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The government website Business.gov http://www.business.gov/ has created a new search capability that will allow you to search for the business license needed to start a business at the state and county/city level.This new search feature is very much needed. A lot of small and home-based entrepreneurs know that they have to fulfill some regulatory requirements, but they simply do not know where to begin, what do they need and who to contact. Having this type of information can ease the new entrepreneur's confusion of what to do, and avoid costly mistakes for failure to get the necessary licens
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es and permits. The granularity of the data at Business.gov -- from the state level to the city/county level -- is what I find the most helpful as it can allow a person to know the legal and regulatory requirements from the state level as well as the county level.At PowerHomeBiz.com, we get a lot of questions on what are the requirements of the state if they want to start a business -- e.g. What do I need to starting a catering business in Los Angeles, California; or Do I need a license to operate an online store in New Mexico? -- questions that can be answered with this new search capability. As a response to these types of questions, we created our State by State Guide to Starting a Business .Now, if only they promote this search capability more intensively and let people know that it exists, then this new search capability of Business.gov would be a tremendous source of valuable information to new entrepreneurs.

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eBay's huge success can inspire others to replicate its business model and start their own auction site.Alas, it is hard to follow eBay's model where anything and everything can be traded on their site (within their guidelines, of course). Even Yahoo Auction, with all their marketing might and technology, can't even hold a candle to eBay. None of the big auction sites - from Ubid to Overstock Auctions -- can really claim to have anywhere near the customer base of eBay.If you are thinking of starting an auction website, the key to success is FOCUS. Do not go head-on with the giant that is eBay
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-- if you want your auction site to survive. I've seen some small entrepreneurs start an auction site, attracting very few sellers and buyers their sites look almost pityful. You'll stand a better chance of succeeding if you focus on a particular niche.Look at the wine arena for example. You have Winebid.com, CellarExchange.com, and other auction sites that are doing pretty well.Think of a sector or a particular audience. For example, Playle.com is a small auction site for vintage postcard collectors.Then find a good auction software that you can configure and customize to add features you'd like in your auction community. It is best if you yourself is a techie, or can have someone on board who knows how to troubleshoot and configure the software.Unless you can make the software yourself, expect startup capital to be around $10,000 or more. You'll need robust and scalable hosting, one that can handle 100 to 100,000 users on the fly without crashing -- and those don't come cheap (dedicated servers start at $99 per month and up).There are very successful niche auction sites out there. Study how they are done, and copy the aspects that worked well for them.

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When you have a small business, should you hire your family or friends? Here are some pros and cons to consider:Pros:You know them; and they know you so the getting-to-know learning curve is non existentYou trust themYou know what they can do and their area of expertiseThey know how important this business is to youThey know how you work (whether you are intense, easy going or high strung)They know how to deal with you and they can offer you the work complement you need (e.g. your father may be a great accountant and you need the expertise while you are great with marketing)You may be able to
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get the labor and expertise at a lower rateCons:They know you and may not take you seriously when you ask them to do the work Relationships can be affected if you are not satisfied with their performance or they are not happy with how you are treating themIt's harder to ask them to do something because you might be shy to ask them to do an errand and you will do the work insteadThey might not be prepared to deal with a different you -- not as the friend or family member they know but as the bossDifficulty in adjusting to this new relationship and dynamicsIt really depends on the extent of work and your relationship with them. In my opinion, though, generally, hire your friends and family IF AND ONLY IF the two of you knows when to separate the family/friend relationship from the boss/employee relationship. And that you both understand what you expect from each other, and know that it will not always be easy.It also helps if you know that the family member or friend you are hiring can be a positive contribution to your business (e.g. if you know your friend is extremely flighty and unreliable, you are better off hiring someone more dependable and knowledgeable).

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Whether you are thinking of starting a new business, buying an existing business or a franchise, it is important to understand the customer base of the business. The most successful businesses are those who know and deeply understand their customers; afterall, the goal of every business is to get and keep customers.Here are some questions to ask to help you understand the customers of the business:Does the business cater to individual customers or businesses? Or is it the government?If individuals, do you know the demographics of the target market?If businesses, how big are these companies? Ar
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e they micro, small, medium or Fortune 500 type of businesses?How do the customers decide to buy this type of product/service? If the customers are the government or businesses, what is the purchasing process in the organization?Is the business heavily dependent on one or few customers? Are the customers in a growing market, or is the market shrinking?Are there possible changes or shift in the industry that could affect their purchase from the business?

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