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Small Business Success

Setting up a small business can seem intimidating and overwhelming. But if you already have an idea, you can find help in implementing it. In fact, the U.S. government has an agency, called the Small Business Administration, whose purpose is to "aid, counsel, assist and protect, insofar as is possible, the interests of small business concerns."

Established in 1953, the SBA actually found its roots earlier in the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, as a response to the Great Depression. During the Eisenhower administration, the official agency was formed, promising small businesses and entrepreneurs direct loans and a proportion of government contracts. You can read more on the history of the agency at the SBA site.

Today there are close to 30 million small businesses in the U.S. If you're thinking of joining those millions of entrepreneurs, the SBA can be one of your most trusted resources. "I send new business owners online to the SBA, as well as the Service Corp of Retired Executives (SCORE) site," says Denise O'Berry, president of The Small Business Edge Corporation, which consults on strategy, operations and customer service issues. "They are great places for someone beginning a business to get their feet wet."

Read The SBA Act first to determine if what you are envisioning actually fits within the guidelines of small business. Once you've done that, take a look at the online startup kit, one of the best places to begin turning your idea into reality.

While the idea of being your own boss may sound appealing to you, not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur. That's why the SBA recommends asking yourself a number of questions--including "Why am I starting a business?" and "Who is my competition?"--before taking any action. According to their Success Series, you truly have to believe in your idea if you're planning to start your own business, because of the long hours, energy and motivation necessary. Determining priorities is another important aspect.

Next you have to figure out what need this business fills in the economic community, in order to determine if it is a financially viable opportunity. A business plan can help you do that. And it's also necessary if you plan to apply for a loan or prove to potential customers, clients or investors the strength of your financial model. The SBA provides a guide to creating a business plan , which generally projects 3-5 years ahead and outlines the route a company intends to take to grow revenue.

The business plan should help you determine what resources are necessary for starting your operation. In most cases, those resources include capital. So what do you do if you don't have enough money? You can take a loan through SBA or banks, or seek investors. The SBA explains these methods, as well as how to write a loan proposal. You can also find a quick guide to SBA loan programshere. In the past decade, the SBA has given out more than $94.6 billion in loans.

You'll also have to do some research to make yourself aware of what laws and regulations govern your business. They can range from insurance requirements to occupational standards. You might want to visit the U.S. Patent and Trademark office if you have a unique concept that you'd like to legally protect, or the U.S. Department of Labor for information on minimum wage and providing benefits to employees. The IRS has a page dedicated to business owners, which can help you figure out how you'll need to set up your bookkeeping and what deductions you'll be able to take. You can even order the Small Business Products, such as "A Virtual Small Business Tax Workshop." Don't forget to apply for an Employer Identification Number!

Some of the best advice comes from those who've gone through the process themselves. "Through discussion lists, bulletin boards and online forums, new business owners can get advice on just about any business topic," O'Berry says. "Many experts lurk in these areas and are willing to offer advice to those who ask." She recommends Entrepreneurial Success Forum. Also, the SBA has severaldiscussion boards that can help you in your own ventures.

Government assistance of small businesses goes beyond the launch phases. If you have specific questions, take a look at some of the important FAQs--including why you need a business plan and how you can choose an accounting method--to see if your query is answered there.

If not, try the SBA's toll-free "Answer Desk" at 1-800-8-ASK-SBA (1- 800-827-5722), for referrals and information, or find your local SBA office. To learn about special workshops available to women, check out the Women's Business Centers.

Also, be sure to take advantage of the Small Business Learning Center, a virtual campus offering online courses, videos and chat sessions. Stay connected with the SBA on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

   --- M. Magnarelli

---ed. J. Borders

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