A Guide to Starting Your Business in Lycoming County
Muncy Bank has proudly defined community banking for businesses since 1893. As a locally-owned institution, we understand the important role small businesses play in creating thriving towns. If you are considering starting a business in Lycoming County or one of our other service areas, this guide is for you. We’ve packed it with comprehensive information on doing business in our county and state, as well as the best general tips and resources for starting any kind of business. As you take the exciting first steps into entrepreneurship, give us a call or visit your nearest branch. Our friendly business bankers are always happy to share their local expertise and advice, based on the many Pennsylvania businesses we’ve worked with over the years.
Why start a business in Lycoming County, PA?
Whether you’re a Lycoming County native or a recent transplant, there is lots to enjoy about living and working in the Williamsport metro area. You’ll enjoy proximity to big cities like Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and New York—while enjoying a much more reasonable cost of living here in Lycoming County. The Williamsport Regional Airport offers non-stop flights to Philadelphia. Many of our residents also cite the less hectic pace of the lifestyle here, as well as the area’s physical beauty and outdoor recreation opportunities, as reasons why they love living in Lycoming. And because Williamsport is a college town, you’ll also enjoy access to art and cultural events.
Local Business Community
The top three employers in the county are the Pennsylvania State Government, Susquehanna Regional Healthcare Alliance, and Pennsylvania College of Technology. So, if you’re looking to start a business here, you might begin by thinking about opportunities to fill a gap in services needed by these institutions and their employees. However, our business environment is diverse overall, spanning industries such as pharmaceuticals, retail, education, the nonprofit sector, and other well-known companies. Lycoming County has also benefited from the industry around our Marcellus Shale Natural gas fields.
1. First Steps
Origin stories for small businesses come in many different stripes. There is no one equation for becoming a successful entrepreneur. For some, being a business owner is a lifelong dream. For others, the idea to start a business is a response to major life changes or a kind of happenstance—noticing a market opportunity to provide a needed service or product.
Of course, taking the first step from business idea to action can be quite scary. There are financial and emotional risks, as well as the looming statistics about new business failures. The good news is that starting a business is a process, and you don’t need to quit your day job in order to take the first steps. With the Internet, in particular, it’s easy to build your business in your spare time, waiting until things feel more secure to make it a full-time venture.
It is often said that “there are no new ideas under the sun.” While this isn’t entirely true, most new businesses are not reinventing the wheel like a Henry Ford or Steve Jobs. There’s nothing wrong with putting a fresh spin on a familiar idea—as long as you do your market research first.
Study similar businesses in your niche. Often, mistakes are easier to learn from than successes, which can be hard to replicate. Figure out what these businesses have done well, areas that can be improved upon, and the obvious mistakes others have made that you can avoid by example.
Listen to your community. True, you may plan to sell your services or products online to the whole world. Still, your first customers are likely to be friends, family, and other people in your local community. Pitch your business idea to them first, so you can gauge reactions. Are people genuinely enthusiastic or just trying to be polite? Try to process their feedback without becoming defensive. For example, if you want to open your own hair salon and someone points out that there are already three salons on Main Street, this doesn’t mean your idea has no chance of success. But it does let you know that you’ll need to stand out in a crowded market. Perhaps you can offer special prices for college students, or build a following as a “kid friendly” salon with affordable haircuts, friendly staff, and amenities such as toys, refreshments, and a TV playing cartoons.
Size up the competition. Check out your competitors, both local and online. Think about how you will differentiate yourself to stand out—what can you add to the field or do differently? How can you put your own unique stamp on a common product or service?
Know your audience. In the end, your customer base is the most important part of your business strategy. You may be passionate about your idea but step out of your own head for a minute to consider the problems your ideal clients/customers are dealing with. How will your company solve these problems? For example, many entrepreneurs come up with a business idea in response to a problem they personally experienced. This is particularly true in the “Mompreneur” niche, where enterprising women have invented better leggings, sports bras, and other products associated with pregnancy, motherhood, and child-rearing.
Pool your resources
Entrepreneurs love to say their businesses are driven by passion. And while a love for what you do certainly helps when it’s time to put in the long hours necessary to launch and sustain a new business, at the end of the day you also need more concrete resources to fall back on.
Family and friends: Are there people you already know who might be willing and able to invest in your business? Or, if money isn’t an option, perhaps you know someone willing to lend their talent or expertise. For example, you may be able to trade favors or pay a reduced rate for a loved one’s book keeping, web design, photography, and other skills. In an age when every business needs a professional-looking digital presence, these skills can be quite valuable.
Skills for Hire: When it comes to creative services, you can also find freelancers online willing to take on small jobs at affordable rates. Sites and apps like Fiverr, Upwork, Guru, PeoplePerHour, and 99designs, can help you create a logo, write website copy, and more.
Find a mentor: Almost every successful entrepreneur worked with a mentor along the way. Contact local organizations such as the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce and Williamsport/Lycoming Young Professionals. Both groups offer networking and professional development opportunities. Additionally, the North Central PA Chapter of SCORE offers free business counseling and other resources.
2. Choose a business structure
You may want to talk to your tax professional first to get their perspective on the best business structure for you. For example, you may think you need an LLC when a sole proprietorship is fine. Here are the options:
Sole Proprietorship: A business that is owned and operated by one person. Legally, there is no distinction between the owner and the company.
Partnership: Your business is owned and operated by two or more people (partners). If you start a partnership business, you should create guidelines for how it can be ended or transferred if one of the partners wants to leave.
Limited Liability Company (LLC): You’ll pay taxes like a self-employed (sole proprietorship) person but gain legal protection from personal liability.
Corporation: Legally separates your personal finances from your business. Talk to your accountant about the tax ramifications of forming a C-corporation or S-corporation.
Non-Profit or Co-op: A not-for-profit business provides certain tax breaks, while a co-op is member and/or employee owned.
3. Write a business plan
Writing a plan for your business serves as a roadmap for you, as well as an essential document when it comes time to apply for grants, loans, and funding opportunities. Still, it’s best to keep it simple. Plot out your business course for the first few years. Include all of your expected business expenses and how you plan to cover them at the beginning. SCORE has a great downloadable business plan template with instructions and worksheets to help you brainstorm.
4. Create an online presence
“Consumer behavior is evolving and online research is becoming more common in many categories,” Forbes reports. So regardless of the product or service you’re selling, chances are good that many of your potential clients/customers will read about your niche before deciding which company to choose and what product/service to buy. When someone is looking for you, make sure they can find your website and social media profiles. You may not have much of a marketing budget yet, but you can still set up pages to promote your business. In time, you can hire digital marketing experts to help you with ads, SEO, and content marketing. But for now, it’s enough just to hang your shingle online.
5. Understand the legal requirements and apply for permits
Created in 2018, the PA Business One-Stop Shop provides all of the information you need to register your business with the state and understand state tax requirements. However, the very first step is to register for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) through the IRS. You’ll need an EIN to register and pay taxes to the state. Speaking of taxes, will you manage your own books and tax returns with software or do you need an accountant? If the latter, look for a firm with experience in your business type and size.
You’ll also need to register your business and pay local taxes to Lycoming County. Learn about local zoning and permit requirements on the county website.
Finally, business insurance is essential to protect your company from the costs of accidents and lawsuits.
6. Choose a location
The type of business you start will dictate the kind of building and location you need. For example, a factory business won’t be as concerned with visibility as a retail store. And a professional services business may not need its own location at all, at least not at first. Co-working spaces are increasingly popular among freelancers and entrepreneurs. Check out Covation Center, the first co-working space in Williamsport.
If you need a bricks-and-mortar location, look for a commercial real estate agent who has worked with other small business owners in your niche. As you scope out potential spaces, keep these factors in mind:
Visibility: Will people notice your business as they drive or walk past?
Accessibility: Is there parking available? Does the building have handicapped parking and a wheelchair accessible entrance?
Market Saturation: Are there already two or more similar businesses in the same stretch?
Price: Does the monthly rent fit your budget? What kind of shape is the space in—will you need to do a lot of renovations?
7. Small Business Grants, Funding, and Financing
You may not need to seek outside financial help at first. Many entrepreneurs fund their ventures with their own money until the business starts to take off. However, some businesses are easier to start on a shoestring budget than others. Here are some local and national resources to help you start or expand a business. You can also find commercial loan assistance at your nearest Muncy Bank branch. From equipment loans to business lines of credit and more, we are proud to invest in Lycoming County businesses.
State and Local
- The PA Angel Network is a list of statewide investors with specific regional focuses.
- The Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce offers a Revolving Loan Fund to help businesses find financing solutions.
- The Chamber also operates an Economic Development division, known as The Industrial Properties Corporation, which helps to match business owners with available properties.
- PA First offers grants and loans to support business investment and job creation in the commonwealth.
- The Royal Neighbors Foundation awards an annual Know Your Worth grant to female entrepreneurs for the purpose of expanding or starting a business with less than 5 employees.
8. Find a trusted lending and banking partner
As a proud member of the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce, Muncy Bank and Trust Company is a trusted local partner for small business financing and deposit accounts. From online banking to merchant services and credit cards, we offer a full menu of modern financial products and services tailored to the commercial needs of your business. We are also connected to the local civic and business community and can refer you to local experts in real estate, accounting, and other services/vendors you’re looking for. Contact our business banking team today to learn how we can help.