Over the years I have met with many individuals unhappy with working for a company and trying to figure out what they can do to work on their own and the steps they need to take to accomplish this. I can relate to them since I was there several years ago. I took that leap of faith in October 2010, and I am so happy that I did.

Below is some advice I decided to share with my readers because you might be contemplating doing the same.

First, you must be passionate about what you are going to do. My background was always connected to finance in some way but it wasn’t until the last company that I had worked for that I realized the niche in alternative financing. I was very passionate about helping those companies find that kind of financing and realized I was good at it. There was a need for what I did since the banks had tightened up their lending criteria and it was confusing and very time consuming for business owners to find an alternative source on their own.

Once you know what you are going to do, figure out your business name, logo and form your business structure (C or S Corp, LLC, sole proprietor). If you can’t decide what that should be, consult with your CPA or attorney.

Do your homework. Put together a business plan outlining the steps to get your business started and what you project the business will do in expenses and revenue. There are organizations that can assist you with that (SCORE, Small Business Resource Center, St. Petersburg Greenhouse, etc.) Check out your competitors. What will make you different from them?

A big part of your business plan is the budget. This is very important. You need to estimate what your monthly expenses are going to be for the business and personally and what you expect to bring in income. You need to assess if you will be able to start generating income immediately — it might take a few months or even a year. You need to have that money in reserves to cover those expenses. Maybe you have other income coming in that will help out with that. This is where so many business owners underestimate what that will be and fail. Is this business something you can do part time to build it up before quitting your full-time job? If so, set a time frame when you will be able to work it full time.

Start working on developing a website (even if it is basic). Design business cards and a basic brochure that can be emailed as well as given out. Start building up your LinkedIn profile. I mentioned earlier about organizations that can help you with your business plan but they also can help you with marketing, human resources, sales, financing, etc. They all offer classes for free or charge a small amount that you can take to gain experience in an area that you might need to learn about.

Read books, articles and listen to motivational or educational tapes to help you prepare for your new venture. Surround yourself with positive people who will be a good influence for you. Hang around other business owners and ask them if they can share some advice.

Research what is available to you in traditional (bank) and non-traditional financing (alternative). While you are still employed, you have a better chance in qualifying for an unsecured personal loan, equity loan, some micro loans if your credit is good. Find out if your business can qualify for a SBA loan. If your credit has issues, work on getting that cleaned up. There are companies that can help you with that, if needed. If you don’t qualify for bank financing, check to see what is available on the alternative side. Usually they don’t put emphasis on your credit, just the collateral which can be the receivable, purchase order, equipment, etc.

Once you start your business, you need a marketing plan and a sales strategy. Since you are no longer accountable to someone, you need to be accountable to yourself. Set yearly goals (from your projections) then break them down to monthly and weekly. At the end of each week, review what you accomplished and if you fell short in an area, figure out how you can obtain it the following week or do you need to make adjustments. You need to be able to motivate yourself to get out there every day, working to your full potential. This can be challenging, especially if your office is home based.

NETWORK, NETWORK AND MORE NETWORKING. This is very important. When I first started my business, I attended every event that I could to meet people and promote what I did. After a while I was able to decide on which ones worked best for what I did as far as meeting potential prospects or referral sources. Once you decide on the groups, you must be consistent in attending every month. Find ways to help others out with their businesses by inviting them to attend some of your groups or introducing them to some of your connections that could benefit them.

Find ways to promote your business by speaking at events, doing presentations, writing a blog, newsletter or articles for publications. There are so many groups that are in need of a good speaker to educate their members or publications in need of articles for their readers.

If you are able to offer some kind of a referral program, do so. Everyone is looking for a way to earn some extra bucks or save money and it is a nice surprise to receive a check in the mail, gift card or free service as a thank you. Those receiving will keep you in mind and put that extra effort in continuing to refer someone to you. If you cannot offer anything, then again think of a way to help that person out in their business and if you get a referral, send a hand written thank you note.

Provide the best service that you can. I still believe that sets you apart from the competition. People enjoy doing business with people they like and trust and can provide excellent service.

Cheryl O’Neill Gowen is president and CEO of Alternative Funding Options. She works with business owners seeking cash flow from non-traditional sources, drawing on more than 30 years’ experience in banking, financing and staffing. Contact her at:cgowen@altfundoptions.com.

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