Frequently Asked Questions

This is a great starting place to brush up on some of the basics:

Starting a Business

Business Plans

Marketing

Human Resources


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STARTING A BUSINESS

Where can I learn about starting my own business?

A good place to learn more about starting your own business would be to attend one of the many First Step Workshops offered across Pennsylvania or take our free Online Tutorial for Starting a Business. Visit our Starting a Business page for more resources to help you on your way.

What basic skills do I need to run a business?

The basic skills include a working knowledge of record keeping, financial management, personnel management, market analysis, breakeven analysis, product or service knowledge, federal, state and local tax knowledge, legal structures, and communication skills. See the Kauffman Foundation's take in Making of a Success Entrepreneur publication.

What business should I choose?

Usually, the best business for you is the one in which you are most skilled and interested. As you review your options, you may wish to consult local experts and businesspersons about the growth potential of various businesses in your area. Matching your background with the local market will increase your chance of success.

What initial costs should I consider?

Initial costs are one-time expenses that are needed to set your business in motion. There's no way you can start and build a successful small business if you don't have the funds to back it up. Start by making a list of ALL your initial costs, no matter how small or insignificant.

  • Incorporation
  • Legal fees
  • Accounting
  • Licenses and permits
  • Rent and security deposit
  • Signage
  • Transportation
  • Insurance
  • Building/remodeling
  • Supplies
  • Initial inventory
  • Furniture and equipment
  • Installations

It's not enough to consider how much a large piece of machinery costs. You also need to think about the costs involved with transporting it or setting it up. Everything needs to be accounted for! Then consider your ongoing costs (expenses you anticipate paying again and again).

How long will it take to start a small business?

As long as it takes you to complete your feasibility study, prepare your business plan, gather your money, buy what you need to buy, and arrange your business operation affairs. This could take a few weeks or many months. If you have difficulty with any of these items, the time to learn and solve problems must be added.

How can I get my business certified as minority or women owned?

On a Federal level, Congress considers a minority-owned business as generally anyone other than white. The business must be owned and at least 51% controlled by one or more minorities. Women are not considered minorities. It is a self-certifying process and no paperwork needs to be filled out. To learn more about women or minority owned businesses you may consult the Pennsylvania Bureau of Minority and Women Business Opportunities.

What insurance should I have

An important aspect of your business is a well-planned insurance program. Types of insurance you should consider are:

  • Property Insurance
  • Liability Insurance
  • Product Liability Insurance
  • Automobile Insurance
  • Worker's Compensation
  • Disability Insurance
  • Business Interruption Insurance
  • Health Insurance
  • Life Insurance

Should I buy a franchised business to start?

Approximately 40 percent of present-day retailing in the US is done through the franchise method, which makes owning a franchise an appealing option. There are definite advantages to starting out with a franchised business, but it is important to be knowledgeable about the different kinds of franchising options available to you. Some offer fair value for what you pay and others are rip-offs. Get legal or business counseling advice before purchasing a franchise.

Should I buy an existing business to start?

The advantage of buying an existing business is that it is already established in the market. It has customers and is carrying on business. You avoid the hassle and expense of starting from scratch. The trick is making it fit your desires and capabilities. Is it the kind of business you want? Can you afford it? Can you operate it?

How do I start a home-based business?

If you are entertaining the idea of having a home-based business, contact your city or county planning and zoning department, depending on whether you live within city limits or not. Contact them before you start the business, not after. They will inform you about the requirements for a home-based business.

What type of business structure do you recommend for a new business?

Each form: sole proprietorship, partnership, or corporation, has its advantages and disadvantages. The one you should pick depends on your circumstances, including:

  • Your financial condition
  • The line of business you're entering
  • The number of employees
  • The risk involved
  • Your tax situation

What are some resources to view and download various business forms?

The following links provide a variety of useful forms and resources. Please review all forms carefully prior to using. You may also want to contact your local SBDC to verify what forms are best for your business.

  • Business Owner's Toolkit - templates and standard business forms, including cash flow budget worksheets, employee time sheets, and sample collection letters
  • Entrepreneur magazine's FormNet®  - saves you the time and expense of creating business documents from scratch
  • SCORE  - download standard P&L statements, sales forecasts, and more in Excel and PDF format
  • Microsoft Office Online  - standard letterhead, newsletter, and PowerPoint templates in a variety of designs and supporting financial statements

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BUSINESS PLANS

What is a Business Plan?

A business plan precisely defines your business, identifies your goals and serves as your firm's resume. It describes the products and services you will sell, the customers to whom you will sell them, the production, management, and marketing activities needed to produce your offerings, and the projected profit or loss that will result from your efforts.

What is a feasibility study?
This is a preliminary business plan used to answer the question, “Should I do that?” It includes facts and projections that outline what will happen if something is done. It allows a businessperson to look at probable results before anything is done to produce those results. These studies can be brief or lengthy.


 

Why do I need to define my business in detail?

It may seem silly to ask yourself, “What business am I really in,” but some owner-managers have gone broke because they never answered that question. One watch storeowner realized that most of his time was spent repairing watches while most of his money was spent selling them. He finally decided he was in the repair business and discontinued the sales operations. His profits improved dramatically.

How long will it take to write a business plan?

A well thought-out business plan generally takes anywhere from six months to a year to complete, but it can be less depending on how committed you are to the business, and how much time you are willing to spend on writing your plan. Your business plan is a joint venture with your consultant.

Will the SBDC write my business plan for me?

While the SBDC will not write your business plan for you, we provide the assistance and guidance needed to write the plan and can help hone your plan for effectiveness.

Can you name a good reference book that can be used in the creation of a business plan for a restaurant?

The National Restaurant Association, the trade/industry group for the restaurant industry, has a number of publications you may find useful. You can find more information on these publications on the National Restaurant Association's website at www.restaurant.org or by calling (800) 482-9122.

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MARKETING

What does marketing involve?

Marketing is one of your most important organizing tools. There are four basic aspects of marketing, often called the “Four P's”:

  • Product – the item or service you sell.
  • Price – the amount your charge for your product or service.
  • Promote – the ways you inform your market as to who, what, and where you are.
  • Place – the channels you use to take the product to the customer.

As you can see, marketing encompasses much more than just advertising or selling. For example, a major part of marketing involves researching your customers: What do they want? What can they afford? What do they think? Your understanding and application of the answers to such questions play a major role in the success or failure of your business.

Should I have a Web site?

There are four general reasons to have a Web site:

  • To sell products and services
  • To give information
  • To increase visibility
  • To provide additional customer service

First, decide if any of these reasons make sense for you. Selling products and services on the Internet successfully involves having a great product, attracting a targeted market, and/or selling to and satisfying your customers.

How do I obtain a domain name for my business?

Start by going to Network Solutions, an online directory of domain names at http://www.networksolutions.com. If the name you've chosen is not already registered, you can pay Network Solutions an annual fee for the rights to use the domain name.

What is my market potential?

The principles of determining market share and market potential are the same for all geographic areas. First, determine a customer profile (who) and the geographic size of the market (how many). This is the general market potential. Knowing the number and strength of your competitors (and then estimating the share of business you will take from them) will give you the market potential specific to your enterprise.

How can I find profiles on typical industry customers?

There are a few places you might try to locate these kinds of statistics:

Trade Associations: Trade and industry groups often conduct extensive market research and make this research available to members. While they often focus on national or statewide trends, you might find local statistics through a group's local chapter. The SBDC can also provide relevant, up-to-date information on your industry.

Local Chamber of Commerce: Chambers also conduct market research. They primarily focus on economic development issues in key industries. Visit the Index of Pennsylvania Chambers of Commerce to find your local Chamber.

How do I find suppliers for my business?

Contact your local SBDC for information concerning suppliers. Our consultants have information concerning international, governmental, and private suppliers for your business. Another option is to attend trade shows. Trade shows are a great place to track down suppliers and wholesalers. One on-line resource for tracking trade shows is the Trade Show News Network at www.tsnn.com.

What are some resources to help with marketing research?

Free

Paid

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Human Resources

How do I register to become an employer?

To register as an employer, you need to obtain a federal Employer Identification Number (EIN) You will also need to register for state income tax withholding and for unemployment contributions by filing the Application for Tax Registration. Have employees complete and keep in employer's files:

  • Employee's Withholding Certificate W-4 obtained from the IRS
  • Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 obtained from the U.S. Department of Immigration and Naturalization

Obtain Worker's Compensation Insurance from your business insurance carrier. For more information on becoming an employer or for a Hiring Employees packet, or to obtain employment posters, contact Business Answers at (800) 541-5872.

How can I find and keep qualified employees?

Two of the greatest challenges for any business are hiring the right people and keeping them. Employees, and, more importantly, their contributions, are a business' most important asset. So how do you go about finding, selecting, and retaining the best people?

Decide What You Want – Before beginning your hiring efforts, know what you want. One way to list the skills, experience, and other attributes you are looking for is in categories of:

  • Must-have: skills you do not have the time, money, or desire to teach but which are absolutely necessary to do the job.
  • Should-have: sets of skills in which the candidate should have some degree of knowledge or skill.
  • Nice-to-have: what you'd love to have but can live without.

Search in the Right Places – Basically, the harder it is for you to find the skills you need, the wider the net you must cast. You may choose from local media, the state's employment center, and using the Internet. View any employment ad as a marketing tool for your company, making it as appealing as possible. Put a headline on your ad that describes the absolutely best benefit you can offer. Be sure to add your must-have list of skills, experience, and education. To get qualified people without having to weed through a pile of applications, be specific about what you say and very selective about where you place the ad.

Don't underestimate the value of networking. You may choose to ask your best employees if they know someone who would fit into your organization and might be interested in joining or use your network in the community to find employees.

Conduct a Thorough Interview – Give the applicant a complete and accurate picture of your business. In today's tight job market, you have to sell both yourself and your company. Through your questions, cover the job's must-haves, should-haves, and nice-to-haves and be sure to obtain a clear picture of where the candidate is in relation to these attributes. Remember, good questions lead to good answers-the more you learn about each applicant's experience and skills, the better prepared you are to make your decision. If you find yourself talking as much or more than the candidate, stop – you only learn about the candidate when you are listening. Don't be afraid to press a candidate for more information – it is then that you may learn important information.

Hire the Right Person – Some tips for choosing who to hire are:

  • Go with your gut
  • Accomplishments are what really matter
  • Attitude counts
  • Be objective

Three critical elements in hiring the right people for the job are: skills match, company fit, and job match. Be objective in determining which candidates have the best overall fit.

In terms of wages, try to be a leader in your market – think about the cost of paying a little more versus the cost of turnover (roughly 25% of salary and benefits).

Hang on to Good Employees – Retention of employees is as important as the initial hire. An individual's suitability to a particular job is the single most important factor in job performance and retention. Be sure to provide people jobs that fit with their personality and then take the time for a proper orientation. Listen to them and continue to provide training and skills development opportunities. Set clear expectations, show concern for employees, and treat them fairly.

What other financial responsibilities do I have for employees?

You must withhold federal and state income taxes, contribute to unemployment and workers compensation systems, and match Social Security contributions. You may also wish to inquire about key employee life or disability insurance.

What is OSHA?

The U.S. Department of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) oversees workplace safety. All employers are required to provide a safe and healthy workplace and are subject to no-notice safety and health inspections by OSHA. Employers with more than 10 employees are required to maintain a record of injuries on the OSHA 200 form, which must be available for inspection for a period of five years.

How do I know if I should hire someone?

When you are considering hiring someone be sure to address these conditions:

  • Can you afford an employee?
  • Will you really save time?
  • With an extra employee, would you have more time to market your services and expand your business?

Would an extra employee allow you a chance to produce more products or serve more clients?

Would an extra employee allow you to give your customers more efficient service or quicker delivery, with the result that higher quality would lead to more customers?

There's a tension between how much the employee's salary and benefits will drain your business' budget and how much extra money the employee's presence will bring in.

How can I effectively interview applicants?

Use interviews along with background checks and references in order to help determine whether or not the applicant is suitable for your position. This way, you will have an idea of the applicant's personality as well as qualifications.

Which federal posters do small businesses need to post?

The federal posters that should be on display for your business vary widely depending on the type of business that you are in. The U.S. Department of Labor has an interactive Poster Advisor tool that will walk you through the steps to determine the posters that you will need specifically for your particular business. In addition to knowing what federal labor posters you should have on hand, you should also visit the state labor office to determine the labor posters that are required in Pennsylvania.

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