Guest post by Monya Emery, Verizon’s Supplier Diversity Manager, working closely with small business owners across the country to help them become one of Verizon’s vendors.
Now that the holidays are over it’s time to get down to business. You’ve made your resolutions and set your goals. And this year your main goal is to become an entrepreneur. Yes, you want to be in the elite category of being one of the nation’s small business owners. Maybe you’ve dreamed of launching a small business for years or perhaps it’s a new aspiration. In either case, starting a small business can be one of the most exciting, exhilarating and challenging experiences of your life. There are a lot of decisions to make and a lot of moving parts to consider. These 10 easy steps can help you launch the small business of your dreams by taking some of the guesswork out of the start-up process.
Do the Research – It’s important to start by thoroughly researching everything possible about your industry and your product or service. Who are your competitors? Who are their customers? What is their pricing like? How do they market? Mali Phonpadith, Author and CEO of Mali Creative, a marketing and messaging company, says, “Look closely at companies in your industry that are in the first five years of business and take note of what they have done well. Study their strengths and weaknesses to determine how your products or services can fill the gap in the industry.” Phonpadith also recommends looking at customer reviews on sites like Yelp to get a better idea of the company’s buzz. All of this information will help you determine what will differentiate your small business from all the others.
Develop a Business Plan – Write a business plan, and keep it as simple as possible. Your plan should clearly state how your product or service can solve a problem or fulfill a need. The plan should outline details about your core products or services, as well as your business goals and how you plan to reach them. Focus on one or two primary business areas and don’t try to be everything to everybody. Include a budget which details your pricing, the cost of doing business and your profit.
A good business plan should also incorporate a comprehensive marketing/advertising plan that discusses various types of media to get the word out about your business. For example, include details about collateral (business cards, flyers and brochures), traditional media (print, television or radio ads), social media (FaceBook, Twitter and customer review sites) and digital media (websites, paid ads and Search Engine Optimization). Remember, no matter how great your product or service is it won’t sell if no one knows about it.
Choose a Business Structure – Choose your business structure carefully. Deciding whether your small business should be a sole proprietorship, partnership, Limited Liability Company (LLC) or a corporation can greatly influence many factors regarding the business. And note, the business structure you initially choose can be changed as the needs of the business change.
Differentiate Your Diverse Business – Can you establish your business as a diverse business? A diverse business is a for-profit company, regardless of size, that is physically located in the United States or its trust territories, which is owned, operated and controlled by minorities (United States citizens who are Asian, African American, Hispanic and Native American), women, veterans, or service-disabled veterans. These businesses are often referred to as Minority, Woman, or Service-Disabled Veteran-owned Business Enterprises (MWDVBEs). Ownership by minority individuals means the business is at least 51 percent owned by such individuals or, in the case of a publicly owned business, at least 51 percent of the stock is owned by one or more such individuals. Further, the management and daily operations are controlled by those diverse group members. Organizations such as the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), as well as state and local government agencies, certify small businesses as diverse if the company meets the requirements.
There are a vast number of federal and corporate programs that recognize or assist small businesses that are diverse. Many large corporations, like Verizon, have supplier diversity teams who help to identify small diverse businesses that are qualified to compete for procurement opportunities. For information on how your business might work with Verizon, visit www.verizon.com/about/supplier_diversity/.
Secure Licenses and Permits - Depending on the type of business you are launching and where you are located, you may need to obtain certain licenses and permits to do business. In order to ensure that your business is operating legally, research what your company will need to get it up and running.
Register Your Small Business – You must register your business’ name. First check to see if it is trademarked or currently in use by another company. Once that process is complete, you will need to determine what government agencies you will need to register with based on the type of business you have and its location.
Network – Once your business is established you will want to get out and network, network and network again. Joining industry associations or your local Chamber of Commerce will not only allow you to meet the competition, but it will also allow you to meet potential partners and mentors. Check out local business journals or search online for upcoming events in your area.
According to motivational speaker and coach, Renee’ Spratling, CEO of Renee’ Speaks, “Networking opportunities are important because they can drive sales.” In 2013, Spratling attended one networking event per week, and from that 52-week commitment, she received 15 referrals, 7 of which turned into actual sales. Spratling said, “by not networking all you have to lose is business.”
Perfect Your Pitch – Develop an elevator pitch so you can sum up your business in 60 seconds or less to anyone and at anytime. Make sure you have lots of business cards on you at all times, and don’t forget to follow-up when the networking session is over. Good follow-up is critical to the success of your business.
Seek Mentors – As you network and develop relationships, identify more experienced entrepreneurs who can give you advice and assistance, which could lead to possible referrals. A mentor can be a sounding board, provide guidance or be your accountability partner. When you establish a mentoring relationship, set clear objectives and be open to constructive criticism. It will give you a new perspective on how you are running your business and help you grow your business.
Supplier Diversity Team – If your company is a small diverse business and you are planning to compete on commercial contracts, reach out to the Supplier Diversity team at the corporation you’re attempting to work with. Supplier Diversity team members can assist you with the company’s supplier registration process and they can provide helpful tips about the sourcing and procurement process. They can also make introductions to key stakeholders. Government agencies have similar departments and teams that manage their supplier diversity process. Team members are often referred to as the small business liaisons or directors and their departments may be called Offices of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization or OSDBUs.
Use Resources – There are lots of resources out there to help you launch, grow or streamline your small business. There are tons of apps, books, magazines, software, websites and whitepapers, and don’t forget your network. Learn from them and use them. Reach out to your mentors and other colleagues for assistance and referrals. People will help you if you just ask and be sure to offer them your services too.
In addition to your network, visit these helpful websites:
Small Business Association – www.sba.gov
The National Minority Supplier Development Council – www.nmsdc.org/nmsdc/
The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council www.wbenc.org
Verizon Supplier Diversity – www.verizon.com/supplierdiversity
Verizon Small Business – www.verizon.com/smallbusinessblog
These are just some tips to help you on the road to success. Good luck!
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