there's time yet this year to become your own boss. Do you have a good idea and a willingness to work hard? In this article we lay out the first 10 steps you'll want to undertake so you can start doing what you love every day.
Refine your idea
A broad notion of the field you want to be in or the customers you want to serve can be good jumping-off points for brainstorming, but when it comes to the kind of business you're going to start, preciseness is key. Say you're passionate about research and writing. In that case, you may decide to create a business that offers content for other businesses. OK, but in what capacity? Will you be the only writer or will you build a team that can offer comprehensive content marketing services? Or, perhaps you want to offer bookkeeping services for other businesses. Decide if you want to target small to midsize businesses or if your interest is geared toward serving larger organizations.
Once you determine the type of business you are interested in, it's time to get more specific. Now take a step from a three-year-old's playbook and continue to ask yourself questions. Where will it be? Who is your typical client? Why should or would someone choose your business over another one that offers the same or similar services? Ask and answer until you have a specific, compact business idea.
Create a plan
A business plan, that is. This document will act as a roadmap for your business for the next few years. It should describe your company and the services you will provide, as well as lay out clear objectives for the business and your plans for achieving them. And of course, it should discuss your financials, particularly if you're applying for a loan or seeking outside funding for your idea. The bank or potential investor will want to know how their money will be used and how you plan to make it back.
You'll also want to go over the proposed legal structure of the company and how you plan to market and advertise. While a good business plan can take on any number of formats, in general, a solid layout to use is as follows: executive summary, business description, landscape analysis, business organization, business offerings, marketing, financial request (if funds are needed), financial forecast and appendix. This last part is where you'll want to attach relevant resumes of key people and key bank statements showing your financial health, etc.
Assess your finances
You don't need a CPA to tell you that you need money to start almost any business. So where is your cash going to come from? Even if you have enough savings to bankroll your own entry into entrepreneurship (and your analysis and business plan supports as much), you'll want to make sure you come up with and adhere to a strict budget. Ensure, too, that you provide a margin of error, as no matter how well you plan, unexpected costs always pop up somewhere.
If you're like many entrepreneurs and need some help with your start-up capital, that's OK, too. But you'll need to figure out how much you still need and where you think you have the best shot at getting your funding. Do your research meticulously and consider what you're looking for. Is it lenders or investors? This will help determine where and how you look for backers. If you're willing to part with equity in your company, angel investors might be for you. The Angel Capital Association has a comprehensive listing of investors by region. If you're looking for a loan, you may be in luck; Large financial institutions are lending money to small businesses at record highs.
Determine your legal business structure
Figuring out your structure will be among the most important decisions you make as a business founder. Among the most common legal structures for companies are the sole proprietorship (in which a single owner has all business control), the partnership (at least two people share control, as well as profits and/or losses), the corporation (an entity formed for the purpose of the business) and the limited liability corporation (an entity that combines the "pass-through" taxation benefits of a sole proprietorship or partnership with the limited-liability benefits of a corporation). While the first is the most popular in part because it does not require any formal registration, each set-up has its own ups and downs. You'll want to figure out which is best for you and your business before deciding.
Register with your state government and the IRS
If you've decided on anything other than a sole proprietorship, you'll need to let both your state government and the IRS know. This step will include registering both your business name and the structure you've picked with the IRS and your state revenue office. You may also need a permit or license to operate, so be sure to check the federal rules and your state's regulations when it comes to the type of business you've chosen to start.
When it comes to insurance, there is coverage that nearly all businesses need to have and others that may be industry-specific. Those in the first category are workers' compensation, property insurance, general liability and business owner's policies. Because policy language can be opaque and difficult for the layperson to understand, consider finding a broker who specializes in insurance in your industry.
Build your team
Now for some fun (finally): Choosing your people. Since you've already budgeted, you should know by now how many positions you have to fill and at what levels and salaries. Use LinkedIn, social media and good, old-fashioned word of mouth and personal connections and referrals to gather resumes. Don't have a ton of cash to lure in top talent? Don't let that stop you from seeking the right fits for your business. Many qualified, good people are more than willing to take a reduction in pay for the chance to get in on the ground floor of a business they believe in and want to see grow.
Choose your vendors
No matter what you're selling, chances are you'll need things for your business -- and that means you'll want to develop good relationships with suppliers. Here again, you will want to really do your homework to be sure you seek out vendors that have what you want. Perhaps customer service is paramount to you. Finding a vendor that answers the phone after hours, always ships on time or early, or addresses concerns right away may mean paying a bit more than you would for a cut-rate supplier, but in the long run that choice may well pay for itself.
Brand yourself -- and advertise
Before you can sell your wares or services to others, you have to know who you are and what you're selling. Brainstorm and create a pleasant, memorable and appealing logo. Create a typical customer and gear all your branding toward that person. Establish a tone. Will you be serious? Sophisticated? Funny? Figure out what would appeal to your ideal client. Determine and stick with values. If you've chosen to start a content marketing business you will need to make potential clients feel comfortable with your ability to create quality content. If your business offers bookkeeping services it is important to make your clients feel confident that your accounting services are accurate and reliable. How will you communicate that?
You'll want to advertise, too, of course -- but this needn't come with a hefty price tag. Start a Facebook page and Twitter and Instagram accounts for your business, and make sure to keep them all updated with fresh, engaging content to attract visitors that turn into real-life customers. Don't forget about putting up flyers in coffee shops, libraries and other community gathering spots (with permission, of course). People still pay attention to bulletin boards, and it's amazing how lucrative a free advertising medium can be.
Grow your business
Once you're up and running, the last thing you may be thinking about is expansion. But it's never too early to start, especially because some of the top pro-growth moves are things you'll want to do anyway. Once you've landed a customer, it's far cheaper for you to keep them than it is to go out and find a new one -- so make sure to invest in the customers you have. One way to do this: Institute a client-loyalty program.
On that same note, consider what complementary services or products you might offer your customers. If you already offer blog posts as part of your content marketing service, could you also offer eBooks, white papers, or press releases? Could you provide infographics or video content? Could your bookkeeping business also offer payroll services? Talk to customers and get to know what they want and need. Doing so could help your business enormously.
With all that business growth, you're going to need more office space. Let Metro Offices, the leader in shared, temporary and virtual office space in the Washington, D.C., area, help you find it. Browse our locations today.