15 Easy Steps to Starting Your Small Business

Yeah, sure it’s easy, and of course, that title is a little tongue in cheek. It takes a lot of hard work to get a business off the ground. But, it’s worth every hour I’ve spent getting to where I am now.

When I decided to start my communication and image consulting business, I tried hard to find a good startup guide. I couldn’t find any that had all the steps. So, I decided to write one. So far, it’s mostly just the bare-bones outline (which is long enough as it is) you see in this article.

I’ll be adding to it every week or two, and writing more detailed articles on all the steps, so try to stop by and check it out from time to time. Let me know how I’m doing. Shoot off an email to me if I’ve forgotten something or you have questions.

Before you spend so much as a dollar, talk to a few experts. Go to the library or get on the internet and research, research, research. Take a little time to make sure entrepreneurship is right for you.

Make a pro and con list of business ownership, and evaluate yourself honestly. How many characteristics do you have in common with successful entrepreneurs? Is your financial position strong enough? Do you have the necessary technical and management skills?

You’re not going to be the perfect entrepreneur. Nobody is. But in order to make yourself the best entrepreneur you can be, consider ways to compensate for any weaknesses you might have.
I’m from Canada, so the government agencies I’ve mentioned in this guide are Canadian, but really, it can be used by anyone.

All you have to do, if you’re from somewhere other than Canada, is find out where you need to find some of the things I’ll talk about. Some of the steps might be slightly different, and you may not have to worry about things like GST for example, but I’m sure you’ll find this discussion helpful all the same.

These steps to starting a business are in reasonably good order, but you might find yourself varying from it under your particular circumstances. That really isn’t a big deal, as long as you get most of it done. There are some steps you’ll be able to skip as well, but please don’t skip any of the “big ones”, which I’m sure you’ll pretty much figure out from taking a look at the list.

So, assuming you’ve done your evaluation and you still want to start a business, take a deep breath, and let’s get started.

  1. Conduct a feasibility study of your business. Describe your typical customer, your product and your competitors. Who will your suppliers be? What will you charge for your product? How will you market your product? These are just a few of the questions you need to answer.
  2. Write a complete business plan for your company, using the information you gathered from your feasibility study. This vitally important, often overlooked step needs to include a description of your company, its goals, competitors, market, financial information, and of course, how you intend to meet your goals.
  3. Get your financing in place. There are many ways to finance your business, from your own savings to personal credit cards to bank loans. If you need credit, know your business plan from front to back and maybe even sideways.
  4. Decide what kind of structure your company will have. From a legal standpoint, there are three basic choices, sole proprietorship, partnership and incorporation, each with advantages and disadvantages.
  5. Choose a name for your company and check on name availability. Naming your company is highly individual, but it’s the first thing associated with your business, so choose your name carefully. You’ll need to do a NUANS (Newly Upgraded Automated Name Search) report, which checks your name choices for uniqueness against a database of other business names. A reserved name is valid for 90 days.
  6. Decide whether you want to register federally or provincially and register your company. If you register federally, you’ll also have to register provincially, which almost doubles the cost. You don’t have to have a lawyer process them for you, but it might be a good idea to at least consult with one. You can get the forms from your local government office, have them faxed to you or download them. You can fax or email printed copies, or complete the forms online.
  7. Contact Canada Revenue Agency Business Window for your business number, and to register for GST/HST, payroll, corporate income tax and import/export (if applicable). You can also contact the CRA if you need general information about business expenses. Chances are you’ll have to collect GST, but you may want to register for a GST number even if you don’t have to collect it because of input tax credits.
  8. Decide whether you need to collect PST. If you do, you need to submit “Registration as a Vendor” documents with your province.
  9. Determine whether there are special permits or licenses in your municipality. It’s highly unlikely that your municipality does not have special permits or licenses.
  10. Develop the marketing materials you decided on in your business plan. They should include at least a company identity package, press kit and website. Your identity package is your logo, business card and letterhead. A press kit can include letters of introduction, biography sheets, press releases, articles and a brochure. In today’s electronic age, printed materials aren’t enough. You need a website that looks professional, matches your printed material and has great copy. You’ll also want to make sure it’s optimized for search engines.
  11. Set up your business bank account and record-keeping system. Your banker will need to see your incorporation documents, and you should probably set up more than one account so you can keep track of your finances better. Record-keeping is required, and can be done manually or with a computer program.
  12. Purchase insurance. There are many different types of insurance, but most probably your company will need at least one. For example, if you’re going to have employees, you need to contact the Worker’s Compensation Board. Depending on your type of business, you might want to contact them even if you don’t have employees to insure yourself.
  13. Contact potential creditors and set up credit terms. You should have researched suppliers when you were doing your feasibility study. Now is the time to contact them.
  14. Decide where your business will be located. Lease your business’ space. Alternatively, you could choose to start your business from home if it’s feasible. There are advantages and disadvantages to starting your business from home. You have tax write-offs for example, but sometimes your image suffers.
  15. Purchase supplies and office equipment. You’ll need too many things to list here, and of course, each business has different needs. You might need a fax machine and printer. You’ll probably need a computer. You’ll definitely need paper, pens, pencils and a calculator.

Congratulations! Go out, buy yourself a bottle of champagne and celebrate. You’re about to embark on a most exciting journey. And may I be the first to wish you good luck and prosperous times in your business venture.

As promised, my email address is listed below so you can ask questions, make comments or add steps to my list. Or, if you want, you could just drop me a line to let me know how your small business is doing. I’d really like to know.

Insuring Your Small Business

The number of small businesses starting up in the UK increases every year. The people starting a new business do it for a variety of reasons, to follow a dream; the need to stay at home combined with the need to work, redundancy, the list is endless. The growth of broadband Internet has fuelled this growth in many sectors. Some of these businesses will need financial backing from a venture capitalist and some will not; but all will need a business plan.

You might never need to present this business plan to anybody, even if you don’t it is still wise to have one. This will act as an aide memoir when you feel everything is collapsing about you; or when everything is moving so fast it can get your feet back on the ground.

However enthusiastic or skilled you are in the business you plan to start you are probably not skilled in business practices so your business plan, when presented to a business expert, will highlight the missing knowledge. Without it they do not know what you do not know about business. Anybody you ask to help you finance or support your business, whether it is a bank, stock suppliers or a venture capitalist, will want to see a business plan before even considering investing in your idea.

But what do you put in a business plan and how is it structured. Well you have to show that you have researched the market thoroughly and understand the competition you may face. It has to be well presented and show a severe attention to detail. The plan should reflect a sense of professionalism, with no spelling mistakes, realistic assumptions, and credible projections of cash flow. If you find all this daunting there are web sites, companies and associations out there to help you.

One thing you must remember, the better you plan your venture the better you are capable of solving problems that may occur. The failure rate of small businesses increases year by year, but this is because inadequate time was put in beforehand finalising a business and financial plan for the venture.

You may or may not need financial backing for your new venture. When sitting down and planning out your dream you should work out the finance you need for stock, business supplies, advertising, equipment and wages for the first few months while you build up custom.

Do not forget insurance. Business insurance is for the big boys you might think, not for you sitting at home behind a computer running an Internet marketing concern, cleaning windows or making wedding dresses. The law sees you in the same light as the IBM’s and Fords of this world. Your personal and home insurance will be invalid in most cases.

Some companies offer a special small business insurance package or will tailor make a business insurance package to suit your requirements. Whatever it is you need it will not cost a fortune, it will enhance your business standing and confidence and could save you a fortune. These days it only takes one litigation claim against you to force you out of business and end your dream.

The mainstays behind any small business insurance package are public liability insurance and product liability insurance. It is often a requirement that before you can work on or visit third party premises that you have public liability insurance. This provides cover against death or bodily injury to the public and loss or damage to property not owned by you or in your custody or control. Product liability will cover you against the supply of goods to someone else which through your negligence causes injury or damage. It includes solicitors’ fees, all costs and litigation expenses, damages and claimants costs for which you would be legally liable.

One thing to be reassured of when starting up a new business, nobody wants you to fail. There are companies and associations out there who want to help you. Some are free such as the local chamber of commerce who can provide you with a wealth of information including employment laws, local companies who might need your services and useful addresses. There is the Federation of Small Businesses which has local groups who meet regularly to discuss topics that are affecting them or to see presentations from service industries. On top of these there are local business support agencies, banks, venture capitalists and many more. They are all in business to help their customers as much as you are in business to help yours.

How NOT to be a Small Business Failure Statistic

There were about 146,000 business startups a year, and an average of 12,000 business bankruptcies per year from 1994 to 2004 in Canada. A 2004 Statistics Canada study on small business failure rates “Key Small Business Statistics – January 2005: How Long Do Small Businesses Survive?” found that the first few years were critical. While almost three quarters of small business startups survive the first year, less than one third of micro companies (less than five employees) were in business after five years.

These statistics by themselves may be of little value to you directly. We know how many small businesses survive and for how long, but it’s far more important to know why some survive and others do not. There are a lot of studies on small business failure. Searching “reasons for small business failure” with quotations on Google will give you almost 700 results (about 38 million without!). “Why small businesses fail” will give you almost a thousand.

The 1997 study by Statistics Canada “Failing Concerns: Business Bankruptcies in Canada found major internal factors of small business failure was management deficiency, financial management problems and poor marketing.

The Small Business Administration study “Financial Difficulties of Small Businesses and Reasons for Their Failure” in 1998 found several causes of small business bankruptcy: outside business conditions (38.5%), financing (28%), inside business conditions (27.1%), taxes (20%), disputes (18.8%), personal calamities and other (32.9%)

There is a wealth of information on this subject, but what are the common factors? There are four basic areas:

External factors

External factors include new competition, your major client moving out of town, poor weather if you’re a seasonal business, or economic downturns. They’re often largely out of our control, and may be unique to your particular company, but there are often ways to mitigate them. For example, if you have a seasonal business, such as a landscaping company (at least up here in the cold north it’s seasonal) you could buy a bobcat to provide income during your off-season with snow removal. The bottom line is, have a contingency plan for external factors that could have a negative impact on your small business success.

Lack of management

Big companies have the luxury of being able to hire several people to get all the jobs done that need to be done, but chances are you’re going to have to do it all yourself, at least for awhile. That means you’re not only going to have to develop your product or service, you’re also going to have to make financial, accounting, legal, marketing, human resources, and purchasing decisions.

You may do some of these tasks very well, but it’s unlikely that you do all these tasks well, and even if you do, you might want to contact a lawyer and an accountant at the very least. And, research, research, and research some more, and when you’re done researching, find an expert or two bounce ideas off and give you solid advice.

Lack of planning

Small businesses often fail because of lack of planning. Let me make a bold statement: the single-most vital part of your business success is your business plan. Why? Simply put, your business plan specifically and concretely lists your goals for the next few years. It spells out, step by step, how you’re going to meet those goals, and gives you something to measure your performance against at the end of your business year.

Finally, a complete business plan helps you get financing and includes a marketing plan, which addresses lack of marketing and insufficient financing, two more often cited reasons for small business failure.

I have one more thing to say about business plans. It does very little good to write a business plan, put it in a drawer and never look at it again. That same 1997 Statistics Canada study we talked about earlier found that successful small business owners refer to and revise their business plans often.

Lack of marketing

Most small businesses seem to think it takes a lot of money to market their product or service effectively. That’s simply not true. There are many ways to market inexpensively. You could use direct mail marketing which is as cheap as a stamp, or email marketing, which costs nothing. The point is, you need to get your product or service “out there” somehow. You may have the best product or service out there, something completely unique from anything else, but what good does that do if nobody knows about it?

So there you have it–my thoughts on the main reasons why small businesses fail, and how you can avoid becoming a small business failure statistic by developing a contingency plan, consulting with experts, and developing and using a business and marketing plan.

If you are thinking of starting a small business, I’m most certainly not trying to discourage you. I sincerely believe being in business for yourself may possibly be the most rewarding career there is, but a little knowledge can go a long way towards arming you against small business failure.