A 40 POINT BUSINESS START-UP CHECK LIST
Starting a business can be a daunting undertaking. Uncertainty of what you need to do or how to do it, confusion on what to do first, or simply not knowing the laws and responsibilities of running a business can create confusion, desperation and anxiety. The learning curve can be both nerve racking and costly. Whether it’s you’re a first time business owner and simply don’t know how or where to start or you have been down this path before and you are overwhelmed with the sheer number of items on your to-do list, everyone can benefit from this extensive business start-up checklist.
·SOURCES This research information was compiled from a handful of sources:
Starting a business involves planning, making key financial decisions and completing a series of legal activities. Keep in mind this is an extensive start-up check list, and not all elements of the process will apply to all businesses.
This check list will point out what you need to do to get started, and help you put in place the things you need to do either before launch or during the early days of your startup:
1. Find a good business idea
A good business idea isn’t just one that turns a profit. It’s one that’s a good fit for you personally, for your target market, and for your location. You’re going to be in business for the long haul, so you really should pick something you can live and breathe.
2. Identify your strengths and weaknesses
·Conduct a SWOT analysis on yourself
·Come up with a business idea that caters to your strengths
·How to start inventing things (or how to find something to invent)
·Define what success looks like for you
·Do your research: What are popular businesses today?
3. Test your business idea and do market research*
The adage goes, “ideas are a dime a dozen”—but what about good ideas? How do you really know you’ve hit upon something that’s going to work on all levels?
We use the lean planning methodology to figure this out. Of course, you may also want to start by getting out and talking to real people—do they really want a fancy Basque restaurant in their neighborhood or is another donut shop going to be more to their taste?
·Define the “problem” your business is solving
·Summarize the “solution” your business offers
·How urgently do people need what you are selling?
·Will your business continue to be relevant as time passes? How will you adapt?
·Define your target market
·Define your ideal customer
·What’s your market size?
·How easy is it to acquire a customer, and how much will it cost?
·Figure out the best place to set up shop
·What advantages does your solution have over your competitors?
·How much money and effort will it cost to deliver value?
·Do you know your industry?
·Outline the team that will help you execute your idea
·What key responsibilities will each team member have?
·Will team members share ownership of the business?
·Create a basic financial plan
·What up-front investment will you need before you can begin?
·Estimate your basic expenses and forecast sales to ensure that you can make a profit with your business
·Map out business milestones or goals and when you plan to achieve them
·How long will it take to get to market?
·Validate your idea
·Interview potential customers to ensure that they have the problem you are trying to solve
·Interview potential customers to validate that your solution is something your customers will pay for
·Determine if your initial price points will work for your customers
* While we advise new entrepreneurs to do market research before they start, we’d like to clarify that you should not let “doing market research” hold you up if you already know your market. The reality is, the vast majority of real startups are driven by people who know their market from experience and who are ready to bet the farm on it! Market research does not have to be a part of the business planning process. According to Tim Berry, “If you know your market, move on!”
4. Determine viability
Be brutally honest. Your startup needs to be something you can make a profit doing or delivering. Ask yourself: would you buy it? Run the numbers: will customers pay enough so that you can cover costs and make a profit? Here is a list of 29 more questions to ask, attributed to noted investor Paul Graham.
5. Create a business plan
It’s easy to convince yourself that you don’t need a business plan, but creating a business plan with financial projections forces you to think through details. Keep your plan a living breathing thing that you revisit and adapt regularly.
Write a Business Plan
Use these tools and resources to create a business plan. This written guide will help you map out how you will start and run your business successfully.
6. Figure out the money
Most startups take a lot more time to get off the ground than you expect. Know where your living expenses for the first year will come from (savings, a job, spouse’s income, etc.). If you need financing for the business start investigating as soon as possible.
7. Get family behind you
Spend time to make sure your spouse and other close family ‘buy into’ your startup. You’ll have enough challenges without resistance from family.
8. Brand your business
A strong brand is the key to customer loyalty and higher sales. If you think it’s just for big business, think again; a brand is critical for businesses of all shapes and sizes.
This is where all the hard work pays off. Now you know a bit more about your target audience, you’ve got the opportunity—through your brand—to grab their attention. And of course, to have fun doing it!
·Choose a name for your business or choose a brand name you know you can trademark. You want a name that will stick in your target audience’s heads. And it shouldn’t already be taken by another company. Do Google searches and use a corporate name search tool to see if the name you have in mind is unique. Check at the state and Federal level.
·Decide on your “brand message,” also known as your unique selling proposition or value proposition
·Develop a tagline
·Identify your brand’s “tone of voice”—the heart and soul of all your written communication, your voice is what you say and how you say it
·Define what your brand looks like
·Choose a color scheme
·Choose your fonts
·Create a logo
9. Obtain a Phone Number
There are a variety of ways to select a business phone number. Brick and mortar businesses have land lines, but with today’s technology you have a variety of phone services to choose from to fit your needs.
·Google Voice https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PWAnlCYTDfY
10. Register a domain name
Get a matching domain to your business name. See if the business name is available as a domain name. Register your domain name even if you aren't ready to use it yet. An AOL email address or a website with free hosting and a name like mysite.wordpress.com makes it seem like either (a) you are not running a real business or (b) you don’t plan to be around long.
11. Incorporate / figure out legal structure
Incorporating your startup can protect your personal assets. Talk over structure (corporation, LLC, sole proprietorship) with your attorney and accountant.
·Determine the Legal Structure of Your Business. Decide which form of ownership is best for you: sole proprietorship, partnership, Limited Liability Company (LLC), corporation, S corporation, nonprofit or cooperative.
·Register a Business Name ("Doing Business As") Register your business name with your state government. Learn which tax identification number you'll need to obtain from the IRS and your state revenue agency.
Determine your business location and take these steps:Home-based: Check zoning requirementsOther location: Lease office or retail space and obtain the necessary furniture,equipment and supplies. If you’ve got a brick-and-mortar business, you’ll need to sort this out early. If you plan to run a retail business, pay attention to foot traffic, accessibility, and other factors that will affect the number of people that will walk in your store. EXCEPTION: If you don’t have a brick and mortar or retail business, then hold off renting an office as long as possible to avoid saddling your startup with lease payments.
Choose a Business Location Get advice on how to select a customer-friendly location and comply with zoning laws.
13. Apply for an EIN
An Employer Identification Number (EIN) helps you separate yourself from your business. You’ll need it if you plan to incorporate your business or open a business bank account. Plus, with it you can avoid giving out your social security number (an opening to identity theft). EIN numbers are free; apply online.
14. Investigate and apply for business licenses
You may need one, if not several, business licenses for your startup, depending on your industry and where you are located. Most licenses are at the state or local level. Here in the United States, the SBA has a helpful business license and permits tool.
Obtain the necessary business licenses and/or permits. Licenses may be required by your city, municipality, county and/or state. Contact your Secretary of State and local government to ensure you meet any requirements.
15. Set up a website
Get your website up and running as soon as possible. Today, it’s necessary for credibility. Even if your product is not yet built, you can start with company information.
16. Register social media profiles
Getting set up on the major social media channels (Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, to start) will make marketing on them later easier. Also, it’s important to reserve your brand as a profile name. Try Knowem.com to reserve the names.
Create any necessary contracts, service agreements and invoices so you can easily bill customers, track payments and keep records.
18. Start your revenue stream
Start generating revenue as soon as possible. At the early stages of a startup there is never enough money – resist the temptation to wait until things are “perfect.” Oh, and get your lawyer to create any customer contract forms necessary.
19. Order business cards
As a startup founder, you’ll be doing a lot of networking, so order plenty of business cards. They are inexpensive enough that you can reorder them later if things change. Without cards you lack credibility.
20. Open a business bank account
It’s all too easy to use your personal bank account to pay for business expenses, but it becomes a gnarl to untangle later. Open a business bank account and obtain a business credit card. Contact your bank about business banking requirements to ensure you have all the necessary paperwork.
21. Obtain a credit card
Establish business credit. A line of credit lessens the number of times your business must prepay for products. It also establishes a favorable credit history.
Obtain business insurance. Discuss your particular industry and business needs with your insurance agent to obtain the appropriate type and amount of insurance.
23. Government requirements
Ensure you comply with government requirements (e.g., unemployment insurance, worker’s compensation, OSHA, payroll tax requirements, self-employment taxes, etc.).
24. Set up your accounting system
Once you have your bank account set up, choose an accounting program. Start as you intend to go. Few things will doom your business faster than books that are a mess.
25. Assign responsibilities to co-founders
If you have one or more founders, it’s imperative that you decide who will do what up front. Put it in writing. Co-founder disagreements can destroy your business.
What You Can Do A Bit Later While you don’t want to put off these tasks too long, they don’t need to be checked off your list before you launch.
26. Upgrade your smartphone and choose apps
As an entrepreneur you are going to be on the go – a lot. I can’t emphasize enough how useful a good phone with good business apps can be, in running your startup. Get a credit card swipe device to accept payments, too.
27. Find free advice
Your local SBA office, SCORE, and other small business resources can provide you with free advice, access to business templates, and other tools.
28. Consult your insurance agent and secure coverage
Depending on the type of business you’re starting, you may need insurance of one kind or another, like liability, workers’ comp, or health insurance, especially if you hire full-time staff.
29. Hire your first employee
Depending on the type of business you have, you may need staff from day one (retail) or you may be able to outsource to freelancers, interns, and third-party vendors for a while (service and tech businesses). Just remember, trying to do everything yourself takes you away from growing the business.
30. Line up suppliers and service providers
Finding a good source of inventory is crucial, especially in certain types of businesses (retail, manufacturing). Beyond inventory, line up good reliable suppliers and service providers so you don’t have to sweat the details.
31. File for trademarks and patents
The best thing to do is consult an attorney early about the need for patents, especially. Get the advice early. Then you may be able to defer filing for a while, depending on the nature of your business.
32. Work your network
Reach out to former co-workers and colleagues, as well as friends and family. Don’t pressure them to buy your products or services. Instead, tap into them for introductions and help with other things on this startup checklist.
33. Don’t waste time on “partnerships”
Be careful about wasting time on “business partnership” discussions. Your business won’t be attractive to potential partners unless and until you start making headway. Focus your precious time to make sales and get customers.
34. Refine your pitch
You need a good elevator pitch for many reasons: potential investors, customers, prospective new hires, bankers. If you can’t persuasively and clearly pitch your business, how can you expect key stakeholders to buy in?
35. Refine your product, and marketing and sales approach
As you go along you will learn more about the marketplace. Use customer feedback to refine your product and service offerings, and your go-to-market approach. Create a marketing plan for your products and services. Increase the likelihood for success with a plan for promoting your products and services to your target market.
36. Market and launch your business
It’s time to start getting people hyped up about your opening day. This is your opportunity to get things going with a bang! If you give yourself enough time, the press may ask to run a story on you, and of course, you’ll be able to spread the word yourself, as well as ask others to do their bit getting word out.
·Create a marketing plan
·Market your business
·Network, network, network (talk to people!)
·Create your marketing materials
·Stationery, invoices, and PowerPoints
·Brochures and flyers
·Create a website
·Register a domain name (if you didn’t do this when you first registered your business name)
·Build your site
·Get your site listed on key directories
·Get set up on social media platforms
·If necessary, create t-shirts or uniforms
·Let the press know when you’re opening
·Organize an opening day
37. Secure your IT
Whether you’re running a tech company or not, you likely have sensitive data on computers and devices that you want protected. Protect it from intrusions and disasters. Back it up! IT problems can derail a fledgling company.
38. Get a salesperson or sales team in place
In many startups the business owner starts out as the chief sales person. But to grow you need a dedicated sales function, so you can focus on activities other than day-to-day sales.
39. Get a mentor
It’s all to easy easy to work “in” your business rather than “on” it. As Michael Gerber tells us in The E-Myth, we need to be working “on” our businesses if we want them to grow and flourish. A mentor who has succeeded in your industry can provide you with priceless advice and serve as a sounding board.
Your checklist might be longer than this, but organizing what needs to be done before you launch and what you can take care of down the road makes it easier to prioritize your tasks.
40. Find Local Assistance
Contact your local SBA office to learn more about how SBA can help.
Take advantage of free training and counseling services, from preparing a business plan and securing financing, to expanding or relocating a business.
Find government backed loans, venture capital and research grants to help you get started.
Register with your state to obtain a tax identification number, workers' compensation, unemployment and disability insurance.
Get a list of federal, state and local licenses and permits required for your business.
Learn the legal steps you need to take to hire employees.