GSL column: Get your small business idea off to a good start

Note: This column appears in the September 2020 edition of Great Seal Living.

Even though we won’t know how much COVID-19 has impacted small businesses for quite a while, the number of people willing to take a shot at their dream is still steady. We see that at the Chillicothe Ross Chamber of Commerce.

From May 1 to July 24, we added 19 new members, including many first-time business owners. Each of them starts their business with a dream, but they also know that an idea alone won’t sell the merchandise, food, or whatever else you want to market to the public.

There are more than 965,000 small businesses with more than 2.2 million employees. Those statistics have changed since the COVID-related shutdowns of earlier in the year, but you get the point: In Ohio, small business is big business – which explains why so many people are willing to gamble on the dream.

Some believe they have a unique business idea, while others are trying to create a career that allows them to be their boss. Other business owners are looking to design a job that will grow as their business acumen grows and would rather invest in themselves rather than someone else.

But there are a variety of pitfalls for small business owners, too. Only about two-thirds of small businesses with employees survive at least two years, and half survive five years. So, if you are mulling over a business idea, it’s crucial to start with a solid beginning.

Here are a few things we talk about when prospective small businesses approach us with their ideas:

Have you done market research? Research is the difference between an idea and a smart, successful business. The data collected will help you find your customer base and could help you develop an advantage over the competition in your field. Visit for more specific places to find free data to help you build the research you need to make your business noticeable in the market.

It would help if you had a plan. Very few people build a house without a blueprint. A business plan is your business blueprint and guides you from the start-up phase to establishing your brand identity and, hopefully, a method for future growth. There are a variety of ways to write a business plan, so do a little research, which leads us to …

Get some help. You might be an expert on what you intend to sell, make, or do, but we can all take advice on how to run a business. Luckily, there are a variety of local resources that help you, including the Small Business Development Center, located in the Ohio State University South Centers in Pike County. Chris Smalley and Melissa Carter have worked with hundreds of businesses across southern Ohio and can help you develop your plan and find the strategies to help your business succeed.

Plan your finances. Depending on what you want to do, you may not need a lot of operating capital, but Chris and his team can also help you find money to help provide the initial investment to get your business off the ground. Financing, small business grants, and loans, investors, and crowdfunding are some options to think about as you engage this part of your idea.

Choose your business structure. You can have a sole proprietorship, a limited liability corporation, or a corporation. Still, you’ll need to think about this as you deliberate over your business name, the way you pay taxes, and even your liability. You’ll also need to pick and register your business name and may require an attorney or a CPA to help you make the right choice here. Choosing your accounting system and point of sale system is also critical. Make sure you get systems that will help you track where your customers are from, what they buy, and how you can turn a customer today into a repeat customer tomorrow.

Pay attention to the paperwork. Licenses and permits are part of the process. It can be tedious, but you need to research what licenses and permits you need to apply for before you get too deep into the planning to avoid problems.

Where will you be? Your business location is essential. Make sure you have the right spot for what you’ll be selling – one with plenty of room for any equipment and employees. Pro tip: Make sure you get an occupancy permit from the Ross County Building Department before you open your doors. It’s a must before you start making money.

Set up your team. If you’re hiring employees, outline the positions you need, the qualifications, and the job responsibilities for each position. Make sure you train them well, establish the expectations for the job, and create a structure to hold them (and yourself) accountable.

Finally, promote the business. This step often gets jumbled into the busy work that goes into starting and opening your business, but you can’t attract business if no one knows about you. Create a marketing plan that will guide you, then explore what others are doing to see if you can mine some ideas from successful strategies. A solid plan to promote your business through social media, word of mouth, and advertising should keep your customers flowing to your company and help you build a successful future.

Details are critical for small businesses. Attention to them as the concept is developing will help avoid problems in the future. We hope more and more small businesses grow throughout Ross County and create the vibrancy we’re looking for beyond 2020.