5 Low Cost Tips For Starting Your Small Business This Year
BY HARRY GORDON
This just might be the year—no, not might be—this is the year to get your small business going. Maybe you’ve already been freelancing, or creating something unique you want to sell on Etsy, or you’ve got a new way of doing—something—better. While you have hurdles in front of you, here are some low-cost ways to start, and even grow, your small business.
Your Small Circle Has Big Advantages
Don't be afraid to get out of your comfort zone and network with those around you.
Connecting with your friends and former colleagues and simply letting them know you’re launching your own small business can be a great first step for getting advice and support. If you have friends or acquaintances who are business owners, sit down with them and ask about how they got started and how they solved their early challenges. They can often introduce you to other small business owners and resources you would have never known existed.
Next, it’s time to venture, but not far, to institutions that are eager to support a small business. Setting up a small business banking account with the same bank you already do business with (or with a new one) can come with some perks. Brick and mortar branches can offer something those online-only and big institutions can’t: a local, in-person banker with whom you can sit down and learn about the best banking options for your small business.
In addition, accelerator programs often have low-cost (or even free) classes on a variety of subjects geared toward small businesses and industries. Many also have experts with drop-in or office hours available as well. Seattle-based Ventures offers a nearly one-stop shop for new business owners, including an eight-week basic business course. From there, they operate both retail and food incubators, giving small business owners a space to create and sell their wares.
And what else can be more local than your local library? Leave it to Brooklyn to lead the way, with the Brooklyn Public Library’s Info Commons. A free center designed to support a digital life, the commons provides an open workspace, classes in everything from productivity software to design, and reservable meeting rooms with flat screen TVs.
Not to be outdone, San Diego’s public library has set up an innovation lab, with access to tech tools like 3D printers, milling machines, and laser cutters—along with classes on how to use them. All you need is an idea and a library card, and your small business could have everything it needs to get off the ground right by the stacks. Plus, many cities have innovation centers that facilitate everything from lectures to networking events.
You’ve Got The Power (Of The Government)
Government organizations like the Small Business Association to help make dreams into reality with their resources and guidance.
You may be surprised to learn that government organizations at all levels offer resources and information about starting and running your own small business. After all, half of the US economy is supported by small businesses. Offering entrepreneurs the tools and resources that lead to success is a good investment in our society overall.
This year, check out the Small Business Association, where you can fill up on some great information. The government agency is dedicated to specifically helping small business owners, and offers their own classes on everything from “Taking Your High-Tech Product to Market” to an “Introduction to Pricing.” Plus, they are a great resource for up-to-date market research and competitive analysis in a variety of industries.
The SBA also offers mentoring programs through SCORE (Service Core of Retired Executives) whose knowledge of business comes from years of skillful business survival. Think of it like meeting with a council of elders.
In addition to their regional and district support offices, the administration has launched a program of Regional Innovation Clusters. An initiative from the Office of Entrepreneurial Development, these clusters serve as points of connection between small businesses, large businesses, economic development, and industry leaders. The SBA also offers special programs for veterans and female business owners.
Many small businesses have already joined together to form their own associations. Neighborhood associations, like San Francisco’s Castro Merchants, pull together small businesses under a united umbrella that guides the area in ways that are good for everyone—businesses, non-profits, and residents alike.
Make It Official
Managing your foray in to business can often be easier, and less costly, if you create an actual business—thus separating it from your personal income and costs. A good place to start is actually a free one, by getting an EIN (Employer Identification Number), which is similar to having a Social Security number for your business. (Although there are some sites that will insist you need to pay for the service.) Not only does it allow you to run your business as a separate enterprise, but it also allows you to use that number, instead of your personal Social Security number, on the forms you may need to complete as a small business owner.
In doing so, you can set yourself as a specific type of business. The simplest type is a “sole proprietorship,” but there are many other choices including partnerships, LLCs, C Corps and more. While you can go the sole proprietorship route, we’ll advise that a professional guide, like an attorney or accountant, can be worth having on board while you navigate some of the tricky set-up.
Another advantage after getting set up as an official business is the opportunity to take advantage of business pricing and options. Business accounts are available through many of the companies you already know, like Amazon, Staples, and Apple.
Depending on the type of business you are running, you can also obtain a reseller agreement with a wholesale firm giving you access to retail products at discounted prices. For example, an interior designer could sign an agreement with a wholesale vendor to receive furniture at a discounted price. The vendor would just want to be sure they are selling to a business and not to someone interested in getting a lower price on a retail product as a one-off. Many states require you also complete paperwork as a reseller, ensuring that you collect (and pay) the sales taxes due on any item you resell.
Share to Grow
Co-working spaces can provide small business owners the facilities without the commitment or expense. Image courtesy of WeWork.
Now more than ever, making use of the many services in the sharing economy provides an easy entry point for small businesses, and the ability to scale up when needed.
Co-working spaces span a variety of styles and options. Launched in 2010, WeWork offers a fresh feel and vibe, with locations all around the world. There’s also long-time leasing agent and real estate company Regus, which offers everything from co-working spaces to spots for meetings and even a virtual office. There are also opportunities to sub-lease a desk within an existing company or building through desk sharing sites like PivotDesk. What’s great about all these options is they often include all the perks like WiFi, meeting spaces, and of course, coffee, for a low monthly fee.
Options to share transportation for businesses that may need to use a vehicle can be scaled and tested, as well. Our own Zipcar for Business program offers preferred weekday rates and membership costs structured for business owners. Because you have access to a wide variety of vehicles, from sedans and SUVs to pick-up trucks and cargo vans, you can use exactly what your business needs for every trip.
Another area that’s changed for the better is in the availability of free, high-quality business software. Unlike the days of yore where the expiration of the free trial meant you needed to pay the toll or pass no more, today software firms have gotten wise to partnering with growing firms early. They offer some pretty robust options in their free version, and by using it in your early stages you get to try out their software. Freedcamp is a project management tool with a robust free version that makes herding your goals, milestones, and deadlines simple. Wave accounting and invoicing has invoicing, accounting ,and receipt scanning completely free, but charges a small fee for transactions.
Don't spend all your time analyzing every detail…just start!
We can go on and on about different ways a small business owner can get started and grow, but this is where we can offer the only bit of advice we know that comes from our own experience: Just start.
Using these resources and tips are a great start, but the most important thing is to set concrete goals for your business and create a plan to accomplish them. After all, Zipcar started as a small business and we found solutions to problems we didn’t know existed until we had them. And that is what has made it such a fun adventure!