There are more than 28 million small businesses in the United States, making up a whopping 99.7 percent of all U.S. businesses, according to the Small Business Administration. When you consider some of the most popular reasons to start a business, including having a unique business idea, designing a career that has the flexibility to grow with you, working toward financial independence, and investing in yourself — it's no wonder that small businesses are everywhere.
But not every small business is positioned for success. In fact, only about two-thirds of businesses with employees survive at least two years, and about half survive five years. So you may be in for a real challenge when you decide to take the plunge, ditch your day job, and become a business owner. The stage is often set in the beginning, so making sure you follow all of the necessary steps when starting your business can set the foundation for success.
Here are 10 steps that are required to start a business successfully. Take one step at a time, and you'll be on your way to successful small business ownership.
Step 1: Do Your Research
Most likely you have already identified a business idea, so now it's time to balance it with a little reality. Does your idea have the potential to succeed? You will need to run your business idea through a validation process before you go any further.
In order for a small business to be successful, it must solve a problem, fulfill a need or offer something the market wants.
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There are a number of ways you can identify this need, including research, focus groups, and even trial and error. As you explore the market, some of the questions you should answer include:
- Is there a need for your anticipated products/services?
- Who needs it?
- Are there other companies offering similar products/services now?
- What is the competition like?
- How will your business fit into the market?
Don't forget to ask yourself some questions, too, about starting a business before you take the plunge.
Step 2: Make a Plan
You need a plan in order to make your business idea a reality. A business plan is a blueprint that will guide your business from the start-up phase through establishment and eventually business growth, and it is a must-have for all new businesses.
The good news is that there are different types of business plans for different types of businesses.
If you intend to seek financial support from an investor or financial institution, a traditional business plan is a must. This type of business plan is generally long and thorough and has a common set of sections that investors and banks look for when they are validating your idea.
If you don't anticipate seeking financial support, a simple one-page business plan can give you clarity about what you hope to achieve and how you plan to do it. In fact, you can even create a working business plan on the back of a napkin, and improve it over time. Some kind of plan in writing is always better than nothing.
Step 3: Plan Your Finances
Starting a small business doesn't have to require a lot of money, but it will involve some initial investment as well as the ability to cover ongoing expenses before you are turning a profit. Put together a spreadsheet that estimates the one-time startup costs for your business (licenses and permits, equipment, legal fees, insurance, branding, market research, inventory, trademarking, grand opening events, property leases, etc.), as well as what you anticipate you will need to keep your business running for at least 12 months (rent, utilities, marketing and advertising, production, supplies, travel expenses, employee salaries, your own salary, etc.).
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Those numbers combined is the initial investment you will need.
Now that you have a rough number in mind, there are a number of ways you can fund your small business, including:
- Small business loans
- Small business grants
- Angel investors
You can also attempt to get your business off the ground by bootstrapping, using as little capital as necessary to start your business. You may find that a combination of the paths listed above work best. The goal here, though, is to work through the options and create a plan for setting up the capital you need to get your business off the ground.
Step 4: Choose a Business Structure
Your small business can be a sole proprietorship, a partnership, a limited liability company (LLC) or a corporation. The business entity you choose will impact many factors from your business name, to your liability, to how you file your taxes.
You may choose an initial business structure, and then reevaluate and change your structure as your business grows and needs change.
Depending on the complexity of your business, it may be worth investing in a consultation from an attorney or CPA to ensure you are making the right structure choice for your business.
Step 5: Pick and Register Your Business Name
Your business name plays a role in almost every aspect of your business, so you want it to be a good one. Make sure you think through all of the potential implications as you explore your options and choose your business name.
Once you have chosen a name for your business, you will need to check if it's trademarked or currently in use. Then, you will need to register it. A sole proprietor must register their business name with either their state or county clerk. Corporations, LLCs, or limited partnerships typically register their business name when the formation paperwork is filed.
Don't forget to register your domain name once you have selected your business name. Try these options if your ideal domain name is taken.
Step 6: Get Licenses and Permits
Paperwork is a part of the process when you start your own business.
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There are a variety of small business licenses and permits that may apply to your situation, depending on the type of business you are starting and where you are located. You will need to research what licenses and permits apply to your business during the start-up process.
Step 7: Choose Your Accounting System
Small businesses run most effectively when there are systems in place. One of the most important systems for a small business is an accounting system.
Your accounting system is necessary in order to create and manage your budget, set your rates and prices, conduct business with others, and file your taxes. You can set up your accounting system yourself, or hire an accountant to take away some of the guesswork. If you decide to get started on your own, make sure you consider these questions that are vital when choosing accounting software.
Step 8: Set Up Your Business Location
Setting up your place of business is important for the operation of your business, whether you will have a home office, a shared or private office space, or a retail location.
You will need to think about your location, equipment, and overall setup, and make sure your business location works for the type of business you will be doing. You will also need to consider if it makes more sense to buy or lease your commercial space.
Step 9: Get Your Team Ready
If you will be hiring employees, now is the time to start the process. Make sure you take the time to outline the positions you need to fill, and the job responsibilities that are part of each position. The Small Business Administration has an excellent guide to hiring your first employee that is useful for new small business owners.
If you are not hiring employees, but instead outsourcing work to independent contractors, now is the time to work with an attorney to get your independent contractor agreement in place and start your search.
Lastly, if you are a true solopreneur hitting the small business road alone, you may not need employees or contractors, but you will still need your own support team. This team can be comprised of a mentor, small business coach, or even your family, and serves as your go-to resource for advice, motivation and reassurance when the road gets bumpy.
Step 10: Promote Your Small Business
Once your business is up and running, you need to start attracting clients and customers. You'll want to start with the basics by writing a unique selling proposition (USP) and creating a marketing plan. Then, explore as many small business marketing ideas as possible so you can decide how to promote your business most effectively.
Once you have completed these business start-up activities, you will have all of the most important bases covered. Keep in mind that success doesn't happen overnight. But use the plan you've created to consistently work on your business, and you will increase your chances of success.