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7 steps to starting a small business on a shoestring budget - with free startup help

Published February 19, 2020

One of the great things about being in business these days – whether it is having a side hustle or a retail store or an online business – is that there is just so much free help available.

To wit: Last week, I held my most popular webinar ever (almost 4,000 people registered!) for SCORE, called 7 Steps to Starting on a Shoestring. SCORE is an amazing organization; with more than 10,000 business volunteers who can help and mentor you (physically or virtually) on almost any aspect of your business – marketing, sales, taxes, whatever. And, like my webinar, many of SCORE’s offerings are free.

You can also get free help from your local Small Business Development Center and the Small Business Administration.

The point is if you want to start a business right now, and especially if you need to do so on a tight budget, it is very possible. Here are the steps you would take:

Step 1: Self-assessment

Not everyone is cut out to be their own boss. Some people are athletes, others are artists, some people make great employees (not me!), and others are meant to be entrepreneurs.

Is the entrepreneurial life right for you? Here’s a question to help you decide:

Does the idea of leaving your job – with its steady paycheck and benefits and boss and co-workers – excite you or terrify you? Starting your own business is a risk, and as such, you have to be comfortable – nay, excited – about that if this is going to be right for you.

Step 2: Pick the right business

Generally speaking, a physical store with inventory is much more expensive to launch than a service business or online store that you could run out of your home.

That said, you have to do your homework and make doubly sure that there is a the market for whatever it is you want to sell.

Step 3: Consider your name and brand

To succeed and stand out in this competitive world, you have to be unique, different, and special. Are you going to be the sedation dentist, organic grocer, or what?

The best way to stand out is to choose a business name that immediately reflects your business promise/brand. For instance, Jiffy Lube promises a quick lube, oil, and filter. Baja Fresh promises fresh Mexican food.

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Whatever you may think of President Donald Trump, he is a master marketer, and he knows this rule, too, hence his nicknames for opponents. “Crazy Bernie” or “Crooked Hillary” is nothing but the political equivalent of this ‘instant branding’ rule.

Pick a name that people will remember and that exemplifies your desired brand.

Step 4: Draft a business plan

Yes, writing a business plan is a lot of work, and no, you don’t want to do it. Too bad.

A business plan is your roadmap for success. How much money will you need? How will you market your business and handle competitors? Your business plan will tell you.

And in any case, if you need a loan or investor, they will want to see your business plan. LivePlan is a good place to start. So get writing! Step 5: Handle the legalities

You will need to incorporate it in some form – likely either as an LLC  or an S Corp. LegalZoom and can help you there. You will also need to get the right sort of business insurance. (Full disclosure: I do some work with Allstate.)

Step 6: Get your business funded

Most people cobble together the money they need from

  • Friends and family
  • SBA or other bank loans
  • Savings and credit cards

Other options include crowdfunding and microloans.

Step 7: Set up your physical and digital shop

Secure a URL and your social media handles. Rent space if needed. Create your team: Hire a good lawyer and bookkeeper, find independent contractors, and finally...Throw a grand opening party. Congratulations, you are in business!

Steve Strauss is an attorney, popular speaker, and the best-selling author of 17 books, including "The Small Business Bible." You can learn more about Steve at, get more tips at his site TheSelfEmployed, and connect with him on Twitter @SteveStrauss and on Facebook at TheSelfEmployed.



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