We’ve talked about the benefits of incorporating your at-home business before, but what comes next? Incorporating your business is a huge step. Once you’ve made the jump into creating a Corporation or LLC, you want to make sure you’re taking the correct next steps. You’re a legal entity, your assets are protected, your site’s live- or just about, but now what?
Here are a couple of moves you can make as a small business owner who’s recently incorporated to make sure you’re on the right track:
Protect your intellectual property.
The best way to go about doing this is to invest in a trademark. A trademark is typically a name, phrase, logo, design, or symbol that is used to denote the source of a product or service. With an official trademark, your business’s brand is fully your own. The first step after you know exactly what you want to register is to head over to the United States Patent and Trademark Office site and start searching for marks that could be close to your own.
You should also read the requirements for registering a trademark very, very carefully – your application probably won’t be reviewed until three months after you first file it, and the last thing you want is to be rejected because of a silly mistake. Once you’ve filed a trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, no one else can legally use your company’s logo, designs, symbols, phrases, or whatever it is that you want to protect. You’ve worked so hard to establish your business thus far; don’t forget to protect your brand identity.
Find a business mentor.
I am a big believer in the use of mentors; it’s partially how I got to where I am today. In addition to having great mentors through school and as I started my business, I mentor several college students from Pepperdine (where I went to school) as well. Being a business owner is a unique career path. It’s challenging and unpredictable, so talking to a mentor about his or her experience can help you from making the same mistakes he or she did when he or she just started out. Plus, people love to talk about how they made it to the top.
Why not take advantage of that information?
There’s so much to learn from someone who’s done it all before. A great place to look for mentors is through your Alma Mater. You already have that connection of having graduated from the same school, and there’s a sense of “hometown pride” that makes people want to help one another out.” If you can’t find anyone through your school or if you didn’t go to school, find someone in business you look up to and ask them out to coffee. Pick their brain: what worked for them along the way? What didn’t? Chances are, they’ll be flattered you asked. If you’re stumped on who to ask, think about who you know or who you know who’s in a place you’d like to be in yourself. Is there someone who successfully runs her full business in the comfort of her own home and never misses a family event? If that’s where you want to be, talk to someone like that. You can also check out SCORE which is a non-profit agency dedicated to helping small businesses through free education and mentorship.
Manage your money.
Whether you’d like to put your business’s money in the hands of a professional, like an accountant, or do it yourself is ultimately up to you. But the biggest lesson I can give early-stage small business owners is to not overspend. Hire a couple of fewer people than you think necessary (that is if you’re running a business with employees). It’s much easier to hire more people than it is to fire them. Skip out on any fancy “office” gadgets as well. It can be tempting to want to go all out on your home office once you’ve established your new business, but you don’t need a separate Keurig to put in your office – coffee’s still in the kitchen. When your business starts to make a little more money, by all means, hire more people (you’ll need the extra help if your business is doing well), buy a slushy machine – just try your best to match the money your business is putting out to the money it’s raking in.
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Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com. MyCorporation is a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, providing start-up bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent, DBA, and trademark & copyright filing services. MyCorporation does all the work, making the business formation and maintenance quick and painless, so business owners can focus on what they do best. Follow her on Twitter @mycorporation.