Starting a business can feel overwhelming, but you do not have to figure it all out alone. With local chambers of commerce and the Small Business Administration, experts can help you come up with a plan to launch a fruitful business.
While most states only have one SBA, Texas has several — including one in Harlingen. District Director Angela Burton said there are about 200,000 small businesses in her office’s coverage area.
Their website outlines 10 steps to starting a business. The first, and most crucial for success, she said, is conducting market research.
“It’s equivalent to building a house,” she said. “You’re not going to build your home without some sort of architectural plan. Folks need to think of that in regard to their business.”
The SBA can help with this step, as well as a range of other services — free of charge.
Following market research, the next two steps are to write a business plan and find funding. While the first step is to gather information about potential customers and similar businesses already operating in the area, the business plan, Burton said, is the “foundation” of a business.
“It’s important to look at startup costs,” Burton said. “Let us say I want to open a restaurant and serve this item. How many square feet are we going to need? What is the building going to cost? How much is it going to cost to serve hamburgers? How much to make the hamburgers?”
People often call the SBA and they are able to help by offering thought-provoking questions to help them sort their idea out.
Also included in the business plan is figuring out what kind of license and protection to register for. Jorge Sanchez, vice president of business development and startups at the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, said there are two most popular trends: sole proprietor and limited liability company.
“This would be if you’re selling jewelry or something totally risk-free,” Sanchez said, referring to the sole proprietor option. “But if we’re talking about food or something where accidents might happen, an LLC is more popular … meaning the owner is not liable for activities of the business.”
Sanchez also warns against launching a business without registering. He said people can get in trouble for not having proper licensing or for not collecting taxes to pay back to the state. Either can result in a fine or a lawsuit.
“It’s better they call us to ask what type of licenses they need so we can guide them in the right direction,” Sanchez said. “We do not enforce anything, we just advise.” While the chamber is based in McAllen, anyone interested can take advantage of their 50 programs, which range from counseling on how to start their business to connecting them with a mentor and developing a prototype.
As for funding, both the chamber and SBA offer various grants. On the SBA website, you can find the lender match tool, in which you can input information about the business to find a lender that is the right fit.
“We encourage folks to work with their lenders to see if they’re a candidate for an SBA loan,” Burton said. “The reason is, SBA terms are competitive. The interest rate may be lower, and the lender likes it because a percentage is federally backed by the government.”
Another important aspect, and step four in the SBA’s plan, is choosing a location.
Sanchez said people often this process often goes wrong for people because they do not look into the details enough before signing a contract.
“Some places don’t allow certain types of businesses,” he said. “Therefore, you would be stuck with a one- or two-year contract with a business you cannot establish there.”
That, and not putting enough effort and “launching to launch” are the biggest mistakes he sees.
The last six steps are: choosing a business structure and name, registering, getting federal
and state tax IDs, applying for licenses and permits, and lastly, opening a business bank account.
While Sanchez said the pandemic has slowed down new businesses opening in the area, things are starting to pick back up.
He and Burton encourage anyone interested to check out their websites or give them a call to learn what kind of support they can get in their new venture.
“People have to understand that the first couple of months, or even years, may not be profitable,” Sanchez said. “Not getting discouraged is the key to success.”