"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

-- Confucius

by Dianne H. Webster, CFP

Did you know . . . .

More than 99.7% of all employers are small firms? . . . and . . . 53% of small firms are home-based business and 3% are franchises?
("Source: Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, May, 2003)

Perhaps you're no longer satisfied with your current career path, or maybe you've been laid off or plan to retire soon. For whatever reason, you've decided that you want to be your own boss, and you're wondering if this is the year to start your own business. Here are some things to think about:

1. Have you developed a blueprint for the future?

Like many other entrepreneurs, you may see a need for a certain product or service. You may want to "strike while the iron is hot" by capitalizing on this market opportunity before it's too late. But the long-term success of your business depends on the planning you do today.

Before you quit your day job or sink money into your new venture, take whatever time is necessary to develop a blueprint for the future.

Define your objectives and decide how running a business fits into your overall career path. How long will it take you to develop a business plan, find financing, and deal with the initial paperwork required? After considering all that's involved, is this the right year to start?

2. Are your finances in good shape?

Before you decide that now's the time to go into business for yourself, take a close look at your financial situation. A lack of capital is one of the most common reasons why businesses fail. And it's not just business cash flow you'll need to think about. You'll also need to consider how you'll cover your personal living expenses until your business begins to generate income. Are you prepared for a future with no secure paycheck or employer-sponsored benefits such as health insurance and a retirement plan?

As you take a look at both your short-term and long-term financial needs, keep the following points in mind:

a. Don't start your business until you've saved enough to cover both a portion of your start-up expenses, and 6 to 12 months of living expenses.

b. Prepare a realistic budget. Can you absorb costs that you did not have before (such as health insurance premiums and self-employment taxes)?

c. Consider your long-term financial goals. Will you be able to continue saving for retirement or college?

3. How will starting a business impact your personal life?

Getting a business off the ground isn't a 9 to 5 job. In fact, it may be months before your business is running smoothly enough for you to even take a day off! So before you decide to start a business, consider how your personal life will be affected. Are you prepared to spend less time with friends and devote fewer hours to hobbies? If you put in long hours, will your family understand?

Starting a new business is exciting, but it's also a lot of work! Taking into account your other obligations and your family's expectations, is this the right time to take the plunge?

4. Do you have the know-how to run your own business?

If you want to start your own business but don't know the first thing about marketing, accounting practices, or taxes, don't get discouraged. No business owners knows all the technical aspects of running a business. That's what experts are for.

Before you go into business for yourself, consult a financial professional who can help you evaluate the financial aspects of owning a business. He or she may be able to help you with many of the details associated with starting and running a business, including preparing a business plan, arranging financing, getting necessary licenses and permits, and choosing a business entity.

Keep in mind, though, that you can't rely on experts for everything. You still need a certain amount of knowledge and experience to manage the day-to-day operations of your business. Do your homework, and make sure that you have the skills and education you need, even if it means waiting a year or two to fulfill your dream.

4. What next?

If you decide to start a business this year, there may be months of hard work ahead of you. One of the first things you'll need to do is develop a business plan that will serve as a foundation for your business.

But even if you decide not to start your own business right now, this may still be the year to begin planning for it. After all, if owning a business is in your future, why not get an early start?

By Dianne H. Webster, Certified Financial Planner(r), Integrated Financial Strategies, 978-834-9066, www.ifslegacy.com

Securities offered through Commonwealth Financial Network, Member NASD, SIPC

For those of you who have started your own businesses, I'm sure you'll agree that Dianne provides many key areas to consider in preparing to "Start Your Own Business".

1. Review the list again.

2. If there is an area you've been overlooking, take charge this week and put together a plan to address that area.

3. If this is the year for you to begin a business:

    a. Identify your strengths.
    b. Identify your weaknesses.
    c. Identify your next step -- prepare a business plan, put together
       your team of experts,
    address financing .

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April 23, 2004
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