Crystal Ife Sekhem, 26, is an artist who wants to start a business so she can sell her artwork. “I could just sell my artwork on the street for cash if I wanted to, but having my own business legitimizes my work and makes it easier to sell,” she said. That’s what brought her to Downtown Brooklyn last week for a free workshop titled “10 Steps to Starting Your Own Business,” provided by the Brooklyn Business Solutions Center. “I think they’re useful, if you follow the advice they give,” Sekhem said.
About 20 budding entrepreneurs attended the workshop, which is part of a larger program offered by the NYC Department of Small Business Services. “Among other things, we offer several business classes in all the boroughs, they’re all free to attend, and you can attend as many as you want,” said Avi Leshes, deputy director of the Brooklyn center.
Christina Palermo, from TD Bank’s small-business division, walked the participants through ten steps to get started:
1.) Do a personal assessment: Are you ready to become an entrepreneur? Palermo talked about the pros (being your own boss) and cons (no paid time off) of running one’s own small business, and the risks involved in starting one.
2.) Hone your idea: Palermo asked the audience to think about whether there’s a market for the idea they have in mind–and whether customers would be able to see the value in it.
3.) Develop your business plan: Listing the parts of a business plan, and what goes into each part, Palermo repeatedly emphasized how taking the trouble to create a plan helps everyone involved understand the goal of the business and the strategy by which it will reach its targets.
4.) Determine your corporate structure: Should your business be simply a sole proprietorship? Or an LLC? Or an S Corp.? Your choice of legal structure will affect everything from taxes to liability, so it’s important to make a thoughtful decision on this step.
5.) Set up your bookkeeping: Palermo listed multiple options, from creating your own Excel spreadsheets to using software like QuickBooks. “Even in the age of technology, it can be very tricky to generate the reports you want,” she said, and suggested hiring an accountant if possible.
6.) Get permits, licensing and insurance: The city’s SBS provides a guide to obtaining the required licenses and permits for varied types of businesses. Palermo emphasized the importance of obtaining insurance, which can be found in many different types tailored to particular kinds of business.
7.) Select your location: The speaker advised the audience to think about what kind of space they require–whether it’s a storefront, a co-working space, or a room at home. Several members of the audience wanted to know about the legality of using space in their houses for their business, which depend on zoning and type of business, Palermo said. SBS also offers seminars on the process of obtaining commercial leases.
8.) Build your internet presence: “Everything today revolves around the internet,” said Palermo. “It saves time to have all your information up there so that you can communicate what your business is to potential customers,” she said. She emphasized social-media presence as an affordable way to get out word about a new business.
9.) Put together your team: The key people required to help you run a business smoothly are typically an attorney, an accountant, a business banker, and an insurance agent. SBS offers services to help identify the right partner for a new small business. They also advise new entrepreneurs about selecting and hiring new employees, as well as covering the costs of training them.
10.) Get financing: Palermo spoke about the factors that banks assess before providing a new business with financing, from a credit check to an assessment of the market environment for the business. Here too, SBS can provide advice on the lending process.
Participants at the event ranged from people just thinking about starting a business to those who plan to expand their current operations. Justin Bostic, 29, is an MTA employee looking to start a transportation business. “I’m not sure what it’s going to be, but it’ll be related to transportation,” he said. “I want to start something in the future because I would be able to collect my pension, and also have my own business to fall back on.”
Some of the other seminars offered by the Business Solutions Center include “Improving Your Credit,” “Marketing 101,” and “Small Business Financing.”