If you're planning to launch a business in 2012, you'll need every last penny you can get your hands on. That's why we put together a guide to free and low-cost resources to help you ease smoothly into the world of entrepreneurship.
It's still tough out there. Credit remains relatively tight, and consumers are cautious. So arm yourself with valuable information that will help you to get off to a winning start. We're here to help. Here are the essential steps you'll need to take to get your new business off the ground.
Figure out the right concept. To be successful and happy in your own business, you need to think seriously about how you like to spend your time and where you want to live. After you've come up with a business concept that suits you personally, the next step is to research the competition, your prospective customers and the cost of getting started.
- Here are trends we think are going to be hot next year: 10 Hot Startup Sectors for New Business Ideas in 2012
- Identify your passions and the things that make you happy with these five creativity exercises.
- Have you thought about a franchise? We've got a list of 100 low-cost franchises you can start for less than $50,000.
- To estimate your startup costs, work through our free and low-cost financial forms.
Create a business plan. Putting your goals on paper will help you focus your concept. A business plan typically includes details about the product or service, the competition and target consumers, plus a cash-flow projection. You'll also want to come up with a clever name for your startup.
- Explore our how-to guides on business plans, including the basics of writing your plan, what you must include and where to find help.
- As you consider names for your business, be sure to check the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's website to make sure they aren't already taken.
- You'll need to determine the structure of your business for tax purposes. Study the SBA's list of possibilities and tax implications for each one.
- Find your local chapter of SCORE, a nonprofit association created to educate and mentor entrepreneurs. It may be able to refer you to local business owners to serve as advisers.
- If you plan to recruit employees, look for guidance in our hiring center, including how to start employees on the right track. You can also review the SBA's 10 steps to making your first hire.
Find Financing. The idea is hatched, the plan is set. But nothing happens without some green. Getting a loan could prove challenging because banks often are hesitant to lend to someone without a track record. And another traditional credit source—the home equity loan—has become harder to come by since the housing market cratered and home values plummeted. So it just might be time to hit up friends and family and draw on your personal savings.
- Follow our guide to raising money for helpful tips. In particular, check out the section about startup financing.
- Search for angel investors in the directory for the Angel Capital Association. We also recap the top 10 angel investor groups that fund startups, ranked by number of investors.
- Find venture capital investors through the directory of the National Venture Capital Association.
- Try the SBA's search tool for loans and grants to find out what you may be eligible for.
- If you're considering giving up a stake in your company for cash, use our Investment ROI calculator to see how you may fare in the end.
- This search tool from MultiFunding, a loan advisory firm, will tell you how friendly your bank is toward small businesses.
Develop and execute a marketing plan. In the Internet age, you can choose from an ever-expanding array of marketing tools, including traditional media, social networks, blogs, email and pay-per-click ads. They all require time and money, and the trick is to determine which offer the best return on investment for your particular business.
- What is a marketing plan and how should you put it together? Consider these five steps to get started.
- If you're advertising online, you will want to optimize your rank on Google and other search engines. Check out Google's beginners guide to search engine optimization.
- Become a member--for free--of the Foundation for the Advancement of Marketing Excellence in Entrepreneurs and take one of its online courses.
- Use Entrepreneur.com's calculators to determine your ROI for pay-per-click advertising and the efficiency of email marketing campaigns.
Start selling. When you hang out the "open" sign, be ready to meet your new customers with enthusiasm and the right sales pitch. Once you start attracting customers, you'll need to figure out how to keep them coming back with great service, new products and promotions.
- When approaching your first customers, you're likely to face rejection before you reach sales success. Consider these seven rules to help you cope.
- Are you going to accept credit and debit cards? If so, consult the National Federation of Independent Business for recommendations for finding a merchant card processor: You also can watch its free webinar, "Payment Processing 101 for Small Businesses."
- Now that you're making sales, you have to pay taxes, of course. Check out the IRS's Virtual Workshop to learn the basics.
- While on the road making sales calls, you can stay organized with these essential sales apps.
Related: Two Weeks to Startup