If I'm thinking of starting a business, what should I do first?

Before you quit your job or print business cards, it is wise to take stock of personal considerations. Ask yourself:

  • Do I have what it takes to be an entrepreneur?
  • Am I a risk-taker?
  • Do I have a grasp of basic financial and marketing principles?
  • Am I resourceful and organized?
  • Can I support myself and/or my family financially during the early stages of the venture when cash may be short?
  • Will my family and friends be supportive during the start-up process?
  • Am I knowledgeable and experienced enough in my chosen field?

If the answer to any of these questions is ‘no,’ you may want to focus on some form of self-improvement before proceeding. If most of your answers are ‘yes,’ then it is time to become a realist! Get as much information as you can on the feasibility of your idea and on the real experience of starting and managing any business. You can do this by: accessing business publications and data from the library; taking seminars and workshops; speaking to trade or professional groups which represent your chosen industry; consulting with people who are already in the same or similar line of business; and seeking advice from professional counselors like the SBDC.

What kind of registration and licenses are generally required to start my business?

Obviously, there are specific requirements in each state, county and locality, but it is possible to list the kinds of basic licenses and registrations a new business will need:

Local----A business license from city, town or county, depending on your location, will usually be necessary. In addition, you'll have to meet zoning laws, building codes, and similar regulations.

State----In most states, if your business isn't a corporation and your full name isn't in the name of the business, you'll have to register under what's called the fictitious name law. You should also file for a sales and use tax number. In some lines of business specific licenses are needed.

Federal--You'll need to contact the IRS for an employer's identification number (EIN) and it is a good idea to request a "Going Into Business Tax Kit."

My business has been established for some time. How can the SBDC help me?

The SBDC provides an array of services to established businesses including:
  • counseling in business planning
  • marketing and promotion
  • financial analysis
  • accounting
  • and access to capital.

What is a business plan?

A business plan precisely defines your business, identifies your goals and serves as your firm's resume.

It describes the products and services you will sell, the customers to whom you will sell them, the production, management, and marketing activities needed to produce your offerings, and the projected profit or loss that will result from your efforts.

How long will it take to write a business plan?

A well thought-out business plan generally takes anywhere from six months to a year to complete, but it can be less depending on how committed you are to the business and how much time you are willing to spend on writing your plan.

The SBDC counselor will not write a business plan for you but will assist in assessment of the plan. They may offer recommendations in order to make it a viable business plan to gain financing thru a lending institution. It can also be used as a guide for your business to make sure you stay on track with your goals and objectives.

The writing of the plan is an educational process in which you learn about your business and how you expect it to operate. It should reflect your goals, objectives, priorities, and management style.

Does the SBDC provide financing?

The SBDC does not provide financing. Our assistance is technical and educational in nature. We work with banks and other lending agencies and organizations to assist in putting together financial projections, but the actual financing comes from outside sources.

Generally, you start with the bank where you normally do business and have established accounts. You may have to apply at several lending institutions or look for alternative sources such as outside investors.

Are there any grants available for my start-up business?

Generally speaking, grants given to business start-ups are very rare. An exception may be for a high technology business or for businesses producing products that can be used by certain agencies or departments involved in our nation's defense. Also, non-profit businesses are sometimes eligible for grants.

How do I get a business loan?

The kind of financing most entrepreneurs seek through commercial lenders is debt financing, and most banks provide debt financing for existing and start-up businesses.

Banks vary substantially in their lending practices. While one bank may decline your loan application, another may be willing to take a higher risk or be interested in lending to small businesses.

It is advisable to understand a bank's lending guidelines before applying for a loan. The general guidelines that would enable a lending officer to at least make an informed decision regarding your loan proposal are as follows:

  1. Consideration of the business idea, usually explained in a business plan
  2. Collateral
  3. Down payment (also known as ‘equity’ in an ongoing business
  4.  Credit history and personal financial net worth
  5.  Management ability
  6.  Ability to repay the debt
  7. Conditions of the economy and/or market area 

What form of business do you recommend for a new business?

Each form-sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, or limited liability corporation- has its advantages and disadvantages. The one you should pick depends on your circumstances, including:

  • Your financial condition
  • The line of business you’re entering
  • The number of employees
  • The risk involved
    Your tax situation

What kind of insurance is needed for a small business?

There are four types of insurance that are generally considered essential for small businesses. These are fire, liability, auto, and worker's compensation.

Fire insurance will compensate you for the loss of and damage to your business property by fire.

Liability insurance will help protect you against lawsuits for physical damages done to someone on your property and for liabilities arising from the use of the products or services your company sells. In some cases, both fire and liability insurance may be required rather than optional, so check with your insurance agent to be sure.

Some type of auto insurance, either private or business, is required by law for any vehicle used for business purpose.

Before buying any insurance, consider the risks that should be covered, compare costs from the different companies, and get professional advice from an insurance agent.

What are the alternatives in financing a business?

Committing your own funds is often the first financing step. It is certainly the best indicator of how serious you are about your business. Risking your own money gives confidence for others to invest in your business. You may want to consider a partner for additional financing.

  • Banks are an obvious source of funds.
  • Other loan sources include commercial finance companies, venture capital firms, local development companies and life insurance companies.
  • Trade credit, selling stock and equipment leasing offer alternatives to borrowing.
  • Leasing, for example, can be an advantage because it does not tie up your cash.
  • Ask your local SBDC for information about these various sources.

Where can I go for help?

Your local SBDC offers counseling, training and information resources to help you with your business issues. Contact a center near you for more information.

Will the SBA (Small Business Administration) loan money to me?

The SBA does not make direct loans. Its loan activity is in the form of participating loans and loan guarantees. You must deal with a bank to reach the SBA.

You can think of the SBA as a level above your bank that is providing incentives to your bank to make it easier for you to get debt financing. The bank plays a major role in evaluating your loan application and in administering the loan. The bank's agreement is necessary before the SBA will get involved. Your local SBDC can help you find a bank for your financing needs.

How does the Virginia SBDC assist veteran business owners?

In addition to counseling and training, the SBDC can assist veteran business owners with the SBA Pre-Qualification loan program for veterans.

Veteran business owners are also eligible to apply for the Veteran Small Business of the Year Award presented annually to a Virginia Veteran.

The award recognizes Veterans who have made a significant contribution to Virginia’s economy through their involvement in small business as well as by promoting a sense of duty and an appreciation of country, democracy, and freedom. Virginia’s SBDC program is the first in the nation to create a Small Business Veteran of the Year Program. The award is placed on permanent display at the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond. Contact your local SBDC or this website for nomination packages.

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