This is the question that people ask me the most: “How do I start?” You have a great idea and are ready to get underway but where do you start? Where do you turn? Research? Plans? How do you know? Without information you will likely spend hours in the library and searching online for direction. I think the best action you can take is to perform some initial research, quickly write a plan of action, then get to work.
You have a great product idea and are confident it will be a hit. But, hold on! Before you jump and order 50,000 units from a manufacturer, you need to do some basic research to make sure that your product and business meets all of the applicable requirements of the local, state and federal government.
Research all laws that apply to you with the local, state and federal government. Not knowing is not a valid excuse for not complying with the law. Call your local and state business license offices and ask them how to obtain the necessary licenses to operate in your area. Each state and local government will have a procedure for you to follow to obtain a business license and a sales tax license, if necessary. Your businesses may also need a federal Employer Identification Number (EIN), which is also called a Federal Tax Identification Number. You can visit the Internal Revenue Service (www.irs.gov) website to apply online. The IRS website also provides links to each state to help you determine what licenses and/or permits you need for the business. I recommend that you hire an attorney to help you ensure that the business meets all applicable requirements.
Research the safety and testing requirements before you order a large production run. Safety is an important aspect of developing your product. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (www.cpsc.gov) website provides information on the safety and testing requirements for products sold in the United States of America. If you plan to sell internationally, you must comply with the laws and regulations for each country.
Once you complete your research, start with a very basic plan. I call it the “One-Hour Business Plan.” Yes, of course, as you grow you will need a larger, more complex plan, but not now. Down the business road, if you choose to acquire bank funding or venture capital, you will need a full scale business plan. You can find resources for and assistance completing a formal plan at SCORE (www.score.org). For now, just concentrate on a basic plan to set you on your path.
I am a huge fan of lists. I highly recommended that you put together a basic business plan that lists the steps that you need to accomplish to get the ball rolling. As you progress, update your plan to make it more detailed and inclusive of all of the aspects of your growing business.
When you start your business plan do not take six to twelve months to finish. As I said before, this initial plan is just to get your thinking about your product or service and can be refined later. So get a piece of paper and a pen ready and a timer. Set the timer for one hour and start writing. Force yourself to finish your first draft of your plan before the timer rings. Do not worry if you do not have all of the answers or if you miss some minor step. Once you start the business you will learn more and can expand your plan at a later date.
At times you will find the start-up process potentially overwhelming or intimidating. There are resources available to you both online and in person. As I started Giverny and developed the Mini Me Geology products, I relied on SCORE (www.score.org) and the website StartupNation (www.startupnation.com) for business advice.
The SCORE organization is a nonprofit association which provides free advice to small business owners. There are SCORE offices nationwide that you can visit for mentorship meetings, seminars and to connect with other business owners. The SCORE website provides the ability to connect with mentors around the country who have experience in your area of business. You can ask for advice via email through the SCORE website. The association also offers free or inexpensive webinars for business owners who live too far from a SCORE office or cannot attend in person.
StartupNation is a website dedicated to helping new entrepreneurs with many of the topics you face as a business owner. In addition to articles and podcasts, this site has a forum section where you can ask and answer questions and search for help on many topics.
Other websites that I have found useful include Inc. Magazine (www.inc.com) and Entrepreneur Magazine (www.entrepreneur.com). Spend a few hours searching the internet and you will find some valuable business resources.
What challenges are you facing now that are stopping your from writing your one-hour business plan?