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Ask the Patch Pro: Local Experts Answer Questions About Starting Your Own Business

Our panel of experts are waiting in the comments to answer your questions about starting a business in the latest installment of Ask the Patch Pro.

It's time for another edition of Ask the Patch Pro, where each week we tackle a different topic and open up the comments section for questions. Our team of experts stop in to help you out and answer your questions.

This week we're talking business. Thinking about starting your own business, but not quite sure where to start? Patch wants to help you find answers to your questions this week, but we needed some help.

We've compiled a team of experts to help us out. Meet the experts:

  • Irene Liu: CEO, iReignMarketing
  • Christopher Bent: Attorney
  • Mary Kausch:Chief Insight Officer at HR etc!
  • Richard Moore, M.D.: Medical Director/President of The Lifestyle Center in Clayton
  • Robin Tidwell: Author/All on The Same Page Bookstore/Rocking Horse Publishing
  • Brenda S. Doblinger: Sales Manager for SIGNARAMA, St. Charles
  • Darryl J. Sandweg: Senior Vice President Peoples Bank & Trust Co., O'Fallon
  • Christopher Thornton: Attorney/Small Business Owner 

Have a question? Ask our experts in the comment section below! 

Robin Tidwell February 28, 2013 at 03:40 PM
Cherryl, there are a number of simple websites you can use to get started - my personal favorite is Weebly. You can choose templates, colors, and customize with photos and fonts, etc. There are media and revenue options as well, so you can set up an online store. A domain name runs around $40 a year - makes your site more professional and easier to find in search engines. I've found that it's a good idea to start the website as soon as possible, and put as much info as you have on it right away to start gaining interest in your product. Go to the Sect. of State website too, to register your DBA - "doing business as."
Robin Tidwell February 28, 2013 at 03:43 PM
We had a business plan for the bookstore, very detailed. THEN we jumped in! For publishing, I made a lot of notes. I'd encourage everyone to have a definite game plan, written, before jumping in, then revisit that plan every few months or so to check your progress or make adjustments.
Doblinger Brenda February 28, 2013 at 04:05 PM
Hi folks, my name is Brenda Doblinger from SIGNARAMA, St. Charles. For the past 11 years I was the Director of Training for a large franchise group and I trained new franchisees on entrepreneurship. In my next posting I will share with you a direct email from Joseph and my response to him.
Doblinger Brenda February 28, 2013 at 04:06 PM
Joseph asked where to begin to start a business: The first step is to assess yourself and really ask yourself if you have what it takes. I like the questions that the Small Business Administration has on their website: http://www.sba.gov/content/do-i-have-what-it-takes-ownmanage-small-business Once you realize that you have what it takes and nothing will deter you from succeeding, you MUST put a business plan together.. There are many types of resources for this crucial step and many have little or no cost to them. Head to your local library and do your research on writing a business plan—this is free! If you do have a little money to invest there are some off the shelf software applications you can purchase. I always recommend a master mind group as well—this could be friends, family, acquaintances, mentors, anyone who you value their area of expertise to bounce ideas off of. The business plan, if I haven’t stressed this enough is crucial—get all your thoughts and ideas down in writing. http://www.sba.gov/category/navigation-structure/starting-managing-business/starting-business/how-write-business-plan After you have a business plan started—get a mentor from the organization called SCORE: http://www.sba.gov/content/score As you can see the SBA has a lot of content to utilize and best of all—it’s FREE! Good luck Joe—looking forward to seeing your business plan.
Doblinger Brenda February 28, 2013 at 04:10 PM
Consult your CPA and Attorney who will help you to incorporate or not. It is ALWAYS worth the money to get expert advice from a professional. Bartering services might be an option to keep costs down for these services. If you don't ask you don't get. Good luck.
Doblinger Brenda February 28, 2013 at 04:12 PM
Don't just talk to one expert, what I like to do is ask people who may have been in my situation and what they did. Consult more than one expert and then evaluate the findings.
Doblinger Brenda February 28, 2013 at 04:15 PM
Unfortunately Red Lobster is not a franchise, it is corporate owned. If you like that concept seek out a Franchise Consultant who can find a similar franchise for you to run in the area. Email me directly at brenda@signarama-stcharles.com and I can connect you with a reputable Franchise Consultant in the area.
Doblinger Brenda February 28, 2013 at 04:22 PM
It is a MUST! It's not the plan itself that's important but the thinking and the research that goes into it that's important. And do it every year. I can't tell you how many business owners I know did not survive 2008 and 2009 (and 2010) simply because they didn't adapt to the current economic climate and see that their buying customers were changing. You should always be documenting what's working and not working and be researching as to who your buyers are. The SWOT analysis is so key. What are your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. The first two are internal (meaning they apply to you and your team) the second two are external (meaning the current business environment). Promise me you will do one!
Irene Liu February 28, 2013 at 04:57 PM
Hi Cherryl22, First I recommend carefully choosing your business name. This will be used for your blog, website and social media channels. Chose something unique but easy to remember - this will benefit you with online search results. Second, start blogging. WordPress is the largest self-hosted blogging platform in the world. Use it to showcase your art and tell a story for each of your creations. You need text in addition to images for optimum search results. Next, your website. So many options for building and hosting. Weebly, as mentioned by Robin, is easy to use, Wix is another free option. Or you can go with a company like GoDaddy, which is famous for selling domain names and hosting, but they help customers build websites too. I use them and their customer service is excellent (so important)! After website, launch your social media strategy. Facebook and Pinterest are excellent for promoting art. Google+ and LinkedIn are excellent for networking and improving search results. I personally love Twitter, but don't feel like you have to be everywhere all at once. Use social media to attract, engage and converse with your audience - to develop and enhance your professional image (your personal brand). Keep selling on social media to a minimum. The goal of social media is to direct online traffic to your website or art show, where you can make a sale. Fully integrated blog/web/social strategy is a winning formula. Good luck! - Irene http://about.me/reign/
Stephen Ross February 28, 2013 at 05:14 PM
That should have said,what is the first step to opening a restaurant ( Red Lobster) in Ofallon,MO
REM February 28, 2013 at 06:10 PM
Kalen - I made a business plan upfront and it was important. However, just as important, as I found my business plan was failing, I changed my focus. Planning should be an ongoing part of your business. Even though I am a sole proprietor, each year I still make out a budget. I focus on historical expenses and trends and try to adjust for future changes in the market and services we offer.
Ina February 28, 2013 at 06:16 PM
Question from Ina: I am starting a small business doing personalized paintings. Do I need a Tax Id? - Thanks
REM February 28, 2013 at 06:23 PM
It is always best to incorporate your business and keep a separate set of accounting books from your personal finances. To accomplish this you will need a Federal tax ID.
Robin Tidwell February 28, 2013 at 06:43 PM
I disagree, to a point, with REM. The def. of "small" to most people is probably just what you stated, Ina; the def. of "small" to banks and the SBA is very, very different. As long as you keep good records - or tax time will be a nightmare - you can use your SSN and operate as a sole proprietor. Incorporation is totally unnecessary until much later, if then.
REM February 28, 2013 at 09:46 PM
In my mind, if you are starting a business and are serious about it, you need to treat it like a business and set it up properly. If on the other hand, it is more of a hobby that may generate a little cash flow, then treat it as such.
Tina otte February 28, 2013 at 10:21 PM
I have been wanting to open an Italian deli for quite some time. What are the first steps I should take to make my dream a reality?
M Brock February 28, 2013 at 11:07 PM
Hi business pros, I would love to start a non profit food pantry but have no idea how to go about it. I believe I would have to apply for grants but I haven't a clue where to start. Any suggestions? Thanks so much!
Doblinger Brenda February 28, 2013 at 11:16 PM
Do a business plan and make sure you know where the money is coming from. The biggest part about working in food is cash flow, make sure you have a lot of reserves. Is there any way you can start by selling your signature sandwiches in another shop to build attention and funds before making the plunge to your own brick and mortar?
Robin Tidwell March 01, 2013 at 12:33 AM
Yes, and I agree that setting up properly to begin with is important - but not every type of business needs to be a corporation or have an FEIN. In your line of work, which is certainly more complicated with more permanent impact - I assume you are a physician - there are many, many more regulations and licensing involved. Not everyone will start a corporate venture, and not everyone needs to do so. It has little to do with "being serious" and everything to do with budgetary considerations. However, obtaining an FEIN is very little cost; incorporating, much more so. Not having one doesn't make a business a "hobby."
Chris Thornton March 01, 2013 at 01:27 AM
Lots of good questions here. Here is my $0.02. The main reason to incorporate or form an LLC is to mitigate liability risk. If this is not a large issue for you then, it is probably not that important. I find too many entrepreneurs worry far too much about what type of entity to form, division of ownership, company logos, etc. and not enough about getting and keeping customers. All of these things are important, but without customers, you are not a business or at least you won't be for long. Planning is a good thing, but in my opinion there are two things to avoid here: 1) analysis paralysis (i.e. spending too much time thinking and planning the business and not enough building it); and, 2) not allowing for changing circumstances. A great general once said "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy", a good business plan can help you prepare to fight the battle, but the war is won in the trenches (read here: getting and keeping customers). My advice . . . plan rough, get the business going a bit and pay attention to what works and why. This may sound impossible if you want to do something like start an Italian Deli, but perhaps you can get started by catering business lunches or selling sandwiches in a local park? The point is to get going and if it is a good idea and you enjoy it, you will run yourself ragged trying to keep up! Cheers, Chris
Robin Tidwell March 01, 2013 at 01:47 AM
Excellent response, Chris!
PaulRevere March 01, 2013 at 10:04 PM
If you sell a product that can get you sued, consider incorporation. Incorporation will limit your liability to whatever you have in the business. Sole proprietor is the simplest way to operate. I would only consider spending incorporation money after your sales reach over $15,000.
PaulRevere March 01, 2013 at 10:08 PM
S Corporation is the lowest Tax cost under corporate structure. C Corporations have 2 taxes. Once at corporate level and again taking the money out. There are exceptions , of course. Payroll and losses could negate double taxation. Usually corporations go from C to S, not from S to C.
PaulRevere March 01, 2013 at 10:11 PM
You don't legally need separation. But, a good practice to set up one dedicated checking account for Rental Property Income and expenses. Makes tax filing very easy.
PaulRevere March 01, 2013 at 10:22 PM
It is not always "best" to incorporate. It is always "best" to keep separate set of books, (whether incorporated or not). Everyone has a Federal Tax ID-- It is your soc sec number. Only those who employ people need a Federal Employer ID#. "Liability limitation" usually dictates incorporation route. Example: Every "Physician" should incorporate. No question about it. Incorporation is not about Record-keeping. It is about "LIABILITY". No Physician should even think about operating without LLC designation or incorporating. An attorney drafted Articles of Incorporation are highly suggested.
PaulRevere March 01, 2013 at 10:27 PM
Can you "cook"? Can you speak Italian.? Just kidding! Actually, if you can do this alone, then lesser problems. But, if you need employees, that makes you a people person. Do you have that in you.
PaulRevere March 01, 2013 at 10:34 PM
Chris, nice points. I have always suggested "aspiring" new business owners first work in their dream job under someone else. That experience can eliminate 50% of the mistakes made by "cold" starting your own operation. Pizza shops look easy. Work at one first, and see how the owner handles all the problems and settings and employees. This applies to any business.
Doblinger Brenda March 01, 2013 at 10:39 PM
I don't know a whole lot about non-profits, however, according to grantspace.org if you have a service that already exists then it will be harder to get money. Do your research! Investigate how many food pantries exist and determine the need that is not being served. Also, similar to what I recommended before, go and work in an existing food bank and learn from the mistakes they've made before taking on your own, they may be interested in a fiscal sponsorship for you to get started.
Miki McKee Koelsch March 04, 2013 at 05:06 AM
I've entered a partnership for handyman services. The business helps people do things or does things for them. We've formed and LLC and are not commingling funds. The bank suggested that we have two separate accounts, one depository only and one in which we deposit funds to cover expenses as necessary, so that if someone unlawfully gains access to the checking account, they don't get into the income account. Also Charter Business has suggested attaching the business cell phone to the home phone number. Does anyone have any experience or suggestions on either of these options?
Robin Tidwell March 04, 2013 at 02:25 PM
I don't see the benefit of two separate checking accounts, just more fees for the bank and more work for you and your partner. As for the phone - sounds to me like more of an expense again. Even if Charter doesn't charge a fee for this, if you're using a cell as a business phone why would you want it to ring to your home? In my experience, most people answer a home phone with "hello" which, by itself, is somewhat unprofessional.

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