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Starting a Business in Maryland: Everything You Need to Know

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Maryland may be home to major corporations like Under Armour, Marriott International, and GEICO, but it boasts an equally vibrant community of small businesses, too. According to the SBA, small businesses made up 99.5% of all businesses in Maryland in 2018, employing 50.2% of the state’s workforce. And research shows that Maryland is an especially friendly environment for marginalized entrepreneurs—in 2018, the state had the most female- and minority-owned businesses per-capita of any state in the nation. So whether you’re a native Marylander or you’re considering a move to the Old Line State, entrepreneurs may be curious about what it takes to start a business in Maryland.

We’ve got you covered. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the nine steps it takes to start a business in Maryland so you can join this state’s robust and inclusive community of fellow entrepreneurs.

How to start a business in Maryland in 9 steps

Ready to get started? These tips will have you running a business in no time.

1. Write a business plan

Behind every successful business owner is a strong business plan.

Your business plan provides you with an actionable roadmap detailing how you’ll start, run, and grow your business. Beyond that, the simple act of writing your business plan offers you the opportunity to think seriously about why you’re starting your business, and to parse what can seem to be the massive job of launching your business into smaller, digestible pieces. Luckily, there are lots of available resources that break down the seemingly overwhelming task into a manageable process.

For starters, take a look at our step-by-step guide on how to write a business plan, which provides guidance about all eight sections typically found in traditional business plans. A business plan template can also simplify the process of writing your business plan. You can also visit your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC) or SCORE chapter for personalized guidance about how to write a business plan to best suit your particular business. Finally, business plan software can also make quick work of this step.

2. Name your business

If you haven’t already, now is the time to come up with a business name. In addition to needing a business name for obvious reasons, you’ll need to commit to a name in order to officially register your business with the state of Maryland.

But coming up with a viable business name requires a few steps beyond brainstorming. Most importantly, you’ll need to make sure that that name is actually available for use. To do so, search for your name on Google, check for trademark filings through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and conduct a business entity search through the Maryland Secretary of State’s website to find out whether another Marylander is doing business under your potential name.

Once you have the all-clear, we’d highly recommend buying your domain name and creating social media accounts on your platforms of choice with your business name. That way, you can start your marketing efforts as soon as possible.

3. Choose a business structure

After choosing an available business name, in order to register your business with the state of Maryland you’ll need to determine your business’s legal structure. Beyond enabling you to register your business at all, the type of business entity you choose will determine how you’re taxed, your degree of personal liability, your ownership structure, and whether you can hire employees.

The four most common business structures in Maryland are sole proprietorships, partnerships, corporations, and LLCs. Among business owners generally, LLCs are the most popular option; they’re easy to register for, their ongoing requirements are minimal, and they afford you both legal protection and the ability to choose how you would like to be taxed. In addition to reading up on our guide to business entity types, we’d highly recommend working with a business attorney, accountant, or other professional to ensure that the structure you choose makes the most sense for your unique business.

Whichever business entity you choose, you’ll need to make sure you comply with your structure’s particular ongoing requirements. If not, you run the risk of getting slapped with “Not in Good Standing” status, which can then lead to forfeiture (which, in plain English, means you won’t be allowed to conduct business in Maryland). Learn more about your ongoing requirements and maintaining Good Standing status through Maryland Business Express.

4. Register your business  

Once you’ve chosen your business structure, you can go ahead and register your business with the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation. You can do so through the Maryland Business Express online filing portal. Keep in mind that sole proprietorships and general partnerships aren’t required to register with the state.

After your business has been approved for registration, you’ll be issued an SDAT identification number. This is the state’s own identifier for your business, and it’s different from your EIN number (more on that next).

5. Register for taxes

That EIN we just mentioned is short for employer identification number, and it acts a bit like a social security number for your business. It’s how the IRS identifies your business for tax and other purposes.

Sole proprietors with no employees and LLCs with no employees aren’t technically required to apply for an EIN. But as you’ll likely need an EIN to apply for a business loan, open a business bank account, and hire employees, it’s still recommended that these entities do so. Plus, applying for an EIN is quick and easy. You can do it online through the IRS website in a matter of minutes.

Depending on your entity type, industry, and business activities, you might need to apply for tax accounts at a state level, too. For example, businesses that make sales and collect sales taxes will need to register for a sales and use tax license; and if you pay employee wages, then you’ll need to register an employer’s withholding tax account. The Maryland Comptroller’s office has a full list of business tax types for your reference.

6. Obtain licenses and permits

Most Maryland businesses will need to obtain a business permit in order to operate legally. Depending on your industry, you and any employees you hire may need to be properly licensed to practice in your field, as well. Head to the Maryland Licensing OneStop Portal to search and register for licenses and permits issued by state agencies. You can also stop in at your local SCORE or SBDC chapter if you need help figuring out your particular business’s permitting and licensing requirements.

7. Purchase business insurance

Purchasing some form of business insurance is recommended for the vast majority of business types; but the exact type of coverage you choose depends on your industry, whether you have employees, your business activities, whether you have a brick-and-mortar location, and other risk factors particular to your business. Also note that business owners with employees are required by the state to purchase certain types of insurance, including health insurance, unemployment insurance, and workers compensation insurance.

For most business owners, we recommend purchasing (or looking into) general liability insurance at a minimum. This type of insurance can provide protection against a host of legal claims taken against your business by a client, vendor, or another company. You can consult our guide to small business insurance to learn more about the nine most common types of coverage for small business owners. The Maryland Insurance Administration can also provide information and assistance for Maryland business owners seeking coverage.

8. Organize your finances

A crucial step for anyone starting a business in Maryland, or any state for that matter, is to set up a barrier between their personal and business finances. Beyond simply looking more professional, creating a separation between your finances will ensure that your personal assets are protected in case your business runs into legal trouble. It’ll also make filing both your personal and business taxes about a million times easier.

Start by opening a dedicated business bank account. If you’re happy with the bank you’re using for your personal finances, it makes logistical sense to open a business bank account with the same institution. Since banks value loyalty, they often offer their consumer clients discounts and other perks when they’re opening a business bank account, as well. Regardless, we always recommend exploring all your options, so take a look at our guide to the best business bank accounts. It’s also a good idea to consult our guide to the best banks for small business to learn about the banks that can offer your business additional products and services as you grow.

Next, apply for a business credit card. Business credit cards are surprisingly easy even for brand-new businesses to be approved for—if you can’t provide your business’s financial information on the application (which is often the case for barely-launched businesses), then you can usually provide your personal financial information instead.

Once you have your credit card, be mindful of only using it for your business-related expenses to maintain that barrier between your finances. Use it for your business’s smaller, daily expenses—and, just as you would with your personal card, be careful not to spend over your credit limit. Doing so can ding your credit score pretty substantially, which may hurt your chances of securing a business loan down the line.

To keep track of your finances, we recommend purchasing accounting software. With the right accounting software, you can streamline, automate, and essentially entirely outsource this otherwise difficult and time-consuming task.

9. Explore your funding options

As you well know, it takes money to make money (there’s a reason why that cliché persists!). Typically, however, entrepreneurs don’t receive startup funding from brick-and-mortar banks. Banks are notoriously risk-averse, so businesses without a proven track record of financial solvency will have a very hard time being approved for a traditional business loan.

There are lots of other funding avenues for startups to explore, however. Along with bootstrapping, most entrepreneurs use a portion of their own savings to open their doors. If tapping into your own funds isn’t an option, or if you still need a boost, you can consider applying for a personal loan from your bank. Provided you have a strong credit score, personal loans are more accessible for brand-new entrepreneurs, as you won’t need to provide financial information about your business (just yourself). You can use your personal loan for virtually any purpose—including, of course, launching your business.

You might also seek loans from family and friends who are supportive of your venture. But if you choose this route, we recommend drafting a contract with the help of a lawyer. This will avoid any potential snafus with your family and friends—because even opening your dream business is just not worth sacrificing your most important relationships for.

Beyond that, you can look into crowdfunding, Kiva loans, angel investors and other forms of equity financing, small business grants, and business incubators. If you’re intent on a debt-based business loan, you might have the best luck applying for invoice financing, equipment financing, or a business line of credit from an online lender, as these loans tend to be more accessible to new business owners—provided these forms of funding will actually be of use for your particular business, of course. Consult our guide to startup funding for more information about some of the best financing options for brand-new business owners.

We’d also recommend consulting Maryland’s Funding Programs page to learn about state-specific financing incentives, assistance, and benefits for Maryland small business owners.

Starting a business in Maryland: The next steps

As you’re completing steps one through nine, you should also begin to implement at least a few elements of your small business marketing plan.

Assuming you bought your domain name back in Step 2, you can start by building your business website—which is a lot easier than you may fear, even if you’re typically technophobic. We recommend using a website builder like Squarespace or Wix, which offer plenty of professionally designed templates, built-in SEO tools, and even ecommerce functionality if you want to sell your goods or services online. As we also mentioned, you should create social media accounts on your preferred platforms (Facebook and Instagram are pretty non-negotiable) and start posting high-quality content regularly. Be sure to respond to comments and messages promptly and kindly, too.

This should be just the start of launching a long-running marketing scheme. Because, as you know, the work doesn’t end as soon as Step 9 does: Starting a business in Maryland is a continual labor of love. But by following the nine steps we’ve covered here, you’re setting up your new business with the strongest possible foundation.

This article originally appeared on JustBusiness, a subsidiary of NerdWallet.

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How to Grow Your Small Business Startup: 4 Essential Steps

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Around 90% of startups fail. And while some of those failures can be attributed to bad luck, many others were the result of poor decisions at the early stages of building the company. 

But while that statistic may seem discouraging, it can also provide motivation to those entrepreneurs who are willing to follow the best practices of launching a startup and push through the various challenges that will inevitably come up during the process.

With the help of a few simple (but fundamental) strategies, you can separate yourself from the majority of other startups and give yourself a real shot of making a product that will break through and make a difference.

To help you get started, let’s look at four crucial aspects of launching a startup that you should consider.

Start with the “Why?”

The number one thing you should do when launching a new company is to ask yourself a simple question:

Why is this solution necessary? 

There are millions of startups globally, and the majority of them would fail to provide a viable answer. Some just want to break into a hot market because they think that will increase their chances of success. Others believe they have a unique idea without knowing whether there’s any demand for it. 

But in most cases, ideas that might seem reasonable at first glance crumble when their purpose is questioned even a little.

So, if you want to avoid pouring your heart and soul into a project only to find out that it was a waste of time, it’s a good idea to spend a fair amount of time thinking about the core purpose of your product and the effort it will take to launch it.

Most of the successful startups you might have heard in recent years started with a very clear idea of the purpose behind the company. It can be a feature that no other product in the market can offer. Or, it might be a unique process for solving a problem that will change the industry forever.

Most of the time, there’s at least a clear answer to why the startup needs to exist in the first place. If you strip away the gimmicks and the additional features, you should still be left with the core idea of what you can offer that no one else can.

Take Care of Your Employees

No matter how you decide to finance your startup, you won’t be able to go forward alone for long. And that means that at some point, you will need to figure out how you’ll take on employees and ensure that they are happy and protected.

Then, there are various state and federal regulations that determine how much paperwork you’ll need to file out, what protections you’ll need to offer, and countless other details that someone outside of the HR world has probably never dealt with.

Because of that, startups can benefit from using HR outsourcing services that can take over the entire process. The team at SnackNation recommends using services like Bambee or Workday, which provide comprehensive solutions for companies of all sizes.

These companies can offer HR consulting, benefits administration, performance management, payroll, bookkeeping, and various other services that can be a hassle to manage on your own when you’re just starting a new company and have a lot on your plate already.

Plus, it ensures that you implement the best HR practices of today and that your employees are taken care of. And that will make attracting the top talent you need for growth that much easier.

Use a Proven Website Platform

Launching a startup is impossible without a strong web presence. And that inevitably starts and ends with your website. But if you don’t have experience with building and designing websites, the entire process can be a bit overwhelming.

The good news is that with a platform like WordPress, you can have a website set up in a matter of days if you want something simple. But at the same time, the platform offers robust customization capabilities and it can get a bit confusing when picking the right ones. That’s why it’s a good idea to curate your own WordPress toolbox that includes a wide variety of powerful themes, plugins, add-ons and WordPress resources that you know would always work for your website. 

In the end, you want to find fast hosting, install robust security features, and provide a seamless User Experience (UX) to all of your site’s visitors.

Designing a site from scratch can be appealing. But WordPress can give you enough versatility to get any features you need while remaining user-friendly enough to keep costs down and provide you with a simple way to get started.

Maintain Focus

As a startup owner, you will probably never run out of avenues you could pursue. Whether it’s the new shiny marketing tool or a promising networking opportunity, there will be times when you’ll want to do everything at once because that’s what could give the company the best chance of success.

But in reality, maintaining focus and clarity in terms of priorities might be the most practical choice for your startup in the long term.

By only focusing on a few things at a time, you will allow yourself to really give them time, tweaking your approach until you find what’s working. Moving on to something else is easy, but then you might miss out on incredible opportunities because you were too quick to dismiss something without giving it a real shot.

So, whether it’s a marketing approach or adding features to your product, always weigh the potential benefit against the resources it would require and against how it would impact what you’re doing right now.

Sure, at some point, you will need to cut your losses with projects that didn’t pan out. But it’s a good idea to stick with them for a bit longer than you might want to, especially if you know that it’s a sound strategy that could deliver big if you would just find the right approach. 

Final Words

Launching a successful startup is a dream that drives millions of entrepreneurs worldwide. But only those that follow sound business principles and are disciplined in their decision-making can expect to see success.

The strategies listed above may not be flashy, but they represent essential parts of running and scaling a startup. And sometimes, taking care of the less flashy details like HR management can set you up for exceptional results in the future.

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Starting a new online business during the pandemic: Two COVID-era tales of renewal in Miami

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The pandemic forced more than three-quarters of small businesses across the U.S. to temporarily close up shop in the spring of 2020, and thousands have since shut down for good.

But the COVID-19 pandemic also led to a record number of people trying to start their own businesses: 4.5 million filed new business applications in 2020, according to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by the Economic Innovation Group.

That’s the highest number ever and a 24% increase from 2019.

 

And the momentum isn’t slowing. The Census Bureau says 492,000 new business applications were received in January 2021, a 43% jump over the previous month. Many more informal businesses are believed to have been created, often as side hustles, but never registered.

Few cities saw more aspiring entrepreneurs than Miami. Although new business creation was not distributed evenly across racial and socio-economic lines, green shoots of entrepreneurship popped up across the metro area, helping to bring a dose of resilience to the local economy.

[At the same time, untold numbers of existing small businesses — restaurants, neighborhood shops, salons — decided to establish a digital presence, allowing them to find new customers and take orders from beyond their immediate area.

In all, the number of digitally connected microbusinesses in Miami-Dade County rose 6.7% from 2019 to 2020, according to data from GoDaddy’s Venture Forward project, which studies the economic impact of these small online businesses. The Miami metro area, which includes the neighboring cities of Fort Lauderdale and Pompano Beach, has more microbusinesses per 100 people than any other large metro area in the country.

These everyday entrepreneurs make a big impact on their communities, with each new one leading to the creation of two additional jobs, Venture Forward data shows. Additionally, each new microbusiness per 100 people can reduce the unemployment rate by .05 percentage points.

And between 2016 and 2019, every microbusiness per 100 people that’s active online was associated with a $485 increase in a community’s household median income.

Here are the stories of two inspiring women entrepreneurs who took the initiative when the pandemic upended their lives.

Natasha Nails: Rethinking the press-on

It took a painful case of contact dermatitis, a type of allergy, following a visit to a nail salon for Natasha Williams to come up with an online business idea for the future of press-on nails.

The Miami native, who lives in Little Havana, has had her nails done since her teens.

But after her allergic reaction in March 2020, she was forced to switch to press-on nails that used hypoallergenic adhesive pads.

Unhappy with the appearance of what was available — they felt cheap and plasticky — Williams started buying clear nails and hand painting them with her favorite colors and designs.

Around the same time, the pandemic shut down the local economy. A well-known tap dance performer and teacher around Miami, Williams suddenly had a lot of time as lessons and gigs dried up.

By July, buoyed by the admiring comments she got from friends and strangers on the street, she realized there was a market for her creations, so she quickly built an online store and Natasha Nails opened for business.

At first, it was as much a hobby as a career plan. But soon she started asking questions and understanding the opportunity was real.

Why did women tend to apply press-on nails and leave them on and then throw them out? Given how easy they are to remove and reapply, particularly the adhesive-pad type, wouldn’t it be more fun and affordable to have collections of nails so they could match outfits or daily moods, the way they choose which shoes to wear or purse to carry?

“I want people to be able to mix and match, like ‘let’s see what I have in my closet to wear today,’” she says.

If she can popularize this approach, women may one day not feel obliged to suffer the daily inconveniences of wearing long nails.

“Just try typing all day with these things on,” she laughs, showing off long, olive nails. “You really can’t do much. And anyone who tells you differently is lying!”

While her new business doesn’t make enough money for her to quit her teaching, she spends about the same number of hours on both.

That includes 30 minutes each morning tending to her growing Instagram account — where she has amassed more than 5,000 followers who account for most of the orders on her website — and a few hours in the evening painting nails, including custom orders, and packaging up boxes for customers who opt for her monthly subscriptions.

Many challenges remain ­— particularly how to scale production beyond her ability to hand-paint nails while maintaining the artistic quality. But Williams is definitely a long-term thinker who hopes that, some day, her creations will be featured at major retailers.

“I don’t see obstacles as problems, but as challenges,” she says of the process of building a company. “You just have to follow the steps.”

Read more about Natasha’s story here.

Starting an online charcuterie-to-go

Like so many healthcare workers around the world, Maryam Kheirabi faced new demands when the pandemic hit. An oncology pharmacist with a Miami-area hospital, she suddenly had more hours, more stress and more fears of the unknown.

To deal with the growing pressure, Kheirabi decided she needed a new activity, something that would take her mind off her stressful job and give her a newfound source of fulfillment.

That’s when Fig & Brie, a charcuterie-to-go business, was born.

 

“I’m happiest when I’m extremely busy, and I wanted to create something beautiful for people to share,” she says. “In a way, I think the business got me through the worst days of the pandemic. It gives me hope, and hopefully it gives other people hope, as well.”

The idea came to her soon after the pandemic began, when she saw groups of friends eating from plastic containers full of snacks at a park across the street from her home for socially distanced get-togethers.

“How cool would it be to have a charcuterie box to go,” she remembers thinking. It would give people the option to pre-order a food board that could be delivered just when it was needed.

A native of Queens, N.Y., who moved to Miami with her speech pathologist husband in 2016, Kheirabi grew up being responsible for creating food platters for family gatherings.

“We Persians are very big on hospitality, and I never lost my love for creating beautiful, delicious things,” she says.

Once the first spike in COVID-19 cases began to ease in August, she started doing research, which included the creation of a variety of charcuterie platters for colleagues at the hospital.

A cousin in New Jersey agreed to help her secure a domain name and choose website-building tools.

“The rest was left up to me, but it was mostly dealing with aesthetics, which I love, anyway,” she says.

In early November, Fig & Brie officially launched, with a range of offerings, from a $20 “solo” platter to an $85 “soiree” box.

The seed capital was $2,000 that her husband, Francisco, urged her to take from their savings, with the understanding that they wouldn’t spend any more if the business wasn’t profitable after a month. She ended up spending $1,900 of it in that time, but by early December the business was making money.

Kheirabi’s digital marketing strategy initially was solely based on Instagram, in part because she wanted to grow slowly at first. But sales jumped more quickly than expected over the holidays, as friends and fans spread the word. One local real estate broker ordered platters as gifts to her clients.

It wasn’t easy, but she and her husband managed to keep up with demand while maintaining their jobs in healthcare. It helps that most orders come on Thursdays or Fridays, for delivery on Saturday.

Francisco does everything from taking photos to taste-testing to driving their only car around the city making deliveries. When he once asked what he would be paid for all his work, she quipped, “Sorry, but we pay in cheese.”

Her near-term goal is to have enough demand to hire a driver or two, and then to find a way to ship around the U.S. (That will require some innovation, to either find a way to keep fruits and veggies crunchy and fresh, or to come up with boards that meet her standards without those foods.)

Ultimately, she’d like to open a storefront in Miami and share her business model so women in other places could follow suit.

“I wouldn’t be doing this if it was only for the money,” she says. “That’s just icing on the cake.” The primary reward, other than enriching customers’ lives, is to empower women, including herself.

“We’re living in a time when women are standing up and taking charge of themselves,” she says. She even welcomes the competition from other female-owned online charcuteries in the city. “There’s enough demand to go around,” she says. “Women shouldn’t compete with each other. We should lift each other up.”

Related: Research shows that women have what it takes to make great CEOs

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New to Entrepreneurship: Here Are 6 Tips You Can Bank On

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Entrepreneurship is not a career, it is a life choice. Many people have mind-blowing business ideas. It’s almost enticing to jump right into starting up your new business. But as fun, as that sounds, the reality of running a successful business is a lot more complicated than that.

Most times opening up a business is usually a learn-as-you-go experience, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are essential tips that when implemented well can be the smartest decision you will ever make for your business.

Brand Your Business

What does the term branding mean to you? Most people perceive branding as the logo, colors, and visual component that you associate your business with, but it’s a little more than that. Branding is the entire identity of the business. It is what makes your business stand out in crowds.

In a fast-growing business world, it is important to create a strong brand for your business. This way it outshines your competitors, gets people’s attention, and makes it more recognizable. Branding gives you a chance to get some control over how people perceive your business. 

Build a Team

Manpower is a vital part of any successful company. It is significant for ensuring that operations are running smoothly and efficiently. Coming up with a good workforce is the secret ingredient for achieving a good relationship between your company and your customers. They are the face of the company and give an essence of the human touch to your business.

It can not go unmentioned that with improved technology manpower is rapidly being replaced with machines. That said, creating and maintaining a reasonable amount of manpower for your business can be a life-saver hack. Coming up with a team of educated and well-trained individuals will improve productivity, provide innovations, and maintain the relevance of your business in the market, something technology can’t provide.

Buy Raw Materials in Bulk

Depending on what your company’s end product is, consider purchasing the raw materials required at wholesale. Stockpiling the raw materials when they are at their lowest prices is a money-saving hack. Buying raw materials at a low enough wholesale price reduces the cost of production and in the long run, maximizes profits from your retail sales.

Consider finding a reliable wholesale distributor, this makes purchasing more efficient and you are assured of the quality of materials you will be getting. Ensure they supply within your geographical region, have prices you can afford and are trustworthy.

Advertise Your Business.

Promoting your business is a key aspect if you want to outshine your competitors and make your product or service known to your potential customers. Businesses have different ways of promoting their brands; they range from handing out flyers to postcards to brochures to advertisements in newspapers to online marketing.

Using social media platforms to promote your product or service is a no-brainer. It is the best way to get your name out there fast enough, while also providing solutions to about ninety percent of the population online searching for similar products. Some businesses opt to invest in a large indoor LED screen because of its efficiency in displaying stunning images. These types of screens are eye-catching, outstanding, and popular for their diversity in use, hence playing a major role in advertising brands.

As a business owner, take time to research which medium of advertisement will best suit your enterprise and proceed to invest in it.

Invest in Packaging

While most new business owners overlook the need to properly package their product you must seize the chance and stand out. packaging is the first touch that customers will have with your brand.

It is therefore important to create enticing packaging for your consumers that will draw attention to your brand. It is imperative to incorporate eye-catching shapes, colors, quotes, and packaging material that is unique to your brand. This will make the unpacking experience for your customers exciting and unique hence creating loyalty and enhancing customer retention. Keep in mind that with evolving people and markets, your packaging must evolve to keep up. 

Be Sure to Keep Records

For any business, accountability is key. Efficient record keeping will help to keep everything in order and help to analyze your company’s financial status, provide insight into what your real profit is, answer tax problems, or keep track of deductible expenses.

Precise record-keeping of finances and expenses throughout a business’s lifespan makes it easier for you to adjust your business plan accordingly to help solicit new business partners or investors. 

Even after a business picks up, managers are tempted to focus more on production and profits and overlook record-keeping, so don’t fall into this trap. 

Choosing whether to keep the record in soft copy or hard copy is totally dependent on the business owner’s preference.

Conclusion.

Let’s be honest, starting a new enterprise can be a little bit hectic because it requires a lot of planning, sacrifice, and money. That said if you have your business idea don’t wait for the right moment because it will never come. Take the leap and trust your instincts. All you need to do is apply the six tips explained above and you are good to go. Good luck setting up your new enterprise.

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