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From shoe repair shop to florist, and from online marketingagency to web-based import company, all American small businesseshave a few things in common. They all started with an idea, and anact that was equal parts faith and courage.

Starting a new business is always exciting – and daunting at thesame time. And while the scales may seem more heavily tipped towarddaunting in the current economy, many experts agree now is a greattime to turn your great idea, faith and courage into a newbusiness.

But before you make the leap, it makes sense to get some advicefrom successful entrepreneurs who have already walked the pathyou’re preparing to travel. Online resources like American Express’OPEN Forum can help youlearn from others’ experiences before you take the first stepstoward starting your own business.

Like Virgin Group founder Richard Branson says in his article on OPEN Forum, “Because starting a business is a hugeamount of hard work and requires a great deal of time, you betterenjoy what you’re doing.” In addition to enjoying yourself, youshould accept some truths about running a business, including:

* You will run your own business, but you won’t necessarily bewithout a boss to answer to. Your clients and customers will becomeyour “bosses.”

* It may take up to three years before your business turns aprofit.

* While you might have worked as much as 50 to 60 hours a weekwhen you worked for someone else, you’ll likely work even harder -and longer – when you work for yourself.

Still, keep in mind that small business success is possible,even during a recession. In fact, small business expert Susan L.Reid believes, “As a small business owner, this is the time you’vebeen waiting for. Now it’s time to position you and your businessfor post-recession success.” (Read her full article on Post-Recession Success at OPEN Forum.) Today’sbusiness giants like Microsoft and FedEx were both started duringtimes of recession. No matter how different your business is fromtheirs, or from any other successful startup, some business adviceis universally beneficial for entrepreneurs:

* Before opening up shop, be sure the community you’re locatingin has demand for your product or service. Is there room for yourbusiness? Or have your competitors saturated the marketplace?

* Be wary of taking on too much debt to fund your startup. Youcan have a great product or service, the savvy to deliver it to awaiting public, and a feasible revenue model in place and still runinto cash flow problems.

* Maintain the mainstream. Sure, a handful of companies havefound a home in quirky niche markets, but many more have failed bybeing too specialized to appeal to a broad customer base.

* Stay focused on your business core. Avoid getting distractedby attractive opportunities that can take your attention away fromwhat your business is really all about.

* Keep expenses under control. Startups need to cut costs anyway they can, so forego the fancy office furniture and hologrambusiness cards. Down the road, when your business takes off, youcan afford to be more indulgent.

* Make smart hiring decisions. Look for employees who not onlyhave the work qualifications to move your business forward, but whoalso share your vision.

* Take advantage of low-cost or cost-free digital marketing. Forexample, products like SearchManager by American Express OPEN canhelp you easily and cost-effectively manage your online searchmarketing efforts.

* Stay on top of billing. Falling behind on billing yourcustomers means waiting longer to get paid.

For more advice on how to start a business, and for informationon products that can help your small business succeed,