New Year's Day is now behind us, and I often wonder how many people will still be committed to their 2013 resolutions by February 1.
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If you resolved to make 2013 the year in which you finally go after your dream of owning a business, don't put it on the back burner again. Stop dreaming about it, and instead do it.
Starting a company is not easy, but -- as millions of people will attest -- neither is losing weight or quitting smoking. Launching a business requires full commitment and persistence. But before taking the plunge, there are a few things to consider.
No 1: Financing
Every business needs startup capital. Although they are loosening up the purse strings over the past few months, big banks often request 2-3 years of financial statements before approving a small business loan. This is not feasible for a business that has not started its operations yet.
Do not be discouraged. Small banks, which typically are more lenient in their lending parameters and more knowledgeable about the local economy, are more likely to grant small business loan requests than big banks. In the latest Biz2Credit Small Business Lending Index, which analyzed data from December 2012, big banks approved about 15% of their small business loan applications, while small banks OK’d 49.8%. Thanks to the advantages of the Internet, you can apply for funding from banks anywhere in the country, and many of them are looking to make small business loans. No longer is it necessary to walk into a bank branch and fill out applications in person.
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Credit unions and other non-bank alternative lenders have also become more active in small business lending. Microlenders, such as ACCION, exist to help women and members of minority groups obtain access to capital. The Small Business Administration (SBA) offers a wealth of information about how to finance a business. U.S. banks make over $600B in SBA-backed loans each year to budding entrepreneurs. There is no need to "max out" credit cards, which charge 16-19% APR, when you create a startup.
No. 2: Corporate format
If you don't have a special skill or passion, purchasing a franchise might be your best path to business ownership. In return for a franchise fee and royalties, the franchise corporation provides an established brand identity, standardized operation, training and ongoing guidance.
Those entrepreneurs who want to be truly independent will opt to start their own companies from the ground up and run them as they see fit. The trick is to utilize your knowledge or interest into an entity from which you can make money.
The structure of your business is important. You must decide whether your business will be a sole proprietorship, LLC, general partnership, C-corp or S-corp. There are tax and liability implications of each format.
In a sole proprietorship, the owner and the business are essentially one and the same. The owner gets to keep all the profits, but his or her personal assets are exposed if something goes wrong. Setting up an LLC is an option to separate personal assets from your business liabilities. Further, an LLC offers some tax advantages, since the business itself is not responsible for taxes on its profits, as is the case with C-Corp.
"A C-Corporation creates a separate legal structure that helps shield their personal assets from judgments against the company," explains E.J. Dealy, CEO of The Company Corporation. "C-Corps are required to issue financial statements, and the business owner(s) are taxed on the corporate and the personal level."
Deciding the business format of your operation is important. Fortunately, advice is available from firms such as The Company Corporation, LegalZoom and RocketLawyer or a local CPA or attorney.
No. 3: Sales and Marketing
Once you have decided what business you are going to do and how you will finance it, then the hard part comes in: marketing. Some people are natural born sales people. Others are skilled at operations but not so versed in how to market their products and services.
Your business cannot be successful unless you tell people about it. A critical investment is to have a decent website. Resources such as GoDaddy.com are available to help you set up your Internet presence. If you are intimidated, don't have the time or feel you are not creative enough, then hire a writer, designer or other web development company to help you. Ask your vendor about his SEO capabilities and develop the proper keywords to increase your rankings in web searches. Having the proper content on your site is critical. Make sure it tells what the company does, who uses its services, where is it located, and how to contact the firm to get more information.
Most startups do not have the money for big advertising campaigns. My advice is to be scrappier; build word-of-mouth and take advantage of social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, and other platforms. While they do not cost money to join, utilizing them properly takes an investment of time and resources.
"It's important for startups to generate brand awareness through word-of-mouth. Having a content marketing strategy blogging, videos and social media presence are critical for success," said John Mooney, founder of Over The Moon PR, which specializes in helping small companies grow their businesses. "Most people get their information, such as restaurant and product reviews, from the web and from friends, often through social media. The Internet is more important than newspapers, TV or radio at this point."
Generations of immigrants come to this country to pursue the American Dream of owning their own business. No other country has the systems in place and the capital available for entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and take charge of their destiny. I know because I am one of them, and I speak with hundreds of others on a monthly bases. Stick with your New Year's Resolution and make 2013 the year that you finally pursue your dreams of business ownership.
This opinion column was written by Rohit Arora, co-founder and CEO of Biz2Credit, an online resource with a network of 1.6 million users that connects small business owners with 1,100+ lenders, credit rating agencies such as D&B and Equifax, and service providers such as CPAs and attorneys via its Internet platform. Since 2007, Biz2Credit has secured more than $800 million in funding for thousands of small businesses across the U.S.