Start a Business
Start a Small Business in Eight Steps
Step 1: Are You an Entrepreneur?
Are good leaders made or are they born? No one knows for sure, but successful entrepreneurs tend to share these traits: Passion, persistence, stamina, strong drive, getting along with others, decision-making and organizational skills, a supportive family and strong work ethic.Schedule a Business Consultation
Step 2: Decide On An Idea
Using your existing skills, observing unmet needs in your community, or imitating a proven business model (or buying a franchise) can generate a variety of business ideas. Next: What do you need to consider when you examine your idea? Remember, we can help with all of these steps.
- Assess market size
- Assess your competitive advantage
- Assess capital requirements
- Find out if anyone else has tried and failed (and why)
- Assess barriers to entry
Step 3: Determine Initial Business Feasibility
Are there enough potential customers in your target market who will buy your specific product or service at a price that will cover my expenses and support your family? Let’s evaluate if your business idea is feasible by analyzing your potential customers, target market, industry, and financial projections.
First, you must define your target customer by evaluating their demographics. Remember, not everyone is going to be your customer. Examine their age, gender, geographic area, education level, income, lifestyle and family structure.
Secondly, take a look at your industry and ask yourself: What are the trends in my industry? What is the growth potential? What are other businesses doing? What’s the current supply and demand?
Next, determine your financial feasibility:
- Create a sales forecast based on the market size
- Determine the approximate cost of goods
- Estimate your fixed and variable expenses
- Calculate your profit
- Assess financial viability
Step 4: Review Business Mechanics
The type of legal structure you choose can affect how your business is regulated and taxed. We can help you make the best choice for your business. Once you decide the structure, you can set up these other key pillars to protect your business:
- Federal & State Tax Registration
- Permits, Licenses, and Zoning
- Business Insurance
- Other Legal Considerations: Partnership Contract, Release of Liability, Intellectual Property
- Advisors: Attorney, Accountant, Insurance Agent, Banker, our Business Development Specialists
Step 5: Decide How You Will Market Your Business
Businesses rely on marketing to spread awareness of their products and services. Having a predetermined strategy can help you make logical decisions about how to most effectively develop your customer base. Start by thinking about your customer’s age, gender, income, habits and lifestyle to help you determine how to best spend your marketing budget.Schedule a Business Consultation
Step 6: Determine Your Recordkeeping System
Keeping clear records of income, expenses, employees, tax documents and accounts isn't just good business. It can bring you peace of mind, help you monitor progress toward goals, and save you time and money.Schedule a Business Consultation
Step 7: Write Your Business Plan
A business plan is a written document that describes in detail how a business—usually a startup—defines its objectives and how it is to go about achieving its goals. A business plan lays out a written roadmap for the firm from marketing, financial, and operational standpoints.
There are three immediate benefits for writing a business plan:
- To create an effective strategy for growth
- To determine your future financial needs
- To present to potential funders
Step 8: Secure Funding
Most lenders rely on a variation of the "8 C's of Credit" when assessing a loan application. Different lenders place different values on each of the criteria.
- Cash Flow
Remember these important points:
- Have someone who doesn’t know your business review your business plan
- Do not underestimate or overestimate financial needs.
- Be realistic with your sales projections. Err on the side of caution.
- Lenders vary. Start with your own financial institution but present your plan to more than one. You are developing a relationship.
The Preferred Lenders Program (PLP) is part of SBA's effort to streamline the procedures necessary to provide financial assistance to the small business community. Under this program, SBA delegates the final credit decision and most servicing and liquidation authority and responsibility to carefully selected PLP lenders. SBA, however, will continue to check loan eligibility criteria.
SBA Express features an accelerated turnaround time for SBA review; a response to an application will be given within 36 hours.Schedule a Business Consultation
Financing Your Business
The list below provides a description of different methods for financing your new business:
- Grants: Most federal and state small business development grants are awarded to agencies that provide services to individuals that want to start a business.
- Local Business Development Funding: Many community agencies have funds available to support economic development in their area. The funding is typically in the form of low-interest loans with favorable repayment terms.
- Venture Capital: Investors provide funding for a share of ownership in your business.
- SBA Guaranteed Loans: Loans for the purpose of starting or growing a business. Learn more.
- Commercial: Bank financing can be in the form of a loan with a fixed term or a line of credit.
- Home Equity
- Credit Cards: Good for small amounts. The interest rate is high, and if you are a sole proprietor, the interest is not deductible.
- Personal Savings
What Lenders Look for in a Loan Application
Most lenders rely on a variation of the "8 C's of Credit" when assessing a loan application. Different lenders place different values on each of the criteria.
- Cash Flow
Grant Opportunities & Competitions
- The Idea Challenge, sponsored by Northwestern Bank, is an annual contest ran by the Eau Claire Area Economic Development Corporation that assists entrepreneurs in taking their idea and making it a reality. This is a free contest that accepts ideas in any stage of development for any new product, service, or process. Click here to learn more.
- Jump-Start Downtown is a business competition for entrepreneurs over 18 years old interested in opening a business or relocating a business in Downtown Eau Claire (view downtown boundaries). Any type of business is eligible, from high-tech offices to gift shops. Click here to learn more about this grant.
- The Red Letter Grant is open to women throughout ten counties in western Wisconsin who want to start a NEW business. The committee will consider applications from existing women-owned businesses looking to expand, but preference is given to applicants in the start-up phase. Up to four $2,000 grants are awarded each spring and fall. Click here to learn more about this grant.
- Expires on 12/31/2022: The goal of the Wisconsin Tomorrow Main Street Bounceback Grant (DBA Brick and Mortar Bounceback) Program is to provide one-time assistance to new and existing businesses opening a new location or expanding operations in a vacant commercial space. Click here to learn more about this grant.
How to Write a Business Plan
A business plan is a 30- to 50-page document that outlines a company’s goals and strategies for achieving those goals. It also outlines the internal and external processes a business needs to meet its financial projections and customer expectations.
Your business plan should include an executive summary, company description, market analysis, outline of the organization and management, description of your services or products, as well as your marketing and sales goals. If you direct your business plan toward investors or potential shareholders, then you can include a funding request in your business plan document.
Lastly, reveal your financial projections. This section should demonstrate your financial goals within a given time frame. The appendix is the last section you should include in your business plan. Here you can include several important documents for readers to review, such as licenses and permits, resumes or CVs of company officials, product photos, credit history, and other documents relevant to your company.Schedule a Business Consultation
Pricing & Marketing
- Product/Service: Is there a demand for the product/service you are offering? If so, then your ideal customers are likely getting it from one of your future competitors. How can you provide your product/service better, faster or cheaper? Give your customers a reason to buy from you rather than the other stores.
- Price: Determining an appropriate selling price is complicated because it affects both marketing and finance. Products/services should be priced in line with the current market and competitor pricing. The selling price should be sufficient to pay all business expenses and should make a profit for the owner, given a reasonable amount of sales. Keeping business expenses in mind, set reasonable sales goals and strive to meet them every day.
- Packaging: Along with packaging your product/service, you also must present your business in the most attractive way possible. A business's name is its most important marketing tool and you should spend considerable time brainstorming ideas before you commit to a name. The best business names are memorable, clever, and descriptive.
- Position: Positioning your product or service means identifying the best location from which it will be sold. It is often referred to as the distribution channel and can include physical or online stores.
- Promotion: Promotion includes any form of communication used to market a product or service. Generally, promotion breaks down into four categories: advertising, public relations, personal selling and sales promotion.
By far, advertising is the most common way to reach your customers. For example, one of the most effective pieces of advertising is a simple, inexpensive business card. Beyond that, consider brochures or flyers, email marketing, magazine ads, newspaper ads, newsletters, posters, radio ads, television ads, telemarketing, and websites - to name a few. After you have researched your potential customers and have found your niche among the competing businesses, it is time to go to work on the business plan. The Western Wisconsin Women's Business Center will help create a marketing plan that will position you to attain the highest possible market share.Schedule a Business Consultation
Work with a business development specialist at our Business Center to create a marketing plan for your business. Western Wisconsin Women's Business Center's basic marketing plan includes five primary components.
- Define the Current Market
- Quantify the Market: Size, trends, local issues, based on demographic and geographic definitions of the market
- Profile the Competition: Who are your competitors? Where are they located? How do they/you compare to them? Nature and status of each competitor.
- Marketing Strategy: Competitive focus (price, quality, service, selection, convenience), marketing method(s), channels of distribution, advertising/promotion plan
- Future Markets/Expansion Markets/Opportunities for Years 2, 3, & 4
Define the Current Market
Define Need for Product/Service
Geographic coverage: distance, time, traffic patterns, topographic consideration, social and cultural considerations
Demographic target: age, income, sex, employment, education, residence, family status, race, religion, psychographic characteristics
US Census Bureau
The Bureau of the Census conducts the decennial census of population and housing, demographic and economic censuses, and more than 200 annual surveys, many of them for government services.
www.census.gov/statab/www/ccdb.html - County and City Data Book
https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/ - Quick Facts by State
www.census.gov/compendia/statab/ - Statistical Abstract of the United States
Chamber of Commerce
Contains a directory of all the chambers of commerce in Wisconsin. Check your local chamber for demographic information and more.
Eau Claire: www.eauclairechamber.org
Black River Falls: www.blackrivercountry.net
Chippewa Falls: www.chippewachamber.org
City of Eau Claire
City of Eau Claire Economic Development Website contains demographic, geographic & company information about the City of Eau Claire.
Demographic Research is a peer-revised journal specializing in international demographic data published by the German-based Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research.
Department of Commerce – Bureau of Economic Analysis
BEA produces economic accounts statistics that enable government and business decision-makers, researchers, and the American public to follow and understand the performance of the Nation's economy.
Department of Labor - Bureau of Labor Statistics
The Dept. of Labor provides impartial, timely, and accurate data relevant to the social and economic conditions of the nation, its workers and its workplaces.
www.bls.gov/cex - Consumer Expenditure Survey with information on spending habits.
www.bls.gov/oes - Occupational employment statistics
Eau Claire Area Economic Development Corporation
The ECA-EDC provides demographic, geographic, and company information for area communities.
FEDSTATS is a gateway for statistics.
Mississippi River Regional Planning Commission
The MRRPC provides community profiles by county within the region.
Momentum West is a Regional Economic Development Organization composed of ten counties: Barron, Chippewa, Clark, Dunn, Eau Claire, Pepin, Pierce, Polk, Rusk, and St. Croix.
Population Reference Bureau
PRB provides timely and objective information on U.S. and international population trends and their implications.
Sperling’s Best Places
Best Places provides detailed demographic information on every zip code in the U.S.
Sprawl City is a website about consumption growth and population growth and their roles in urban sprawl. It includes articles, charts, graphs and U.S. Federal data.
UNESCO Institute for Statistics
UNESCO provides global and internationally comparable statistics on education, science, technology, culture, and communication.
U.S. Department of Commerce
The U.S. Dept. of Commerce gathers vast quantities of economic and demographic data, issues patents & trademarks, helps set industrial standards, forecasts the weather, researches the oceans and oversees the telecommunications policies.
University of Michigan Documents Center
The UM Document Center has an extensive list of resources for finding demographic and housing data, especially sources containing U.S. Census data.
University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Demography & Ecology
The UW-Madison Center provides demographic internet sources.
White House’s Social Statistics Briefing Room
This site provides easy access to current Federal social statistics.
Wisconsin Business Services
The Wisconsin Business Services contains a variety of information from unemployment rates to census statistics. It also provides information on a county-by-county basis.
Wisconsin Department of Commerce
This site covers economic development, community development, environmental & regulatory, marketing & technology, international & minority business assistance, demographics, labor market, licensing, and more.
http://commerce.wi.gov/IE/ - International Division
American Society of Association Executives
This site contains a directory of member associations, other organizations, societies, convention centers, and bureaus.
American Sociological Association
The American Sociological Association is a non-profit membership association that provides free data briefs, articles, and research.
Industry profiles and market research papers for sale, free abstracts for single use.
A D&B Company delivering insight and analysis about companies, industries, and people.
National Association of Home Builders
NAHB has economic and housing Data, as well as construction statistics.
Free trade magazine subscriptions & technical document downloads.
Other Helpful Resources
Business.usa.gov provides small business guides that provide clear and concise information to help you manage your business while complying with government regulations. It covers topics from advertising to taxes. Each guide provides a collection of resources from across federal, state and local governments
Small business ideas, advice and resources.
Copyrights offers information on copyright basics, search copyright records, registering a work, record a document, and copyright laws and policies.
Dun & Bradstreet
Information on businesses available for purchase including business credit.
This site has information about entrepreneurship in general.
Environmental Protection Agency, Great Lakes Region
Federal Trade Commission
The agency has a long tradition of maintaining a competitive marketplace for both consumers and businesses.
FindLaw for Business
This site is here to help you find solutions to your legal issues by providing you with easy and comprehensive access to small business lawyers and legal information.
Online forum with business advice and discussion from small business owners.
Internal Revenue Service
Check out the small business tax section on this site.
KnowThis contains information on marketing, market research, marketing plans, and internet marketing.
National Institute of Standards and Technology
This site is a great resource site for hi-tech, small manufacturers, and industry.
Articles on various topics of business administration from the Internet Center for Management and Business Administration.
Get Audience Data for any Site on the Internet.
Quirk’s Marketing Research Review
This site is an online magazine on market research.
Services on this site include a database of forms, documents, SBDC locations, brochures and promotional materials, secondary market research data, demographic information, business plans, market research, financial ratio information, and much more.
Small Business Administration
This site has a lot of information on starting or growing a business, financing, marketing, and business plans. There are also links to numerous resources that can provide assistance in starting or growing a business.
Switch Board Yellow Pages
This free site is a great digital directory site to locate businesses and people.
The Virtual Business Incubator
This site contains a lot of information on starting and growing a business.
Thomas Register is a search engine of American manufacturers by-product or service.
Trade show and event resource and directory.
United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)
This site offers information on patents, trademarks, and copyrights. It also offers the opportunity to search all patents, trademarks, and copyrights on file.
United States Securities & Exchange Commission
The mission of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is to protect investors, maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and facilitate capital formation.
U.S. Government’s Export Portal
Use this site to learn about export basics, country information, tariff rates, overseas product promotion, filing a trade complaint, and protecting your intellectual property.
This site offers information on buying from and selling to the government, launching a business, state programs, exporting, financial assistance and business taxes.
Wisconsin Entrepreneur Network (WEN)
This site offers numerous resources to the Wisconsin entrepreneur such as information related to business plan writing, resource links to various business-related agencies, associations, and clubs, funding resources, and event calendars.
Wisconsin Innovation Service Center (WISC)
The Wisconsin Innovation Service Center (WISC) specializes in new product and invention assessments and market expansion opportunities for innovative manufacturers, technology businesses, and independent inventors.
Word of Mouth Marketing Association
Marketing tips, emphasizing word of mouth and social media.
From Business.com, Work.com is the entrepreneur's owner's manual to where to go, what to know, and how to get the most value from the ever-growing array of Web resources for the small business owner/operator.