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No one ever said that starting a small business would be easy, but then again, very few things in life worth doing are easy.  The challenges that face the entrepreneur when starting a small business would seem daunting to most people, but many entrepreneurs live for this kind of excitement and cannot stand the boredom of a 9-5, steady job, week-in, week-out.

With that said, first time entrepreneurs can easily find themselves in over their heads if they jump in without first doing their market research, consulting some experienced colleagues, and doing a lot of reading.  While there’s no one stop shop for learning how to successfully launch your first small business, here’s some well-known traits of successful small businesses that you should strive for in your own startup.

  1. Small Markets, Not Small Profits
    While many bemoan the construction of another big box store moving into town as the death of all of the mom and pops, the fact remains that a large chain simply cannot meat the needs of everyone.  As an avid photographer, I know that i can get a good price on a new camera if I head to Best Buy, but there are a few local, independently owned shops in town that carry all of the obscure parts and the higher end cameras that professionals and semi-pros need.  They also service cameras and lenses in the store, whereas a camera bought at Best Buy will either be swapped out for a return (if you’re within 30 days) or you’re left to fend for yourself, dealing with the manufacturer for a warranty repair.
  2. Treat Your Customers Right
    Despite the rampant growth of national chains, there is currently a resurgence (particularly in larger cities) of smaller stores with knowledgable salesmen cropping up more and more.  What gives these small businesses and edge, and keeps them in the black, is often the dissatisfaction that many customers have found at the bigger chains, so they’ll turn to the smaller alternative.  If you start a hardware store, for example, you’ll never be able to beat Home Depot on pricing, but what you can beat them on is service, knowledgeability and going above and beyond with your customers to make sure they leave satisfied and come back your way the next time.
  3. Don’t Be Afraid To Branch Out
    While you’ll mostly be focusing on a niche (or narrow) market with your small business, a great way to grow your small business is to add on with similar niche markets, ideally in the same vein.  Take our camera store example, the one i have in mind in Seattle, opened up a second store by the same name across the street, but instead of camera equipment, it’s lighting, camera support and film.  While this isn’t a big departure from their initial business, it opens them up to more customers and gives more people who live in the neighborhood less of a reason to go to the big box stores.

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Many 9-5ers dream of working from home.  To set your own schedule, be your own boss, and occasionally go to work in your underwear.  For those bold enough to dream of an office without cubicles, here’s 10 great options for anyone in search of the perfect work from home job.

  1. Graphic Designer
    Time was that to work in graphic design you needed a lot of equipment, huge rooms and tables for layouts and, in many cases, a darkroom to develop your prints.  Technology has boiled it all down, essentially, into one or two ubiquitous pieces of software so that now the only thing standing between you and your own graphic design firm is your level of talent.
  2. Construction
    This is an oldie but a goodie.  Construction job sites these days are dominated by large companies with aggressive bids, but if you focus on a narrow niche market, you can run your own business and do quite well without stepping on the toes of the big guys.  My friend, for example, started a company that specialized in small cement trucks, so if you don’t need a whole truck full, no need to pay for a whole truck full, and business has been excellent for him.
  3. Insurance Sales
    Insurance, or many other types of sales for that matter, represents a great way to work from home and make potentially a lot of money.  It takes a very special skill set to be a successful salesman, but if you have what it takes, it can be a very lucrative career, and often your commissions with stack year-over-year giving you a substantial raise each year and a great incentive to continue improving your numbers.
  4. Real Estate
    While you’ll still spend a decent amount of time outside of the home (usually in other people’s homes) many real estate brokerages don’t require office hours.  This can be a great job for a self-starter with a decent rolodex and you can spend the time you would be in the office making business contacts in the community.
  5. Childcare
    Whether you start a daycare, or nanny for a family, childcare is a perennial need for nearly all dual-income families.  Even if you have children of your own, you may find it relatively easy to take on one or two more children in a nannying position and bring in a substantial amount of income, while planning the same activities you normally would for your own little ones.

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The internet has come a long way in the last few decades, and e-commerce has become big business; not just for mega corporations like, but also for the little guys, selling niche-market products in virtual stores that would never sustain themselves in the brick and mortar world.  It’s this freedom and low overhead that allows the internet to be the most versatile and unique marketplace that’s ever existed, and there’s always room for more vendors.  If this is you, but you don’t know where to start, here’s a few tips for the beginner looking to wade into the waters of e-commerce.

Establish Your Site
First thing’s first, you’ll need a website.  Yes, you can launch your website with a tightly integrated e-commerce solution, but chances are, people will be reluctant to hand over their credit card information to a website they’ve never heard of.  The best bet for a brand new site is to integrate an e-wallet solution while you establish your credibility.  E-wallets are essentially a middle-man service where you (the seller) received money from an account that the buyer has setup with the e-wallet vendor.  Popular e-wallet methods include Paypal and Google checkout.  There are others, but if your goal is credibility, your best bet is to stick with these two.

Weigh Your E-commerce Options
Once you’ve established your name and your brand, it’s time to setup your own e-commerce solution on your website.  You may ask why you would do this, since services like Google checkout and Paypal will gladly handle this for you;  well, the main reason is that e-wallet services charge a pretty hefty commission (as high as 15% in many situations).  The ideal situation is to handle your own billing (which will be essential if you plan to do high volume sales) but if you see yourself doing something more in the sub-$100k/month range, consider some of the e-commerce vendors that exist on the web.  Recommending specific vendors is beyond the scope of this article, but look around, compare the fees, lookup user reviews and make sure, above all, that whoever you work with is trustworthy.

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Being a mom is a full time job, so if you’re a work at home mom, it’s really important to find the proper balance your primary and secondary jobs (and hopefully, you’ll see raising your children as the primary :).

This balancing act is one that takes time and experience to succeed in; there will often be the pull to chose between the work projects seeking your attention and your attention seeking children. While no amount of preparation can get you ready for all of the hurdles you’ll encounter as a work from home mom, here are some ways to practically set up your home office to maximize both your jobs, and hopefully avoid some of the push/pull with your children.

Have a desk that is clean, cleared and by a window. Your space is where focus and productivity needs to happen. To do this, keep it clean and clear of clutter.

This can happen by doing a quick sweep of garbage and papers at the end of your time working. It doesn’t matter whether your desk is an office desk, kitchen table or breakfast bar, but the importance of clutter free will help you focus when you sit down the next time to work.

Keep in mind the need for daylight — which also gives you a way to keep an eye on the kids when they play outside.

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Social networking has become a valuable part of most businesses today, and with the overwhelming adoption of sites like Facebook (over 500 million users) it’s easy to see why companies don’t want to pass up such a large, tech-savvy market.  Along the way, however, you need to be smart about the way you use social marketing for your business, because just like in the real world, a first impression is hard to overcome.  Here’s some do’s and don’t’s for anyone starting out their business in the social arena.

Don’t Scattershot Your Message
Sure, there are dozens (if not hundreds) of social networks out there, but there’s really only two you need to worry about (Facebook and Twitter).  While it may be tempting to use tools that will just shotgun blast your posts out to a bunch of networks, understand that each network has different nuances and people learn quickly to tune you out if you’re not engaging on the platform they’re following you on.

Do Collaborate
It may seem like cheating, but there are some great tools that allow shared usage of a Facebook or Twitter account.  This way multiple people can be posting and you can also schedule your posts to release at a certain day and time.  This is a crucial part of a good social marketing campaign, so make sure that you plan at least a few days worth of posts ahead of time, and then when news breaks, feel free to interject it into the stream.

Don’t Use Social Media For Advertising
The amount of ‘spammers’ on social networking sites is out of control, and people are keenly aware of the problem.  If you begin posting ‘spammy’ sounding posts, people will be quick to ignore you.

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Starting a small business is becoming more of a necessity these days than a luxury; with the amount of jobs in decline and the ability to easily start your own business online, more and more people are flocking to entrepreneurship.  Here’s a few pitfalls that you need to avoid, especially if it’s your first time starting a small business.

  1. Use a Unique Business Name 
    There are plenty of reasons to use a new and creative name for your business (brand awareness & loyalty, differentiating yourself in the market, etc.) but even if none of those appeal to you, there is an important legal component.  Using a name that another business has, or even using something similar that could cause confusion (like starting a hamburger stand called MacDonalds and using lets say a light green M as your logo) can land you in court and potentially cost you your business.
  2. Carry The Proper Insurance
    Insurance needs vary greatly depending on the business you start, but it’s one of the most important bills you’ll pay each month, because it protects you from potentially bankrupting liability.  If you’re unsure of what insurance you should carry, you can talk with an insurance salesman, but a better idea is to find someone in the same business with some experience and see what they purchased.  Find the proper balance between leaving yourself vulnerable and carrying too much, thus hurting your bottom line.

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Starting a small business can be hard enough, but getting hit with a hefty bill from the IRS at the end of the year can make a difficult situation nearly impossible.  There are plenty of different strategies for minimizing your tax liability, but the most effective one is itemized deductions, and know what you can deduct is the first step to getting prepared for tax season.  Here’s a list of just a handful of the eligible deductions for your small business, so be sure to investigate and leave no stone unturned before you submit your tax documents at year’s end.

Bad Debt
If your company sells goods, you can deduct the cost of any goods that were not payed for by a client.  This doesn’t make up for losing the product, but it can soften the blow

Auto Expenses
Company cars are deductible, but you can also deduct mileage, service, fuel and nearly any expense related to purchasing and operating the vehicle.

When you first start your business, you’ll face plenty of fees along the path to incorporation; good news is these are all deductible.

Legal and Professional Fees
Whether it’s a lawyer, tax professional, or the janitorial service for your offices, nearly all professional fees your business pays will be deductible.

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