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5 Tips for Launching a Small Business

Think creatively — but be realistic

Starting a small business is always risky, but many find that the "retirement years" are the best time to make the leap. Bolstered by a broad network of connections, skills developed in past jobs and greater financial stability, lots of people launch a "second career" by fulfilling their entrepreneurial dreams.

If you're considering such a move, here are five things to keep in mind:

Find a niche: "If there are four dress shops in town, you don't want to be that fifth one," says Antoinette Little, who owns a New Jersey chocolate shop. "Or if you are, make sure you're offering something unique." Little had this in mind when she chose to set up shop in Phillipsburg. She's not only the sole gourmet chocolatier in town, but she's also one of very few within driving distance to offer professional chocolate making classes.

Look for tax incentives: Phillipsburg was also a wise choice for Little because it was an Urban Enterprise Zone — which means that the state offers tax incentives to small businesses starting there. The UEZ program is specific to New Jersey, but other states provide similar incentives in certain locations. Check with local officials and realtors to determine whether this is an option in your state.

Think outside the storefront: Little made sure she wasn't just relying on customers buying chocolate in the shop. "Summertime is not a big chocolate time," she says. "So I started thinking, what can I do to bring in revenue?" That's how she got the idea to offer chocolate-making classes, which have been a tremendous success. Little also supplements store revenue with online sales. She advises other business owners to get creative when it comes to money-making opportunities.

Prepare for paperwork: Most small businesses need permits and licenses at the town, county and state levels. These vary depending on location, and there are many online resources to help you learn the specifics. It also helps to meet with town officials and other area business owners to make sure you're up to date on the latest local regulations. And remember that many permits will have to be renewed annually — so keep your records organized.

Don't expect immediate income: It took Little three years to turn a profit — though she was prepared for it to take at least five. In the meantime, her husband worked full time, so she wasn't under pressure to bring in income. Though she's been thrilled to watch the shop's earnings grow, she also defines success as something more than just than her profit margin. "You have to be flexible and creative," she says, "but the most important thing is that you enjoy what you're doing."