Starting a Small Business is About More Than Getting the Format Right

When it comes to starting a small business, there are plenty of details to worry about — and some are more important to focus on at first than others.

I remember being really confused back when I started my first real business (aka not the little kid running around trying to sell rocks to the neighborkids-type business.) At the time, I did a whole bunch of research because I had no idea what setting up an official business entailed.

I got books from the library, got forms and booklets from the state, checked to see what the Small Business Association had to say on the topic, etc.

The general consensus seemed to be that I needed to put together a business plan, get bank financing, get legal and tax counsel, and fill out all sorts of paperwork. So I spent a whole bunch of time doing those things, and then finally got things going. Meaning, you know, I started working on finding customers. (Which is actually the important part when it comes to making money in your business.)

Looking back, I have to say that while getting legal and tax advise so you understand the implications of what you’ll be doing is important, not everyone is going to be starting an enormous corporation right off the bat. Some of us (in fact, many of us!) don’t need financing to get a business going, and we maybe don’t need to start things out at the most complicated level right off the bat.

Sometimes being a sole proprietor (one of the simplest forms of business) can work out just fine. And a sole proprietorship is ridiculously easy to start. In fact, as Inc. points out in their article on starting one, “Sole proprietorships are so easy to establish that you may already own one without realizing it.” — as my son discovered when he did his taxes this year for the first time.

Of course, you should get advise on what type of business would be best in your situation, and what you need to do to meet the legal and taxing authority requirements in your area, but those aren’t what you should get hung up on.

You also shouldn’t get hung up on the “trappings” of business. You know, things like logos, business cards, fancy office furniture, and equipment. You can be in business without any of those things. You can even be doing well in business without any of those things.

Finally, you shouldn’t wait until everything is perfect before launching — because things will never be perfect. Test, test, and test some more, but get things going and get your first customer while you’re doing that. You can always make modifications and improvements along the way. (And you should.)

The point is, there are plenty of places to get advice on the technical things you have to do in order to form a business, and there’s plenty of time later to develop a logo, or to improve your web site. But those aren’t the things that will help you to start making a profit in your business.

What’s a whole lot more important to focus on at first are things like:

  • Figuring out what you’ll do if things don’t go as planned
  • Understanding your target market
  • Finding out what your customers want
  • Getting your product or service out there by providing exactly that
  • And then getting your first customers and keeping them

You can’t do any of that by focusing on the paperwork, and no one else can do those things for you. So put your energy toward what’s really important long-term first, and then get the details taken care of in a timely manner so you can get your business going.

Have you started a small business? Was your experience similar to mine? Do you have other suggestions on things to avoid being hung up on?


  • Kim

    You are right about not needing a lot of trappings. But you do need clientele. You can’t pay bills without cash flow. You really need to keep records of all your receipts and expenses. Try not to be disorganized in this area of your life. You also must have a strong work ethic.

  • Although paperwork has some importance, operating the business requires a lot of different hats. It is usually the role that you are weakest, you spend the most time on.

    • That makes sense, but I wonder if we might not be better off spending the most time on ours strengths instead.