Starting a business is challenging, exhilarating and the potential seems unlimited. Once you open your doors, though, the real work starts. We want to help you stay on the path to success.
Here are some tips we’ve distilled from working with hundreds of Wisconsin businesses over the past 80-plus years:
- Refer to your business plan. A business plan should lay out your concept, three-to-five-year goals, strategies for achieving those goals, revenue and expense projections. If you started your business without such a plan, develop one as soon as possible. If you have a plan, make it your North Star. It will help you spot issues early on, so you can make course corrections before serious problems develop.
- Take advantage of free resources. SCORE, which offers free business mentoring and education, has seven chapters throughout Wisconsin. The executives who volunteer there can offer experience-based advice on a range of issues, such as an unexpected competitor or marketing challenge. SCORE works closely with the U.S. Small Business Administration, another free resource.
- Establish systems and processes. Create and document methods for paying bills, paying taxes, maintaining permits, invoicing, etc. This will streamline your business operations and allow someone else – an employee or new partner – to step in and run things if you become unavailable for any reason.
- Keep detailed records. Records, especially financial records, are essential for you to accurately assess your business’ health. Prospective investors will also require a complete set of records.
- Obtain business insurance. Policies that cover a business’ property, company vehicles, and protect against liability will keep your start-up from being crippled by unexpected losses. A comprehensive business policy can be an affordable way to cover a range of liabilities. Review your policy annually with your agent to make sure your coverage keeps up with your business’ growth. Request a quote for free to see if you could save!
- Create an identity. A logo, business cards, a website, stationery, social media accounts such as LinkedIn and Twitter, flyers and advertising are all tools for making an impression on your target customers and keeping your business top of mind. If you don’t have a big budget, investing in a logo and business cards should still be a priority.
- Line up trusted suppliers and service providers. Ask other small business owners to recommend lawyers, accountants, IT consultants and others who have experience working with new businesses and can help when you need it.
- Keep track of the competitive landscape. Know who your competitors are and what they are doing in the market, so you can counter, or copy them. Don’t be afraid to take good ideas and put them into practice in your business, as long as they aren’t another company’s intellectual property.
- Maintain a financial cushion. Start your business with three to six months of living expenses on hand and replenish that fund as soon as you can if you draw on it. Most start-ups take some time to generate consistent cash flow. Worrying about where your next mortgage or rent payment is coming from will pull your focus away from the business, and potentially lead to bad decisions.
- Network. Use every opportunity to promote your new venture to friends, associates and family. Word of mouth is a powerful marketing tool.
Finally, at the end of your first year of operation, take some time to evaluate what worked and what didn’t, and refine your products, marketing and sales approach accordingly. Contact your local Rural Mutual agent for additional tips and insights specific to your community.