Starting a small business requires courage, capital, and knowledge. 

Panelists for “Create Your Own Success: A Workshop on Starting Your Business” at the DC Chamber of Commerce’s 2023 Small Business Summit on Tuesday felt most strongly about the latter point. 

Largely because of how competitive it is for new small business owners.

In March 2023, over 451,000 new business applications were filed. That’s an increase of 5.4% compared to February, according to the United States Census Bureau.

Whether or not a business will be successful depends on a variety of factors. Still, panelist Shirley Kwan-Hui, interim director of the Department of Licensing and Consumer Protection for Washington, D.C., says success is tied to preparedness.

“One piece of advice I would give is to do your research,” she says.

The panel also featured Thomas Sanchez, chief executive officer and founder of Social Driver, and Carl E. Brown Jr., state/executive director of the District of Columbia Small Business Development Center at Howard University.

How to Start a Small Business

When starting a business, Sanchez emphasized being “brilliant at the basics” as an owner.

By “basics,” he means applying for and getting the proper business license, establishing a business bank account, and anything else that applies to legally starting a business.

In an example, Sanchez spoke about how without a valid business license, the time prior to one may not count for grants and other opportunities.

“You never went and established a business license, you never opened the bank account, you never started the clock. All that time, all that hustle, all that sweat equity isn’t going to add up.”

Thomas Sanchez, chief executive officer and founder of Social Driver

A business license or permit is often required for businesses with physical locations or stores, businesses that sell goods or services that also require a license. Requirements for licenses vary by state, city, and county.

In addition to a license, Brown and other panelists recommended setting up a company bank account, establishing a relationship with that bank, and doing extensive research on requirements and needs.

Building a Strong Financial Foundation

All businesses need money to start and survive. Panel moderator Karima M. Woods, commissioner for the Department of Insurance, Securities, and Banking, calls this “business infrastructure.”

“I’ve seen so many businesses just stack up too many expenses, too much debt, too many promises to investors, and it ends up being their downfall a few years later,” Sanchez says.

What does he recommend instead? Being “too free to fail.”

This includes creating a business budget, building flexibility, and looking into other ways to create capital for small businesses. 

Colleges and events around the country offer business plan competitions. Grants are available year-round for cities and counties.

In Brown’s perspective, building a relationship with the bank where the company’s money is can make a difference. 

Brown has more than 25 years of experience working with businesses in the public and private sectors. He’s also the host of “The Small Business Report” on Sirius XM.

“They want to know what you do. Invite them into your shop, show them what you’re all about. Take them on that journey with you because when you need that money, they already know what’s going on in your place of business.” 

Carl E. Brown Jr., state/executive director of the District of Columbia Small Business Development Center at Howard University

Know Your Customer

Two common types of business models are B2B, or business-to-business, and B2C, business-to-consumer. 

“Your customers are what you’re in business for and they’re going to be the lifeblood of your business,” Sanchez says. “So early on, you have to make the basic decision of who your customer is going to be.”

Customers and clients can be used to boost businesses. Testimonials, reviews, and case studies about the work showcase the best parts of a company. Networking events drive awareness and help with finding more customers and partnerships. 

Kwan-Hui offers another point of view — analyzing data and products. 

“Customer expectations are always changing, so it’s important to know your product, what works, what doesn’t work,” she says.

For owners with the perspective that their customer is “anybody buying,” Brown pushes against this in favor of pinpointing the target customer or client.

“Know your customer and never stop marketing your business,” Brown says. “You never know who you’re talking to. And be kind when you talk to folks.”

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