10 Steps to Start a Small Business in Pennsylvania

[Content originally published on Center City Print, repurposed for RiZen Metrics]

Whichever stage of the business journey you are at, starting a company can be daunting. You want to make sure that you have all of your bases covered so operations can run smoothly and you can focus on doing what you care about. Here are 10 must-follow steps if you’re looking to start a small business in PA.

Beginning a small business can be an inspiring yet overwhelming endeavor to take on. How do I start? What do I need to do? Will my business idea work? Will my product or service sell? All of those questions are valid when you are first starting. Luckily in the digital age, we live in, the information you need to answer any of your doubts can be found at your fingertips.

In this article, we will discuss ten steps to start a small business in PA, with links to some helpful articles and information that could assist in making your idea a reality.

Navigate this article

  1. Research
  2. Take a look at your competitors
  3. Write a business plan
  4. Figure out finances
  5. Pick a name
  6. Choose your location
  7. Get necessary permits & tax IDs
  8. Consider your branding
  9. Build your network
  10. Figure out a marketing strategy
  11. Launch, & Tell YOUR Story

1. Research

Maybe you were sitting in a coffee shop, trying to fall asleep, or at a social gathering when… poof… an idea struck you! You undeniably came up with an awesome idea, but will it work? How do you know that it will work? Well- you do your research!

Conducting market research involves finding answers to these critical questions:

  • What am I selling?
  • Who am I selling my product or service to?
    (or in other words… who is your ideal customer?)
  • Will my product or service sell?
  • Who are my competitors?
  • How much will my product or service need to sell for?

With your goals at the top of your mind, now it’s time to start researching.

2. Take a look at your competitors.

This could be a quick Google search or a trip to a local business. Type into a search engine your idea, and if applicable, your location. The companies that list on the results page are considered your competitors. Take a look through their Google My Business website, read reviews- do a deep dive.

  • How much are they selling your product (or similar product) for?
  • Are their customers satisfied (good reviews)?
  • How do they market their product?
  • What do they offer that you haven’t thought of?
  • Who are their customers? (demographics)
    Hint: These are probably your potential customers too!

Document your findings on a spreadsheet. Make a note of anything that stands out to you. Stay inspired and motivated to overcome any potential weaknesses you discover.

The Small Business Development Center Network offers comprehensive guides and research reports to the idea and industry-specific businesses. View trends, data, and other related information to help you on your market research journey.

3. Write a Business Plan

Now that you’ve done your research and feel confident in your idea, it’s time to write your business plan.

First, what is it? A business plan is a formal document, often for startups, that outlines your company goals, objectives, and a time frame to meet your expectations. Lenders and investors will also view this plan if applicable. Essentially it is an outline of your future.

Keep in mind that your plan will constantly evolve as your company grows. You want it to be short and digestible, but with enough information that anyone reading it could get a great idea of your goals and what you’re all about. Learn as you go!

If you’re looking for an excellent course on how to write a business plan, check out Applied Digital Skill’s course on Google Digital Garage. It’s an hour-long and walks you through each step of the process.

4. Figure Out Finances

How much money will you need to get your business up and running? Will you need a loan? By understanding exactly what you will need before your business opens its doors (physically or metaphorically), you’ll feel prepared and ready to go.

The U.S. Small Business Association wrote an excellent article on how to manage and plan for your finances.

5. Pick a Name (& Choose it Carefully!)

Deciding on your company’s name is a big step. It outlines your identity, and therefore should be chosen carefully. Using a mixture of your research from step one and your creative brain, you’ll choose a name that you feel confident in.

Your name should be unique and reflect your product or service. For marketing purposes, it’s not recommended that you name your business exactly after the product. For example, an exact match name would be “Custom Apparel” if the owner sells, well, custom apparel. Every time a potential customer searched on Google for their business, they would get inundated with other established companies that offer that product.

Make sure that your business name is not already taken. Pennsylvania offers an easy-to-navigate business name database where you can search to see if your name is available.

6. Choose Your Location

Your business location will serve as a hub for the majority, if not all, of your customers. So, where do you open one? First things first, it’s important to figure out if you will be selling your product online or if you plan to open a brick-and-mortar store.

The Small Business Development Center Network offers a comprehensive article with information to consider when choosing your business location. Does the area include the demographics of your ideal customer? How much are the taxes? Who are your surrounding competitors? How much traffic is there, and can you expect there to be?

Are you a service business that will not have customers visit a physical storefront? Think about what areas you’re willing to travel to. For example, Google Business Profile, the local search results pack that allows Google users to see your business, only allows for a 2-hour radius for up to 20 service areas.

7. Get Necessary Permits & Tax IDs

The following links are for permit and tax information for your small business in Pennsylvania. Certain counties and localities will require their own permits and licensure. Keep this in mind if you are a service business that will be serving your community. Permits may differ from city to city.

PA Revenue’s Guide to Pennsylvania Business Taxes

The PA Business One-Stop-Shop offers an easy guide to figuring out what registration and permits you may need.

8. Consider Your Branding

Branding determines how the world will see your company. It shapes its personality, purpose, and assists with marketing. We want to make sure that your business looks its best. Be proud of your company image and hand out materials with confidence. Consider the following list and click on the links to see more information about each of these products at Center City Print.

Keep in mind that branding is more than just physical business cards and your logo. Your brand is how people see your business and the personality it takes on. It includes your voice and tone. For example, how will the tone of your website, customer interactions, and blog affect how customers view your company?

Try making a list of adjectives that describe your tone. This could be things like optimistic, informative, helpful, cool, professional, etc. This will differ from business to business.

Your brand also includes your mission, elevator pitch, color scheme, and guidelines. How will you explain your company to others? What colors are representative? Are their guidelines for how other people and employees can portray your brand?

SEMrush offers an excellent article to get you started on discovering your voice and tone.

9. Build Your Network

Connections are how we build our community. When starting a small business, it’s important to network and meet other local companies, investors, community partners, potential clients… the list goes on! In an age of technology, it’s much easier to connect.

  • Social Media: Linkedin, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tik Tok
  • Pennsylvania Small Business Development Centers
  • Your local Chamber of Commerce
  • Connect at local events, hand out business cards (& get others’ business cards too)

10. Figure Out Marketing Strategy

For those just starting, marketing may seem like a big feat. Luckily, many resources will guide you in planning how you’d like to market your business. Remember the research you did in step 1 and the business plan you wrote in step 2? Both of these will aid you in figuring out how to market your product or services.

Marketing is not a one-size-fits-all strategy. Depending on your specific goals and return on investment (ROI) plan, your marketing can be a mixture of many different tactics.

There are two main types of marketing: Traditional & Digital Marketing

Traditional marketing strategies include things like paper advertisements, billboards, mail ads, cold-calling, and handouts.

Digital marketing strategies include online efforts to raise visibility and trust all while increasing revenue. Even businesses that do not sell a service or product on the internet can benefit from digital marketing. In the age of technology, the majority of people find businesses and products by searching for them on engines like Google.

Internet marketing services include paid media, pay-per-click advertisements, search engine optimization (SEO), Google Business Profile management, social media marketing, content marketing, and website design & development.

While many of these marketing strategies can be done without the help of an agency, trusting your company with a digital marketing agency that is knowledgeable and trained in each area of digital advertising can be beneficial.

For example, at RiZen Metrics, we work to collaborate with businesses to come up with the best marketing strategy for you. So you can focus on doing what you love while we help meet your goals. Contact us today to talk strategy.

11. Launch, & Tell YOUR Story

Now it’s time to launch your business. During this exciting time, it’s essential to have a healthy, positive mindset and know that you can succeed in your new endeavors. You have a story to tell, whether it’s through your product, your service, yourself, your branding. You’re now bringing something to your customers that offer them value and solve solutions.

Use your website as a mode of transportation to get your story across, and share content that is meaningful to your company’s mission and brand. Track analytics and view insights to better develop client personas and continue your strategies to become the most successful business you can be.