Want to Open Your Own Business? Start Here

Image courtesy of Gratisography / Ryan McGuire | freerangestock.com
Image courtesy of Gratisography / Ryan McGuire | freerangestock.com

Reposted from my column in the Portland Business Tribune.

When you envision your dream job, you probably think about things such as the difference you’ll make in the world, what your office or store will look like, how much money you’ll make, how satisfied and accomplished you’ll feel at the end of each week.

I feel fairly confident in assuming that your vision does not include a boss. In your dream job, you’d be your own boss! You’d be an entrepreneur, living out the American Dream.

You’ve spent countless hours imagining it, so why not go for it? What holds most people back from taking the leap and starting their own business—manifesting their dream job—is uncertainty and fear.

The cold, hard truth is that about half of all new businesses don’t make it past five years, according to the Small Business Administration (SBA); only a third survive 10 years or more.

Yet small businesses are everywhere, the backbone of our communities. There are more than 340,000 small businesses in Oregon, according to the SBA. In spite of the possibility of failure, people are still trying. And when true entrepreneurs fail, they learn from it and try again.

There’s no question that owning your own business is risky. But with risk comes reward. To paraphrase French author André Gide, you can’t cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.

The following guidance may help you get closer to turning your dream job into a reality.

Do what you know and love. Don’t start a business because you think you’ll get rich quick. A business built around your passion and talent is much more likely to succeed. If your heart isn’t in it, your chances of growing and being profitable are slim.

Make a business plan. This is your roadmap to success. Describe what makes you stand out from your competitors, who your target customers are and how you plan to market your business. A well written business plan will also support your request for funding from your bank or government programs.

Be wise with money. Save up as much as you can before launching your business, but you’ll likely still need financing. Check with the SBA to find resources and government-backed loans. If you’ll need retail or office space, location is important, but keep a budget in mind and try to negotiate on price. When you’re up and running, keep a detailed profit and loss statement, and always keep current on your loan payments, taxes and bills.

Stay in compliance. Find out from the IRS what business taxes you’ll need to pay. Check with the Washington Department of RevenueOregon Secretary of State or Alaska Department of Commerce to find out if you need to register your business with the state. A specialty license may also be required, depending on the type of work you’ll be doing.

Manage your reputation. It’s a given that potential customers or clients will search online for information about you and your business. According to research by ZenDesk, 88 percent of people have been influenced by an online review. Take a little time each day to work on your website and social media profiles, and respond to positive and negative comments in a professional manner. Delivering on your promises is essential, too. Build trust by doing what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Chances are you won’t get it exactly, perfectly right the first time. You will experience ups and downs, successes and failures. If your idea isn’t panning out, reflect on the mistakes you’ve made and what went wrong, and think about what you could have done differently. Don’t let your ego keep you from calling it quits when it’s appropriate. If it’s time to walk away, take time to regroup—and then try again.


Aim for a Hassle-Free Move with BBB’s Tips

movingmonthMoving is never easy. In fact, it can be a real hassle, especially on a fixed budget. I’ve done it at least a dozen times since I graduated college, moving all across the country. And while I consider myself a savvy consumer, I have made a few big mistakes along the way.

Some of the worst moving stories I’ve heard, however, happened while I was working as a TV news reporter.

I remember interviewing a family who moved to the Seattle area from the Midwest and literally had their personal belongings held hostage by the moving company. The family was verbally quoted one price and then charged more mid-trip. Unable to pay, the movers held on the family’s belongings and starting charging them daily for storage costs.

Eventually law enforcement got involved, but that wasn’t until six months after the family had already moved. They were living in an empty apartment and sleeping on their clothes. They chose to go with movers who quoted them a low a price, and they never got anything in writing—and they learned a tough lesson from that experience.

Sadly, rogue movers are everywhere, giving the industry as a whole a black eye. In March, Better Business Bureau teamed up with the Oregon Department of Transportation in an undercover sting operation where law enforcement busted several illegal movers.

Then for National Moving Month in May, BBB worked with the Washington State Utilities & Transportation Commission to issue a news release with safe moving tips.

Within 24 hours of sending out that release, BBB and UTC appeared on local TV news programs 26 times, reaching an estimated 250,000 households. Each time, consumers were urged to check bbb.org first to find movers they can trust.

Before a customer even packs a box, BBB and UTC offer the following tips for hiring a moving company:

  • Contact the UTC to confirm the company has a valid permit and inquire about any consumer complaints. Call 888-333-9882 or visit utc.wa.gov/movingtips.
  • Check with BBB to find out the company’s rating and determine if there are any complaints filed against them. Start at bbb.org/search.
  • Be sure to receive a free written estimate—moving companies are required to provide one.
  • Get estimates from at least three different companies and do not make a decision based on price alone.
  • Finally, do not sign any incomplete documents. Make sure all forms are as complete as possible.

The bottom line: moving can be hassle-free if you take the time to research businesses and get everything writing. Remember that estimates are only educated guesses, but final prices can vary depending on the actual services performed. From what I’ve seen, most problems arise from disagreements about estimates, liabilities or damages.

If you have an issue with a moving company that you just can’t resolve on your own, file a complaint with BBB and the appropriate government agency.

Heaven forbid you ever have an experience like the Seattle family I interviewed—but if you do, call law enforcement immediately.

Keep Your Things Protected During National Moving Month

[Public domain]
Photograph by Rharel1 [Public domain]
May is National Moving Month, and if you’re considering a relocation in the near future, make sure to do the research before packing all your belongings into cardboard boxes.

Moving from point A to point B is always stressful, and with the high cost and low trust in the moving industry, many opt to self-move—which is what I did after graduating college. My thought process was: “If I’m handling my own stuff then nothing will go wrong…”

To simply state it: I was wrong.

A few items got left behind due to lack of coordination and even more broke. But, the worst part is that my decision to self-move cost me an irreplaceable present my Grandpa gave me before he passed away—it shattered in the rental truck.

If and when I move again, I’m hiring a mover. I refuse to lose the few valuables I have left. But working at Better Business Bureau has taught me that finding a reputable—and legal—mover can sometimes be difficult. Most people have a connection to someone who has had a bad experience due to a mover; avoid writing your own horror story by following some simple steps:

  1. Make sure the company checks out.
    Businesses that are BBB Accredited agree to follow higher standards, laid out in the BBB Code of Business Practice. They are also required to address any complaints if problems arise, and make a good faith effort to resolve them.
  2. Double-check the business licensing.
    Even if a business is accredited, BBB currently does not publicly report on its licensing. So it’s always a good idea to double-check with the proper departments to get license numbers and see if there have been any significant disputes in the past.
  3. Contact the proper state transportation department.
    Washington State: Utilities and Transportation Commission
    Oregon: Communications Oregon Transportation Commission
    Alaska: Department of Transportation & Public Facilities

The rules and regulations vary slightly depending on the location and whether or not state lines will be crossed during the move. But, all movers need to be properly permitted and licensed in order to be legitimate. Make sure you know the regulations!

After my experience moving back home after school I’m hesitant to ever self-move again. However, I’m not going to simply hire the cheapest mover that I find either. Doing a little bit of research can protect belongings, and wallets.

For more information and advice on moving in your state, read Don’t Go Astray During National Moving Month on BBB’s News & Events page.

I Checked the BBB Business Review. Now What?

Photo by Bill Branson [Public domain]
Photo by Bill Branson [Public domain]
Checking a BBB Business Review is the first step in vetting a company, but it’s not the only step. Additionally, potential customers should check that businesses have the required licensing before signing contracts. BBB Accredited Businesses are required to keep all licensing up-to-date in order to maintain accreditation; however, BBB does not publicly report on those business licenses.

Why is it important that businesses are properly licensed? Business licenses are required for three main reasons:

  • To formally identify businesses and hold them accountable for their actions;
  • To protect public health and safety;
  • And, to keep track of finances for tax purposes.

Also, businesses in certain industries may be required by government agencies to purchase bonds before they can acquire licenses. Bonds protect consumers by demonstrating that businesses properly adhere to laws and other federal, state and local regulations.

To verify licenses it may be necessary to check with several different agencies. For example, if a business is in the contracting industry, it will most likely have a general business license and a contractor’s license, plus insurance and bonds. Each state has different departments that handle business licensing, and companies are required to be registered with every state in which they do business. Starting a home improvement project? Need a quick car repair? Switching doctors? Make sure the businesses that get your hard-earned money are legitimate; business licenses strive to protect you and the integrity of marketplace interactions.