By Rieva Lesonsky

Are you getting ready to start a business? So are lots of other people. What are the smartest startup entrepreneurs doing? The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and LegalZoom decided to find out by surveying 1,431 people who started businesses last year. The results, The Startup Environment Index 2012, is a great indicator of what startups are doing today and has two good lessons for you.

1. Start low-cost. With financing harder to find and risk somewhat scary in a still-struggling economy, entrepreneurs are being smart and starting businesses in low-cost industries. The 10 most popular industries for startups included consulting; services (including home services and business services), technology, real estate and sales. Somewhat surprisingly, retail stores (yes, physical stores) and construction/contracting also made the top 10 startups list.

Starting low-cost is smart, since a whopping 80 percent of startup business owners in the survey had used their own money to finance the launch. Five percent got loans from family or friends, 10 percent used credit cards, 4 percent used bank or home equity loans and 6 percent got money from other outside investors. Of the 60 percent of startup business owners who said they were facing challenges, 45 percent cited the inability to access credit as a key challenge. If you can’t get the money you need, it’s smart to pick a startup that doesn’t cost much so you can finance it yourself.

2. Take time to plan. While there’s a perception that you can’t be an entrepreneur unless you’re an impetuous risk-taker, in reality, 60 percent of those in the survey say they spent over six months planning their business idea before they launched. What’s more, 21 percent spent one to three years working on their concepts, and 14 percent spent over three years!

Moreover, these aren’t novices we’re talking about. Most of the startups had six or more years of previous work experience in the industry they chose to enter. Yet despite this, they still took the time to plan out their launch.

In an era when we sometimes get the impression that the “coolest” startups are launched on a whim based on notes jotted on a cocktail napkin, I think the fact that business owners are taking time to think about their concepts is actually really cool.

Image used under license from Shutterstock