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So you want to start a business but you don’t know the steps to take to get there. Entrepreneurship is no simple journey. It entails a significant amount of time, hard work, failure, and rebuilding. But a true entrepreneur is not afraid of the struggles that come with such a rewarding endeavor. If you are ready to start your company, there are quite a few things to know and steps to follow before taking the plunge.
1. Brainstorm Ideas
Everyone has his or her own interests, strengths, and ideas. My first recommendation when brainstorming business ideas would be to ask yourself “what am I good at?” Passion is the true key to success. In order to lead, support, and mentor, you must love what you do. With a passion for technology, I saw the need for brands to have access to high-quality and affordable digital collateral. This led to researching solutions in order to create an efficient and effective process to provide these services.
Understand that everything begins with an idea, but its up to you to make that idea happen. Ignite your ideas with confidence, excitement, and energy. A person with passion typically exudes confidence, and confidence creates value for themselves and others by leading the way, NOT showing the way. When you're passionate, you make those around you feel excited — and everyone wins.
Another important factor to consider when brainstorming business ideas is to identify your target market. With a clearly defined target audience, it is much easier to determine where and how to market your company. Ask yourself “who are my prospective customers, and why would they buy from me?” Aside from understanding your target customer base, also factor your competition in that same market. Who are your competitors targeting? Who are their current customers? What is their price point?
2. Decide on Your Name
There is a lot that goes into a name, especially when it comes to small business success. While the right name has the potential to make your company the talk of the town, the wrong one can depict obscurity along with failure. A business name should be something that describes your style, whether abstract or informative. The reality is that any name can be effective when supported by distinguished marketing strategies.
The goal is for your business name to communicate something meaningful and reinforce your niche. Remember this, you want to choose a name that is appealing to the kind of customers you are trying to attract. Steer clear of long and confusing combinations and never use “Inc.” after your name unless you truly are incorporated.
By the time you have narrowed your list down to a few names, start your trademark search to ensure it does not infringe on another company. This may not seem like a big deal, but you run a huge risk if you interfere with an existing trademark, resulting in a wealth of legal matters and preventable hassles. Naming your business is the first step in developing a strong company identity. Have fun with it, but don’t take the legal aspects lightly.
3. Purchase Your Domain Name
After you have gone through the exciting process of finally deciding on your business name, you will want to purchase a domain name. This is extremely important when it comes to establishing your online identity. Many individuals keep this in mind while choosing their name, as domains may be unavailable or come with hefty prices. To combat the domain name epidemic, think of a few possibilities that you would like to use.
The process of signing up for a domain name is the same regardless of whether it is through a hosting provider or separate domain name registrar. You will enter the desired name into a text box, which will generate available extensions you can choose from. The most valuable is .com, as it is the most popular and easiest to remember. If your desired domain is taken, the service will often recommend other possibilities. Go with something that is short, free of hyphens, and gives a solid overview of your website.
A second approach is to purchase a domain name that is either already established or will be expiring. A quick search will generate numerous sites that allow users to bid on names. The upside of buying existing domains is that you can benefit from the history, traffic, and ranking provided through search engines. You will need to register the domain through a registrar. Be careful when selecting your registrar. Possession is 9/10th of the law so whoever holds the username and password has control over the domain.
4. Register With Your State
As an entrepreneur, you must understand the importance of your business name. After spending many sleepless nights conjuring up the perfect title for your company, the next step is to make it legal. Except in the event when a sole proprietor conducts business using his or her own name, registering your business name is not a matter of opinion, it is the law. Another key reason to register your name is to prevent anyone else from using it.
Now that we’ve discussed why it is so important to register your business, let’s discuss the three key paths to doing so. The easiest way to register your name is by filing a Doing Business As (DBA) with your state. Another more formalized way to complete this task is through forming an LLC or corporation for your business. While this offers brand protection within the registered state, if you intend on expanding then you may want to obtain a trademark. A trademark protects your name in all 50 states and must be applied for through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
Although the minute you start using your business name, you have “common law” rights. Registering your trademark entitles you to even stronger protection than common law marks. Starting your new business is no easy task, but it is imperative that you take the right legal steps to protect your name and brand identity.
5. Apply For a Trademark
Continuing on with the previous step, registering your trademark can be a rather complex process. Although not required, it is advised to hire an attorney, as quite a few legal terms such as copyright and patent can start to mesh together. Don’t take on this task alone unless you are familiar with the lingo and intend on spending a significant amount of time being thorough in your application.
You will want to determine which mark format applies to you. The standard character mark is any combination of words, letters, or numbers without consideration of the font or style. A design mark contains a design that you would like to protect and may or may not contain letters. The last format is a sound mark, which refers to a tune that is representative of your brand. Next, you must conduct a search for existing trademarks in the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) database.
While this can be a tab bit overwhelming at first, it is advisable to stick to the basic word and structured word/design mark search. The free form search is highly advanced and is not appropriate for beginners. Once you are in the clear, determine your basis for filing. The two options include use in commerce, which requires an example in which the mark was formerly used, or intent to use, which requires an additional form and free. After you have crossed your t’s and dotted your i’s, you can finally begin filing your application through the Trademark Electronic Application System.
6. Brand Your Identity
A solid brand identity is critical for developing prospect loyalty and customer retention. But before we go any further, you must understand what brand identity is and what it is not. In lamest terms, it is how your audience perceives you and is equal to the face of your business. Note that brand identity is not the same as branding, which we will review later on.
Ask yourself who your ideal customer is. Buyer personas shape nearly every aspect of your brand identity. Dig deeper and determine what products or services solve the problem that customers come to you with. If you are unsure of where to start, look to your competitors and conduct an analysis. Next, think about what your brand offers that your competitors can’t. As cliché as it may sound, you will also want to incorporate your brand story into this process. How and why was your business founded?
A great exercise that can help you define your brand’s identity is to create a list of adjectives that describe the company’s personality, look, and voice. Think minimalistic when it comes to this approach. Your logo design, font, colors, and voice are all components that go into your brand identity so choose wisely.
7. Determine Your Legal Business Structure
A legal business structure also referred to as a business ownership structure or business form encompasses LLCs, partnerships, sole proprietorships, corporations, non-profits, and co-operatives. This is one of the most important decisions for your business as it has a big impact on how much you pay in taxes, paperwork requirements, personal liability, and your ability to raise money.
Because each business structure comes with different tax consequences, you will want to choose wisely and select the structure that matches your business’s needs. Simply put, sole proprietorship involves just one individual who owns and operates the enterprise. The disadvantage to this structure is that you are personally responsible for your company’s liabilities. A partnership entails a business that is owned and operated by multiple individuals, but like sole proprietors, each partner is personally liable for obligations and debts.
Corporate structures are complex and involve more regulations and tax requirements, but offers significant liability protection. In this structure, stocks can be sold to raise funds, which tends to offset the higher costs. S Corporations are a better option for small business owners due to their appealing tax benefits as well as liability protection. Limited Liability Companies are increasing in popularity as it combines features of partnerships and corporations.
8. Create Bank Accounts and Lines of Credit
Opening a business bank account allows you to easily track expenses, manage employee pay, process payments, and plan your budget. Furthermore, it is vital for taxes and subsequent write-offs. If you have already followed the steps outlined above, then getting your account up and running will be an easy process.
First, determine if you want separate accounts for separate finances, depending on the depth of your business. Next, choose which bank provides the best account servicing options, especially if you are seeking a line of credit or need cash management. Get your paperwork in order. This entails obtaining your Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN), business license, and social security number if you are a sole proprietor. As soon as your account is officially set up, you can accept payments through a merchant account.
Another necessity small business owners may need is a line of credit. As loans or other types of financing can be difficult to get. Start small with whatever size line a lender is willing to provide. This helps you get your foot in the door and with responsible use, you can expand the credit line over time.
9. Advertise and Market Your Services
Effective marketing is one of the biggest challenges faced by small business owners. There are endless possibilities when it comes to marketing techniques, so it is essential to choose the right approach on a limited budget. But before we move any further, the basis for successful advertisement and marketing begins with your website. An attractive website emits professionalism and the functionality enables you to acquire customers.
A great approach that many small businesses overlook is blogging. While it takes times to establish a blog, the results speak for itself. Businesses that blog regularly are more than two times as likely to generate organic leads than those who don’t. Another great tactic is email marketing. Start building your email list from day one, which can be accomplished through giving users incentives to opt-in.
Consumers also love discounts. Offering deals not only markets your business, but it also rewards and retains customers. Incorporate these deals into your social media profiles and/or blog posts. Additionally, videos are becoming a more popular marketing option for a business as displaying products and services via an attention grabbing technique is an effective way to increase sales. When all else fails, learn from your competitors through simply looking at their websites and social profiles.
10. Grow Your Business
Let’s face it. Starting your own business is hard. It will take considerable effort. You will be forced to wear many hats, from sales and marketing to customer support. At the end of the day, it will take its toll on you. But like anything else in life or in business, you have to put in the time if you’re looking to reap the benefits.
Building a business is not a short-term outcome. It is important to always focus on the long-term. Be passionate, build sincere value, and look to help your customers. After that, it’s simply a matter of taking action and putting in the work.
You must always be able to evaluate your progress and adjust your plan. Every business is unique, so don’t think you must adhere to a specific formula. In my opinion, goal setting is one of the most important factors of entrepreneurial success. It is critical to develop a clear, ideal picture of what you want to accomplish sometime in the future. By turning that image into measureable, detailed goals and objectives, you will be able to accomplish and achieve that ideal future vision.
Starting a business is one of the most challenging and rewarding things you’ll ever do. I can attest to personal stories of success, complexity, and perseverance that have made me think differently, teaching me to employ unique approaches and strategies in both my business and personal endeavors. The beauty of entrepreneurship is that it can take you through frustration and angst in the most difficult times, to the pure thrill of victory.
Hold on tight. It’s worth the ride.
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