If you ever wanted to start your own business, there has never been so much information available to help you. Here in the U.S., The Small Business Administration and the network of Small Business Development Centers stand at the ready, as do a plethora of web sites.
Additionally, there are innumerable consultants out there who can provide the personal touch in walking you through the process.
Perhaps the longest standing organization to help people get businesses launched is the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). Created in 1953, the SBA's main mission is to help Americans start, build and grow businesses. A network that evolved out of the SBA's efforts has been the Small Business Development Centers, partnering the SBA with private sector companies, colleges, universities, and state governments.
By accessing either the Small Business Administration at www.sba.gov or the nation's network of small business development centers at www.sbdcnet.org, you can get all sorts of info on creating business plans, how to get a Federal Tax ID number and a business license, what the best way might be for you to structure your business, and a whole lot more. Including how to get funding if you need it.
These resources can be quite helpful, because people wanting to start a small business usually have a passion for their niche industry, not for all the nuts and bolts of getting a start-up venture off the ground.
Enter the individual consultant.
Many entrepreneurs don't want to spend time becoming experts in the details of business start ups. Accordingly, they don't like the idea of sitting down to plow through page after page of fine print on what needs to be in place and why. They'd rather leave that to a specialist.
Kathy Martin is one such specialist. As President of Sanders-Martin Consulting (www.sandersmartin.com), Martin specializes in helping her clients develop business plans that get funded.
She says "Most business books and advisors insist that you need to write a business plan. That's good advice, but it isn't the best place to start. It makes more sense to first plan the business right."
She says just because a person is a gifted cook doesn't mean that the ability to create a spectacular buffet will mean the cook will succeed in the catering business. "Doing good work isn't the same as running a profitable business."
As a consultant, Martin walks people through a series of questions. Some of these questions are:
- Will the business be part of a growing, healthy industry?
- How competitive is that industry?
- What start up costs will be involved?
- What percentage of sales will go to covering operating costs?
- What are the industry average profit margins?
- Who and what are the necessary resources to start and grow the business?
The list goes on, but you get the idea. These are questions to make you think, but the answers will help in planning the business right. "Entrepreneurs get answers," Martin says. "Amateurs don't."
Granted, many of these questions can be found elsewhere, but sometimes having an experienced professional sitting right there to walk you through them makes the process go a lot faster. Plus, any yellow flags or areas needing further investigation can be readily identified.
For those what would rather go it alone, the web site www.startupnation.com has a step-by-step process for entrepreneurs to follow. The ten steps are:
- Create a Life Plan
- Choosing a Business Model
- Create a Business Plan
- Select a Business Structure
- Create Key Business Assets
- Find the Funding
- Organize Logistics
- Find Great People
- Establish a Brand
- Market and Sell
A nice list to be sure, but again, these things can be tough to do without some advice or background understanding. Fortunately, startupnation.com provides a list of resources, tips, and insights from people who have 'been there / done that.' They even have an online business plan template you can access for free.
Martin says entrepreneurs must arm themselves with critical information long before they open for business. "The costs of educating yourself before taking the leap are minimal and the payoff is huge, because information is power."
Besides, there's a cost to not educating yourself. Martin says "If you operate by the seat of your pants you're going to lose your shirt."
Bottom line, I like the way Martin sums it up: "If you don't like answers you get through research, or you find you don't have adequate resources to compete, you can rethink your decision or revamp your concept. But if you do like what you learn, you can move forward and grow a successful, profitable business."