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July 2 Dollars & Sense: A systematic approach to growing your business

Just because your small, home-based business started in your garage, doesn’t mean you have to stay in your garage. Think Apple. Think Amazon. Think Disney. OK, so maybe your goals aren’t quite that big, yet, but you’ve got a successful home-based business, and you’re ready to grow. What should you do first?

When you’ve been working alone for years, breaking out and expanding may seem overwhelming. It’s important to find the right way to grow your business. Careful planning and a strategy for growth will set you on your way.

Top tips to grow your home-based business

Develop a plan. You want to take your business to “the next level,” but what does that mean to you? Whatever it is you want to accomplish – more sales, expanding to more locations, reaching more customers – set clear, specific goals. Those goals will then guide the actions you will take. Your goals should be consistent with your company’s mission and values.

Start with baby steps. It’s tempting to jump out of the starting blocks and go flat out to be all things to all people when you’re ready to grow your business. However, a smarter strategy is to focus on one or two of your goals at a time and their related activities, so you don’t spread yourself too thin or put yourself in a financially risky situation.

Be financially savvy. Even if you’re not a numbers person, now is the time to raise your financial IQ. At this stage of your business, you need to know more than the basics of tracking expenditures, budgeting and payroll. Learn to read and understand your financial statements to help you plan and manage your growth. Don’t be afraid to call for backup support sooner rather than later to help align your goals and sound financial processes.

Establishing strong professional relationships. As a small business, your banker, attorney, accountant and other professional representatives should be close strategic partners. Find a professional who specializes in working with and offering services to small businesses. Establishing a personal relationship gives you someone to call in an emergency. Make sure you have a backup contact for when your principal contact is unavailable.

Hire helping hands. At some point, you’ll need help, be it full-time, part-time, an independent contractor or even a student intern. This is when you can start delegating simpler, day-to-day tasks so you can focus on running and growing the business. Need an assistant, but don’t have office space for one? Consider a virtual assistant to do everything from answering phones to producing a customer newsletter, or any tasks that are bogging you down.

Dedicate time to working on the business. It’s easy and understandable for small business owners to get so wrapped up in the daily workings or the business, that they lose sight of their role in the bigger picture, which is sustainable growth. Set aside time every day to work on the business versus working in the business.

Be an expert networker. This is important, not only to spread the word about your growing business, but also to have a group of people you can go to for advice and “I’ve been there, too” support. Find a group of like-minded entrepreneurs in your area so you have someone with whom you can exchange ideas.

Communicate. As you grow and add staff, it will be important to share the company’s mission, vision and goals so everyone is focused on achieving the same thing at the same time. Share your vision with your professional advisors and make it part of your message to the marketplace. Don’t try to handle all challenges yourself. If you’re facing difficult times, bring others into the loop so they can help and be a part of the problem-solving process. Focus on building a strong, trustworthy team to carry you forward.

Know your tax requirements. As you grow your business, your tax obligations will change. Know what you need to pay and when you need to pay it. The IRS has a special section on its website (http://1.usa.gov/1lvGZTc) to help you interpret its requirements.

Federal assistance

The U.S. Small Business Administration (http://www.sba.gov/) has a wealth of information on its website for small businesses in every stage of growth. Whether you need help creating a business plan, obtaining a loan or grant, or registering your business, the SBA has an abundance of resources available online.

Dollars & Sense is a monthly column provided by the Oregon Society of CPAs

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