So you want to start a business... now what?
As someone who specializes in logo and website design, I meet with a lot of people that want to start a business and I’ve found that a lot of aspiring business owners want to jump right into the logo and website to get started. The truth is, there are a lot of steps that need to come before this phase. Before working with me you’ll need to have your business name registered, know who your target market is and make sure to have a solid business plan (just to name a few).
I’m a huge fan of Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College and have gained so much from their classes, seminars and entrepreneurial programs over the years. Because of this, I decided to reach out to Jill Sparks, the Executive Director of ABTech’s Small Business Center, to see if she’d be willing to discuss this topic with me. Not only did she share a ton of information and advice with me, but she also gave me a tour of their whole facility.
While I’m not a business coach, I hope that this post will help guide you through some of the key pieces to starting a successful business and point you in the direction of some amazing resources we have here in Asheville.
I starred this one because I feel like this is the most important part of starting a business. Once you begin fantasizing about being your own boss and feel yourself really gravitating towards that lifestyle, EDUCATE YOURSELF. This isn’t just step one, this is something that you’ll need to pursue throughout your whole career. Gone are the days when you get an education and it’s just checked off the list. If you want to be your own boss, there are A LOT of things to learn and it’s important to accept that you’re going to constantly be learning (it’s humbling!).
Jill recommended that anyone in this phase should start off with ABTech’s free class called “Starting a Better Business” which is offered about once a month. From there you can dive into their Seminar Calendar to see what other free seminars, workshops and classes are coming up. I just took a peek and saw a lot of good ones on the schedule: “Marketing Your Business With Google”, “Preparing For a Small Business Loan”, “Using Quickbooks in Your Small Business” and more!
ABTech also offers free one-on-one counseling for help with planning, business law, coaching, marketing, development and more. If you’re feeling nervous or have a bunch of questions, this is a great opportunity to talk with an expert. Click here to register for free business advice.
Jill also shared a wonderful resource from the Small Business Center Network. Once you visit this site, you can view all events and workshops from across the entire state of North Carolina. You can even type in your zip code and see which events are closest to you. Check it out here.
During this phase you’ll also want to put together a business plan. This is an essential step whether or not you need lending. What this does is help you determine if your plan is viable. It’s not always easy to tell how much the cost of business is going to be until you really take the time to itemize everything. It’s also critical to analyze if there’s a market for your product or service. I took an incredible class through Mountain BizWorks called Foundations Business Planning that helped me walk through each step of this process.
Business Entity & Name
Before you work on your business name, it’s important to figure out how to structure your business. Some common business entities are: Sole Proprietor, LLC, and S Corp. Since I didn’t know much about this, I took an awesome FREE class at ABTech called “Business Formation”. I decided on an LLC because I wanted legal separation for my business and personal assets. Each business is different and there are various legal and tax implications so it’s important to do your research and talk with a CPA.
Once you’ve decided on your business entity, it’s time to come up with a business name. Some agencies and companies specialize in this if you need assistance, but this is definitely not my forte. You’ll need to register your business name with the state, check to see what domain names are available (your business url) and potentially meet with an attorney to check the legality of your name. I know that paying attorney fees can be daunting, but I have heard some horror stories dealing with business names that could really hurt you later on. I highly recommend taking advantage of the free counseling so that an expert can guide you in the right direction.
Jill shared these super helpful links from the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC):
Business bank accounts & loans
Jill recommended getting to know your banker (even before you need a loan). Open up a business bank account and get a business credit card if you need to. It’s so important to keep all your business and personal money separate. It’s not good practice to commingle your finances and tax time could be a nightmare if you do! I use Quickbooks Online for my books and love it (I wrote a little bit about it in my blog called 5 Online Tools I Can’t Live Without).
In terms of loans, Jill encourages people to understand exactly how much they are going to need and this is why the business plan is so key.
Networking, organizations & resources
One major part of starting a business is getting out there and telling people about it. This can be scary and exhausting going from event to event, but trust me… people are going to learn about you and your business a lot faster if you’re out and about. Get those business cards out and hit the ground running :)
Industry specific events (outdoor gear, builders, etc)
Business Associations in your area
Organizations that your target market is involved in
Other AWESOME Business Resources:
Score - Free Small Business Advice
Other ABTech Resources:
I enjoyed touring the ABTech Small Business campus because I also got to learn about some of the other services they provide:
Business Incubation Program - this Incubation program is an entrepreneurial development that provides consultation services, coaching, shared resources, and either an office, wet lab or manufacturing facility.
Blue Ridge Food Ventures - perfect for the food and natural products entrepreneurs that need access to a kitchen and guidance for government regulations, equipment for bottling and packaging, advice for marketing and more.
BioNetwork - another great organization that provides high-quality economic and workforce development for the biotechnology and life science industries.
There is a lot more that goes into this phase including business insurance and licenses, but this post is just an overview on how to get started. I hope that it inspires you to get out there and take some classes and meet people. I’ll leave you with some advice from Jill to those aspiring business owners:
Be open to learning and pivoting when testing out a service or product - so many times people are tied to one idea, but it’s important to be open to figuring out where the market is.
Be open to continued learning.
Take every opportunity to network!!
Big thanks to Jill Sparks for her time! If anyone has any resources or advice that I left out, I’d love to hear from you!
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