Starting a Small Business in Tough Economic Times
The Key is to Look Professional
Believe it or not, many businesses are thriving right now. Yes, we are in a bit of a depression, but people are still spending money. The key to a thriving business is good organization, from product to service, website and correspondence. Be a professional. Here's how I did it.
Start up. Now I'm good at a lot of things, but I don't know everything. So when it came to starting my small business, I asked a lot of questions. The more I asked around, the less I realized I could handle myself. With my shoestring budget, I couldn't help but get a little depressed because I couldn't afford to fail. Then a friend pointed me toward a consulting firm that helped me with all of my business questions. I'm glad I went to them before I went to the bank because they helped me reassess my start-up capital needs. Plus, they showed me the best software to buy to keep my books in check. Not to mention, it was nice to have someone talk me through my tax implications. They helped me form a LLC--I nearly did a sole proprietorship. For my situation, I couldn't afford the liability in case something bad happened. After consulting with these accounting professionals, I felt confident about going to the bank to get my small business loan.
What to charge? Now that you've gotten the ball rolling, it's time to figure out how to make a living with this new business. Maybe your prices are set for your products or services. If not, here's a neat profit margin calculator I found. It's a neat and organized way to see how much you'll be making off of every sale.
Keeping the books. This is not my favorite part of owning a small business. Luckily, QuickBooks makes it easy. That was the program that worked best for me. Some people like NetSuite better. I suggest you find someone who knows about your industry or has used both products to figure out which works best for you. My short-term goal is to outsource that to someone who is a pro. I think saying I have an accounting bookkeeper will mean I have arrived as a real small business owner.
Web presence. Get on the web. If you're lucky, your business' name will be available as a domain name too. My advice, keep the domain name short and easy to remember. Use the .com if at all possible. Many companies have site building programs that are easy to use. Just be sure to read the fine print. Per month hosting ranges from $5-$10 per month for a basic site. If you need a shopping cart, I highly recommend using Paypal. I once got stung with GoDaddy. The upfront price was reasonable but they had a cancellation fee of $250!
Tweaking your web page. Get right to the point. Use easy to read font and soothing colors. Make sure your links work. Remember, this is a big part of your professional image. Ask a few friends to look it over to see if there are any kinks or misspellings. More important than even the look of your web page is the key words and descriptions you use in you html title for your first page. When you build a page (either yourself or someone else) those keywords are how others will find you. Be general. Don't use your business name. Click on this link for an example. When you go to this page, hover your mouse over the tab. The words that come up are very general. If you're still confused, talk to a search engine optimization specialist (SEO). Getting your website configured correctly means search engines will find you. And, it's a lot cheaper than other forms of online advertising.
Promoting yourself. Traditional advertising (print) is still a good idea, depending on your industry. Just remember to keep it short, catchy, and use an easy to read font. But don't forget to put your business into web-based directories. Search engines won't find you if you don't register. I recommend google, yahoo, bing, localeze(411/white pages), and manta.
Service. Focusing on the customer from beginning to end is still the best way to look professional and keep a customer for life!
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