Thanks to modern technology and the Internet, it's become relatively easy for just about any aspiring entrepreneur to start a business.
In fact, it may be too easy, say small-business experts, considering that 86 percent of all small businesses fail within the first three years.
If you want to avoid the same fate for your own start-up, you need to lay the proper foundation and groundwork from the beginning and not take any shortcuts.
"Planning is essential," explains Stephanie Chandler, a Gold River, Calif.-based consultant, speaker and author of "The Business Startup Checklist and Planning Guide" (Aventine Press; $15.95). "Not only does it prepare the business, but it removes a lot of fear from the equation."
Here's one way to get started:
1. Analyze your market and study the competition. You don't want to jump into any business without doing the proper research to see whether your idea is feasible, says Chandler, who is also chief executive of Authority Publishing, a custom publishing and Internet marketing firm. Talk to people in your industry, suggests Chandler, who e-mailed business owners all around the country seeking advice when she started her first business, a bookstore in 2003.
2. Pick a good name. And remember to name your business and conduct a trademark search to ensure the name's availability.
3. Write a business plan. It will help you get focused and organized, says Lucille Wesnofske, regional director for the Small Business Development Center at Farmingdale State College, which assists entrepreneurs in writing plans for free.
"It takes all your thoughts and concepts and puts it on paper and makes it real," says Kalli Kontos, a 17-year veteran clinical social worker and addiction specialist who worked with the Farmingdale State center to construct her own business plan before launching Kontos Psychotherapy in October. The business, which provides mental health counseling, has offices in West Babylon and Garden City.
4. Write a marketing plan. The No. 1 mistake many entrepreneurs make is not having a marketing plan, says Chandler. "If no one knows you're in business, you're going to have a long road ahead of you," she notes.
Kontos understands this and is working with the center in Farmingdale to craft her own marketing plan. The center has already provided feedback on her brochure and Web site, says Kontos, noting it's "important to have a support system."
Properly assess your financial needs. Your business plan should include financial projections for at least three years, says Wesnofske. You should also make sure you have enough working capital to cover at least six months of living expenses, says Chandler.
5. Choose a business structure. Will your start-up be a sole proprietorship, a partnership, a corporation? Talk to your accountant or lawyer about the legal and tax implications of the various structures, recommends Janet Attard of BusinessKnow How.com, a Centereach-based small-business information Web site that offers a start-up checklist at businessknowhow .com/Startup/checklist.htm. (Click here to connect.)
6. Check into business insurance needs. Know your liabilities and understand what coverage is necessary, notes Attard. And secure any required business licenses or permits, she adds.
7. Educate yourself on pertinent tax information. This includes record-keeping requirements, information on withholding taxes if you will have employees, facts about estimating taxes, etc., advises Attard.
8. Set up a bookkeeping system. If you don't know how to do it, learn how, says Wesnofske. There are many programs to choose from, including QuickBooks. "You must consider all the legalities and tax responsibilities required to conduct business," she notes.