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How do I get the ball rolling on my small business idea?

Veteran

Jessica Letellier Biddeford, ME

I want to open my own business in the near future..the issue I'm having is getting the foundation. I have no idea where to start. And one idea leads to another great idea. I'm extremely nervous and wonder if any small business owners beginners and the wise could recommend a place to start and how to stay focused and positive on getting it going. The funding and taxes and legalities are something I feel are holding me back.

5 January 2016 28 replies Small Business

Answers

Advisor

Rick Toston Hudson, WI

Hi Jessica...
I am old school in that I believe you have to learn all aspects of your profession BEFORE you start your own business. I worked for some of the finest home builders in the Midwest, which gave me a wealth of knowledge over a 4 year period, which launched me into my first business. My first business lasted over 25 years.

Businesses usually fail for one of two reasons;
1. Lack of funding. If you can not complete a three year cash flow plan and 3 year business plan, you probably need more experience.
2. A lack of an in-depth knowledge of all aspects of your business: Sales, marketing, business management, accounting, etc. If your competitor has more knowledge, they have the edge.

What I am trying to say is, learn all aspects of your business before you start. On the job learning is costly. Owning a business is great...but owning a business is much better when you can operate your business better than your competition. Good luck.

Advisor

Reid Lohr Greenville, SC

Jessica,
As you can see from the answers and suggestions being provided there is not shortage of advice and resources regarding starting your own business. And yes, it is a bit scary - but first you need to know exactly what it is you want to do, who would be your perspective customers and why would they want to spend money of what ever product or service you are offering. In short, what is going to distinguish you and your business.
I work with small and medium businesses - both start-up and those considering expansion.
I would be glad to talk with you one-on-one if you like. If so, please feel free to private message me.
best,
reid

Advisor

Kristin Garcia Aguilar San Antonio, TX

Jessica, these are great suggestions! I also wanted to promote that Stanford has a entrepreneur summer program for Veterans to give a crash course in business development. I encourage you to check it out and let me know if I can help you with your application. The deadline is 3 Mar 2016.
https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/programs/stanford-ignite/campus/post-9-11-veterans

Advisor

Courtney Ross Escobar Worcester, MA

Good morning Jessica,

You are right, there are a number of tasks to accomplish when starting your own business, which are too lengthy to list here. I am more than happy to speak with you offline. Please private message me and we can set up some time to talk.

Best,

Courtney Ross Escobar

Advisor

Jim Rohrbach Evanston, IL

Hi Jessica!

Begin by reading the book Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.

Hope that's useful --

Jim "Da Coach"
http://www.SuccessSkills.com

Veteran

Dan Santos Ogden, UT

Jessica,

Have you attended the 2 day Boots to Business course offered to Veterans? If not, would highly suggest doing so as this course offers all sorts of information in starting a business. Here's the link to find the closest location to sign up for the course: http://boots2business.org/reboot/

After attending the course you can take an eight-week online Foundations of Entrepreneurship course given by Syracuse University.

I just completed the 2 day course and recently enrolled in the 8 week course. Wish I would have known about these programs before starting my business.

Dan

Advisor

Donald Marshall Hingham, MA

Jessica,
The Small Business Administration should have an office located near you. They can provide assistance in developing your business plan. They also can arrange loans to get your business started. The VA also offers grants to vets to get their business started. Just gogle SBA or go to SBA.go to start the journey.
Good luck,
Don

Advisor

Marc-Anthony Arena East Rochester, NY

Jessica,
Thank you for your service!
The main thing you need to start your own show is courage, and we know you have that.

Other than that, write yourself a business plan, doesn't have to be more than a few pages, then start your dba or LLC. Here are the main categories of a business plan:

Executive Summary
Write a few paragraphs to introduce the idea to someone and why you think it's a great idea.
Table of Contents
Industry Analysis
Talk about the current state of the industry and what it lacks.
Company Description
Talk about how you'll form your company, eg LLC, Inc, etc. who'll own it, where it'll be located, how it'll grow
Product Description
Give details about your product or service
Marketing Plan
How are you going to sell this? Note that as soon as you register a company, billions of people will send you letters in the mail desperately, hoping to take money from you. Careful with things from "Compliance Department" - they're not the government, they're a scam company out of California trying to sell you posters you don't need.
Organizational Plan
An organizational chart of you, your lawyer, accountant, partners, and employees.
Assessment of Risk
Your strengths, weaknesses, and what opportunities and threats you foresee
Financial Plan
How are you going to make money? Talk about what you'll need on day one, and estimate what you'll need and make for the first 24 months.
Appendix
Cite any works

I'm actually going to put this in my ACP profile so everyone can see. Hope that helps!
Marc

Veteran

Joe Crane Olathe, KS

Jessica,

In addition to the great resources listed above specially from Emanuel Carpenter check out my podcast. I being a veteran myself and struggling to start a business, I found navigating it all to be overwhelming so I started a podcast to help other veterans.

www.veteranonthemove.com

Joe

Advisor

Deb Yeagle Tampa, FL

Jessica-
Thanks for your service!
Have you reached out to your local Maine Small Business Development Center (SBDC)?
http://www.mainesbdc.org/

I have worked with a couple Florida SBDC offices and they provide services to help small businesses get started.
Best of luck!
Deb

Advisor

Behzad Bigdeli North Richland Hills, TX

I would actually propose a different approach of starting your business as a sole proprietorship rather than registering and getting into legal matters earlier than you may perhaps need to do. This is how I started mine and I think that it is the easiest. Let's generate the income before worrying about paying taxes and patenting the idea!:-)

Advisor

Huet Sampson Philadelphia, PA

Jessica,
Starting a business really isn't difficult at all. You just need to fill out some paperwork and pay a few fees. You'll need to do the fictitious name document to name your company, a sales and use license (in Pennsylvania) for tax purposes. This document allows you to charge sales tax and such. And you'll need a federal EIN. (Employer identification Number). Once these are complete. You officially have a company. I'm saying this because I want you to know that the process itself is simple. However, before you do anything, you need to create a business plan to lay out what you want to achieve and make projections about how you plan to do it. You need a business plan for several important reasons. Funding is a key one. You may also need to consider getting trademarks or even copyrights to protect your product if you have one. Although it's easy to start a business, making is successful is very difficult. You need to do a lot of market research. Find out if there are other companies already doing what you intend to do. If so try to learn as much as possible about how they do it. You CAN be successful, just be prepared to work hard. You should consult with the VA to see what type of programs they offer for assisting with start ups. And Also the Small Business Administration can be very helpful.

Advisor

Huet Sampson Philadelphia, PA

Jessica,
Starting a business really isn't difficult at all. You just need to fill out some paperwork and pay a few fees. You'll need to do the fictitious name document to name your company, a sales and use license (in Pennsylvania) for tax purposes. This document allows you to charge sales tax and such. And you'll need a federal EIN. (Employer identification Number). Once these are complete. You officially have a company. I'm saying this because I want you to know that the process itself is simple. However, before you do anything, you need to create a business plan to lay out what you want to achieve and make projections about how you plan to do it. You need a business plan for several important reasons. Funding is a key one. You may also need to consider getting trademarks or even copyrights to protect your product if you have one. Although it's easy to start a business, making is successful is very difficult. You need to do a lot of market research. Find out if there are other companies already doing what you intend to do. If so try to learn as much as possible about how they do it. You CAN be successful, just be prepared to work hard. You should consult with the VA to see what type of programs they offer for assisting with start ups. And Also the Small Business Administration can be very helpful.

Advisor

Doug Hill Kearneysville, WV

Jessica,

You are fortunate to live in this time. A Woman Owned business hat provides service to contract companies has an advantage. Most contracts will have a stipulation that a range of 10 to 20 percent of the payment must go to a Minority or Woman owned business. This is the MBE/WBE clause. I don't know what you have in mind for a business, just letting you know how the contracts work. Secondly, call the SBA. There is a section devoted to supporting women based business. Everything from business plans to business loans will be explained step by step to you. Give the Small Business Administration a call and they will help you launch your business. Good Luck!

Advisor

Stefan Beyer Kirkland, WA

I know it's kinda corny advice, but I'd recommend seeing the movie "Joy." As a business owner just starting out myself (my first product is set to launch this spring), I found a lot of the business-side problems she ran into were fairly similar to the things I've had to go through. I'm not suggesting trying to try and replicate the movie's business path, but it'll give you a good idea of what things to ask and plan for (so you "know what you don't know", as it were).

Advisor

Peter Billard Glastonbury, CT

Jessica,
I thought more about your exact words: "...getting the foundation; no idea where to start; extremely nervous; recommend a place to start; how to stay focused and positive..." You have the ideas, but ask how to begin with them and how to keep them clear in your mind. I suggest get yourself and ideas organized in some meaningful way. Could be a journal, tablet, notebook, smartphone app, or whatever appeals to your sense of organization. You're receiving tons of advice, suggestions, plus ideas that have worked for other people. Don't get swamped by the information overload! Some considerations:

• If you want to take control of your future, the first thing to do is get your life in order.
• Orderliness is not instinctual, innate, or genetic–it’s something that can be learned like any other skill.
• Those who keep order find power and pleasure in devoting immediate attention to things.
• Order is not only utilitarian, but enables tranquility and control to occur, therefore allowing other things to be done with ease.
• Disorder can disrupt your plans and intentions a hundred times a day.
• If you truly hate getting stuck on meaningless tasks, start creating order in your life and establish yourself as the one in control.
• See that creating order is an ongoing task, not a one-shot deal.
• Creating more order on the inside enables better results on the outside.
• Spontaneity is not lost by becoming orderly, on the contrary, it creates an environment where true spontaneity can blossom.

Go get 'em! –Peter

Advisor

Jerry Welsh Middleville, MI

Jessica SCORE has been listed a number of times along with the SBA. I think you need to add the local Chamber of Commerce to this list. SCORE is part of the Chamber and many chambers have SBA representatives in their officers or a direct contact to them. Remember running a business is a combination of concentrating of doing what you do well(do not broaden the scope past your distinctive competency) and get some basic advice on the business side-i.e. looking at a P&L, and other financials. As far as advice, many people offer it and if it does not pass your "gut" test then do not do it. Most folks have a set of values, keep them, it you given them up for profit, you will not be the best you can be.

Advisor

Bob Molluro Wilmington, DE

Let me give you the bad news first then I will point you in the right direction. Every year in the US there are roughly 600,000 start up businesses. About 3% of them will still be in existence in 5 years. What overcomes the odds is deciding on something that you are passionate about. Owning your own business sounds pretty sexy when you look at people who have succeeded however the facts are you will work seven days per week. Since you have limited resources and no funding it is all on you. I spent over 25 years in corporate America before I finally decided to start my own business in 1997. Today I am an overnight success. I would recommend two sources: visit www.emyth.com as Michael Gerber's organization provides lots of free, great information. Also www.eosworldwide.com another great source. Also find yourself a mentor who will be brutally honest with you. This is not just about coming up with a great idea. it is about having a Business Plan, the necessary funding, the understanding that good businesses are based on the right strategies supported by good repeatable systems and marketing to get your products and services in front of a the right targeted audience. It is a never ending learning experience and for the right person is "the magic carpet" ride. You will get knocked to the canvas more times than you can ever imagine and if you find that you have difficulty getting back up then this may not be right for you. A good place to start might be a small business that is already successful where as an employee you get to learn on someone else's nickel. The upside is if you are successful you answer to no one. You are totally responsible for everything that happens. The freedom and rewards are there. I am personally challenged every day as I get paid for helping others solve some serious problems. It is a great life and one worth fighting for. However it is not for the weak hearted. My best to you.

Advisor

Peter Billard Glastonbury, CT

Jessica,

In addition to all the mentioned excellent and helpful external things to work on, also consider examining the internal aspects you need to carry out your plan. Those are the personal characteristics that make you who you are. All the outside help in the world will falter if you personally are not up to the task. In no particular order, consider doing an inventory of some of the following personal attributes. Some you may already possess, others you may recognize need further development. You don't need all of them, just a preponderance of them. Their development can be considered a life-long pursuit. The list:
assertive
conscience
integrity
perseverance
commitment
responsible
trustworthy
excellence
principled
dependable
determination
decisive
courteous
benevolent
discipline
flexible
effective
insightful
motivated
sincere
resolute
tenacity
faith
strength
personal leadership
belief
guts
character
backbone
innate ability
power to rise above circumstances
courage
duty
obligation
bravery
altruism
maturity
selfless
dignity
right attitude
awareness
hard work
resourceful
honor
energy
enthusiasm
self-respect
humility
resolve
action
diligence
reverence
reflection
self-control
fearless
valor
unafraid
enduring human spirit
persistence
leap of faith
kindness
wisdom
honesty
compassion
ingenuity
empathetic
mindful
truthful
helpful
generous
curious
inquisitive
perceptive
reliable
loyal
attentive
exuberant
competency

I wish you all the best! –Peter

Advisor

Melvin Sorcher Westport, CT

There is a non-profit, all volunteer group called SCORE founded to provide free and expert advice to people wanting to start up or operate small businesses. Look up your nearest SCORE chapter and visit them. I think you will find it helpful with all aspect of starting and operating a business.

Advisor

Jennifer Polhemus Santa Monica, CA

Jessica, You don't say anything about the field your business would enter. The key to entrepreneurial success is core competence -- what are your core competencies? What do you know how to do well? Make a list, adding even "small" skills like keyboarding or "pleasant speaking voice." Self-employment should come from a place of skill and knowledge, and then you can worry about legal form of ownership. etc.

Many people just want to be self-employed, without regard for the field/product. But self-employment is really rough, and you need good alliances to succeed.

So make sure the competencies and alliances look good, and THEN re-visit the self-employment idea. Perhaps working for someone else to gain experience/contacts?

Nolo Press has some good guide books, or try Gallup's StrengthsQuest online talent assessor (just $10). Best wishes on finding your own pathway to success, Jennifer

Advisor

Richard Gauger West Chester, PA

Hi Jessica,

Thank you for your service and congratulations on your entrepreneurial spirit.

You have already received excellent responses some of which mention SCORE. As a SCORE counselor, (https://www.score.org/mentors/richard-gauger), I also recommend contacting SCORE. They have been mentoring folks like yourself for over 50 years and have over 300 locations across the country. By visiting www.SCORE.org, you can set up an appointment for either email/phone counseling or face-to-face meetings. I recommend the latter. SCORE counselors can guide you through every part of developing a completed business plan.

To get you started, the following information may be helpful.

1. Initial Research
a. Licensing & fees – you will need to contact federal, state and municipal governments. Start with the websites of the U.S. Small Business administration (http://www.sba.gov/licenses-and-permits), XX Secretary of State and the locality where your business will be located. These sites should have searchable databases which will allow you to find licensing and fee information for various business categories. http://business.usa.gov/start-a-business#wizard-step-id-4 is a link I found at www.irs.gov. You can see here that a lot of good information is available in one place - EIN, business entity, licenses and permits, state tax registration, workman’s comp & unemployment insurance requirements (if any), etc. You should start at the home page of http://business.usa.gov/ and click on the tile or icon “Start a Business,” it leads you through a series of questions about your business before giving you the appropriate information for your specific situation. Note that you can click on more than one option on each page of questions. This only takes a couple minutes. Have you set up your business entity and do you have an EIN? http://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/How-to-Apply-for-an-EIN. If you have access to a business resource library (many country public library systems have a designated business resource library), a business resource librarian may be able to help you with these types of searches based on your EIN (Employer Identification Number or Federal Tax ID). If available the following reference books may be helpful: RMA Annual Statement Studies and Industry Norms and Key Business Ratios. You can also check out the following websites: www.bizstats.com and www.census.gov/csd/bes for comparative financial and expenses metrics or benchmarks for your industry.
b. Business entity
i. Legal counsel can best advise the type of company to form. In the case of most small businesses, the options are sole proprietor, partnership, Chapter S Corporation and Limited Liability Corporation. LLC’s are popular because they avoid double taxation and, as the name implies, limit your own personal liability against lawsuits. You can use either an attorney or a website like LegalZoom to incorporate your business. An attorney might also advise on regulatory issues.
ii. At some point early on, you should also consider contacting an accountant and commercial insurance agent for advice as well as to identify related expenses.
iii. While establishing your business entity, you can apply for the EIN yourself on the IRS website or use an attorney.

Best wishes for a successful launch of your business startup. Please let me know if you have questions about SCORE.

Best Regards,

Rich Gauger

Advisor

Emanuel Carpenter Atlanta, GA

Jessica:

Congratulations on your decision to take the entrepreneurial plunge. I'm launching a company in March. Here are some of the resources that have helped me get there:

1. Free Business Model Canvas course through Stanford: https://www.udacity.com/course/how-to-build-a-startup--ep245 . You can find many more free courses on sites like Alison.com and Udemy,com,

2. Speaking with SCORE advisers in my area. Yet another free resource (www.score.org). Just make an appointment online.

3. Reading Entrepreneur Magazine for free at my local library. You can also read select articles at www.entrepreneur.com.

4. Speaking with a local librarian about market research. You'll need it for your business plan.

5. Joining a local incubator program. Mine costs $25 per quarter. I took two courses and attended a networking event. I got way more than my money's worth.

6. Joining the Veteran's Entrepreneur Program. You must have a service-connected disability to be eligible. You get five weeks of online training and one-week of in-person training at a college campus. Mine will be at Oklahoma State University. Here's a link: http://riata.okstate.edu/veterans/

7. Talking to family, friends, and colleagues and asking for help and advice. My expertise is sales and marketing. I have friends who are great at IT, Finance, HR, and more.

8. Watching TV shows like "The Profit," and "Shark Tank."

Just a few ideas to get you started. Good luck on your endeavor.

Advisor

Bill Seabrooke Cumming, GA

Jessica,

In addition to the excellent information that has already been posted:

1. If at all possible, decide on the type business you'd like to start - retail, service, professional, photography, food service, etc. Then seek out and talk with several business owners to ask them to describe their experiences and also ask for their recommendations.

2. Community colleges usually offer very inexpensive courses for new business owners or those planning to start their own business. The instructors are almost always either business owners themselves or professionals who support small business owners.

3. Consult with a Certified Public Account who specializes in small business clients. In some case, for an hour or less of their time, there will be no cost to you.

4. Another possible option is becoming a franchise owner. Depending upon the franchise, you will already have national brand recognition, marketing support, and usually access to a mentor in either their regional or national offices. They are dedicated to your success!

5. As soon as possible, and if they exist in your area, establish a professional relationship (network) with other existing small and medium business owners who offer similar products or services. Their knowledge, experience, expertise, and support will become invaluable to your business operations. There is no cost to you.

Advisor

John Allison Needham, MA

Jessica,

The Small Business Administration is a great resource for answers. They have classes and you can schedule a one on one meeting.

Best of luck with starting your business.

John

Advisor

Charles Krause Glendale, AZ

Jessica -
The advice you have received, so far, is excellent. However, you seem to not be focused on the type of business you want to start. I would suggest that you first develop that idea. Build your dream business idea with the business tools necessary to attract customers and the ability to stay the course financially.

Chuck Krause

Advisor

John Green Cary, NC

Hi Jessica -

The very first step is to write a clear and concise business plan. There are templates available here :

https://www.score.org/resources/business-planning-financial-statements-template-gallery

Once you have it written, I will be glad to review it for you. You can PM me for my email address. Your business plan will document and detail what your target market is, how you plan to penetrate that market, the size of the market, how you will form your team, what unique qualities you bring to the market that someone else may not, how much start-up capital you need, and a month-by-month estimate of revenue. Not to worry about getting capital, there is lots of capital available for people who demonstrate they can be successful.

After that step, the next is to incorporate or file for an LLC, or similar. You do this by writing Articles of Incorporation. You want to do this to protect your personal assets from corporate liability. Each state is somewhat different in the requirements of this document. For the state of Maine, you can view their requirements here :

http://www.maine.gov/sos/cec/corp/incorporating.html

JG

Advisor

Brian Richardson Columbus, IN

Hi Jessica,
It can be a bit daunting to start a business...but very doable! It's good you are looking for advice as opposed to "winging" it.

There are several things you could do first in setting up your business. But, honestly, the very first thing you should do is a little testing of your product/service. You need to determine the need for your product and WHO needs it.

Once you do that, getting a working business plan started is the best way to go. I recommend the Business Model Canvas. It will help you get the different aspects of your business (customers, channels, revenue streams, costs, partnerships etc) organized so you can begin to see how they work together.

If that is something you would like help on, please feel free to reach out.

Brian Richardson
brian@VetLaunched.com
www.VetLaunched.com

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