Starting a Business

I gave a presentation yesterday to a group of folks looking to start a horticulture, landscaping, or plant nursery business. It was a great impetus to force me to write this post – that I’ve been meaning to write for a while.

So, let’s start with what you need to start and run a successful business in NC

  • A lawyer – a lawyer is going to be your best friend in the early stages. A lawyer will help you decide how to organize the business, what you need to do to be compliant, and how to protect yourself from future claims by creditors, potential liability, and other sources of risk. An attorney will also help you with whatever licenses you might need to operate in your state, county, or city (or all three!). Work with a lawyer to develop your overall business structure to protect your investment and yourself from future risks. Also, a good lawyer will work *with* you (not just *for* you), so you can help yourself and save money where possible.
  • An accountant or bookkeeper – there is so much going on (especially early in developing your business) that it’s easy to make a mistake, forget something, or make a choice that will impact you later. When it comes to finances and taxes, you need to get an expert to help you understand the consequences of your choices: Do I start as a home based business? Is it cash-only? Can I claim mileage on my car for business? Even if you’re a professional accountant or bookkeeper, it’s probably a good idea to get an independent assessment in the beginning, if nothing else.
  • Business Plan – I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a business plan. Whether you’re trying to raise money from investors, trying to get credit, or just knowing what to do next for your own peace of mind, your business plan should be your road map. Your business plan may change over time (because your business may change over time!), but you should make every effort to follow you business plan. There are lots of resources (including the Small Business Administration) for putting together a solid business plan.

    business plan

    business plan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Insurance – you will need insurance (in some form or other). Especially if you have anything to do with dealing with the general public, government contracting, or working with businesses (ok, so, pretty much if you do ANYTHING). Find a reputable insurance agent and let them work with you on what you need – you may not even know what or how much you need until you talk to your attorney or when you’re getting started. Whether you need liability insurance, premises insurance, malpractice insurance, or how much… don’t underestimate how important it is to protect your investment from accidents or potential claims.
  • Bank – the same way you need to find a good insurance agent, you also need to develop a relationship with a banker. Not only do you need a bank account, you may need things like merchant services (credit card processing), a lined of credit, a small business loan, or even just someone to call when you can’t figure out why your deposit is showing up in your account. Your banker should work with you to address your financial needs.
  • Policies, Procedures, and Systems – it doesn’t *really* matter if you’re using a fancy software system to manage your business or if you’re using good ‘ol paper and pencil. What does matter is that you can do it consistently and efficiently each and every time. You will spend a lot of your time, as a small business owner, on the administrative work that’s needed to keep the business running. Find forms, checklists, or whatever you need to streamline your routine processes and make them consistent. The less mental energy you have to spend on this aspect of the business, the more you can spend on…
  • Marketing – you have to go get the business. Most people start a business because the like doing the work. For example, if you’re a woodworker, you start a woodworking business because like woodworking. Here’s the bad news: you better be pretty good at selling woodworking too! As a small business owner a tremendous amount of your time will also be spent in actively searching for new business. You have to fill not only your workday, but tomorrow’s workday too. And the day after that, and the day after that, you get the idea. The more time you can spend here, the more – overall – successful the business can be or can grow to be.

This is really just a “getting started list.” My presentation included another bullet in this list: “about a billion other things.” As you develop your business, it can be overwhelming, complex, frustrating, and a bunch of other adjectives too. There are a lot of moving parts and it’s a stressful time. Get help from experts and remember – you get what you pay for! (beware of the free advice from cousin Earl).

And, when you forget something or make a mistake (and you WILL forget something or make a mistake), it’s OK. Small business is the backbone of the US economy. Millions of people own and run businesses everyday. You’ll get through it, there are people that can help – like lawyers. (sorry one last shameless plug)

This post is getting on the long side, I’ll expand on some of these themes in the coming days. In the meantime, let me know if you think was helpful in the comments and check out our website at

Next time: Business Structures in NC – what makes sense for you?

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