Ok so I want to start a business! I'm going to kickk-ASS at this business, lets get to work.
I started researching anything I could about steps to start business most of which were about 5-10 steps. Easy enough. First up on most of these lists was an idea, CHECK. Next up research. This is where I started to feel a little defeated. At my current 9-5 I am constantly evaluating our profitability and maximizing sales so I figured I would only need details on location, populations/ marketing and funding. As I continue researching I found how difficult it was to even find this information. OK put this on the back burner. Next, create a business plan. Here comes Google with a huge amount of pages on how to write a business plan. As I'm sarting what I think is the beginning of my business plan I realize the information I had a hard time finding, is 90% of my plan. OK now I'm getting annoyed, new plan, lets find help!
I had always heard of the the SBA (small business association) http://www.SBA.gov and knew they provided small business resources so I started there. I found that you can apply for a free counselor so I applied at my local branch (http://www.azsbdc.net, Arizona small business development center) and within no time received an approval and was appointed a counselor. After my first meeting with him I felt so empowered and excited! I had a free advisor!
Just a little info about the SBA in case you don't know, they're a non-profit organization driven to help small business' succeed and in doing so offer rescources, courses, and counseling. If your under the good graces of the SBA they might back your business when it comes to financing time, guaranteeing up to 75% of your loan. This makes you much less of a risk to a bank therefor giving you a larger chance of being approved for a small business loan.
Since I've been working with my counselor my journey has been different but not in a bad way. At first I thought that he would just give me pointers on finding the research I wanted on my own but they had a different agenda. They give you the resources that they've found to be successful and you fill in the rest, if you get off course they'll kindly give you some tips to get back on track. They offer classes there ranging from free to $150, covering all aspects of starting a business. They recommended I register for their 4 week business startup course, so I did.
The courses were very thorough, they plan out a business using what they call a "business canvas". This is essentially a visual chart of your business plan. Theres a really cool free online course that goes into more detail about it on http://www.udacity.com. It's total of 8 hours or so but it's broken up into small courses that you can run through it at your leisure. The business canvas allows you to look at all important elements of your business at once. Once you take a step back you can see where you need more info or help.
The next key resource they use is a "Growth Wheel" and this dives a little further into the "Business Canvas". Here you start to take a closer look at things like business concept, customer relations, operations and organization. I'm a nerd and LOVE charts and organization and they provided TONS of it.
I found this course to be extremely helpful not only for the organizational and in-depth explanation but also as a networking resource. I met a few really cool people who I've kept in touch with since. It was really interesting to be in a class with other like minded people, all of who were in different stages of their business. One girl about my age and similar experience had been in business one year and was already franchising and profitable! Another had created her own business' in the past and sold them for profit.
The most important thing I've learned from these courses and my counselor is how important it is to get out and meet your customers. What if you open and nobody comes? One of the biggest problems with startups is that they're not proven yet! You can't just go to a bank asking for $100k for a really good idea, they need to know that they'll get their money back. The SBDC has really driven that a proper business plan in place is essential to be successful.
Another key point they've made is that not all business funding needs to come from a bank. Yes it's the most traditional but it's also the most expensive and important to pay back and on time.
This scared me at first thinking they wanted me to ask for loans from my family (there no chance in hell! This is my struggle not theirs!) but did open my eyes to other funding types like crowdfunding (Kickstarter, gofundme, ect) and investment angels. We'll go more in depth to these options another time.
Lets end on this note: Starting a business is scary, but you don't have to do it alone! Find local resources and networking events. Surround yourself with people who are on the same journey as you and learn from them and teach them something. I couldn't feel more secure having someone with as much experience as my counselor does, FOR FREE!
WORK SMARTER NOT HARDER!
I'm 26 years old and have always been a goal driven person. Growing up my parents always fought about money and struggled financially in general. I told myself at a young age that I would't let that happen. I believe strongly in working hard for what you want and have made myself very proud doing so.