Editor's note: Action Line is a weekly column from the Better Business Bureau answering consumers' questions and concerns about money and business issues.

Dear Action Line:

I was wondering if you could give me some advice on how to start a business. I'd like to progress and learn more to better myself. Any advice would help.

Dear Reader:

You want to start your own business, but you don't know where to start? We are happy to help you get started on the right track. Getting a new business up and running requires certain management skills and personality traits. If your career goal is to be your own boss, consider the following:

To start a business you will need to choose or create a business idea. While this is an obvious step, many people who want their own business don't have an idea, just the desire to be an entrepreneur. There are many options, such as buying a franchise or an existing business, or allowing your passion to help you make a name for yourself.

Your next step should be to develop a business plan. A successful business plan is realistic, factual and objective, presenting your goals in measurable and attainable terms. It will help you focus on critical issues and questions to help your business thrive and grow. Ask lots of questions and be sure you come up with satisfactory answers, such as: What type of business do you want to own? Who are your main competitors? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Where will you locate your business? Who are the potential customers for your product or service? How will you market to potential customers?

Find and consult with qualified professionals -- real estate agents, lawyers, accountants, public relations experts and consultants -- to help you make the best decision. Ask other business owners for referrals. Contact the Better Business Bureau to check out any company you are considering using. Even if you have a great deal of experience in the line of work you're considering, don't expect to know all there is about running a business. Good advice may be the difference between success and failure.

Be prepared to invest some of your own money into the business. However, there are resources out there that can provide some help, such as banks, the Small Business Administration, venture capitalists and private individuals. Before applying for financing, carefully prepare a thorough, well-thought-out loan proposal. Write out detailed figures on the capital needed, and be sure to include a salary for yourself and sufficient funds to cover start-up costs. Be wary of any advertisements or loan brokers charging advance fees for the mere promise of a loan. Check the company out with the Better Business Bureau before doing business.

For tax and legal reasons, you'll need to decide what form your business will take. Generally, all businesses fall into one of these broad categories: sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, S corporation or Limited Liability Corporation. Before you decide what form you will use for your business, consult with an attorney or an accountant.

Read any contracts carefully. When you start your business, you'll likely need to sign agreements or other contracts. Be sure you read these carefully, so you know exactly what terms you're agreeing to. When in doubt, consult with an attorney who specializes in small businesses.

Above all else, choose a business you'll enjoy. Expect to be married to your business for quite some time. You'll want to be sure you're working in a field you'll enjoy in the years to come.

-- Joey Fernandez is assistant director of business services for the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 1601 H St., Suite 101, Bakersfield, CA 93301 or joey@cencal.bbb.org. These are her opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian.