When freedom rings: top tips to help launch your own business

(BPT) - With summer bringing the celebration of our country's freedom and a bit more flexibility in our hectic schedules, it's also a time to reflect on the American dream: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. For many Americans, that means seeking success and prosperity by building their own business.

Approximately 15 million people in the United States are self-employed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These small business owners are the lifeblood of the economy, accounting for 63 percent of net new jobs created between 1993 and 2013. Many small business owners find running their business extremely rewarding, according to the Bank of America spring 2014 Small Business Owner Report, a semi-annual study exploring the concerns, aspirations and perspectives of small business owners across the country. The report found that when asked what their greatest accomplishment is, the top three answers among small business owners are: having enough money to support their family, being their own boss and doing what they love.

However, entrepreneurship takes extreme dedication; the report found that nearly three quarters (72 percent) of small business owners have made significant sacrifices in their personal lives to run their business. While running a business can be exciting and liberating, it can also be challenging. So how do you know if it's the right time to take the leap and start your own business?

'Starting your own business can seem daunting, but most of the time, once you go solo, you will never look back,' says Steve Strauss, a leading small business expert and columnist. 'Small business owners truly embody the American dream. There are seemingly endless opportunities when you are your own boss. It allows for more creativity and flexibility, not to mention more independence. But before you begin, talk to experts and other small business owners who have gone through the process. Just because you are in charge does not mean you have to figure out everything alone.'

Here are four tips to consider before you launch your own business:

1. Do your research before writing a business plan. As a first step, analyze the market to make sure your idea is something that will resonate with people in your area. Are you filling a void? Are other businesses already offering the same product or service? Figure out what sets your business apart, and then write a detailed plan taking everything you've learned into consideration. This document will serve as your roadmap for the first three to five years.

2. Set up a support system. Find an accountant who specializes in your type and size of business. Retain an attorney to review your paperwork and help you identify the best legal structure for your business. Connect with other small business owners through online platforms like the Bank of America Small Business Community or through networking events and ask them to share their best practices. Having a reliable support system that you can depend on for guidance and advice will ensure you get started on the right foot.

3. Determine your source of financing. A dedicated small business banker who knows your community and industry can provide advice on what traditional financial products, such as term loans and lines of credit, your business may qualify for. Crowdfunding, venture capital, lending clubs and angel investors are also potential options, depending on the size and structure of your business.

4. Leverage your digital assets. With the rise of the mobile revolution, the size of your business doesn't matter nearly as much as how connected it is. Learn how to manage your business accounts on your phone or tablet. Develop a social media or mobile marketing campaign to reach new customers. Download apps that help with everyday tasks like note taking, scheduling and website building. A multitude of affordable tools are available online to help you get started quickly.

The number of small businesses in this country has increased 49 percent since 1982, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, and many view small businesses as the cornerstone of the U.S. economy.

'Entrepreneurship allows individuals to pursue their dreams and to contribute to the success of their neighborhoods,' says Robb Hilson, small business executive at Bank of America. 'Our most recent Small Business Owner Report shows that the majority of small business owners are feeling optimistic about growth in the coming year. This optimism underscores the need for dedicated resources in their communities, which is why we're hiring an additional 200 small business bankers around the country this year."

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