Whether you’re brewing an idea or have a concrete company idea, these are 10 must-follow steps if you’re looking to start a small business in Pennsylvania.

Beginning a small business can be an inspiring yet overwhelming endeavor to take on. How do I start? What do I need to do? Will my business idea work? Will my product or service sell? All of those questions are valid when you are first starting. Luckily in the digital age, we live in, the information you need to answer any of your doubts can be found at your fingertips.

In this article, we will discuss ten steps to start a small business in Pennsylvania, with links to some helpful articles and information that could assist in making your idea a reality.

1. Do Your Research

Maybe you were sitting in a coffee shop, trying to fall asleep, or at a social gathering when… poof… an idea struck you! You undeniably came up with an awesome idea, but will it work? How do you know that it will work? Well- you do your research!

Conducting market research involves finding answers to these critical questions:

  • What am I selling?
  • Who am I selling my product or service to?
    (or in other words… who is your ideal customer?)
  • Will my product or service sell?
  • Who are my competitors?
  • How much will my product or service need to sell for?

With your goals at the top of your mind, now it’s time to start researching.

Take a look at your competitors.

This could be a quick Google search or a trip to a local business. Type into a search engine your idea, and if applicable, your location. The companies that list on the results page are considered your competitors. Take a look through their Google My Business website, read reviews- do a deep dive.

  • How much are they selling your product (or similar product) for?
  • Are their customers satisfied (good reviews)?
  • How do they market their product?
  • What do they offer that you haven’t thought of?
  • Who are their customers? (demographics)

Hint: These are probably your potential customers too!

Document your findings on a spreadsheet. Make a note of anything that stands out to you. Stay inspired and motivated to overcome any potential weaknesses you discover.

The Small Business Development Center Network offers comprehensive guides and research reports to the idea and industry-specific businesses. View trends, data, and other related information to help you on your market research journey.

2. Write a Business Plan

Now that you’ve done your research and feel confident in your idea, it’s time to write your business plan.

First, what is it? A business plan is a formal document, often for startups, that outlines your company goals, objectives, and a time frame to meet your expectations. Lenders and investors will also view this plan if applicable. Essentially it is an outline of your future.

Keep in mind that your plan will constantly evolve as your company grows. You want it to be short and digestible, but with enough information that anyone reading it could get a great idea of your goals and what you’re all about. Learn as you go!

If you’re looking for an excellent course on how to write a business plan, check out Applied Digital Skill’s course on Google Digital Garage. It’s an hour-long and walks you through each step of the process.

3. Figure Out Finances

How much money will you need to get your business up and running? Will you need a loan? By understanding exactly what you will need before your business opens its doors (physically or metaphorically), you’ll feel prepared and ready to go.

The U.S. Small Business Association wrote an excellent article on how to manage and plan for your finances.

4. Pick a Name (& Choose it Carefully!)

Deciding on your company’s name is a big step. It outlines your identity, and therefore should be chosen carefully. Using a mixture of your research from step one and your creative brain, you’ll choose a name that you feel confident in.

Your name should be unique and reflect your product or service. For marketing purposes, it’s not recommended that you name your business exactly after the product. For example, an exact match name would be “Custom Apparel” if the owner sells, well, custom apparel. Every time a potential customer searched on Google for their business, they would get inundated with other established companies that offer that product.

Make sure that your business name is not already taken. Pennsylvania offers an easy-to-navigate business name database where you can search to see if your name is available.

5. Choose Your Location

Your business location will serve as a hub for the majority, if not all, of your customers. So, where do you open one? First things first, it’s important to figure out if you will be selling your product online or if you plan to open a brick-and-mortar store.

The Small Business Development Center Network offers a comprehensive article with information to consider when choosing your business location. Does the area include the demographics of your ideal customer? How much are the taxes? Who are your surrounding competitors? How much traffic is there, and can you expect there to be?

6. Get Necessary Permits & Tax IDs

The following links are for permit and tax information for your small business in Pennsylvania.

PA Revenue’s Guide to Pennsylvania Business Taxes

The PA Business One-Stop-Shop offers an easy guide to figuring out what registration and permits you may need.

7. Consider Your Branding

Branding determines how the world will see your company. It shapes its personality, purpose and assists with marketing. Center City Print offers all of your branding needs. You can easily customize your branding on the website or contact an in-house graphic designer for some guidance. We want to make sure that your business looks its best. Be proud of your company image and hand out materials with confidence. Consider the following list and click on the links to see more information about each of these products.

8. Build Your Network

Connections are how we build our community. When starting a small business, it’s important to network and meet other local companies, investors, community partners, potential clients… the list goes on! In an age of technology, it’s much easier to connect.

Social Media: Linkedin, Facebook, Instagram

Pennsylvania Small Business Development Centers

Find your local one at PA SBDC’s website

Your local Chamber of Commerce

Connect at local events, hand out business cards (& get others’ business cards too)

9. Figure Out Marketing Strategy

For those just starting, marketing may seem like a big feat. Luckily, many resources will guide you in planning how you’d like to market your business. Remember the research you did in step 1 and the business plan you wrote in step 2? Both of these will aid you in figuring out how to market your product or services. Below are a few articles that dive into creating the best small business marketing strategy for you.

42 Ideas for Your 2021 Small Business Marketing Strategy

First Steps to a Marketing Strategy

10. Launch, & Tell YOUR Story

Now it’s time to launch your business. During this exciting time, it’s essential to have a healthy, positive mindset and know that you can succeed in your new endeavors. You have a story to tell, whether it’s through your product, your service, yourself, your branding. You’re now bringing something to your customers that offer them value and solve solutions.