Allyn Hulteng, Principal / Marketing Strategist
Two years ago, I strode ardently toward a doorway marked “Entrepreneurs Only.” In one hand I held a detailed business plan, in the other a smart phone with my banker on speed dial.
My exuberance at pursuing a lifelong dream to run my own marketing agency was matched only by my passion for doing great work. Opportunity is knocking – don’t look back, I told myself. And then I stepped through the portal.
The good news was there was no one telling me what I needed to do. The bad news was there was no one telling me what I needed to do. And so it was I learned my first entrepreneurial lesson: It really is all up to you.
Montana: a good place for business
It turns out that in addition to having breathtaking scenery and fabulous outdoor recreation, Montana also happens to be a hotbed for budding entrepreneurs. According to its annual rankings, the Kauffman Foundation has found that Montana has consistently ranked as one of the top states for new business start-up activity over the last 5 years.
One of the most exciting parts of our work as experts in branding and strategic marketing is helping innovative Montana entrepreneurs launch new products and businesses. Through my own experience and working with clients, I developed a list of tips and best practices for the newly launched, especially for those starting a business in Montana. Here are a few that are well-worth embracing:
8 Tips for starting a business in Montana
- Take advantage of local resources. The decision to start a new business comes with a dizzying number of “to-do” items. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of local organizations that offer assistance. The Montana District Office of the U.S. Small Business Administration is a great resource for those who are true business newbies. These fine folks along with a cadre of their volunteers can help you start the process and connect you with bankers, insurance representatives, attorneys, marketing experts and host of other pros you will want to know. The Montana SBA offers an incredible suite of online planning and management tools, including how to write the most important document – your business plan. Innovate Montana provides resources and networking opportunities for entrepreneurs with the goal of creating a statewide startup ecosystem. Businesses that locate in downtown Billings can tap the wisdom and services of the Downtown Billings Alliance, possibly even qualifying for a Tax Increment Assistance grant.
- Enlist the aid of a mentor or business coach. There are some unique aspects of starting a business in Montana. Advice from someone who has successfully navigated the small business trenches is invaluable. Find a mentor, listen and heed. In Billings, the Small Business Development Center located with the Big Sky EDA offers counseling and mentorship programs. There is no substitute for real life experience.
- Set clear goals – 5 year, 3 year, 1 year, and quarterly. Break each goal into action steps, deadlines and assign someone to be accountable. Meet weekly to review progress. It’s astounding how often deadlines are ignored. Accountability keeps everyone focused on expectations and builds momentum.
- Your strengths are your strongest niche. Innovate around your niche and you will maximize both profit and personal happiness. As the Kauffman foundation found, Montana is fertile ground for startups. There is a growing demand for talented and innovative companies and individuals offering unique services and products.
- Prepare for an avalanche of paperwork. Accountants, attorneys, insurance agents, the IRS, Montana DOR, City of Billings – you name it, there’s work to be done. Budget the time to get the legal details perfected. (Yes these are non-billable hours, but doing it right the first time will save you untold angst – and expense.)
- Clearly document processes – and follow procedure. Not every project is “brand new,” so don’t waste valuable time re-defining your approach for each. Define processes that deliver high value to the client while holding expenses in check. The client will thank you.
- Take care of yourself. This isn’t an 8–5 workday, this is your passion. Eating healthy, exercising and making time to mentally jet down will help keep you at peak performance. We choose to start our businesses in Montana because of the amazing quality of life. Make sure you leave yourself time to enjoy it.
- Manage the ego. Yes, I wake up each day eager to go to the studio. Yes, I negotiate with vendors, sign large contracts and direct my destiny. I’m also responsible for scrubbing the women’s restroom weekly – it fuels both my humility and sense of humor. In Montana, we embrace the western do-it-yourself ethic.
Additional resources for Montana Entrepreneurs: