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6 Low Cost Ways to Test your Business Idea

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: March 27, 2016

So you’ve got a great idea for a new product or solution and you think it’ll be a sure-fire hit.

Not so fast. To find out if your idea has traction, you need to test it.

It’s an often-overlooked step that can help you refine your offering and ensure a successful go-to-market strategy. So before you put pen to paper and write your business plan, get out there and assess the validity of your product.

Here are six low cost tips on how to best test your business idea.

1. Find your Idea’s Fatal Flaw

SCORE offers some great tips on how to validate your idea. In this article, guest contributor, Daniel Kehrer, stresses the importance of banishing the idea that your product or solution is perfect. It isn’t. It may have one, two, or multiple flaws. Ask yourself:

What am I missing? What possible pitfalls am I not seeing? How might my competitors respond? What…makes me think that my business or product idea will work when…others don’t?” Once its flaws have been identified, find a way to fix them.

2. Test Outside your Network

There’s a lot of advice out there about testing your idea on friends and family. Not always. Also writing for SCORE, Jeanne Rossomme, recommends that entrepreneurs refrain from soliciting input from their immediate network, including their team. Instead focus on those whose opinion matters – your target market.

One way to do this is to crowdsource your market research. Form a focus group. This can be done virtually or in-person. Simply advertise for volunteers (Craigslist is a good place to start). Then provide these people with free samples of your product to test. Alternatively, assemble your focus group in one place and have them try out your product, alongside the competition’s, and see what results you get.

If your idea is less tangible or you don’t have a prototype in place, walk the streets and find out what people want. What’s missing in their market? What is the competition not providing? If your solution was available to them, would they take advantage of it?

3. Tweak It, But Not Too Much

As you test your idea you’ll encounter lots of feedback. In many cases, it can be overwhelming. This is especially true if your trying to get investment or are pitching a concept or prototype to a new client (particularly one who promises to buy it in bulk). It can be tempting to edit your idea to the point where it becomes so customized to the needs of a single customer, that you rule yourself out of the rest of the market, or waste precious resources trying to check all boxes.

Instead focus on the must-haves that translate well across several markets or customer profiles. There’s plenty of time for customized flavors of your idea down the line once you make a profit and can start diversifying.

4. Perfect your Elevator Pitch

You see this all the time on TV show’s like Shark Tank. You need to pitch your idea in 30 seconds or less. What challenge does your product address, how? How is it different to the competition (what’s your differentiator?). And what is the outcome for the buying customer. People buy outcomes, not products. Your elevator pitch is something you will take with you for the lifetime of the idea – whether you’re pitching to investors, customers, manning a tradeshow booth, or briefing a marketing agency.

5. Create a Mini Version of your Idea

Creating a full-blown version of your idea can be expensive. Smart Passive Income’s Pat Flynn, has some great ideas for creating a mini-version of your idea to test the market. He uses the example of the food truck industry, which is often used as a platform to test an idea, concept, and menu before the owner commits to building a bricks and mortar restaurant. But the theory can be applied to other industries too. If you run a hair salon and want to start a massage therapy business at a new location, you could test demand by starting small by dedicating a small area of your current location to provide the new service on a part-time basis.

Likewise, if your product can be experienced without launching a full-fledged version, such as a piece of software, music, literature, and so on, test it as such.

6. Run Dummy Marketing Campaigns

This is an increasingly popular and effective way to gauge market demand. Promote your idea for a product or service as if it’s already available on the market.

One way to do this, suggests entrepreneur advisor Evelio Pereira of Epicster.com, is to create a landing page to promote your idea. This could be hosted on your website or on a new domain. Include sales information, product/solution features, etc. Be sure to include a “Buy Now” or “Learn More” button.

Obviously you have nothing to sell yet, so when the site visitor clicks through take them to a page featuring the message that the product isn’t available yet, but if they fill in the form they’ll be notified when it’s launched.

You can use various outlets to promote the page – run an email marketing campaign to your existing customers. Or, if you have the budget, invest in Facebook ads (targeted to your geo-location and demographic) or Google Adwords or Bing Ads.  Your click through data will also provide valuable insight into whether your idea is in demand!

What low-cost tactics have you used to test your idea? Leave a message below.

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

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Top 10 Low Cost Start Up Business Ideas You Can Launch Today

By Marco Carbajo, Guest Blogger
Published: March 10, 2016

Thousands of people all across America dream about starting their own business. No matter what your motivation is for being your own boss, you can start a business much sooner than you think and for far less. In fact, there are hundreds of enterprises waiting to be launched that don’t require a great deal of capital.

If owning your own business is your goal, the good news is, you can accomplish it with a solid idea and very hard work. But coming up with the right idea isn’t always the easiest thing. If you’re not confident where to start, here are 10 low cost, easy to start business ideas, spanning a variety of industries that you can launch quickly.

  1. Independent Sales Representative – Major direct selling companies such as Mary Kay, Avon, Herbalife, Pampered Chef, and Primerica all offer the opportunity for individuals to enroll as independent sales reps to get the word out to others about their products and/or services. In return sales reps can generate income from their own efforts on a part-time or full-time basis. In most cases you can get started for less than a $100.
  2. Online Content Production – If you write well and have a topic that your passionate about, why not start a content production business? The cost to launch your business includes a computer and an internet connection. You can easily promote your skills and services on sites such as Elance, Scriptlance, and oDesk where businesses look for contract workers.
  3. Online Retailer – Are there products that you want to sell? Do you have a passion for a specific industry such as health, sports or the great outdoors? If you love fishing, consider selling fishing supplies & equipment. Starting an online store is easy and costs are extremely low. For example, eBay, Etsy, and Amazon lets you open up an online storefront for as little as $20 a month.
  4. Social Media Management Services – Businesses of all sizes need help managing their social media profiles and activity. Major platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are important networks that companies need in order to raise brand awareness and promote their products. If you already know how to use these platforms then the startup costs are extremely low and you can be up and running in no time.
  5. Virtual Assistant – For less than $100 you can start a virtual assistant business right from the convenience of your own home. All it takes is a phone, computer, and internet access to be up and running. The work will vary with each client, but may include researching, data entry, appointment setting, and managing social media accounts.
  6. Consulting Services – Is there a subject that you have extensive expertise on? Do you find that people are always asking your advice in a particular area? Why not put the value of your knowledge to work by launching a consulting business?
  7. Web Design Services – The majority of small businesses don’t have large budgets for website design. In fact, a 2013 survey conducted by Google and Lpsos found that 55% of small businesses don’t even have a website. That’s where you come in – if you know how to create websites you can start a web design business and start off by working with clients from your local community.
  8. Affiliate Marketing – An easy and fast way to start a business is to promote the products and service of other businesses as an affiliate marketer. Certain businesses will pay affiliates to promote their products through various methods such as banner advertising, text ads, email marketing, etc. To learn more about affiliate marketing check out sites such as Amazon Associates, Commission Junction, ShareASale, and ClickBank.
  9. Pet Sitting – Do you love working with animals? How about getting paid to play with pets? Pet sitting could be a great business to start as a part-time or full-time business. Pet sitters charge as much as $100 for overnight stays, and $20 for a 20-minute visit is typical in the industry.
  10. Driving Service – With platforms such as Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar, you can turn the car you currently own into a business without spending a single dollar. As a suggestion, instead of offering every type of driving service possible, specialize in a service to a target customer so you can stand out above the rest.

If you take a good idea and put into action, you can be well on your way to becoming your own boss. Remember, starting a business is within the reach of anyone who has a good idea, wants to take a risk, and put in the hard work necessary to make it happen.

About the Author:

Marco Carbajo
Marco Carbajo

Guest Blogger

Marco Carbajo is a business credit expert, author, speaker, and founder of the Business Credit Insiders Circle. He is a business credit blogger for Dun and Bradstreet Credibility Corp, the SBA.gov Community, About.com and All Business.com. His articles and blog; Business Credit Blogger.com, have been featured in 'Fox Small Business','American Express Small Business', 'Business Week', 'The Washington Post', 'The New York Times', 'The San Francisco Tribune',‘Alltop’, and ‘Entrepreneur Connect’.

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Starting a Halfway House or Transitional Housing Facility

By mbramble, Contributor
Published: March 9, 2016 Updated: April 11, 2016

Transitional housing provides people with a temporary place to live as they attempt to get back on their feet or make a major transition in their lives. Like any business, when you choose to start a transitional housing facility, you will need to thoroughly research your idea and create a solid business plan that addresses the legal and financial needs of the business.

Do Your Research

Assess your target audience and the services needed in your area. Popular resident audiences for transitional housing include former federal or local inmates, young mothers, at-risk teens, veterans, the homeless, people with disabilities, and substance abusers. If you are unsure about the needs in your community, your local social services department may be able to provide insight.

Learn about the specific population you plan to assist, including average age, the services they currently receive, and where they currently receive them. Some transitional housing facilities only offer housing, while others provide additional services like job support, counseling, and medical care.

In addition to identifying your resident audience, your business plan includes your business’ mission, goals, operations plan and projected financials.

Choose a Location 

Once you determine your audience, begin to research potential locations for the housing facility. Now this may be an extremely challenging step for a number of reasons. First are the questions about the physical building itself. Do you plan to lease or own the building? Will you need to build a new structure, or is there an existing facility that you have in mind? If you have your eye on an existing facility, will you need to renovate it? Additionally there are the intangible questions like, do you have buy in from your neighbors in the community?

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) highlights key questions that you should ask yourself when determining which housing model is best for you and your residents, and offers the following advice no matter the type of housing or lease you choose, aim for residences near the following:

  • Public transportation

  • Potential places of employment

  • High schools and community colleges

  • Health care clinics and hospitals

Once you identify an ideal location, familiarize yourself with the housing regulations and zoning laws in the area.

Register Your Business and Get Licenses 

Typically, transitional housing facilities are registered as non-profit organizations, enabling eligibility for certain benefits including grants, government surplus, and tax exemptions.

You must obtain relevant business licenses and permits like any other business. Regulations vary by industry, state, and locality.

Assess Your Business Needs

Determine how many residents your facility can hold, keeping legal, funding, and safety restrictions in mind. Think about the staff you will need to keep your operations running. Assemble a development team, a group of professional consultants, service vendors and other non-profit organizations that collectively bring all of the skills, expertise, knowledge and experience to bear on the development and operation of the project.  Non-profit facilities will need to establish a board of directors and governing bylaws. 

Also consider the supplies and equipment you will need to not only run the business, but also to furnish the facility. If you receive donated goods, remember that IRS.gov provides guidance on the federal tax requirements for donated property. Consider your operating costs and determine how much rent, if any, you are going to charge residents.

Foster Community Ties

Know going into the process that it is common for a transitional housing facility to face opposition from potential neighbors. Talk with residents, local officials, and other business owners in the community about where you plan to operate, and solicit their support by explaining how your housing plan will benefit the community. For example, if your target audience is at-risk teens, you can explain how a transitional housing facility will provide a steady environment to combat homelessness, vandalism, and loitering.

Once you begin to gain traction in your community, begin to assemble a team of experts, including your local social services department, a realtor, and a lawyer, to help you move forward with your plans.

Additional Resources

Finance Your Business

About the Author:

mbramble
Mariama Bramble

Contributor

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Considerations for Buying a Small Business

By bridgetwpollack, Guest Blogger
Published: March 3, 2016 Updated: March 3, 2016

Ever walked into a neighborhood business that was recently purchased? The new ownership might have changed the paint color, décor, and equipment in a flash -- maybe even overnight.

If you’ve ever dreamed of revamping a business you visit frequently, you might be a good match for buying a business. Rather than starting your own company from the ground up, buying an existing business means you can jump right in, get to work and focus on growth.

Before you sign on the dotted line, you may want to consider the following pros and cons of buying a business.

Leadership Opportunities

Starting your own business means creating systems to manage the different components of your business, from operations to financials to even social media practices. Buying a business may mean picking up where someone else left off. Do you have the patience to sort through another person’s way of thinking about how to run his/her business, once you take the reins? If you’re stubborn, buying may mean having to adjust your work style to fit the business.

At the same time, many business owners decide to sell their companies because they no longer want to keep up with the day-to-day operations -- and they may have fallen out of good recordkeeping or organizational habits. Stepping in as a new owner is a great time to enact new policies and streamline the way a business runs. If you can enact change in a positive, encouraging manner, your leadership might be just what a business needs to get to the next level.

Financial Considerations

Buying a business can be very expensive. SCORE’s latest Infographic, “It’s a Great Time for Buying or Selling a Business,” highlights typical sale prices for various industries. There are many opportunities available in the $80,000 - $200,000 price range, including eateries, salons and shops. But if you hope to buy a liquor store, gas station, or a business that specializes in medical services or online B2B sales, expect to invest between $250,000 and $400,000.

If you don’t have the capital to buy a business, bootstrapping a business from your own concept and bringing it to life can be just as rewarding as writing a check and settling down at your new desk. But if you have the capital to take over an existing operation, it may be a less stressful experience than starting from scratch. “All of the bugs of the business have probably been ironed out and all of the problems that the business has encountered at the early stage of their development have been resolved,” mentor Norm Silverstein explained on the SCORE Small Business Success Podcast. “Basically, most of the dirty work has been done when you buy an existing business. To me, that's the most advantageous way of doing it, and the least risky.”

Investment guidelines

If you decide to take the route of buying a business over starting a new one, keep a few financial guidelines in mind. First, don’t spend more than 15 percent of your net worth to buy an existing business. Then, keep at least 10 percent of your liquid assets available for future business needs or unexpected expenses. If you plan to seek financing from a lender, expect to make a down payment of 20-40 percent to get things started.

If you’re thinking of buying a business, visit a SCORE mentor to learn more about the process and what to expect.

About the Author:

bridgetwpollack
Bridget Weston Pollack

Guest Blogger

Bridget Weston Pollack is the Vice President of Marketing and Communications at the SCORE Association. She is responsible for all branding, marketing, PR, and communication efforts. She focuses on implementing marketing plans and strategies to facilitate the growth of SCORE’s mentoring and trainings services. She collaborates with SCORE volunteers and develops SCORE’s online marketing strategy.

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7 Tips for Starting a Food Business

By mbramble, Contributor
Published: March 2, 2016 Updated: March 2, 2016

Starting a food business has to be one of the most challenging businesses to get into. The harsh reality is that most fail within the first year. The restaurant business in notoriously tough, but where there is a will there is often a way! While vision and ambitions are important, turning that ambition into success requires research, planning, capital, business acumen, and perseverance, more research and more planning. Here are some tips that can help entrepreneurs start, operate, and grow their fast food business successfully and within the law.

Do Your Research

The food industry in general is very competitive so it is imperative that you do your research before getting started. Business networking events (such as those operated by Small Business Development Centers, SCORE, and local Chambers of Commerce) offer a great venue for picking the brains of fellow business people. Try to find out what works, what doesn't, and what they would do differently. If you are aware of restaurants that have failed, try to identify why. Online community forums are a great way of gauging market need and customer opinion about local food service businesses.

Doing your research will help you to define your target market, niche opportunity, and identify your greatest risk factors, so that you can build a strong business case and move forward. Whether it's specializing in authentic Chicago deep dish or cupcakes - focus on providing a unique and quality product - don't try to be all things to all people. Be specific!

Understand Your Market

Choose Your Business Location & Equipment

Consider Starting Small

You should consider testing your idea before you go all out with a pop up location. It will give you an opportunity to run through your idea without all the risk. Many food businesses start as a hobby at home and once they outgrew the space they moved on to something bigger. Going straight from a business plan to the opening a storefront is a big step; the idea is that you have an opportunity to get the kinks out. You can rent a food truck for a month or try a local market just to see how things go. When you do finally make the move to permanent location you can scale up.

Alternatively, fast-food franchises might be an option worth considering for entrepreneurs who are not quite ready to make the leap into full business ownership.

About Food Franchises

Build a Business Plan

A business plan doesn't have to be an overly formalized document, but going through the process of building and constantly tweaking your plan will help you match the strengths of your business to the opportunities the market presents. It can also help you better deal with threats as they emerge.

A business plan is also essential when it comes to communicating with others - such as customers, partners, and investors - if you want any of these to believe in you, you must be able to convince them that you know what you are talking about when it comes to your business.

Write Your Business Plan

Get Financing

Not all businesses need investors to get started, particularly if you start small. However, there are ranges of options from very small microloans that can help smaller fast food outlets get started, to more comprehensive small business loans such as the popular SBA 7(a) and 504 loan programs.

If you are seeking investment, plan it out. Use your business plan and the knowledge you’ve gained from your pop up test as the basis for a loan proposal or investment plan. Investors and lenders will want to know everything about your business idea or venture. Also, be realistic about how much money you need. You can save lots of capital just by buying local produce and purchasing surplus equipment.

Start Your Business the Right Way

Whatever your business type, you must take care of the fundamental regulatory and legal steps involved in starting a business. From tax ID numbers to licensing make sure everything is in order.

Starting a Business

Know Your Food Laws and Regulations

This should be part of your research to begin with, but it’s worth making it a one off tip. Know what the laws and regulations are in your state! From labor laws to food safety laws understanding and achieving compliance with legal and regulatory requirements can have a big effect on the success of a food operation big or small.

Food & Beverage Laws and Regulations

Find a Business Mentor

Talk to your local SBA office, SCORE, or Small Business Development Center (SBDC). They can give you unrivalled, objective, and FREE advice about the local market and the process of starting a successful business.

The Top 7 Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make With Mentors

About the Author:

mbramble
Mariama Bramble

Contributor

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SBA Resource Partners Helped Over 1 Million Businesses Last Year – Are You Next?

By Tameka Montgomery, SBA Official
Published: February 26, 2016

If you are thinking about starting a business of your own, the SBA has the resources to help you plan, prepare and manage that business. The SBA helps aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners just like you – over one million each year – to start and grow their businesses.

The SBA’s nationwide network of Resource Partners provides entrepreneurs with mentoring, training/counseling, business assistance and access to SBA’s programs and services. In fiscal year 2015, our collective efforts helped small businesses to get $4.7 billion in capital infusion, start over 19,000 new companies, and create and retain more than 55,000 jobs.

Under the direction of SBA’s Office of Entrepreneurial Development, more than one million small business owners receive business counseling and assistance through one or more of the SBA’s counseling and training programs. They include the Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs), Women’s Business Centers (WBCs), the national SCORE mentoring program, Emerging Leaders, Regional Innovation Clusters and ScaleUp America.

These dynamic SBA resource partners and entrepreneurial programs provide quality one-on-one consulting, training and counseling that can help you start, grow and compete in the marketplace.

The numbers speak for themselves:

The SBA also helps target market audiences such as women, veterans, young entrepreneurs, growth-oriented businesses and those over age 50. We reached over 170,000 clients during our Encore Entrepreneurship campaign, including the National Summer of Encore Mentoring with AARP. During the campaign, more than 100 local sessions and workshops were hosted by SBA district offices, including webinars held nationwide with subject matter experts, industry professionals, successful entrepreneurs, and business coaches. 

If you are looking for useful resources to start, grow or manage your small business, reach out today to one of our resource partners or consider an online e-course at our Small Business Learning Center.

We’ll help you connect with your nearest SBA District Office, SBDCs, SCORE Chapter or WBCs. Go to SBA’s Local Assistance map to get started. Here you can find useful counseling, training and mentoring from any of these partners for starting, growing and managing your small business.

You can also go to www.SBA.gov/ed for a complete menu of available programs and services.

 

About the Author:

Tameka Montgomery
Tameka Montgomery

SBA Official

In her role as the Agency’s Associate Administrator for the Office of Entrepreneurial Development, Tameka Montgomery is responsible for overseeing the agency’s counseling and training resources and programs for America’s entrepreneurs.

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Understanding Gross Margin

By mbramble, Contributor
Published: February 25, 2016 Updated: March 1, 2016

Ignoring your financial statement is like ignoring the health of your business. Startups and new business owners often overlook understanding gross margin. This can have a direct impact on your ability to effectively manage a growing business, price your products, and most importantly, make a profit.

Gross Margin Overview

The gross margin represents the percent of total sales revenue that the company retains after incurring the direct costs associated with producing the goods and services sold. The higher the percentage, the more your business retains on each dollar of sales to service its other costs and obligations.

But gross margin is so much more than that; it is a measure of your production efficiencies and it determines your break-even point. It is a key calculation as you assess your startup business risk and profitability.

Know Your Numbers: Profit and Loss Statements Explained

The Importance of Knowing Your Gross Margin

Understanding and monitoring gross margins can also help business owners avoid pricing problems, losing money on sales, and ultimately stay in business. If you don’t know what your gross margin is, then making sense of anomalies in your income statements becomes tricky.

Many businesses that appear to be thriving often fail because their prices are too low or their costs are too high and they can’t make a profit.  Establishing a low price strategy is tempting, especially when dealing with cutthroat competition – however, it’s rarely sustainable and it can be tough to increase prices later, even with a loyal customer base. Using gross margin calculations and other factors as you plan your business can help you avoid pricing mistakes before it’s too late.

Cost control is another area that can trip up small business owners. It’s surprisingly easy for staff to ignore cost control procedures, which can quickly erode your margins. For example, if higher cost materials have made their way into your production process (and this could be something as simple as a chef using a higher quality food product or making bigger sandwiches in the kitchen than had been budgeted for) – then you have a problem.

Knowing what your gross margin is on every product throughout the life cycle of your business and acting on any variations you detect can help you identify these problems before it’s too late.

How to Calculate Your Gross Margin

Calculating gross margin is easy if you’ve been in business long enough to get some record keeping under your belt, but for startups the process is a little more complex.

Calculating gross margin for an existing business – Start by looking at historical data over a business quarter or year and identifying your company’s total revenue for this period and the costs of goods sold (raw materials and labor).

Gross Margin (%) = (Revenue – Cost of Goods Sold)/Revenue

Calculating gross margin for a startup – If you don’t have any income reports to go by, calculating your potential gross margins involves some research. Consider the following:

  • What is the competition doing? If you can, try to find out the gross margins of your competitors or industry averages to benchmark where yours should be. Even if their financial data is not in the public domain, their pricing and your understanding of costs will give you a rough estimate as to where your margins should be.
  • Assess your costs and explore ways you can decrease these over time. This should give you an early indication of the profitability of your business. Remember that gross margins change over time through reduced costs and increased efficiencies.

Breakeven Analysis

Using Gross Margin to Calculate Product Pricing

While understanding gross margin can help you avoid pricing and cost control nightmares, should you be using it to calculate pricing? Many businesses go this route because it clearly expresses how many of your sales dollars are profit. However, many other factors help determine your pricing strategy, including potential market share, distribution costs, seasonal considerations, perceived value, and more.

Introduction to Pricing

About the Author:

mbramble
Mariama Bramble

Contributor

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How to Become a Street Vendor

By mbramble, Contributor
Published: February 11, 2016

Everyone has seen a street vendor at some point and many of us have purchased from him or her. Consider for a moment self-employment and the opportunity to work outdoors with a schedule that is always convenient for you. Becoming a street vendor may seem like a relatively easy process but it does involve organization and patience to acquire the proper licenses and permits and operate it as a legal business.

Getting Started

If you’re a first-time vendor and are unsure at first if you’re ready to commit to street vending and peddling, try selling your general merchandise at local flea markets, holiday markets, and street fairs where, in most cases, only a temporary sales license is necessary. However, if you plan to sell food be prepared for a more in depth application process. The bottom line is no matter what type of business you have; make sure that you meet all the legal standards for your state for a small business.

Tips for Legally Selling Goods at Flea Markets & Craft Shows

A flea market is also a great place to test the market. Most cities have a numerous open markets with different demographics, which will allow you to test the waters before you go all in. In addition they are often very established in communities and have a built in following. Once you’ve narrowed down your focus, it would be a great opportunity to build your own following before you venture out.

In addition to customer research a market is a great opportunity to get to know who your competition might be. Due diligence is key especially in the beginning stages.

Licenses and Permits

License and permit requirements for street vendors vary based on location and the items you plan to sell.

You may need to obtain the following permits:

  • Sales tax permit from your state government’s revenue agency
  • Tax ID number your local government revenue agency
  • A general business license from your city or county clerk’s office
  • An additional vendor license from your city or county government

You will also need to comply with any general licensing and registration requirements that apply to all businesses in your state.

If you intend to practice food related street vending contact your state or county’s Department of Health which regulates and issues food related licenses and permits. You will likely be required to attend a Food Protection Course for Mobile Food Vendors. The cost of the course ranges from $50 to $75.00 and can take up to four hours over two days.

Business Licenses & Permits

Starting a Mobile Food Concession Business? Be Sure to Follow the Rules of the Road

Location

Before you complete the required legal documents, consider precisely where your business will be located. Laws concerning dates, times, and locations for vendors to operate usually vary by city. Larger cities like New York and Philadelphia have limits on the number of vendors so be sure to check with your city or county government when considering a location for your business. Going back to the flea markets, they are great testing grounds for a more permanent location.

Additional Resources

FoodSafety.gov provides federal and state contacts for licensing and food safety information.

About the Author:

mbramble
Mariama Bramble

Contributor

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How to Start a Retail Business

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: February 3, 2016 Updated: February 3, 2016

'Main Street' has now become a generic term synonymous with U.S. small business in general. But for many entrepreneurs, the prospect of joining Main Street in its more literal meaning - i.e. the primary retail street of a village or town - still holds an enormous amount of appeal as a business venture.

Given the right amount of market research, business planning, and financial support, starting a retail business (and joining the more than 24 million people who earn a living this way) can offer many rewards to the right kind of entrepreneur.

But how do you go about starting a retail business?

Here are some steps that you will need to follow (from a business planning, structure, and legal perspective) to open and operate a successful retail operation.

1. Determine which Type of Retail Business Model is Right You

Once you've developed a business plan and have an idea of what it is you wish to retail, you will need to decide which type of retail model is right for you. Traditional choices include store retailing, online retailing, non-store retailing (such as door-to-door sales, mail order, etc.) or a combination of any of these three.

You may also want to consider whether you want to launch your own retail business or buy into a franchise opportunity. Both have advantages and disadvantages (which I won't go into in this post). But, if you consider going down the franchising route, this guide offers helpful advice on buying and evaluating a franchise and tips on how to avoid common scams.

Don't forget that many consumer goods and food and beverage businesses are regulated, so check the laws that apply to products you might be engaged in selling before you stock your shelves.

2. Find the Right Location

As a new retail business you definitely need to be where your customers are - and almost certainly need to get it right first time.

The location you choose should dovetail onto the type of retail trade you are starting. For example, a jewelry store might not sit comfortably or profitably in a suburban strip mall, whereas an organic pet food store might. Check local demographics including employment statistics, consumer statistics, and more using these guides from the government.

You'll also need to check local zoning laws, even if you want to operate a home-based retailing business - many local governments restrict what business can be done from home.

Above all, when it comes to location, you'll want to ensure you combine visibility, accessibility, affordability and commercial lease terms that you can live with, through the good times and the bad.

Get more advice and tips from SBA.gov on choosing a business location.

3. Finance your Retail Venture

The entry costs for retail can vary. If your operation is online or home-based you may not need as much access to capital as a Main Street store-based retailer. Either way, you will need funds to support start-up costs such as inventory, fixtures and fittings, marketing and advertising, as well as employee salaries, and so on.

If you don't qualify for traditional bank loans, you might want to look to a government-backed loan. What this means is that the government - through the Small Business Administration (SBA) provides a guaranty to banks and lenders for money lent to small businesses, rather than lending the businesses money directly. Don't even think about a federal government grant as an option -- the government doesn't offer grants to for-profit businesses; there is no such thing as free money.

Read more about SBA loans here.

4. Determine Your Business Structure - Do you want to go it Alone or in Partnership?

It's worth thinking about. If you don't have family or friends who can help out with the day-to-day logistics of running a retail operation, a business partner can help. They can also help share the risk. For more information about business partnerships, as well as other alternative business entities such as corporations, LLCs, etc. - and how to go about setting them up - refer to this information on choosing your business structure.

5. Take Care of the Regulatory Requirements involved in Starting and Operating a Business

It doesn't matter whether you are starting a retail business out of your home or on Main Street, there are several regulatory and legal fundamentals that you must attend to. This is where many small business owners stumble. What laws apply to your specific business; what licenses and permits are required; what happens when you need to hire your first employee?

This very easy to navigate guide - 10 Steps to Starting a Business - (from the government) walks you through the essential steps you must follow to make sure you properly plan, prepare and manage your business.

Get Assistance

At the end of the day, talk to those in your community who knows the market and local regulations. There are many resources- including SCORE, local SBA offices, and Small Business Development Centers - that offer free counseling and training programs to help you get started and expand your business. Find help near you here.

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

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How Color Can Help Boost Your Business

By Rieva Lesonsky, Guest Blogger
Published: February 2, 2016 Updated: February 2, 2016

What can color do for your business’s marketing? A better question might be: What can’t it do? According to a recent infographic from Kissmetrics, color can:

  1. Make your brand more recognizable. Use of color increases brand recognition by 80 percent.
  2. Get customers to buy a new product. A whopping 93 percent of consumers say “visual appearance” is the primary factor they consider when buying a new product.
  3. Get customers to buy any product. Some 85 percent of consumers say color is a primary reason why they buy.

Here are some factors to keep in mind when choosing and using color in your marketing materials.

  • Be consistent. For best results, you’ll want the colors in your ads, website, packaging and print marketing materials to tie in with the colors in your business logo.
  • Consider the format of your marketing materials. For example, if your business has a physical location, you may need a brightly colored or high-contrast store sign to attract the attention of people driving by. If you have an ecommerce or B2B business and most of your marketing is done online, subtler colors might be just as effective.
  • Assess the competition. You’ll need to walk a fine line between standing out from your competitors and fitting in with them when it comes to color. For instance, if you own a landscaping service, plant nursery or recycling company, green is a logical color to use because it’s “shorthand” for nature. Purple and hot-pink marketing materials wouldn’t work as well.

Here’s a closer look at what different colors mean in marketing.

Warm colors:

Red: Viewing red physically increases people’s heart rate and energizes them. This is why “sale” tags are also in red. You can use red to attract attention (like a stop sign) and create a sense of urgency in prospective customers. Red would not be a good color for a business like a spa or salon that emphasizes relaxation and calm.

Orange: Slightly less aggressive than red, orange is still good at attracting attention and can be used to create a call to action. It’s also currently a trendy color, especially online.

Yellow: Yellow is bright, cheery and optimistic. It’s a good color for grabbing attention without the aggressive edge of red. Yellow has been shown to stimulate thinking and help people generate ideas; it conveys innovation and newness. However, yellow can be overwhelming in large doses, because it’s the most difficult color for the eye to take in.

Overall, warm colors (red, orange and yellow) are stimulating and exciting. They’ve also been shown to make people hungry, which is why so many quick-service restaurants use these colors in their marketing and interiors.

Cool colors:

Blue: Blue is most North Americans’ favorite color, which can make it a good choice for marketing materials, but can also make it harder to stand out. Blue creates a sense of calm, security and trust, which is why it’s often used by financial services or healthcare businesses.

Green: Green is the easiest color for the eye to process, so if you want to convey calm and relaxation, it’s a perfect choice. It also symbolizes nature and the environment.

Purple: A regal color, purple combines the energy of red with the calm of blue. It conveys wealth, imagination and femininity (one reason it’s often used in skincare and beauty product marketing). 

Pink: Pink is often used to market products targeted at women and girls, but it’s important to make sure your use of pink doesn’t backfire. Slapping pink on product packaging in order to mark it as being “for women” can come off insulting to female consumers.

Neutral colors:

Black: Black signifies power, sophistication and luxury, which is why it’s often used in marketing luxury cars or fashions. It makes a great contrast with other colors, but too much of it can look overpowering. Avoid using black as a background on print or online marketing materials; it will make text too hard to read.

White: White symbolizes innocence, cleanliness and purity, which is one reason healthcare companies often use it in their marketing. It’s a great background for all kinds of colors. Using a lot of white can come off as very high-tech (think Apple) but also as cold.

Gray: The ultimate neutral, gray conveys security and dependability. Shift it to silver, and it suggests high-tech, glamour or wealth. Pairing with gray is a good way to tone down brighter colors.

Brown: Brown works well for “earthy” businesses such as restaurants, natural products or environmentally friendly businesses. It suggests honesty and authenticity. Turn brown into gold, and it conveys wealth and quality.

Color is complex, involving not only the color itself but also its intensity and warmth. To get the effect you want, it’s worth enlisting the services of a graphic designer who can help you choose the right color combinations for your marketing goals.

About the Author:

Rieva Lesonsky
Rieva Lesonsky

Guest Blogger

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and President of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Follow Rieva at Twitter.com/Rieva and visit SmallBizDaily.com to sign up for her free TrendCast reports. She's been covering small business and entrepreneurial issues for more than 30 years, is the author of several books about entrepreneurship and was the editorial director of Entrepreneur magazine for over two decades

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