The 21st century workplace stinks for families. Many companies offer little to no paid sick leave or maternity leave, and >>childcare now officially costs more than college. It’s no surprise that North Carolina is one of the top states in the country for women business-owners (with more than 267,000 female entrepreneurs). If you’re tired of a work environment that >>pays women only a percentage of what our male colleagues make, maybe it’s time to be the change you seek and start your own company.
Sounds great, but, how do you do it?
A certain amount of grit, ingenuity, and guts is definitely required. If you can take care of that part, there are many resources publicly available that can help you with the other skills: market research, writing a business plan, funding, accounting, and networking.
Step #1: Research. Before you sign a lease or trademark your name, you’ll want to do some research to be sure that there is a large enough market for your product or service. Your local Chamber of Commerce can be a great resource for local economic and demographic data. You can find out how many families live in a certain area, whether or not they have school-aged children, average income levels, and other indicators that may help you determine whether or not your business could be successful in that area.
Talk to the librarian, too – there’s a good chance he or she can point you in the direction of other useful data and research. If you need to know about the needs of a more specific group, check online to see if there are relevant interest groups locally and get in touch with the leaders to find out if you could send a survey to their group members.
Step #2: Write your business plan. It sounds scary, but North Carolina has a wealth of resources to make writing a business plan — among other things — easier than you thought possible. >>Women’s Business Centers are government-sponsored resource centers specifically designed to help you start your business. They offer free, detailed feedback on business plans, one-on-one counseling, and a myriad of seminars on topics such as marketing, accounting, and finance. You can also download a Business Start-Up Guide specific to North Carolina >>here.
Step #3: Identify a mentor. As you get into the nitty-gritty of writing your business plan, it may be the right moment to seek some ongoing mentorship. One service that offers mentorship is >>SCORE. The mentors at SCORE are retired business people who enjoy helping out entrepreneurs at the beginning of their business journeys. Your mentors may also be able to refer you to pro-Bono or low-cost accountants and attorneys who can help you figure out exactly what your budget should look like and what sorts of tax records you’ll need to keep.
Step #4: Find funding. When it comes to funding, small businesses are often funded by the founder’s own savings or money from >>family and friends. If you and your family are low on cash, you may seek to fund your project through crowd-funding sites such as >>IndieGoGo and >>Kickstarter; search for investors who want to give you money in exchange for partial ownership of the business; or consider taking out a small business loan. Each option comes with its own benefits and risks. If you decide to go the route of a loan, the >>Small Business Administration offers loans and microloans with >>a special focus on funding women and minority business-owners.
Step #5: Reach out. Last but not least – network. It’s best to network throughout your business planning adventure. Don’t leave it to the day before you launch to reach out to friends and colleagues with the news of your venture. Join groups – Coffee and Contacts, hosted by >>Women’s Power Networking, has chapters all across North Carolina that offer weekly networking events for women.
The business school at your local university likely offers networking events, too, and may even have opportunities to pitch your idea in front of potential funders. >>Co-working spaces and start-up accelerators also host events to meet fellow entrepreneurs and funders. Once you start looking, you’ll be amazed at all of the free and local resources that can help you along your way.
>>Tiffany Frye manages a small but growing childcare and co-working cooperative (>>www.nidodurham.com) and works as a managing editor for science publications. She lives in Durham, NC, with her husband and daughter.