While corporately-owned big box and chain businesses continue to dominate America, a slow but steady return of mom and pop restaurants, pharmacies, coffee shops, hardware stores, and more is underway as customers seek more personalized and individual experiences from stores. For many people who dream of opening, owning, and running a small business, this renewed emphasis on local, independent consumer choices is encouraging.
However wading into territory where companies with much deeper pockets and extensive know-how have already established themselves can still feel intimidating. If you’re looking into embarking on a path of entrepreneurship, here are four keys to keep in mind before you open your own brick-and-mortar business.
1. Do Your Research
The kind of research you need to do is determined largely by the kind of store you want to open. Talk to family members and friends who have started businesses. Check out books from your local library that offer assistance in starting businesses within your desired field or industry. Turn to business organizations for advice, help, loan information, and more.
The U.S. Small Business Association and the National Federation of Independent Businesses are two organizations at the national level with scores of great articles and insight that can help with everything from understanding your demographic to marketing more effectively. Your local chamber of commerce is also an invaluable resource tailored specifically to the community in which your store will operate.
2. Understand Your Expenses
Once you’re armed with a reasonable amount of initial research, it’s time to dig deep into the upfront expenses that opening and operating will require. You’ll have real estate costs, inventory to purchase, salaries to pay, in-store product displays to buy or replace (whether you need pharmacy shelving or jewelry cases), insurance of various types, licenses and permits to purchase and renew, taxes to save for, utilities, and more. Truly understanding the amount of money you’ll need to operate is an essential initial step in ensuring you have everything at your disposal to be successful.
3. Offer What Your Competition Can’t
Once you feel settled with what opening and operating your business will cost you, it’s time to think about what your store will offer customers that your competitors can’t or don’t. The chances are good that there are other shops within your niche in your community, and they may have established customer bases, access to larger inventory, larger advertising budget, and more.
Put yourself in the shoes of your potential customers, and consider what it is that they need. From no-questions-asked-money-back guarantees to a store design that provides its own unforgettable experience, separate yourself from your competitors by offering a slew of customer-friendly features your competitors don’t.
4. Develop a Solid Business Plan
Once you understand the small business you wish to start and the money you’ll need to operate, it’s time to develop a solid business plan that will keep you on track toward reaching your goals and help you secure a business loan. Considered a “living document,” because it will change and shift as your real business landscape does, a business plan projects roughly three to five years into the future and outlines the ways in which you plan to make money and grow revenue. Here are some other standard features on a solid business plan:
- Executive Summary. This portion summarizes your business’s overall profile and goals.
- Company Description. In this section, you can expound on what you do and what makes your business unique.
- Market Analysis. Here is where you record your findings about your industry, the current market, and your competitors.
- Structure. Outline your management and organizational structure here.
- Services or Products. Detail what you plan to sell and how it will help your customers.
- Marketing and Sales. In this section, outline your marketing plans and sales strategies from Internet ads to traditional methods.
- Funding Request. If you need a business loan, include your request for funds in this portion, as well as any financial projections you can make about the future.
- Appendix. Resumes, permits, and leases — whatever you need to look and be legitimate, include it here.
Opening your own small business takes a fair amount of courage, know-how, preparation, and money, but with enough effort and wisdom, it’s a dream almost anyone can bring to fruition.