Starting a Business in Lincoln, Nebraska
Thomas Edison is famously quoted as saying “The value of an idea lies in using it.” Those who are bold enough to start their own businesses are doing exactly that, and for every idea out there that’s been capitalized upon, there are many more that have yet to be acted upon but have the potential to be wildly successful.
For many entrepreneurs, taking a leap to start a business has resulted from a strong belief that they have an exceptional, marketable, and theoretically profitable idea that needs to be shared with the world, or alternatively, it’s been a longtime calling. For other savvy businesspeople, it comes about from an opportunity presenting itself that’s too hard to pass up, or finally finding the right fit. No matter how you’ve arrived at the point where you’re considering starting a business, it’s important to understand, at the very least, the basic steps necessary to make it happen.
The 10 Steps to Starting a Business, provided by the U.S. Small Business Administration, outline this very nicely. We’ll explore each, and consult with the local experts, many of whom have started their own successful enterprises, to provide insight on what we consider to be the fundamentals.
Step 1: Write a Business Plan (This written guide will help you map out how you will start and run your business successfully.)
Step 2: Get Business Assistance and Training (Take advantage of free training and counseling services.)
Those in Lincoln have access to these resources through several organizations that are also supported by volunteers from the community who are experienced business owners. While in training and experience lies the bulk of how you’ll learn the ropes, mentorship and involvement in activities where you’re in the company of established business owners are also invaluable to a new business owner.
For those without any prior experience with running a business, or who have never been in a leadership position, it’s important to seek guidance from a professional who has in order to ensure you’re moving in the right direction. Alternatively, even for seasoned businesspeople starting a new venture, it helps to have an outside perspective, especially in the early stages.
You’ll also want to surround yourself with a healthy mix of like-minded individuals who are currently doing what you’re doing, and the more experienced folks so that you can absorb their knowledge, and benefit from their wisdom. Where to find these people, you ask? Start with your local Chamber of Commerce, which also will serve as an advocate for your business and its interests.
“A Lincoln Chamber membership can jumpstart your business by helping with brand recognition in the community and growing your network,” explains Jaime Henning with the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce. “The Chamber has been the leading voice for business in Lincoln for over 100 years and has over 1,700 business members.
Taking care of our members is our top priority. We are here to help businesses every step of the way; from being an advocate at the local, state and federal level and helping you announce your business to the community through ribbon cuttings, groundbreakings and other events that connect you to new faces.
Businesses often want to know what the Chamber can do for them. Beyond what I’ve mentioned above, we offer gatherings and forums where our members, especially small business members, can learn how to navigate Lincoln’s business issues, engage fully in the community and take their place in what’s next for Lincoln. Events like Chamber Coffee and Face the Chamber enable elected leaders to transfer knowledge to our members to give them a front seat and leadership role in Lincoln’s future.
Joining the Lincoln Chamber is a business necessity that pays big dividends. We are dedicated to promoting the local business community. We want to help businesses learn, collaborate and grow. We offer B2B relationships and referrals that help your business in the ways you need it.”
There’s also a way to have immediate and unrestricted access to these services – purchase a franchise.
In addition to this key benefit, MJ Cassner with Transworld Business Advisors details the other advantages and things you’d need to know to decide whether it’s right for you.
“It’s been estimated that less than 12% of businesses in the United States are classified as a franchise, but they account for approximately 50% of all retail sales nationwide. This equals out to roughly four times their share of the dollars. That’s very telling of why franchises have become quite popular as far as business investments, and there are many benefits associated with them too. I’ve bought three franchises myself, I strongly believe in them, and here’s why:
- Brand recognition right out of the gate.
- Existing systems and processes in place that are proven.
- Training and support – Franchise representatives will come out and assist you with finding a place to locate, show you how to operate the computer systems, etc. There’s always someone to call for help.
- Buying power – Help with financing items that are needed but that you might not be able to afford at the time.
- Advertising assistance – There are materials and promotional items all ready to go. Some will even handle all of the marketing for you, and may already be doing so in the area.
- Camaraderie – go to conventions and meet with like-minded people who know the same products, encourage each other build friendships and teams.
So who is an ideal candidate? You’ll need to be goal-driven, enthusiastic, sales-oriented, have strong communication skills, a strong support system, and financial stability. As for the final quality, it’s important to note that franchises are more affordable than most think – approximately 28% of all franchises cost under 50K, although the majority will cost between 100-250K.
For those buying an existing business, what to look for is similar to a franchise. Here are the musts: *It’s profitable *Books are in order *Good reputation *Good location *Growing industry *Well-established *Equipment in good working condition.
For those who are considering business ownership, I highly recommend either a franchise or an established business as opposed to starting from scratch.”
Step 3: Choose a Business Location (Seek advice on how to select a customer-friendly location and comply with zoning laws.)
This might be a storefront, office, warehouse or manufacturing facility; many a great business has begun in a basement or garage too. It may require construction of a new building, but for those starting out with limited resources, renting space is generally the most popular option. Today, there are more options than ever before, particularly for SMBs with office suites, coworking spaces, incubators, virtual office capabilities, and more.
“When you decide to start a business, it seems that way more money is leaving your bank account than going in,” says Michael Holroyd of Holroyd Investment Properties. “There is an endless list of startup costs that just can’t be avoided. Some of these costs require long-term commitments that a new business owner just isn’t ready for quite yet.
Taking advantage of office space with HIP OffiCenters is a very low-risk way of getting your business started. There are a wide range of lease terms to meet your commitment level. We offer a variety of office sizes and styles, and can even furnish it for you. Our clients are provided with a full-time receptionist, conference room, and modern office equipment. HIP OffiCenters is a great way to convey a professional image to your clients, from your very first day in business on, without the financial struggle of staffing an office.”
Holroyd goes on to say, “The advice I give to new business owners is simple. Look at companies that you like to work with – what draws you to them? Why do you think they are successful? The most common answers are customer service, convenience, and appearance.
New business owners need to be sure anyone representing their company is providing excellent customer service. They need to be sure their office is convenient to find and that sufficient parking is available. And first impressions matter. Be sure your office appears professional to portray confidence and success to your customers.
Clients of HIP OffiCenters have a professional receptionist in a comfortable lobby greeting all of their customers. The Executive Office Suites are easy to find and offers free parking next to the building. Our large, spacious offices give the professional atmosphere our clients are looking for, with a host of amenities that further enhance the experience for both tenants and their clients.
Finally, set clear goals. Most individuals who are ready to start a business are ready to work hard and sacrifice to get the business running. Unfortunately, it is very easy to find yourself running in circles and getting nowhere. Write down the goals of your business. Then, write down what will need to happen to achieve those goals.
HIP OffiCenters is in the business of helping new businesses grow. We make the first step easy so that new companies can focus on reaching their goals.”
After the location is decided and those details are finalized, then comes what will need to be done to get up and running in your new space. This might include renovations, furnishings, outfitting it with the systems and technology needed to perform business duties, getting signage in place, and more. There’s even the little things here and there, and for troubleshooting anything with the lights (as far as bulbs) or equipment (that’s battery-operated), keep in mind that Batteries Plus Bulbs has got you covered.
Step 4: Finance Your Business (Find government-backed loans, venture capital and research grants to help you get started. Meet with your commercial banker to see what options are available to you there and work closely with them to get everything in place, and set in motion accordingly.)
Side Note: Along with financing the business to get it up and running in the first place, there are other items involving your monetary resources that will need to be handled to support those efforts. This includes, but is of course not limited to, payroll and taxes, HR, benefits, accounting and management of finances, etc. For all new business owners across the board, establishing strategic partnerships in areas that are outside of their expertise is well advised, particularly when these things are complex and affect the bottom line. Any errors with finances for a new business could prove to be too much of a blow to bear.
Step 5: Determine the Legal Structure of Your Business (Decide which form of ownership is best for you: sole proprietorship, partnership, Limited Liability Company (LLC), corporation, S corporation, nonprofit or cooperative.)
“An LLC or S corporation is structured so that your personal assets are protected, which can be major for small business owners,” says Jethro Hopkins of No Coast Business Advisors. “Using these two types of corporate entities for a new business venture is advised because of the risk involved with so many unknowns at play. There’s no guarantee of success, so instead of going into it with everything to lose, this is a way to mitigate that risk. Starting any business, there’s going to be a level of uncertainty about what the future holds, but more so when there are no projections to go off of based on past performance or outcomes. In light of that, don’t put the entirety of your personal life at risk at the same time more than need be to get your business operational.
If you’re setting up a sole proprietorship, you’ll be responsible all of the groundwork, as there won’t be any established systems in place or access to support and resources like you’d have if you were purchasing a franchise, and to a lesser-but-still-significant extent with an established business. There’s also no valuable lessons learned from trial and error…yet. Those can be costly. For those with a truly unique offering, it might be worth it. But for the most part, it’s very selectively recommended these days, especially with the prominence of the franchise system where the opportunities are abundant to purchase a business with systems in place that have already proven to be successful.
With partnerships, proceed with caution as well. From the very beginning, you’ll want to put your partnership agreement paperwork together assuming the worst, which can be a tricky way to start off a business relationship. Partnerships are just like marriages, there’s a high rate of failure involved, added to an already high rate of failure for just going into business period. Everything should be outlined in details and the agreement should be legally binding. Just consider this: If your business partner died, would you be comfortable going into business with their spouse, kids, parents, etc.? Or for added perspective, using the correlation to marriage again, if your spouse died, would you then just partner up with his or her sibling, or parents, and keep on keepin’ on? Probably not, which is where a buyout option built into a contract is important, and on a larger scale, why you need to have this part in place before all else.
If you’re considering starting your own business, again with the failure rate being as high as it is, structure will be a determining factor, as will simply understanding the commitment and the work it will require, along with the financial burden.
Taking over of an existing business that’s well-established and reasonably priced is really a great way to go into business for yourself, and if you’re interested in the opportunities that are available locally, feel free to contact me to learn more.”
Step 6: Register a Business Name (“Doing Business As” or DBA) (Register your business name with your state government. Learn which tax identification number you’ll need to obtain from the IRS and your state revenue agency.)
Step 7: Register for State and Local Taxes (Register with your state to obtain a tax identification number, workers’ compensation, unemployment and disability insurance.)
Ok, so you’ve accomplished Step 6 followed by 7, check. Perfect. While we’re still on the topic of taxes, though, Matthew Westenburg, CPA with SP Group, P.C. offers the following advice:
“Ask your CPA about tax credits that may be available for your business. Both federal and state governments have a variety of programs to help people starting or growing a business. In 2016 the Research & Development tax credit was expanded to allow small companies to use the credit to pay their payroll taxes. It doesn’t just apply to NASA anymore. Small business owners who make or develop their products have a real opportunity to claim the R&D tax credit.”
As for the other steps where an accounting firm such as SP Group, PC would be of assistance, Westenburg notes, “SP Group, PC is filled with accounting professionals who have all started our own businesses. We know the little things that one should look at when starting a business. Spending a little time with your CPA before you start or buy a business can save you a lot of headaches and money in the long run. We can work with you to select the right type of business entity that will minimize your tax liability or provide flexibility for financing purposes. Our professional team can help you prepare financial statements for SBA and bank financing, or we can help evaluate the financial operations of a company you are looking to purchase.
Payroll seems to be a sticky topic today, so I recommend enlisting the service of professionals. It does cost real money to have a payroll service pay your employees, file your tax returns, and pay your payroll taxes in a timely manner. But it can also be a life saver. I have seen too many companies fall behind on paying payroll taxes or filing payroll tax returns. The penalties for such a mix-up are often 3 to 4 times the cost of the payroll service…and just think about all the time you’ll save. Early in a business’s life, pay yourself just enough and put the rest of the money back into the company. This will allow you to build a strong company and spend money building your brand and acquiring customers.
As many of my fellow professionals have noted, finding the right team to help you through your journey is important. Find the friends and advisors that you trust who can talk you off the ledge one minute and then celebrate your successes the next. Good luck, it’s an awesome ride.”
Step 8: Obtain Business Licenses and Permits (Get a list of federal, state and local licenses and permits required for your business.)
Step 9: Understand Employer Responsibilities (Learn the legal steps you need to take to hire employees.)
Once that’s handled, along with the prior steps as they relate to your role as a new employer, you’ll move on to the hiring process, which can be arduous. Nonetheless, getting the right team in place is critical (unless that’s just you for the time being, in which case this will be revisited down the line at some point).
“When starting a business you may or may not need staff,” notes Sue Ellen Stutzman of Nesco Resource. “We can assist with the selection and hiring process by handling the recruiting, screening, and initial hiring of the needed staff. If you decide to utilize our other services, say a temp-to-hire, we also assume the immediate burden of insurance as well as worker’s comp and unemployment. It is a win-win-win for all involved.
You’ll want to keep in mind that the unemployment rate plays a huge factor when trying to recruit and retain quality talent. It’s historically low right now, which has made for very competitive conditions. Also, beware of the unseen costs when hiring your own staff. It takes time to put together the ads, screen resumes, schedule the interviews, and so on. Not to mention all of the new hire paperwork, insurance, payroll and payroll taxes, workers comp, and unemployment. All of these things can be very costly to a small business owner. Nesco Resource can help to defray some of those initial costs and provide you with weekly invoicing for those new employees. You are starting a business, which is no easy undertaking. Our team will come alongside and assist you in any way we can.
Even though you may not need someone right now, you will if all goes according to plan with the growth and success of your business, so it is always best to be prepared. Don’t wait until the need is so overwhelming and you feel as though you are drowning. Plan ahead have your lifeboat in the water and waiting. This will also allow you to be selective in partnering with those who hold your same core values and want to see you succeed.”
Step 10: Find Local Assistance (For all of the previous steps, and for anything you encounter moving forward.)
That final step will come as no surprise to Strictly Business readers, because it’s exactly what we emphasize every month as we highlight resources in the area. For those who are looking to start a business of their own, within the outlined steps, here are more of our recommendations for finding local assistance!
Marketing: Get The Word Out Early & Often!
New businesses have their own distinct requirements and challenges, and as was just mentioned, one shared by all is that people don’t yet know about them! So when you’re getting started, you’ll want to go heavy on promotion, canvassing a wide audience. However, since there will be budget constraints involved, and your attention will be in a million different places at once, making a smart investment in someone to partner with to ensure you’re taking full advantage of every opportunity that’s available to you is key. Then, once you’ve accomplished the task of establishing your business and brand as a recognizable entity in your marketplace, you can move into more targeted promotion from there.
Technology: Find Trusted Providers & Build a Team
Infrastructure & IT Support
How you utilize technology will be a major contributor to the success of your efforts moving forward, so establishing a solid foundation is important. Right out of the gate you’ll be making important decisions about what to implement based on your outlined objectives, and how best to do so.
“We enjoy working with entrepreneurs, helping select the right technologies to give them an upper hand,” explains Darren Lichty of Panology Tech Solutions. “It is such a pleasure to also provide guidance, through our own experiences, to help them succeed – and to make technical support and cloud services accessible to all. We educate professionals on the options available to them so that they are in the position to make an informed decision.
Technology is continuously evolving, offering new and more efficient ways to conduct business. Many of the options are available at little to no cost. By being open to implementing the right tools, and leveraging innovative new approaches, you can greatly increase your chances of success. One of Panology Tech Solutions’ core values, and the most important, is client and community obsession. It is our sincere desire to help as many small businesses in our community as possible.
A piece of advice I’d offer to all entrepreneurs is to take the many great workshops offered by Lincoln SCORE. I found these extremely helpful when I started. There are a few open coffee sessions held each week. These are great places to meet and talk with other entrepreneurs, learn about the tools they found helpful, and bounce ideas off of them. Listen and learn from the experiences of others in the business community.”
Digital marketing isn’t just the wave of the future happening in select niche marketplaces; it’s everywhere, and it’s here to stay. Establishing a strong online presence is an important part of marketing a new business, and it’s not a matter of if a strategy should be implemented, but when and how. Again, you’ll want to be sure you’ve got the experts hard at work for you, because it’s not something that the average person would be able to accomplish without the help of a professional.
“Conducting market analysis is the first step to determining whether digital marketing is a good fit, and that process begins with analysis of the search volume within your geographic target region,” advises Tyler Horsley of Nuclear Networking. “Let’s just say that’s Lincoln, NE. We’ll find out how many people are searching for specific terms that are applicable to your business locally, and then we move on to competitive analysis. This covers how many people are already providing similar offerings, and of those, how many are currently engaging in effective digital marketing campaigns. We can even use our intelligence tools to tell our clients everything that their competition is doing in the digital space, and what they are paying to have it done.
At that point, we can definitively say whether digital marketing is a good fit or not, and if it is, we’ll put together a custom strategy. Our goal with this is to outperform the others and win you the coveted top spot on search engines and any other areas you’d need to dominate online to be successful.
You might find this hard to believe, but everything we’ve done up to this point is free for our clients. We need to do the research to understand the key factors that would determine success, and that’s a benefit we extend as a part of the consultative process when we’re establishing a working relationship.
We find that many of our clients are curious about digital marketing but don’t feel confident enough to pursue it without fear of the results justifying the investment. When dealing with intangibles, there’s a level of uncertainty that’s to be expected. The questions we are most often asked right out of the gate are as follows: “How much will it cost?” “What will be my return on investment?” “Will it work?” “What are my competitors doing?” As you can see, we’ve taken these into consideration with our process, which satisfies all three. Through the free inbound analysis and marketing audit, we’re able to present viable options backed by what we’ve uncovered during the research process.
Education is a priority for us, so we’re always finding out as much as we can from what’s out there, and from our clients personally. Our goal with this is to deliver hard facts, putting our findings in front of the client so that they learn how it works and feel confident in their decisions moving forward. We also have a vertical called Angel Insurance, and that network allows us to tap into unlimited amounts of funds and resources, which is especially advantageous for SMBs.
For new businesses, it’s important not to wait to get the ball rolling. Everything we present to you is free, so there’s no risk and very little time involved to learn, and to fully understand the possibilities.”
As far as how you’ll accept payment for your goods or services rendered, this also falls within the realm of technology, as it’s utilized for transactions by the vast majority of merchants.
“We help with setup of payment processing for new businesses, which isn’t necessarily as simple and straightforward as it sounds,” advises Adam Roberts of First American Payment Systems. “There are actually many pitfalls that can cost you literally thousands of dollars, so we spend a lot of time educating professionals about the industry.
Here’s the short list: Avoid leases on machines. Avoid anyone who tries to sell you on something using scare tactics. Avoid signing up with a company out of state that sends you something to sign without the full terms and conditions pages. Make sure you get rates in writing. And finally, avoid anyone who says they can process all your payments with just a simple flat fee, because the VS/MC/DC/AMEX interchange rates aren’t flat at all. There are literally hundreds of cards on the interchange sheets and every single card has a different rate. So if they promise a flat rate, either the salesperson doesn’t understand the way VS/MC/DC/AMEX works or they aren’t being honest – which is a big problem in our industry. All that being said, go with someone local that you can trust.
If you get setup with the wrong processor, you could easily get stuck in a lease for a terminal costing you upwards of $3,000 over 4 years. We don’t do that. We give away hi-speed chip-enabled swiping terminals that also process ApplePay and Googlepay all in a fast, secure platform for $170 or less. As far as rates, we can get most debit cards at less than 1%, which crushes the large providers like Square, Paypal and First Data who can be well over 2.75 – 3% or more. Don’t sign up with some 800 number in New York or California; instead, go with someone LOCAL for your payment processing needs. Personally, when it comes to my money, I like to look someone in the eye, shake their hand, and know I can trust them. That’s why we only service Nebraska-based businesses.
Recently we’ve seen a major shift in the payment processing world due to chip cards and Smartcards, also known as EMV payments (Europay, Mastercard, Visa). Many processors will feed you misinformation about the regulations on these cards – see my January Strictly Business article warning people about this. This is yet another pitfall.
If I can help businesses avoid the pitfalls, scams and dishonest sales tactics then I feel I’ve done my job. We’ll help with that and make the setup easy, fast, and secure for your business. Even just a phone call to discuss your processing will help you navigate these waters, and we welcome those too. We can steer you through and point you to ways you can process payments easily, quickly, and securely with someone local that you can trust.”
The means by which to prominently display and promote your business location through signage has also progressed quite a bit with the times as far as technology is concerned.
“The technology in LED scrolling message displays is constantly improving,” notes Tony Persons of Nebraska Sign Company. “The Watchfire displays that we carry today make it easy to create high definition, full color advertisements that can be scheduled months in advance, and can be transferred to the display through a wireless controller in seconds by the push of a button. In a high-traffic area, there is no better way to advertise in my opinion. The cost of a 5-year lease on a message display will pay for itself many times over.”
Signage is yet another example of a fundamental start-up item to consider earlier on in the process rather than later. Persons further advises, “Over the last 20 years of being in the sign industry, I’ve noticed that sign displays are often the last thing people consider when planning a business. They’ve trademarked the name, designed a logo, rented the space and spent a lot of time and money on the interior design, and then realize they need something on the exterior that is going to attract attention. Many seem to think that word of mouth alone will be enough to get people through the door, but in my experience, catching lighting in a bottle like that is rare. If you have a retail space that depends on walk-in traffic, you need to be thinking about your sign from the get-go. It’s the first impression people have of your business, and the exterior should be a reflection of the interior. When there are 20 restaurants or salons in a 4-square-mile radius, you need to find ways to set yourself apart.
New business owners also need to be aware of sign ordinances enforced by both the city and their property managers. Lincoln has a well-written sign code and an online geographic information system that allows everyone to look up their zoning and what those zones allow for signs, yet so many feel blindsided when the sign they envisioned is not permitted by the City or their rental agreement. Our company has the experience and knowledge to analyze your options to make sure you are in compliance with those ordinances as well as the property requirements.
We absolutely want our clients to succeed, and we believe that starts with good design and planning. At Nebraska Sign Company, we have an amazing design team and what I think are the best sign craftsmen in the business. We can generate new ideas to assist with the initial branding your business, or work with the branding you already have in place to create a dimensional sign display that will be highly visible and attractive.”
In addition to display, the technology used to produce printed materials has advanced quite a bit with the times. “Digital printing has revolutionized our business,” says Matt Ashmore of Eagle Printing & Sign. “Sharp, consistent, and affordable digital printing allows for personalization in quantities that fit any job. There are a number of different printing processes, so we’ll take into consideration your budget, quantity, and most importantly, your goals, then recommend the process that’s right for your job. In partnership with the printing method, design is the other critical component. Design is more than beauty; it must be functional and goal-oriented, always keeping in mind who will use and interact with your product and service. Come with your ideas and we’ll fully develop those into layout options that are presented for comparison. Signage, logos, brochures, folders, books, product packaging, menus, promotional items and so much more – we can handle it all. For those who are just getting started, if you have any questions or need guidance with a project, our experienced team is here to help, no matter what stage you’re at in the process.”
If you’re starting a business, we applaud you and welcome you to the club! It will be an intense journey of ups and downs, and will require a lot of work, tenacity, and sacrifice. There will be many lessons learned, and some the hard way. However, if it’s your passion and you find this to be your calling, there are few things in life that are as amazing an accomplishment as being the owner of a successful business that you started. Connecting with the people who want you to succeed and will help you do just that will make all the difference.