When starting out, your product or service has to be at least good if not great. It must be differentiated in some meaningful and important way from the offerings of your competition. Everything else follows from this key principle. Don’t drag your feet on getting your product out to market, since early customer feedback is one of the best ways to help improve your product. Of course, you want a “minimum viable product” (MVP) to begin with, but even that product should be good and differentiated from the competition. Having a “beta” test product works for many startups as they work the bugs out from user reactions. As Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook has said, “Done is better than perfect.”
The first thing you want to do before approaching any lender is determine what your net worth is. To do this, use a personal balance sheet to list both your assets (what you own) and liabilities (what you owe). Under assets, list all your holdings--cash on hand, checking accounts, savings accounts, real estate (current market value), automobiles (whether paid off or not), bonds, securities, insurance cash values and other assets--then total them up.
At some point nearly every franchise will seek a loan or working capital. Knowing your franchise financing options can be the difference between thousands of dollars saved or lost. If you are a franchise business owner seeking financing and need help understanding the options, please reach-out to one of our funding specialists and we’ll help you navigate the process.
If you’re like the majority of new startups, cash flow will be your primary concern. You can have the best business plan in the world, but it won’t be of any use if you don’t have the money to keep the lights on while you’re getting your feet on the ground. With this, it’s important to know what resources are available to make the initial growth period a lot easier.
Once you have chosen a name for your business, you will need to check if it's trademarked or currently in use. Then, you will need to register it. A sole proprietor must register their business name with either their state or county clerk. Corporations, LLCs, or limited partnerships typically register their business name when the formation paperwork is filed.
4. You get tax benefits. Oh yes. This even applies to freelancers. Depending on the type of business you register as, you could write off a number of your expenses including travel, telephone bills, food, portions of repayments on things like cars, and so on. And, depending on the business you start, there may also be various government incentives. If you’re unsure about what to do and how to register, I strongly advise speaking with your accountant about the tax benefits you could be eligible for.
Maybe you want to build an empire and become famous, or create a wealth-generation machine that you can pass on to your children. Or perhaps you can’t convince anyone to recognize your unique vision and you’ve decided that it will never come to fruition unless you strike out on your own. Or maybe you’re thinking of self-employment because you’ve been unemployed for so long that you feel you’ve exhausted all other options.
If you start your company with co-founders, you should agree early on about the details of your business relationship. Not doing so can potentially cause significant legal problems down the road (a good example of this is the infamous Zuckerberg/Winklevoss Facebook litigation). In a way, think of the founder agreement as a form of “pre-nuptial agreement.” Here are the key deal terms your written founder agreement needs to address:
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If you want to separate your personal liability from your company's liability, you may want to consider forming one of several types of corporations. This makes a business a separate entity apart from its owners, and therefore, corporations can own property, assume liability, pay taxes, enter into contracts, sue and be sued like any other individual. One of the most common structures for small businesses, however, is the limited liability corporation (LLC). This hybrid structure has the legal protections of a corporation while allowing for the tax benefits of a partnership.
Repairs, improvements, and replacements. Be aware of a clause that says that at the end of the lease you must restore the premises to their original condition. Try to negotiate a clause that states the following: “The premises will be returned to the Landlord at the end of the tenancy in the same condition as at the beginning of the tenancy, excluding (1) ordinary wear and tear, (2) damage by fire and unavoidable casualty not the fault of the Tenant, and (3) alterations previously approved by the Landlord.”
If you are new to franchise ownership, be sure to do your research and due diligence about the franchise system you’re interested in. Study the Franchise Disclosure Document (required by law) and speak to other franchisees about the brand and the financing program on offer. Next, try to understand what your financial responsibilities as a franchise owner will be. This blog offers some pointers on this: Buying a Franchise – How to Determine What it’s Going to Cost You.
Starting a small business doesn't have to require a lot of money, but it will involve some initial investment as well as the ability to cover ongoing expenses before you are turning a profit. Put together a spreadsheet that estimates the one-time startup costs for your business (licenses and permits, equipment, legal fees, insurance, branding, market research, inventory, trademarking, grand opening events, property leases, etc.), as well as what you anticipate you will need to keep your business running for at least 12 months (rent, utilities, marketing and advertising, production, supplies, travel expenses, employee salaries, your own salary, etc.).
It’s useful to come up with a business plan to think through what you want to do for the development of the product or service, marketing, financial projections, and more. And you should then get input from trusted business and finance advisors. But don’t go overboard with a 50-page business plan. In reality, many startups have to deviate from their plan as the business develops.
The last part is often translated as “often go awry”, and I’m sure you understand the sense: no matter how carefully you plan, things rarely go as expected. We live in a complex, interconnected world, and even if you do everything right, your business could be knocked sideways by a sudden economic meltdown, a real estate crash, a war on the other side of the world that raises prices for your raw materials, the sudden entry of a powerful competitor into your turf, and much more.
You should approach small-business-loan shopping just as you would shopping for a car, says Suzanne Darden, a business consultant at the Alabama Small Business Development Center. Once you determine which type of lender and financing vehicle are right for you, compare two or three similar options based on annual percentage rate (total borrowing cost) and terms. Of the loans you qualify for, choose the one with the lowest APR, as long as you are able to handle the loan’s regular payments.