Starting a business can be exciting, but it can also be overwhelming. The good news is that while every business is different, most need to follow some basic steps.
While this doesn’t cover everything your new business may need to do, here’s a 10-point business startup checklist of some of the key steps:
- Assess your business idea. First, make sure your business idea is viable. SCORE, a free program offered by the federal government to help startups and existing businesses, offers a one-page Business Model Canvas tool to help those with a new business idea assess the viability of their business, says SCORE mentor Raj Tumber. The tool asks important questions, like: What is your value proposition? Who are your suppliers? Who is your target market? This helps determine if it’s smart to move forward with your concept.
- Create a business plan. Research shows that business plans help companies become more successful. For example, one study found that companies using business plans grew 33.4% faster than those who didn’t. “Save time by using templates or business plan writing software,” Tumber says. He recommends the free template from SCORE and free templates and sample business plans from Bplans, cloud-based low-cost business plan writing software from LivePlan, or the inexpensive desktop software “Ultimate Business Planner” through a local SCORE chapter.
- Decide on your business structure. Forming an LLC or S corporation can help shield your personal assets if your business is sued, and it can also provide tax benefits. Talk with a SCORE mentor, accountant, and/or a legal expert about your options and what works best for your location, as each state has different rules and fees.
- Obtain an EIN number, necessary licenses, and business registration. If your company is an LLC or S corp, you’ll need to register your business name and get an EIN number, which is the business version of a Social Security number and is required for business bank accounts and taxes. You can get your EIN for free at IRS.gov. Next, you’ll need to do a little more paperwork. “Most states require licenses and permits to operate all businesses,” Tumber says.
- Set up your finances for success. “Start by getting a new checking account for your business, to separate business and personal expenses,” says Pam Prior, founder and CEO of Priorities Group, a virtual CFO, accounting, and bookkeeping company. “And before you make your first dollar, get a bookkeeping package that ties into your bank and business credit card accounts,” she says. Software such as QuickBooks, FreshBooks or Xero have plans starting around $12 per month, and “allow you to keep all of your data in one place. You can even upload receipts for expenses, eliminating the need to keep paper copies.” This will also make filing taxes a breeze.
- Get a dedicated phone line and high-speed Internet. “Since many of your customers will reach out to you by phone, you’ll want to have a phone number just for your business, with features like voicemail, call forwarding, and more, that help you manage your calls,” Tumber says. “High-speed Internet will help you be more productive, and is important for today’s increased use of online services, such as video conferencing and task management systems.” Spectrum Business offers high-speed Internet plans starting at 300 Mbps that can be bundled at a discount with a business voice plan that includes more than 35 advanced business features.
- Set up your online presence. Make sure customers can find you, by getting a domain name and setting up your website, email and social media accounts, as well as your Google My Business account.
- Spend wisely. Prior suggests listing out your incoming sources of revenue on one side of a page, and what you are going to spend on the other. “Make sure to pay yourself first,” she says. Then determine what you absolutely need to spend on, and what you can do yourself, with the caveat that your time has a cost, too. Essentials may include technology, such as computers, phones, communication and task management systems, a customer relationship management (CRM) platform, and business insurance. Your particular business may have specific expenses, such as vehicles for service people, or a customized contract that you will need to pay an attorney to create. Depending on your comfort level and experience, you may be able to take on other business functions yourself, such as marketing or bookkeeping.
- Outsource strategically. “If bookkeeping is not your skill set, outsource it, since this is a critical area of your business,” says Kathryn Rose, CEO of getWise, which provides affordable access to vetted experts to accelerate business or career growth. Marketing is also a key component of a successful business. Rose outsources some of her social media marketing and marketing projects to contractors she found on Upwork and Fiverr.
- Laser-focus your marketing. Marketing can be a money- and time-waster if you’re not careful. Rose suggests asking yourself these questions: Where does your target market live and what is the best way to reach them? Are they on Facebook or Instagram or live within a specific geographic area? Do they listen to a certain radio station? Are they members of your local Chamber of Commerce? Knowing these answers will help you spend wisely.
These 10 tips will help organize your actions and keep you focused on creating a profitable business.Print this article