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Need Help Starting a Business? Get the Right Kind of Advice & Take Control of Your Start-Up!

By Caron Beesley
"I need help starting my business!" - is a common cry from many budding small business owners.

And it's no wonder. Starting a business is a huge step for any entrepreneur to undertake, and requires careful planning as well as business smarts and the right advice.

While there are many useful online resources for businesses to help with start-up planning, preparation and management - including this one from Business.gov, "10 Steps to Starting a Business"  - there is nothing quite as valuable as in-person assistance.

This can take many forms, from the counseling and resources provided by organizations such as *SCORE and Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) to the small business assistance offered by local SBA Offices.

If you are starting a business, you should also consider seeking out specialist advice and help for three key business functions: 

1. Tax and Accounting
2. Marketing 
3. Business Administration

Why? Simply because these are often overlooked at the outset and each have a strategic part to play in the planning and growth of your business. They are also functions that many start-ups either don't have the know-how or time to commit resources to.

That's why getting your arms around each of these functions early on, with the help of specialists in each of these areas, can put you in control of your business and competitively positioned for success.

Here are some pointers to help you source the right kind of help.

1. Tax and Accounting Advice

I doubt there are many small business owners - whether they are independent contractors, home-based businesses, or employer firms - that enter business understanding their tax obligations. It is critical that you seek independent tax advice from a specialist.

Many variables affect your taxes - from the way you structure your business, to where you work, and whether you employ help.

Consulting a tax specialist early on in the start-up process will save you headaches over time.

The good news is that it needn't involve a significant amount of upfront expense. Many tax specialists will offer an initial consultation free of charge (with the hope of winning your business over the long term). This can be a great resource for start-ups who just need some initial guidance - at zero cost.  Check your local business directories for small-business tax specialists in your area and give them a call. You'll be surprised to find how amenable and helpful they can be.

Read more about small business taxes and resources that the government provides here.

Likewise, it's worth consulting an accountant. Why? More than just a bookkeeper or manager of your finances, a good accountant can provide solid financial advice to help you steer your business in the right direction, guide you on managing risk, tax planning, as well as provide advice on personal finance management. Read "How to Choose an Accountant for your Small Business" for great tips on why you need an accountant and how to find the right one for your start-up and future business needs.

2. Marketing Support

Many business owners are reticent about spending start-up capital on marketing when, in fact (for the most part), a higher percentage of your overall business budget should be spent on marketing during the start-up phase than any other time - anywhere between 5-8%.

But if marketing was not your best subject at business school - where do you start? This is another area where expert advice and assistance can help.

There are many options for start-ups when it comes to marketing support, that needn't break the bank. You might just want to work with someone who can give you the outline of a marketing plan that you implement yourself; or, you can engage with someone who can plan and implement a marketing strategy. Whatever your needs, here are a few you options to consider:

- Hire an Independent Contractor or Marketing Freelancer - Not hire, as in put on payroll, but seek out the services of a consultant. Contracts can be hourly, project-based or on a retainer (you pay a flat monthly fee and can use their services as needed). The only overhead incurred is the consulting fee and any costs associated with the tactics that you choose to implement.Try to find a contractor who has experience in your industry. The best way to find contractors is through referrals from trusted sources in your community or industry. If you go this route, be sure to read this guide to Hiring Independent Contractors to understand your tax and reporting obligations.

- Work with a Marketing Agency - Far from being reserved for the big- budgets of larger business, many smaller independently owned marketing agencies can be flexible to most budgets and needs. They often draw on the services of freelancers - which helps keep costs low, and pass the savings on to clients - and because they work with several clients you can benefit from the broader experience of knowing what works in your market. Again, seek out recommendations from your network and small business peers in your industry or community.

Check out this Small Business Marketing Guide from Business.gov for more tips.

3. Administrative Support

Business administration -- from managing your business expenses to maintaining inventory to proofing and formatting your sales pitch in PowerPoint - can be a time-consuming affair that many small business owners could do without.

These demands have led to the growth of "virtual assistants" (VAs). These are self-employed individuals who use their own office equipment and software to serve you from anywhere between $20-$50 an hour. They can help start-ups and growing businesses stay on top of the mundane everyday tasks of keeping the administration side of your start-up flowing smoothly, but they can also be drawn on for marketing support - and at a much lower cost than hiring a personal assistant.

Whether you need occasional or ongoing assistance, outsourcing to a virtual assistant can save you money and time - whatever your line of business.

Read this excellent article by Wendy Maynard that explains how VAs can be the "savior of small businesses".

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