First Person: The Small Business Roadmap

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When I started my first small business, I did so with expertise I'd acquired through eighteen years in sales and marketing including four years in executive management of a $5,000,000 computer dealer and computer maintenance company. I also had my wife's expertise in accounting and management.

My second company does small business consulting and Internet marketing. This time I'm a solopreneur. Using these experiences, I developed a checklist of things to do before starting your own small business.

First Things First

1. What is your niche, and who are your target customers?

The more specific you are the better you can target your marketing. For my first company, it was printer maintenance for manufacturers across the border from El Paso who had a need for printer service.

2. What is your unique selling proposition (USP)?

In other words, what makes you different from all of the other people going after the same customers?

3. Register your fictitious business name

Before you invest money in business cards, signs, or advertising, make sure the name you want is available and not already taken. Check with your county clerk's office.

4. What financial backing do you have?

Starting a small business costs money. Even Internet businesses require have costs. Here are some ideas:

- Savings

- Loans from family and friends

- Partners who bring in money

- Loans from banks provided you have collateral and income

- Selling other assets

5. Where are you going to be located?

Certain kinds of businesses require consumer visibility. Others, like small manufacturers, can get tax incentives to locate in redevelopment zones.

6. What kind of business structure are you using?

The easiest structure in America is a sole proprietorship. Consult an accountant or attorney for your other choices and the tax consequences of each.

7. What is your past experience, training and education?

Unless you are investing in a franchise, make sure you have the expertise for the business you select. A rule of thumb is that 90% of small businesses fail in the first five years. The less you have to learn, the better your chances of success.

8. Will you be hiring help or going it alone or relying on a spouse or friend?

Having someone supporting you in your start up small business can bring you expertise you don't have and relieve you of some of the tasks so as to focus on getting sales.

9. Registering with your government

There are numerous government considerations depending on your type of business and your local, state, and federal governments. Here are some to consider:

- Business license or permit: check the department of finance licensing division in your city.

- Health department permit: this applies to restaurants, grocery stores, and quick service stores.

- If you have employees, register with your state's Employment Development Department

- Are you selling products? If so, register with your state to collect and report sales tax. A CPA or accountant can guide you here.

10. Establish vendors

There are a variety of vendors you will need to set up.

- Business cards, signs, and office supplies and office equipment

- Suppliers for products to sell or parts for service work

11. Marketing plan

How are you going to get the word out about your business so as to attract customers?

This checklist covers essential activities for anyone in America starting a small business. Owning a small business is exciting and rewarding though challenging. With a little planning, you improve your odds of success.

*Note: This was written by a Yahoo! contributor. Do you have a story that you'd like to share? Sign up with the Yahoo! Contributor Network to start publishing your own finance articles.

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