Start your Maine business right

By Matt Wickenheiser, BDN Staff
Posted Sept. 16, 2011, at 5:03 a.m.

Thinking about starting a business? Join the club. In Maine, who hasn’t?

Small business is big business here. There were 147,484 of them in Maine in 2008, according to the latest data from the Small Business Administration, and small firms made up 97.2 percent of the state’s employers.

Being an entrepreneur can be liberating and empowering – you’re running the ship, you’re making the calls, your ideas, services, products (whatever) are out there in the marketplace.

It can also be amazingly scary. You’re hanging out there on your own, and a lot of businesses fail. This New York Times story gives some of the top reasons why they fail. Read it – it’s a good mirror to look in before you even take step one toward starting your own biz.

Don’t get too depressed – there’s lots of help and suggestions out there for folks who want to start their own business. After all – for each story of business failure, there’s a story of business success.

Here’s a few sites to check out if you’re thinking about starting a business:

Maine small business development centers

The Maine Small Business Development Centers offer pages and pages of advice – not to mention free online training sessions in the basics (everything from marketing and merchandising to budgeting basics), and live, in-person, one-on-one counseling sessions.

Maine’s a big state, but the SBDCs are all over the place – chances are there’s one within a reasonable distance from you, if you really need the wetware interface.

Just want to check things out online, dip your toe into the maybe-possibility of opening your own biz? Here are some great docs you can check out from the SBDC:

They’ve also got a nifty cash flow calculator that may help you figure out if you can make your idea fly – not sure how valuable this is, but I’d be interested in any feedback.

Maine Business Works

This site is a bit cluttered, but it does provide a comprehensive, statewide listing of workshops, meetings and other business events, sortable by both geography and date. A quick look shows some could be very useful to the would-be entrepreneur, with topics including entrepreneurship training, introductions to self-employment and the basics of starting a small business.

Maine Biz Works also provides a list of financing programs in the state, and a bunch of links to business development groups, from the Aroostook Partnership for Progress to Women’s Business Center at CEI.

Women, Work & Community

This statewide organization doesn’t have a lot of documents and tip sheets on its site, but it does have a series of classes for the new entrepreneur. These classes range from the one- or two-hour introduction workshops to a 60-hour course that covers topics including: your customer, competition, marketing, record keeping, taxes, legal aspects, financing, and operations. The experts at WW&C also write the bi-weekly Women@Work column for the Bangor Daily News, sharing success stories of female entrepreneurs across Maine.

U.S. Small Business Administration

They’re from the government, and they’re here to help you! No, really….!

Focusing for the moment on just the consideration stage of entrepreneurship, i.e., you’re thinking about dipping your toe into the business ownership pool, the SBA’s got some great, easy-to-use resources here.

There’s a basic online assessment tool, which takes you through about 40 questions to see if you’re ready to start your own business. (By the way, I’m not, according to the SBA. I never did test well…) They range from “Do you think you are ready to start a business,” to “Would you consider yourself a leader,” to “Do you have a customer service strategy in mind or in place?” After you’re assessed, the site gives you suggested next steps, online resources to read up on or different groups to reach out to for help, such as SCORE or the SBA’s regional offices.

The SBA poses the 20 Questions Before Starting a Business, making potential entrepreneurs really ponder things like “what’s unique about my business?” and “who is my competition.”

And if you get thorough all the entrepreneurial soul-searching, the SBA offers some great tools and templates.

This page is a veritable step-by-step ladder to success for a new small business owner. Each of these following sections are actual hyperlinks that explode out with more information that you can work through:

Step 1: Templates for Writing a Business Plan

Step 2: Get Business Assistance and Training

Step 3: Choose a Business Location

Step 4: Finance Your Business

Step 5: Determine the Legal Structure of Your Business

Step 6: Register a Business Name (“Doing Business As”)

Step 7: Get a Tax Identification Number

Step 8: Register for State and Local Taxes

Step 9: Obtain Business Licenses and Permits

Step 10: Understand Employer Responsibilities

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/09/16/business/start-your-business-right/ printed on December 26, 2014