Are you ready to start your own business?

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Everyone just raves about your key lime pie. Or people think the dress you made was store-bought. You hear it all the time: "You should go into business!" Your eyes light up with excitement just thinking about it. But then, reality sets in and the questions and doubts enter. Can I really open a business? How much money would it take to open a shop? Do I have what it takes? Following your dreams can be risky and scary--but it doesn't have to be. Here are some things you can do to turn that dream into a reality.

This Year, This Time

Starting your own business requires hard work and dedication. It may also require a great deal of time away from your family. Before you embark on this journey, you may want to assess how this new venture will impact your home life. If you have small children, will you be able to devote 12 hour days, six days a week to your business? Do you have a support system in place to help out with homework, carpool or play dates? You may find that juggling the demands of parenting with a new business is a tough balancing act. But don't let that discourage you. You'll need to have an honest discussion with your spouse and family members about the changes that come with owning a business. You'll want to have a back-up plan just in case you can't take your little ones to soccer practice or attend a PTA meeting. Remember, this is a team effort.

Think It Over

This is the time for introspection. Think long and hard about whether or not being an entrepreneur is right for you. Make a list of the advantages of starting a business. For example: You get to be your own boss and only answer to yourself; you get to reap the profits of all of your hard work and effort. Then make a list of the disadvantages: your salary is not guaranteed; there is a risk of failure; you'll work very long hours at first, and possibly for years to come. If, after this reflection, you still want to open your business, you're ready to move on to the next step.

Planning and Preparation

You've heard it before: Preparation is the key to success. You can start by doing research and gathering information and data about your future venture. These facts will come in handy as you write your business plan.

During this phase, you will learn a great deal about the daily tasks of your business. This is the time to seek advice from people with similar businesses and pick their brains. Ask them what pitfalls to avoid and what the pros and cons to the business are. You'll be amazed by the number of resources out there for aspiring entrepreneurs. Your local library can be a vast resource of information as well for the new small business owner, so check with your reference librarian to find more information.

Put It In Writing

All businesses have to start with a business plan, which is a road map or guide that details how you plan to start your business and how you intend to run it. It's very important because it's what you will present to your potential investors in order to show that your business is viable. Be sure that your business plan has an executive summary that outlines your business and provides a mission statement. It's always good to have a company description and market analysis that state the purpose of your enterprise and the solutions it will provide to its potential clientele.

Now What?

Once you've completed your business plan and proposal, then you need to identify investors, grants and loans available. Also look into permits, licenses or certifications necessary to start your business.

Seek Help

You may want to decide what kind of business you plan on forming: a company, corporation, nonprofit corporation, etc. It's always helpful to seek the counsel of an accountant. You may also want to consult with an attorney who can protect you and your assets, especially if you're creating a product or new ideas. An attorney can help you protect your intellectual property via copyright or trademark.

If all of this seems daunting and overwhelming, don't be discouraged. You don't have to do this alone. There are many resources available to help you with every step along the way. Organizations such as SCORE can help you create your business plan and advise you as you embark on this journey. Consider pairing with a mentor who can guide you through each step. You may want to join professional organizations such as NAWBO (National Association of Women Business Owners) to network with other entrepreneurs like yourself.

Step by Step

No one says you have to quit your job tomorrow and start your own business. This could be the year you simply gather information and assess if and when you should open your business. Once you've made that decision, you can formulate a strategic plan to help you get started. Regardless of what you choose, there is a feeling of empowerment that comes with planning and taking action. And by reading this article, you just took your first step toward reaching your goal.

This content does not constitute legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment advice. You are encouraged to consult with competent legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment professionals based on your specific circumstances. We do not make any warranties as to accuracy or completeness of this information, do not endorse any third-party companies, products, or services described here, and take no liability for your use of this information.