When you decide to form a small or medium-sized business, the first steps are obvious: Think of something people want, get a DBA, hire employees, etc. After you have created the company, then it is time to get to work, right? Not necessarily. There are several steps you can take at the outset to establish a solid strategy and optimize your competitive position.
1) The Business Plan
Developing a business plan is a must, but it doesn’t need to be complex. A few pages outlining your business overview, industry background, product or service, business model, strategy and team provides the foundation of your plan. Having a solid business plan is a requirement to get SBA (Small Business Administration) loans. For guidance, take a look at Score’s business plan template.
2) Raise Capital
It’s not an easy time to raise capital for a new business. Many larger institutions have reduced lending programs for small businesses, and venture capital investing has declined over the last couple years. The bright spot in local small business lending seems to currently be with local credit unions. Able to more intimately assess risk in their local markets, some credit unions have still been actively underwriting SBA loans.
3) Legal Structure
If you plan on bringing on partners or investors or will be signing contracts, you’ll want to set up a legal structure and incorporate your company. Your main options are to set up as a Sole Proprietorship, a Partnership or a Corporation. Each structure has its advantages and drawbacks. Services such as LegalZoom provide cost-effective online tools to help guide you through the incorporation process.
4) Protect Your Company’s Name
Securing your brand identity is important, and becomes even more so as time goes by. The USPTO website has a section for trademarks where one can conduct a search to see if another business has a name similar to yours.
5) Establish a Web Presence
Creating a website is essential these days. Your website needs to be much more than a postcard on the web if it’s going to be a lead generation machine. The cost of choosing a domain and hosting your site has come down dramatically over the last few years. Not to be ignored are social media options like Facebook, Twitter and a blog. These can give a huge boost to your Google visibility.
6) Phone System
The telephone will likely be the primary means of sales, support and business relations for your new enterprise. Choosing a toll-free number (such as 1-800-Widgets) will allow you to take calls from across the country. You’ll want to consider getting a virtual PBX, which will provide the power and functionality of a Fortune 500 phone system, but with no hardware to buy or maintain. Even if your company has only one employee, you can also take advantage of multiple extensions. You can create virtual departments, make announcements and route calls from any extension to any number – home, office or cell.
7) Create Your Business’ Identity
Customizing your own letterhead, business cards and even e-mail signature with your company name and logo helps establish credibility and brand recognition. It also helps spread the word about what you have to offer. Once you create a company logo, use it everywhere – on business cards, brochures, letterhead and your website.
If you take these seven steps before you open for business, it will save you a lot of time in the long run and make your business run smoother from the get-go.
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Photos by Rachel from Cupcakes Take the Cake
Originally published Mar 05, 2010, updated Jan 27, 2021