People follow many paths to the point where they start their own business. For some, it is the American dream, a desire they hold all their lives. Others realize that they do not like working for other people-they just want to be their own boss.

Still others see themselves as pushed into going into business for themselves, perhaps because they have lost a corporate job they had always believed was secure. Some business owners start because they want a particular lifestyle, as might a mother who wants to work from home to be near her children. And then there are those who have the vision and drive to create a unique new product or service.

Whatever the reason for starting a business, many experts say that small businesses-which make up 99.7 percent of all employers in the United States-are a prime fuel of the American economy. And each of these business owners confronts a maze of decisions as they establish and move forward with their enterprises.

While there are virtually infinite ways to manage a business and an array of support services available, laws and regulations put boundaries on the choices that a business owner will make. If the business owner has a basic knowledge of the options, he or she can make smarter choices and avoid time-consuming and expensive problems.

One of the earliest decisions a potential business owner makes is how exactly to begin. Selecting a business that fits the owner's personality, knowledge and resources is a step that usually takes both research and thought. Many people just assume that they will start a business from scratch. But others do not want to do so, and they decide to buy an existing business or a franchise.