It was the best of times, it was the worst of times-to start a small business.

Running your own business is part of the American dream. Getting started in a slow economy can present some extra challenges-and opportunities.

Money makes the world go 'round

Draw up a detailed business plan with estimated costs, sales targets, and profit projections down the road. Make it conservative, maybe even pessimistic. The bank may turn down your application for a small business loan if the prospects don't look good, but then you can just go back to the drawing board and try again with an improved business plan. That's much better than underestimating the costs, and losing the fledgling business before it's even off the ground.

Most banks have tightened their lending practices in the last few years, and it might take a few visits with your banker to get it right. Think of the bank as an experienced business advisor that just happens to hold the keys to your business success. If you make it big and pay back that starter loan, the bank profits, too. The lender and the business owner have their goals tightly aligned.

What's gonna work? Teamwork!

One person's misfortune can be another's business opportunity. Maybe you're starting this big project because you got laid off from that day job. Well, massive downsizing means that plenty of your old colleagues are looking for new jobs, too. Pick up some top talent off the street and build a great starting team. A well-stocked contact list can replace headhunting services and job boards at times like these, cutting down on service fees. And, you might get to work with people you already know and trust.

After stocking up on core employees, you might need to outsource a few services. The tough economy rides to the rescue again, as some service companies may be desperate for your business. With extra leverage in the contract negotiations department, you could land better deals on delivery services, construction crews, and other important auxiliaries than you'd get in boom times.

Keep your ears open

You're not the only entrepreneur out there, in good times or bad. Others are facing the same challenges, in the same troubled environment-and possibly with business ideas similar to yours. Go to a bookstore and look at the business section. There are bound to be fresh publications full of exactly the kind of advice you most need right now. The same goes for online discussion boards, or special-interest sites that focus on your area.

There's great information all around, once you start looking for it. Hard times just mean that more people will ask for help, and you might as well benefit from their need.

Open your business under difficult conditions, and you'll build a lean and mean competitor that should blossom when the markets improve again. The worst of times can be the best of times to get started.

Published on June 18, 2008