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Grow your small business: How to network, finance and build your dreams

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Your home-based business might have started in your garage, but that doesn't mean you have to stay in your garage.

Think Apple. Think Amazon. Think Hewlett-Packard. Maybe your goals aren't quite that big — yet — but you've got a successful home-based business, and you're ready to grow.

When you've been working alone for years, breaking out and expanding may seem overwhelming. It's important to find the right way to enhance your business. Careful planning and a strategy for growth will set you on your way. Here are some tips to get started.

Develop a plan

You want to take your business to "the next level," but what does that mean to you? Whatever it may be that you want to accomplish — more sales, expanding to more locations, reaching more customers — set clear, specific goals. Those goals will 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 try to be all things to all people when you're ready to grow your business. A smarter strategy is to focus on one or two 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 a financial statement so you can plan and manage your growth. Don't be afraid to call for backup support sooner rather than later to help align your goals and financial processes.

Establish professional relationships

Your banker, attorney, CPA 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. Consider delegating simpler, day-to-day tasks so you can focus on running and growing the business.

Need an assistant but don't have the office space for one? Consider a virtual assistant to do everything from answering phones, producing a customer newsletter or any other tasks that are bogging you down.

Dedicate time to working on business

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

Be an expert networker

This is important. Networking not only helps you spread the word about your growing business, but it also generates a group of people you can go to for advice and "I've been there, too" support. Find a group of entrepreneurs in your area so you have someone with whom you can exchange ideas.

Communicate

As you grow and add staff, 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 advisers 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 to help you learn more. In Pennsylvania, visit the Department of Revenue's website for more information about your tax requirements.

Consult a CPA to help you interpret this important information and how it applies to your business.

Federal assistance

The U.S. Small Business Administration 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 Small Business Administration has an abundance of resources available online.

For more information about Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA), visit www.ineedacpa.org.

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@cpbj.com

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