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Up and Running in 30 Days
by Carol Tice
Monday, May 19, 2008provided by
You can do a lot in 30 days--like start a business. Follow these steps to
get going in less than a month.
Can you really start your business in 30 days flat? While it depends on the type
of business you want to launch, our experts say you should be able to get at
least one aspect of your business up and running within a month, whether it's an
e-commerce website or a signed contract with your first customer.
Depending on your experience level with the type of business you want to start,
some steps may be ongoing responsibilities, take longer to complete or need to
be done in a different order than we've listed here. Other steps may be a snap
and be possible to complete in a day. Even if the type of business you want to
start takes longer to launch than 30 days, our step-by-step guide should have
you well on your way to launching your business before your calendar turns over
First, set aside time to work on your new business idea, says business consultant
Paul Snare, a counselor with SCORE. Snare advises you to chart how you
currently spend your time, plotted in 30-minute increments. Then pinpoint hours
that can be freed up for working on your business idea. (If you can take a leave
from your current job, hire a sitter or let the housekeeping chores slide for a
while, so much the better.)
We've broken the process down into 30 simple, essential steps to take the first
month if you want to get your business open fast. Now you're ready to start
working toward opening your doors . . . even if they're just the doors to your
home office or virtual storefront.
1. To legally be in business, you'll need to complete some basic paperwork.
Which government office handles what form varies from state to state, but for the
most part, the process is quick, inexpensive and can be done online, says
business attorney Mark Kimball.
Most business registration steps can be completed overnight, either via
messenger or the internet, by requesting expedited service and paying a small
2. If you're forming a partnership, corporation or LLC, begin by registering
your corporate entity, usually with the secretary of state's office. Sole
proprietors can skip this step, along with the next one, obtaining a federal tax
identification number from the IRS. Get a tax ID almost instantly through irs.gov.
3. Apply for a business license, typically through your state's department of
licensing. If you're not a sole proprietor using your own name as your business
name, be sure to register your business name with the state, searching state
databases first to verify that your name isn't already being used.
4. Apply for any desired patents or trademarks as soon as possible. They
can take six months or more to be approved, says Kimball. But you can begin
operating before receiving these federally approved rights.
5. If your business requires a specialty license that you must pass a test to
receive, such as a contractor's license, sign up for necessary classes or
training ASAP, advises Peri Pakroo, author of The Small Business Start-Up Kit.
If you try to operate before your license is official, your business could be shut
6. Once you have your business registration in hand, open a business bank
account right away, suggests Pakroo. "There's something about doing that for a
lot of business owners that makes it feel more real."
7. Don't start a business before discussing your concept with other
entrepreneurs, says Raman Chadha, executive director of the Coleman
Entrepreneurship Center at DePaul University. While your family can provide you
with moral support, you'll need other business-people to function as impartial
sounding boards. Network through business organizations, find a mentor or
coach, or form an advisory board to connect with entrepreneurs. "Only other
entrepreneurs will say, 'What the hell are you doing? Find a cheaper way to do
that,'" Chadha says.
Networking can provide you with shortcuts to needed supplies, vendors or
funders. Actress Annemarie Lawless, 39, found this out when she and husband
Michael Sanders, 41, launched their upscale women's clothing company, A
Lawless, in New York City in 2005.
In her search for a factory to make her high-quality T-shirts and dresses, Lawless
beat the streets of Manhattan's garment district, asking other designers for help.
Inside an elevator in a clothing factory, Lawless met a designer who gave her an
introduction to "the best knit factory in the fashion district," where her clothes are
Just a few months after startup, Lawless had more than $80,000 in sales orders,
and a mentor gave her a connection to a $20,000 loan to cover production
costs. A Lawless was off and running, and expects sales to top $500,000 this
Before you quit your day job, find out if there really is a demand for what you
offer, says Paul Nicholas, president of business consulting firm Straticom.
8. Start by combing through public sources for information, Nicholas says.
Search for market surveys published in trade magazines about your niche, or
quiz industry suppliers to learn about what's selling and the type of customer that
9. To find a location that appeals to that customer, ask a local real estate
agent for demographic information. "Realtors have already pulled together
fact sheets for any community they're working in," he says. "If it's for a retail site,
they'll also have information on foot traffic."
10. To get a quick summary of a community, including population and
household incomes, Nicholas uses epodunk.com. He sizes up the competition by
using Google Maps, which will plot all the locations for a business type over a
chosen geographic area.
11. Don't overlook business owners in your industry in your hunt for data.
They can be surprisingly helpful. Business consultant Snare had one client who
staked out a business similar to the one she wanted to open, but in another city
where she wouldn't be viewed as a competitor. She then recorded the number of
customers who left with packages in a day, giving her a rough idea of sales.
When she approached the business's owners, they were flattered to be asked for
advice and talked to her for four hours, providing details on pricing, hours, wages
12. Once you have confirmed that your idea meets a need in the
marketplace, you're ready to write a business plan. Even if you're not seeking
outside funding, don't skip this step, says Tim Berry, author of business plan
software program Business Plan Pro and a regular blogger about business
Many first-time entrepreneurs are intimidated by the need to create a business
plan, says Berry, and their efforts to launch a business grind to a halt. If that's the
case, think of business planning as an ongoing task, not a project you have to
"It's not a ponderous, big, ugly document," he says. "It's not a barrier that stands
between you and what you're doing. Plan as you go--don't stop what you're doing
because you're doing a plan."
Berry encourages entrepreneurs to jump in at any point in the plan and get
started. If you have a marketing background, perhaps you will write the marketing
portion first. But all business plans should have three key elements: They
describe your market, your business's identity and your business's focus.
If, for instance, you're planning a Thai restaurant, what kind is it: a family-oriented
neighborhood eatery? A fine-dining restaurant that's more of a regional draw?
Your focus will affect many other steps as you execute, so think it through before
you move forward.
With this core in place, the rest of the business plan should outline the necessary
tasks, the deadlines by which they need to be done and the person responsible
for each item. "It's like dribbling a basketball," Berry says. "You're looking up to
where you're going and down into the details."
One of the key details many newbies like to fudge is price--but don't. Research
your market and get a good idea of what you could charge. You'll need price
information to do a cash-flow projection, which is the final, critical element of your
business plan. This estimates how long it will take for your business to start
Figuring costs isn't hard, says Pakroo. Scan rental ads for lease costs, want ads
for salaries, and read trade publications or talk to vendors to learn about the
costs of goods. This will give you a good sense of what you would need to
charge to make a profit, a figure that may or may not compare well to the price
the market will bear.
"If doing the business plan makes you decide not to start your business, it's really
done its job," Pakroo says. "Better to find out that it didn't have a good chance of
making money before you spend $50,000 or more."
13. Getting your website up and running is relatively easy, and should be
one of the early steps in launching your business.
You don't have to know how to create or operate a website to have one, says
Bob Parsons, founder and CEO of top website domain registrar and hosting
company GoDaddy.com. You also don't need to spend big bucks upfront to have
someone else create and maintain your site for you.
GoDaddy and other major providers offer website design and hosting on a
monthly-fee basis. A complete e-commerce site can be had for as little as $800 a
year, payable in monthly installments.
When you're just starting a business, keep your website simple, Parsons says.
You'll save money and customer confusion, as your business will likely evolve
after launch and removing elements can confuse customers. You can always add
elements later on.
14. Before you hit the internet, think carefully about your business name
and how it will look as a URL, says Parsons. Pick a new name if you can't get
"yourname.com" as your domain. And remember--customers won't visit if they
can't easily recall your URL. If your desired name is available, buy up all possible
permutations of it to keep competition out.
First-time retailers have a tendency to run all over town looking at every empty
storefront, says Marty Kotis, president and CEO of Kotis Properties. This wastes
a lot of time and could result in you occupying a location where your budding
business will die out.
15. Study your market to determine the size and type of space you need. Is
it a free-standing store, a mall slot, a corner in an office building? Once you've
decided, compare rent per square foot against projected sales in each location to
determine the best place.
16. To find the right location fast, contract with a realtor and pay him or her
to work for you. Without such a contract, a realtor may push the sites that offer
the biggest commission check, whether these sites are right for your business or
Realize that if you want a high-visibility, high-traffic location, you will likely pay
higher rent, Kotis says. But it may be worth it for the additional customers such a
site can bring.
"New restaurant owners often take an out-of-the-way site and think, 'People will
find me, because I have such a great product,'" he says. "That's not going to
17. When you find the right location, make sure you understand the lease
terms, hiring counsel if necessary. Fight for the provisions you need most,
such as the landlord's build-out commitment or the right to put up a large sign.
But pick your battles, and don't let lease negotiations drag on.
Pakroo warns against assuming you can operate the same type of business as
the one that's currently occupying the space--they may have received a one-time
waiver. Be sure to check with local authorities before you sign.
18. If you're opening a store, you'll need fixtures--like lighting, display racks
and computerized cash registers. These items can be expensive, but the U.S.
retail sector is in a consolidation phase, and secondhand fixtures are affordable
and easy to find, says Lee Diercks, partner and managing director of the retail
business consultancy Clear Thinking Group.
Many national chains are closing or moving stores, leaving their fixtures behind.
Details on what's being sold off can be found on the websites of major liquidators
such as Gordon Brothers and Hilco. Not just for retailers, liquidators are good
sources of general office equipment as well. Whether you need apparel hangers,
gondola racks, postage meters, desks, chairs or even packing tape, a liquidator
likely has it for pennies on the dollar.
19. You can use the same tactics to buy a wide array of inventory in apparel,
sporting goods, pet supplies, hardware and many other categories. Big retailers
sometimes cancel large orders, leaving regional wholesalers who are storing
the goods stuck with merchandise they're anxious to unload. "You name it, it's
pretty readily available," Diercks says.
Another good source of cheap wholesale goods is eBay. Diercks says unwanted
wholesale merchandise lots are turning up with increasing frequency on the
online auction giant's site, and that even midsize regional chains are filling their
shelves using eBay.
20. Initially, try to keep costs down by hiring independent contractors or
contracting out as much of your labor as possible, says Mel Kleiman,
president of HR consulting firm Humetrics. This will allow you to pay only for the
work you need and to forgo paying costly fringe benefits such as health care or
sick leave. National agencies including Kelly Services, Labor
Ready and Manpower provide temporary and part-time skilled and unskilled
workers to a wide variety of industries. You can also look for locally focused and
special-skill temp agencies in your market.
21. If you need to hire workers, start looking as early as possible. Search
your phone list, and let friends know you're hiring. Everywhere you visit or shop,
talk about your job openings.
"All the good people are already working," Kleiman notes. "Go where the people
you want to hire are. Computer stores and computer clubs are good places to
find computer workers."
22. Determine what you have to offer workers and emphasize these
strengths--perhaps it's a ground-floor opportunity, or employees can be their
own boss, or they will be helping to build a great new concept. But don't gloss
over the downside, either. Startups can often involve long hours, and employees
should be prepared for that.
23. Do online research on interviewing techniques to make sure you learn a
lot when you talk to candidates. Even if you don't have money for expensive
testing, you can give candidates free tests--like asking that an application be
completely filled out, and seeing how many comply.
24. One of the best ways to find more applicants is through your interview
subjects, Kleiman says. "Ask every applicant if you can talk to three people
they've worked with. The most important decision you make as an entrepreneur
is deciding who you allow in your door to service your customers."
25. If you need to find specially trained workers, get creative. When Tim
Vogel, 36, started his in-home pet grooming and pet-sitting business, Bright-Eyed
Pets, with wife Jessica, 35, the couple found there was a shortage of qualified
groomers in their Jupiter, Florida, area. So they created their own 600-hour
training program. Half their grooming employees are now pet lovers the Vogels
Even before you're officially open for business, you should begin marketing to
raise awareness and line up customers.
26. Start by promoting your business to complementary, or even
competing, businesses. When Tim Vogel started Bright-Eyed Pets in 2005, he
began by promoting the business to local grooming salons, veterinarians, doggy
day cares and supply stores. Vogel offered to trade referrals and told those he
was promoting to that he focused on in-home services. While a quarter of the
competitors passed on the offer, the others began referring difficult pets they
couldn't handle to him. These early referrals got the business off the ground fast--
within a couple of months, the first Bright-Eyed van was rolling to customers'
homes. Last year, sales were nearly $400,000.
27. Spread word-of-mouth. Vogel got the community talking about Bright-Eyed
Pets by putting pictures of customers' dogs on his vans. "I did all the basic
guerrilla marketing," he says. "I put postcards in every local business that would
take them. I had lawn signs, posters in office mailrooms. The best idea I had was
putting [promotional] magnets on the door of my van with a big 'Take One' sign."
28. A little planning ahead of your launch can give your new company great
visibility, says Pakroo. "Look six months down the road," she suggests. "If you
[have] a guitar shop and there's a big jazz festival coming up, that's an
29.Of course, some of the cheapest marketing takes place online. Nicholas
of Straticom advises learning how to embed key terms in your site that will bring
customers to you through search results. If you can't do it, pay an expert in web
30. Beyond keywords, find organizations or associations in which your web
link can take customers to your site. These groups may also give you access
to lists of e-mails you can use to promote your new business.
Seattle writer Carol Tice reports on business and finance for The Seattle Times,
Seattle Magazine and other leading publications.
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