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Reference Manual for How to Start a Business

Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD. This manual provides step-by-step guidelines, as well as a vast array of well-organized references to other useful, free, online resources about starting a business.

Sections of This Topic Include

Don't Forget About You!

1. Get Yourself Ready
2. Separate Your Map from Your Journey

Verify Your Business Idea

3. What's Your Business Idea?
4. Is It a Viable Business Idea?

Get the Necessary Funding

5. Write Your Business Plan
6. Get the Necessary Funding

Design Your Business

7. Become Legal and Official
8. Plan Your Staffing

Select Location and Plan Facilities

9. Plan Your Facilities
10. Select the Best Location

Develop Your Product or Service

11. Develop Your Product or Service
12. Develop Your Ongoing Supply Chain

Plan Your Marketing and Sales

13. Plan Your Marketing
14. Plan Your Sales

Sell Your Product or Service

15. Start Selling to Your Customers
16. Ensure Strong Customer Service

Manage and Grow Your Business

17. Manage Your Overall Business
18. Grow Your Overall Business

Numerous Useful Resources

Free Help to Start a Business
Free Checklists to Start a Business

Also consider
Related Library Topics


DON'T FORGET ABOUT YOU!

1. Get Yourself Ready

Why Do You Want to Start a Business?

To be motivated enough to plan and build a business, it is important to know why you are doing it. There are many reasons, but you should know your own. Don't look at others' reasons for now. Just think about yourself. Is your primary reason to:

  • Make enough money to live on?
  • Do as a hobby?
  • Learn a new skill?
  • Work with a team on a common goal?
  • Benefit others from your product or service?

Also consider
50 Reasons to Start Your Own Business
30 Compelling Reasons to Start a Business
21 Reasons to Start a Business Today
20 Right and Wrong Reasons to Start Your Own Business
Top Reasons People Start Their Own Business

What is an Entrepreneur? Are You One?

Everyone who thinks about starting a business thinks they are an entrepreneur -- but many of them actually aren't. So before you start planning your business, start taking a close look at yourself. Read these two articles about the traits of a successful entrepreneur.
Are you an Innovator, an Entrepreneur, or a Manager?
Entrepreneur Characteristics: Personal Qualities of an Entrepreneur
9 Traits of Successful Entrepreneurs You Should Develop
5 Personality Traits of an Entrepreneur
14 Surprising Traits of Successful Entrepreneurs

The following short self-assessments asks you a range of questions to help you decide for yourself if you are an entrepreneur and, if so, what kind?. Answer the questions as honestly as you can. You are the only one who will see the answers.
Are You An Entrepreneur Or Not?
Entrepreneur: Are You Or Aren't You?
How Entrepreneurial Are You?
What Kind of Entrepreneur Are You?

What Are Your Passions?

Different people are passionate about different things. It's important for you to know what your passions are, so you can ensure that they remain somehow in the activities of planning, building and operating your business. Your passions could be different than your primary reason for starting a business. For example, your primary reason might be to make money, but you might want that money primarily to pay for your passion of doing photography. Take any of these short self-assessment to determine what your passions are.
What's Your True Passion?
Find Your Passion Quiz
How to Find Your Passion in Life

Also consider
How to Stay Motivated

What Are Your Strengths? Your Weaknesses?

The planning to start a new business involves skills in reviewing documentation, observing and interviewing others, organizing and analyzing information, prioritizing, making decisions, communicating with others and writing reports. It can require patience, self-confidence, setting goals, and time and stress management. What skills do you have that you can benefit from during your planning? What weaknesses, or areas to improve, might you get help with during your planning?

One of the best ways to make decisions from considering your strengths and weaknesses is to do what's called a SWOT analysis. The acronym stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. The analysis asks you to use your strengths to build up or compensate for your weaknesses, and to ward off threats in order to take advantage of opportunities.
Free Aptitude Test for Strengths and Weaknesses
How to Complete a Personal SWOT Analysis

Also consider
Improving Your Core Skills
Self-Assessments

2. Separate Your Map from Your Journey

The most important part of planning how to start a business is not the plan itself. The most important part is the planning -- the thinking about your business, what you want to get from it, who it will serve and how. The plan is only the map. The planning is the journey. Here are some guidelines to get the most out of your journey.

  • Realize that you've already done a lot of planning in your life. What worked before? What didn't?Do it one step at a time. Your planning will take as long as it takes.
  • Start simple, but start. Don't wait for the perfect time.
  • The planning does not have to be perfect the first time. You can change it as needed.
  • It's your business you are planning. Start with your ideas first, then polish them with someone else's.
  • Do the first 20% of planning that produces the first 80% of results. First plan the big chunks. Add details in the next round.
  • Give yourself credit as you keep adding to your plan.
  • Remember that planning the start-up is different than operating it -- but it's just as important.

Also consider
How to Do Planning

You Don't Have to Do This Alone

The planning required to start a business can seem overwhelming at first. Many would say that, if you are too reluctant to do the planning, then you are most not likely the type who would be successful at running a business.

However, you can be assured that there is a vast range of free resources to help you. This link is to many of them.
Free Useful Resources


TESTING YOUR BUSINESS IDEA

3. What's Your Business Idea?

You probably had one or more good ideas for products or services that you thought would be valuable to others. Otherwise, if you want to start a business, you should think of some ideas real soon. Ideas can come from many sources, but for now, it's important for you to clarify your own idea. Is it a product or a service? A product is a tangible item of value that others are willing to purchase. A service is an intangible series of activities that others can purchase. Regarding your idea, you might not know the answers to the following questions yet, but think about these initial questions:

  • Is it a product or a service?
  • Who is likely to benefit from it? How do you know?
  • What will it take for you to produce that product or service?
  • What will it take to convince others to buy it?
  • If sales isn't a skill of yours, how likely can you convince others to sell it?
  • Do those activities touch your passions? If not, how can you remain enthusiastic?
  • How likely is the idea to build a business around?

If you do not yet have an idea, then think about:

  • What types of complaints do you or others often talk about?
  • What kinds of suggestions do you often hear?
  • What kinds of products or services do you especially appreciate? Do enough of them exist?
  • What kinds of skills do you or others have that could be used even more to help others?

The Best Resources Where You Can Find Business Ideas
7 Reliable Sources Of Business Ideas You Should Explore
8 Good Sources of New Business Ideas and Opportunities
10 Great Ways to Generate Business Ideas
Business Development -- Growing Your For-Profit or Nonprofit Organization

Useful Resources in Generating Ideas
Listening | Questioning | Interviewing | Sharing Feedback | Brainstorming | Creativity and Innovation

4. Is It a Viable Business Idea?

What is a Viable Business Idea?

A viable business idea is an idea for a product or service that is very likely to:

  1. Be in high enough demand by potential customers
  2. That they are willing to pay enough money for it,
  3. That the revenue from those sales will consistently
  4. Exceed what it costs to develop and provide the product or service.

Far too many businesses fail because the entrepreneur is firmly convinced that the idea is viable only because he or she so strongly believes in it. Few entrepreneurs are like Steve Jobs who can create a product or service that is in such strong demand that it creates its own market. The vast majority of successful business ideas were verified first before they were transformed into successful products and services.

How to Test If Your Idea is a Viable Business Idea

When thinking about your product or service, Rolfe Larson suggests:

  1. Go online to find similar businesses and interview them. You’ll be surprised how open they are.
  2. Your online research should also guide you to some “experts” in this field: could be retired managers, consultants, state employees, even academics.
  3. If this is a business idea you already know something about, you probably already know some other folks who can offer some insights. Talk to them.
  4. If there’s an industry association that covers that area, contact them.
  5. “Secret shop” potential competitors to learn how they do things.
  6. Identify your target customers and then find ways to interview some of them. A dozen interviews can yield great results. Evaluate their willingness to pay; what do they currently purchase that’s more or less similar.

Also consider
How to Test & Validate Your Startup Idea or Product Without Spending a Single Dollar
How to Test a Business Idea Without Spending a Fortune
9 Ways to Know If You Have a Great Business Idea
Lean Market Validation: 10 Ways to Rapidly Test Your Startup Idea
10 Ways to Test a Business Idea

Useful Resources in Testing Ideas
Questioning | Interviewing | Listening | Sharing Feedback | Focus Groups | Analyzing and Interpreting Business Research


PLAN YOUR PROPOSAL AND FUNDING

5. Write Your Business Plan

Now you are ready to do the rest of your business planning and to draft your business plan. There are many benefits of business planning including:

  • To identify an problems in your plans before you implement those plans.
  • To get the commitment and participation of those who will implement the plans, which leads to better results.
  • To establish a roadmap to compare results as the venture proceeds from paper to reality.
  • To achieve greater profitability in your organization, products and services -- all with less work.
  • To obtain financing from investors and funders.
  • To minimize your risk of failure.
  • To update your plans and operations in a changing world.
  • To clarify and synchronize your goals and strategies.

The contents and format of your business plan document depend on what you believe most effectively conveys the highlights of your planning, as well as the amount of detail that you want to include. You might even approach some potential investors and ask if they have preferred format for business plans that they review.

NOTE: The same guidelines for enjoying the journey of planning that were itemized above, should be remembered when doing business planning.
All About Business Planning
Business Plans: A Step-by-Step Guide
Write Your Business Plan
How to Write a Business Plan: The Ultimate Step-By-Step Guide
How to Write the Perfect Business Plan: A Comprehensive Guide

Useful Resources in Business Planning
Vocabulary | Spelling | Grammar | Planning and Organizing Your Writing | Formatting Writing | Writing for Readability

6. Get the Necessary Funding

Your business plan will have included financial projections of your expected revenue, expenses and the resulting profit, usually for each of the business's first 12 months and then a total for each of the next two years. Those numbers will suggest how much funding you need to produce the product or service until costs are met or exceeded by sales. Investors will want to see your business plan.

There is a wide variety of sources of funding for a typical business start-up, including, for example, your own money, family and friends, individual investors ("angels"), banks and finance companies, state agencies, loans and venture capitalists.

Most new businesses are funded by your own money or from family and friends. This article references to articles about each of these common types of funding.
Financing Your Business
Funding Your Business (SBA)
10 Ways to Finance Your Business
20 Best Ways To Finance A Business Start-Up
How To Start A Business With No Money

Useful Resources in Getting Financing
Presenting | Building Trust | Asserting Yourself | Influencing Others | Negotiating


DESIGN YOUR BUSINESS

7. Become Legal and Official

Get Assistance?

If you haven't looked at the vast range of free assistance, do so now because experts at starting businesses can be extremely useful, especially when attending to the legal aspects of starting your business. See
Free Useful Resources

You might decide at this point to hire an attorney to assist you in making the various legal decisions and making the necessary legal filings. (However, you might explore how much of these kinds of activities that you could do yourself, by following the advice in the article throughout this topic.)
When Do I Need a Business Lawyer for My Small Business?
Getting a Lawyer

Decide Your Legal Structure

Your first decision is about what legal form of a business organization is best for you, for example, a sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation (C or S), limited liability company, etc.? Here is an overview of each type of structure.
Broad Overview of Primary Legal Forms of For-Profit Organizations

Choose Your Business Name

The name of your business is often the first impression that others get about your organization. There is an entire aspect of marketing that is all about choosing of an organization's name -- branding. Be careful to review the advice of experts when choosing a name.
How and Why You Should Register Your Business Name
Choose Your Business Name
Complete Guide to Registering Your Business Name
How to Register Your Business Name
10 Free Business Name Generators

Register Your Business

The best source of free information about all of the activities in federal business registration, including your federal tax ID number, is the Small Business Administration. They provide information about whether you need to register your business and where.

The best sources of free information about all of the activities in state registration, permits and licensing, including the state tax ID number, is in each state's Secretary of State office. This article links to the information for each state.
State-Specific Startup Guides

Get a Bank Account

Think about the types of services that you want when managing your funds for your business. Do you want personalized service where you are talking to a person who will get to know you? Do you want advice about managing finances? Does the bank lend to small businesses?
Open a Business Bank Account
5 Tips for Choosing the Right Bank for Your Business
Business Banking: 10 Tips for Choosing the Right Bank
How to Shop for a Bank
How to Open a Business Bank Account in 5 Steps

Legally Protect Your Assets

You don't want someone else using your business name, stealing your writings to publish elsewhere, or copying your products and services. That could be crippling, especially to a new small business. Fortunately, there are strategies in most established countries for how you can protect these assets of yours. The time to get that protection is when you are starting your business.
Trademark, Patent, or Copyright?
Patents and Copyrights: Everything You Need to Know
Which Protection Do I Need: Patent, Copyright, or Trademark?
How to Register a Trademark for a Company Name
How to Trademark and Copyright a Name or Logo

8. Plan Your Staffing

Your most important assets in your business are your employees, especially as your business and its products and services expand. When you wrote your business plan, you probably thought about what kinds of expertise are required to develop and provide your products and services.

Many of us have worked with others in organizations, but we aren't familiar with that it takes to get and keep the best employees. Activities in staffing include: Designing Jobs, Recruiting Employees, Screening Applicants, Hiring Employees, Training Employees, Organizing Employees and Retaining Employees.

Related Activities in Organizations Include
Human Resources | Staffing | Benefits and Compensation | Personnel Policies

Also consider
Traditional Organizational Structures and Design in Businesses


PLAN FACILITIES AND SELECT LOCATION

9. Plan Your Facilities

Small-business planning often overlooks the critical importance of clarifying what facilities are needed to support the development and provision of a product or service, and then to plan how to get those facilities. That is true especially if you are providing a product rather than a service because a product often requires space to store the necessary materials and supplies to produce the product, as well as to develop it.

Important decisions about facilities include, for example: How much space do I need for storage? Production? Personnel? How should the facility represent my brand, my colors and tone? What about parking? What about expected future growth? Should I rent or buy?

After answering the above questions and considering the guidelines in the following articles, write down your requirements for facilities. You, or any others who are helping you, can continually reference your requirements to ensure that your facilities meet your requirements.
Strategic Facility Planning — Now More Important Than Ever
What to Consider When Making Business Facility Decisions
Implementing Facilities Management Successfully in 7 Steps
Facility Planning: Steps, Process, Objectives, Importance
50 Expert Facilities Management Tips and Best Practices

Useful Resources in Facilities Planning Include
Planning | Project Planning | Technical Writing

10. Select the Best Location

Having having thought about your needs and preferences for facilities, you are ready to think about where to locate your business. Decisions include, for example: Do I want proximity to my customers? Proximity to my suppliers? Distance from my competitors? What municipalities might grant you some tax breaks if you locate near them? What about parking?

Before you select a location, your answers to these questions should be written in a specification that you can reference when searching for a location or that you can bring to a real-estate agent. That way, you will be making the best choice based on your actual needs, rather than on your personal preferences.
How to Find the Best Location
A Step-by-Step Guide to Finding the Right Location for Your Business
Choosing the Right Location for Your New Business
How to Choose the Best Location for Your Small Business
How to Choose a Business Location

Useful Resources in Selecting a Location Include
Planning | Technical Specifications | Contracting


DEVELOP YOUR PRODUCT OR SERVICE

11. Develop Your Product or Service

Earlier in this topic, you already did some of the activities in product or service development, including identifying and testing your business idea. During your business planning, you identified who your likely customers will be, who your competitors are, what you will charge for your product or service, and how you might sell it to your customers.

(To understand the overall activities in product or service development, scan the topics in this article Product or Service Development. To understand the sequence, or chain, of regular activities to continue building and providing the product or service, scan the topics in this article Supply Chain Management.)

Now, you need to:

  1. Write a Careful Design Specifications for the produce to service.
  2. Select the best suppliers and vendors to meet those specifications.
  3. Develop the best contracts and purchasing agreements with those suppliers and vendors.
  4. Get the necessary materials into your facility (called inbound logistics).
  5. Develop the first versions of your product or service to sell to your customers.

Later on below, you will begin regularly producing, selling and providing your product or service to your customers.

Activities Related to Product or Service Development
Asserting Yourself | Negotiating | Contracts | Innovation | Design Thinking | Quality Management

12. Develop Your Ongoing Supply Chain

After having done the initial activities in developing your product or service, you need to develop the chain of activities to regularly produce and provide the product or service in the most cost-effective way. That means:

  1. Making sure there will be sufficient resources (materials planning) to produce and provide the product or service to your customers.
  2. Supplying those resources (who will be the suppliers).
  3. Buying (or procuring) the resources.
  4. Getting those resources into your organization (these are matters of inbound logistics.
  5. Storing (or warehousing) all of them (that is, how you will inventory them).
  6. Getting the product or service delivered to your customer, for example, sell directly or through a retailer (these are matters of distribution and outbound logistics).
  7. Ensuring the product or service meets or exceeds the customer's expectations (matters of customer service and customer relationship management).

You probably thought about these matters when you wrote your business plan. Now is the time to begin implementing those activities. It will take as long as it needs to take, so don't rush things.
Supply Chain Management
Supply Chain Management Savvy Can Improve Your Small Business Operations
The Advantages of the Supply Chain Management for Small Companies
How to Develop a Supply Chain Management Plan
How to Find the Balance in Your Small Business Supply Chain


PLAN YOUR MARKETING AND SALES

13. Plan Your Marketing

You already gave some thought to your marketing, including who your customers are likely to be, and what you will communicate to them. But marketing is much broader and even more important than that.

Marketing is the wide range of activities involved in making sure that you're continuing to meet the needs of your customers and are getting appropriate value in return. So now is a good time to develop a marketing plan that specifies:

  1. Each of the different groups of customers (target markets) that are likely to buy your product or service.
  2. What you want each target market to believe about your organization and the relevant product or market.
  3. The messages that you plan to communicate to each target market.
  4. How each target market prefers to communicate with its stakeholders, and how you plan to convey those messages.
  5. Who will convey what message and when.

All About Marketing
Market Research
Marketing Planning
Advertising and Promotions
Social Media Marketing

Activities Related to Planning Marketing Include

Planning | Working With Others | Building Trust | Influencing | Organizational Communications | Public Relations | Sales

14. Plan Your Sales

Sales involves most or many of the following activities, including cultivating prospective buyers (or leads) in a market segment; conveying the features, advantages and benefits of a product or service to the lead; and closing the sale (or coming to agreement on pricing and services). A sales plan for one product might be very different than that for another product.

During your business planning, you probably gave some initial thoughts as to how you plan to sell (your sale strategy) your product or service. Now is the time to add another level of details to those thoughts and to document them in a plan that you can articulate to yourself and to others.
The Elements of a Successful Sales Business Plan
6 Steps to Building an Actionable Sales Plan
How to Write a Killer Sales Plan
How to Create a Sales Plan that Actually Works
Sales Strategy: Examples, Templates, and Plans

Activities Related to Planning Your Sales
Planning | Organizational Communications | Public Relations | | Building Trust | Influencing


SELL YOUR PRODUCT OR SERVICE

15. Start Selling to Your Customers

At its most basic, the activities of selling are the recurring activities to implement your sales plan. That means ensuring there are sufficient personnel, training, communications and supervision to ensure the sales plan is effectively implemented, monitored and adjusted as necessary.

Sales Process
Generating Leads
Qualifying the Customer
Conducting Sales Conversations
Sales Proposals
Closing the Sale
Account Management

Activities Related to Doing Your Sales Include
Assertiveness | Etiquette | Listening | Presenting | Questioning | Self-Confidence | Negotiating | Staying Motivated

16. Ensure Strong Customer Service

Customer service includes the activities you provide to customers before, during and after they buy from you in order to ensure they are fully satisfied with your product or service and their experience in working with you.

Today, that is changing dramatically. Customers have a much wider range of organizations, products and services to choose from, and they can access them instantly. Customers can also access numerous sources of useful opinions or reviews about the product or service even before they buy them.

Thus, it is more important than ever that organizations remain very good at attracting, satisfying and retaining customers. Customer service has moved beyond being merely transactional to being highly relational.
Customer Service Management
Customer Relationship Management
Why Small Businesses Can't Afford a Customer Service Fail
Customer Service for Small Business Owners: Everything You Need to Know
A Customer Service Guide For Small Businesses

Activities Related to Customer Service Include
Etiquette | Listening | Questioning | Emotional Intelligence | Handling Difficult People | Self-Confidence | Negotiating


MANAGE AND GROW YOUR BUSINESS

17. Manage Your Overall Business

The activities of broadly include managing including planning, organizing, leading and coordinating. The way that the activities are done depends on the life stage of the organization. Features of small businesses usually include having very limited resources, focusing primarily on cash flow, limited time for comprehensive and proactive planning, and decision-making primarily from the personalities of the leaders in the business.

So the activities of managing a small business are often done in the most cost-effective and real-time approaches based on highly practical tools and techniques. This "manual" can be very useful to leaders in a small business.
Free Basic Guide to Leadership and Supervision

Activities Related to Managing People in Small Businesses Include
Managing Teams | Setting Goals | Delegating | Sharing Feedback | Managing Meetings | Time and Stress Management |

Other Activities Related to Managing Small Businesses Include
Decision Making | Problem Solving | Planning | Operations Management | Project Management | Organizational Sustainability |

18. Grow Your Overall Business

As your customers demand more of your products and services, and as you notice more opportunities to serve more of your current and new customers, you will begin thinking about how to grow your business. There are many ways to grow your business.

That has to be done very carefully. Otherwise, you can end up worse off than before you starting trying to grow. Fortunately, there has been a lot of research about how best to grow -- and change -- organizations.
Business Development - Growing Your Organization
The Dos And Don'ts Of Growing Your Small Business
15 Ways to Grow Your Business Fast
How to Grow Your Small Business on a Tight Budget
The Small Business Guide to Growth: 16 Tips on How to Expand a Small Business

Other Activities Related to Growing Your Business
Strategic Planning | Business Planning | Market Research | Financial Planning | Financial Analysis | Organizational Sustainability |

Numerous Free Useful Resources

Free Help to Start a Business

State-Specific Startup Guides - Each state provides free, comprehensive and very useful information and resources about starting a business in that state. For example, here is the guide for starting a business in Minnesota. San the Table of Contents to see the numerous kinds of free information that also might be provided by your state.

Small Business Development Centers - Offer free advice and materials as well as loan guarantees, materials and counseling.

SCORE - Works with the Small Business Administration to provide free counseling and materials.

Small Business Administration - Offers free online courses and materials, as well as regional workshops.

BUZgate.Org - Offers a directory of free services for start-up and small businesses, as well as a vast array of resources and tools.

Free Checklists to Start a Business

General

The following checklists are complete. Most are annotated.

Nolo's Start Your Own Business: 50 Things You'll Need to Do
30-Point Checklist for Your Startup
Starting a Business (IRS in the USA)
First 100 days: The start-up checklist every new business needs
Checklist and Guides for Starting a Business
Starting Your Business Checklist
A Must-Have Business Start -Up Checklist
The Complete 35-Step Guide for Entrepreneurs Starting a Business
Business Startup Checklists

Home-Based Businesses

Home-Based Business Checklist
Starting a Business From Home: The Ultimate Checklist
Checklist for Starting a Home-Based Business
Start a Home-Based Business

Online Businesses

Starting An Online Business Checklist Sample
The Ultimate 10-Step Checklist to Starting an Online Business
Ultimate Checklist for Internet Startups & Online Businesses
Online Business Checklist: How to Know if You’re Ready to Market Your Website


Learn More in the Library's Blogs Related to Starting a Business

In addition to the articles on this current page, also see the following blogs that have posts related to Starting a Business. Scan down the blog's page to see various posts. Also see the section "Recent Blog Posts" in the sidebar of the blog or click on "next" near the bottom of a post in the blog. The blog also links to numerous free related resources.

Library's Business Planning Blog
Library's Building a Business Blog
Library's Consulting and Organizational Development Blog
Library's Leadership Blog
Library's Strategic Planning Blog
Library's Supervision Blog


For the Category of Entrepreneurship (For-Profit):

To round out your knowledge of this Library topic, you may want to review some related topics, available from the link below. Each of the related topics includes free, online resources.

Also, scan the Recommended Books listed below. They have been selected for their relevance and highly practical nature.

Related Library Topics

Recommended Books