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Learning how to start a small business is not particularly difficult, time-consuming, or expensive. It’s actually easy to launch a small online business quickly and cheaply in just 8 (or less) steps.
If you are looking to build something larger, these steps can still point you in the right direction. The ultimate secret in how to start a small business is taking one step at a time. Don’t wait for the stars to align or some other perfect circumstance. Take a step today. You can tweak and alter later; today it’s important that you take action.
**A FEW NOTES** I am not a CPA or Attorney. This article is advice from my experience building companies over the last 20 years. Please consult with professionals for detailed recommendations for your particular situation.
Also, these are the steps to build a Sole Proprietorship. If your CPA or Attorney has recommended an LLC or Corporation, you will need to start that process before getting your DBA/FBN and Business Licenses.
How to Start a Small Business Step 1 – Get your DBA/FBN (if needed)
If your business name is something without your surname, you may need a DBA (Doing Business As – also known as FBN, Fictitious Business Name). You can get the application from your county (if in the US) by searching Google for “DBA or FBN (Your) County.”
**If you are outside of the US, visit How to Start a Business for links to business information for various countries.
Each county has slightly different rules, so be sure to check with them regarding your specific situation.
If you need a DBA, you will likely need to perform a search to make sure your preferred name isn’t already taken. There’s often a search box or link on the website where you can do this.
Once you confirm your name is available, begin the registration process. In some counties you will mail in your application, others you can process online, but they all likely have a fee (for example, my county it is $23). After registering online or mailing your application, you should get a confirmation letter back within a week or two.
How to Start a Small Business Step 2 – Get your business license (if needed)
Many, but not all, cities require a business license. Some only require notice if you are working from home. Contact your city and ask if your specific industry needs any licensing or permits. If so, apply for these now since you will need them for step 5.
How to Start a Small Business Step 3- Start a Website
Since we are shooting for getting started for less than $100, let’s talk about the free website options. Some great free websites are www.wix.com, www.weebly.com, and www.wordpress.com. These will give you small, basic websites to get you started.
If you prefer something a bit more customizable, I use Bluehost and WordPress.org (not the same as WordPress.com). Bluehost offers very inexpensive hosting plans that include the WordPress.org software. From there you can install free themes and plug-ins to customize your website. If you are even slightly techy, I recommend this approach.
To learn more about this option, visit 20-Day Business Startup Challenge: Day 12 – How to Build a Website.
To choose the right website, go to each of these and look through their templates and features. You’ll want to see which best meets your needs.
Some questions to ask yourself:
- Will you be selling something right away? If so do they offer an eCommerce/online shopping feature?
- Do they have tools to help you start building your email list? If not, does it integrate with a resource that does (such as MailChimp, Aweber, or Convertkit)? This step is integral to building your business once launched.
- Does it have a template you like that conveys your business style and message?
- Does it have SEO options (search engine optimization, so your site gets seen)
Start with one of these free sites, then build or migrate to something bigger and better once you start making money. Use the days you are waiting on your DBA/FBN confirmation to add as much QUALITY content to your site as you can: blogs (what does your customer want to learn about?), contact information, photos, reviews, etc.
Put your client first and focus on giving them quality content that truly helps them. The more do that, the more they will want to stick around and buy what you are selling.
How to Start a Small Business Step 4 – Publish Your DBA/FBN (if needed)
Once you get the DBA confirmation from your County Clerk, you may need to publish your business name in a local newspaper. Some counties require this to make sure no one has any objections to the name (if someone else is already using the name, they can contest your use).
The newspaper can be a local free paper; it does not need to be the New York Times. Once your county records your DBA/FBN, you will typically get a million mailers from newspapers wanting to publish for you. If you don’t get any mailers, search online for DBA publishers in your county.
Choose one that publishes the statements AND reports it back to the County Clerk for you. This should only cost about $20 or so depending on your area. Again, check with your county to see if they require this step.
How to Start a Small Business Step 5 – Open a Bank Account
You will need 2-3 items to open a business checking account:
- DBA/FBN confirmation from your county (if necessary).
- Proof your name has been published (if this is required in your county). This proof is usually a letter and copy of the ad, sent to you by the newspaper after the first week of publishing.
- Business license or notice of home business from your city (if needed).
Some things to consider when choosing a bank:
- Do you need to have a physical branch or will most of your banking be online/through apps?
- Does it come with free checks and debit cards?
- What are the deposit requirements to get it started?
You can find a list of free business accounts at Nerd Wallet.
Once you have your account started, keep ALL business payments separate from your personal checking account. This will keep things nice and clean for tax time.
How to Start a Small Business Step 6 – Choose an Accounting Software
There are several good accounting programs on the market today, so you have a choice depending on your needs. For me, I chose Quickbooks Self-Employed for Sole Proprietors and Independent Contractors.
- They always have a discount for the first few months (currently 50% off for six months).
- They are online, so you don’t need to download any software.
- They connect directly to your bank account, so you don’t have to hand enter every transaction.
- They have an app that notifies you when you have new transactions to categorize.
- It automatically tracks your business mileage.
You can always track these items by hand on a spreadsheet or notepad, but having it automated will free you to work on building your business. Using a program like this will help you with your records for tax season, so be sure to track everything starting now.
How to Start a Small Business Step 7 – Start Building Your Email List
An email list is the lifeblood of business, so you’ll want to begin building this from day one. There are many email list services available today, such as www.convertkit.com, www.mailchimp.com, www.aweber.com.
A few things to consider when choosing:
- Do you want to collect emails for occasional contact (emails to the whole group when you have a sale or when introducing a new product)?
- Or do you want something that allows you to send regular autoresponders to stay in front of your customers on a regular basis? **HINT** you want to remain in front of them on a regular basis.
- Do you want any added features, such as offering coupons, surveys, landing pages on your website, and the like?
I use ConvertKit for my email service. Currently, they are $29/mo for up to 1000 contacts and integrate smoothly with my website. Also, MailChimp offers a free subscription, but it doesn’t include autoresponders. This may be a good option if you want to keep costs down. You can always upgrade later once your business starts making money.
How to Start a Small Business Step 8 – Launch
Tell everyone you know about your new business. Post on every social media site you have and ask friends and family to post on their sites. Put up flyers in local businesses, talk to people who will use or can refer your service or products. Spread the word as far and wide as you can.
Mention your new business everywhere you go. In line at Starbucks? Mention it to the guy standing next to you and your Barista. At a restaurant? Tell your waiter. In line at the DMV? Tell the lady sitting next to you. This is your baby, and you finally have it off the ground, now’s the time to build and grow like crazy.
For a more in-depth, step-by-step guide to starting a business (including creating business plans, budgets, and many more steps not listed here), visit the 20-Day Business Startup Challenge.
Congratulations! You are officially a business owner. You’ve already done more than 80% of people do when starting a business – you took action. That is worth celebrating! How does it feel?
Comment below and let everyone know about your new business. We are excited to support you!