This coming year could be a big year for you and your business. You have decided to branch out! Perhaps you are planning to open a new store, sell your products online and at trade shows, or start distributing your own private label brand. This article assumes you have financing, a location and are ready for the next steps. Here are some very practical things you need to do right away to launch your business and provide a solid foundation for growth.

When starting out, begin by:

• Naming your business with originality and class, a moniker you won’t outgrow.

• Having a logo designed to use on your business cards, packaging and website. Branding your business starts now.

• Hiring an accountant to determine which form of business ownership is appropriate: sole proprietorship, partnership, Limited Liability Company (LLC), corporation, etc. You accountant will save you time and keep you up to date on tax requirements becoming an important business partner.

• Opening a separate business banking account. Next, obtain a tax identification number, workers’ compensation, unemployment and disability insurance and any required licenses and permits.

• Finding a business system that meets your needs. Hone your computer and technological skills to be able to manage your business efficiently. I am going to stop here and elaborate because I have found this to be of great importance.

My business and artistic experience in magazine publishing would serve me well when I started my own company 10 years ago, but it didn’t prepare me for all the work that an owner must take on. The good news is that technology makes it possible to do many things yourself or with a small staff. For instance, my iPhone allows me to talk, text and email, but it also takes great pictures of my products. I surf the web to source suppliers, access my business system (Quickbooks Online App), load my website with new products (Big Commerce App) and do social media marketing anywhere I may be!

Your most important piece of technology will be the business system you choose. There are great products that provide everything you need. If you’re open to web-based options look at Quickbooks Online, which I chose because of its of ease of use, functionality, cost and the fact that most any accountant can work with it. It runs on a PC or Mac and does all I need to run my retail/wholesale/manufacturing business for a low monthly fee. Since it resides on the web, I can access it anywhere. Others systems that also receive high rankings are Monchilla and Xero.

If you have specific needs or a larger business you may need software developed specifically for the smoke shop industry, but for lower cost, integration possibilities, and flexibility I would highly advise you to research the systems above before you go that route. Your accountant or bookkeeper can help you set it up and have you running in hours.

You will use your business system to create customer profiles, product categories, invoices, job estimates, track payments, write checks/deposit slips, calculate sales tax and view reports on your company’s performance. Some systems may have payroll and inventory modules. Review your needs and ask people with similar businesses to show you how they work and what systems they use. For instance, you can calculate and record your payroll in a spread sheet, while a larger company, might outsource this function. Inventory control and point of purchase functions are important for a retail store owner, but a web-based retail business might manage inventory via their website/shopping cart platform. In general, the systems I mentioned will provide all you need. Spreadsheets can also be used for this purpose as well.

Photography is a vitally important part of your business, second only to the product itself. If you or one of your staff can take good quality pictures in-house it will save you money and enhance your marketing efforts. Fresh images are needed to sell and promote on your website, Facebook or just for sending line sheets or images to your customers. Knowing Photoshop will bring your photos to perfection. While time consuming, my iphone photos and Photoshop let me create fresh photography in-house at the drop of a dime. Consider having someone on staff who can help you with this.

A new retail business will require designing, purchasing, production, selling, marketing, promotion, display, managing staff, purchasing supplies, customer service, shipping, inventory control and bookkeeping. Any one of these can easily become a full time job. Build a solid foundation for your business, stay focused and organized and it will be able to grow.

The next article will cover tips on building a website, social media options and further steps in creating your new business! SSA

older headshotAfter a long career in magazine publishing Pam Older left that hectic lifestyle behind and rediscovered a passion for small business. In 2000, she launched Pam Older Designs in 2003 and has been featured in Oprah Magazine in an article about “Finding the Career of Your Dreams”, among other publications, galleries, and stores around the US. Pam can be contacted at [email protected]