In theory, all you need to start a business is an idea, a computer and a bit of free time. It’s never been easier, but can you launch a business inside a month?
When I started out in business, the overheads were pretty overwhelming. There was rent on premises, utility costs, transport, phone bills and shop fittings, plus the cost of printing up flyers, posters and letters.
Nowadays, the internet makes it easy to start selling your goods and services without any of those things. Anyone can do it if they’ve got an idea and a good head on their shoulders. But while it’s not so difficult, it’s unfamiliar ground to a lot of people. Especially those who’ve only ever worked as an employee in a company.
I’ve been doing some research and asking some local entrepreneurs for their tips on how to start up from scratch. I think you can do it in 30 days – here’s how.
Day 1: your idea
First things first, you need to know what you’re selling. If you’ve already got some ideas, great. If not, take a look at the Craigslist pages for your local area to see what kinds of things people are doing to earn extra dollars. Or check out some of the many online articles offering inspiration. This one’s got over 60 ideas including smartphone repairs and careers counselling.
Your idea needs to be original enough to be interesting to customers, but not so out-there that nobody can relate to it. A bit of online market research can help you figure out if anyone else is doing what you want to be doing, and whether you could do it in a new and different way.
Day 2: your business plan
Here’s where you may have to go against your instincts a little. My friends tell me that the number one way to plan these days is not to plan too much. Take a tip from the (highly profitable) software development community and go agile. Here’s an introduction to the subject.
Start out with details of what you want to achieve and a place to start, and go from there. You’re going to encounter a lot of changes and revisions along the way, and with this method you’re not trying to stick to a detailed business plan that looked great on day 1 but doesn’t account for the roadblock you hit in week 2.
Ask yourself this: what’s the smallest scale you can do this at and succeed? If you’re going to sell home-baked goods, can you start with chocolate chip cookies rather than a range of carefully-iced cakes? Or if you’re offering a babysitting service, do you really need that website and social media account, or could you just start out by sitting for friends’ kids?
The simpler your product is, the faster you can get it up and running. But if you do need a website – and, arguably, most businesses do – here’s how you can do it for less than $100.
Registration, insurance and taxes
Whatever type of work you’re doing, you will likely need to register as a business, take out business insurance and pay taxes. There are both state and federal requirements to meet and they vary depending on where you live, but usually the cost of setting these things up is minimal or none. There’s a tool at business.usa.gov that walks you through the process.
All businesses are liable to income tax. If you make more than $400 net1 – that’s your bottom line, after expenses, interest and so on – you’ll probably also need to pay Self Employment Tax (SE tax) for social security and Medicare. Sole proprietors can report their business and personal income using the same tax return2
If you need financing to start your idea, you could consider seeking finance from friends and family, angel investors, lenders associated with the SBA, traditional banks and financial institutions or even alternative options, such as crowdfunding.
If you go down the more traditional routes, be prepared to share documents such as your business plan, cash flow analysis and more. Here are some tips for getting your small business loan approved.
It may sound a little daunting, but getting these things set up early in your business journey will help you feel more in control.
Getting the word out could be as easy as making a few phone calls to friends and relatives. Word of mouth is a great way to get noticed, and it works even better on social media.
One of the best ways to market yourself is with recommendations from happy customers. See if you can get anyone to vouch for you early on in your process, or you could even offer a freebie in return for a review or testimonial.
A friend of mine had a neat idea – she made a social media account for her dog, Benjie, to promote her dog-walking business. Benjie tweeted lots of cute photos of himself and recommended his ‘mom’ to other dogs and their owners. As a result, she got calls from two would-be customers who’d seen Benjie’s photos online.
Up and running
By now you should have everything set up, and be on your way to having your first client (if you haven’t already got some). Of course the work doesn’t stop here. You’ll be continually improving and developing your business as you learn new things and adapt your plans to the reality of running a business.
The companies I mention or link to in this post are just examples that I thought you’d find useful – I don’t endorse them or their services. I have no affiliation with them and make no representation about their services.
1 Business Taxes, IRS, https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/business-taxes (accessed 01.05.17)
2 Tax issues for businesses, USA.gov, https://www.usa.gov/business-taxes (accessed 01.05.17)