According to the article “Your Ultimate Checklist for Starting a Business” by contributor Julie Chomiak on business2community.com, as someone looking to start a new business, you might feel overwhelmed and not know how to get started. Chomiak provides an all-inclusive 20-point business startup master checklist of factors you should see to before beginning.
Before you start
According to Chomiak, the first part of your startup master checklist includes seven things you need before even beginning your business:
- An idea. Whether you have a need that can’t be met or you see an opportunity to build a better business model than the competition, write down your ideas.
- A test. Before any idea can become a reality, it should be tested first. Find out about its sustainability, market competition and the tools and skills you need to bring it to life.
- A market. Create a target audience by considering different customer demographics, buying styles and more. Narrowing your market focus from the start will help sustain your business in the long run.
- A business name. You may already have a working business name in mind, but if not, think about what makes your business unique and play around with that idea. Do some research to see if the company name has already been taken or trademarked (for instance, you can use this electronic trademark database to check).
- A cost sheet. Create an itemized list of all the expenses you will accrue in your first year, including (but not limited to): funding, building fees, employee wages and a marketing budget. By understanding the costs associated with your first year, you will be better able to make financial decisions further down the road.
- A business plan. A business plan allows you to take all of what you have determined above and craft it into an actionable list of strategies to see your business off the ground and beyond. Ideally, a business plan includes objectives for your first, third and fifth years to create a plan for growth. The Small Business Administration (SBA) offers a free business plan resource; you need only login information to use it.
- A budget. Your business plan should already address much of your budgeting needs for at least the first year. Review your budget to make sure you have accounted for every detail and that you have a six, 12 and 24-month budget crafted. Planning two years in advance will help determine which large expenses need to be met, where you can reallocate funds or if you need to find creative ways to acquire more funds. A budget focuses your spending.
The second part of the startup master checklist involves making your business official. Chomiak says that you should take care of these legal matters right away to avoid any problems in the future:
- Registering the company name. Registering your business name with the county clerk’s office or state government not only protects it, but it is also a requirement for any business that is a sole-proprietorship, existing corporation or LLC. If you must register with the state government, use this guide from the SBA to help you.
- Opening a bank account. Once you’ve opened a bank account in your business’ name, keep careful record of every dollar you spend, create a list of vendors and clients and always keep the checkbook balanced. If you’re new to accounting, you should meet with or hire an accountant to make sure that no hidden taxes or fees blindside you later.
- Getting proper licenses and permits. Each state has different licensing and permit requirements for different types of businesses. The SBA has a list of the required permits for each state. Depending on your business, you may also need federal licenses.
- Purchasing insurance. Just like when you welcome a new addition to a family, you need to purchase insurance for your new business immediately. Your business may need a variety of insurances; Chomiak says, “The most common insurances are general liability, product liability, professional liability, commercial property and home-based business insurance.” Review each type of insurance to figure out which ones best match your business needs.
Part three of the startup master checklist includes the five things that every business needs to get it in front of potential customers, according to Chomiak:
- A website. Today, websites are a must-have for any business, since people use them now to not only discover but verify any existing businesses. Make sure your website is professionally crafted and that it communicates your business values and service aims to potential customers.
- Printed marketing materials. Printed materials are still an important aspect of marketing today and can be used in various ways. Make sure the materials match your brand and that they contain all your business information so that customers have it in one handy place.
- A business email account. Having a Gmail, Yahoo or AOL email account for a business detracts from its credibility. Set up both an account for yourself and for general inquiries to handle any website or miscellaneous messages.
- A network. Spreading the word about your business is crucial. Attend local gatherings, talk to others in lines as you wait and get in touch with some old contacts who may be interested in your new business.
- Top-notch customer service. You’re not just selling your products and services: you’re selling a customer experience as well. By investing time and thought into creating a stellar customer service experience, you will help keep your business afloat later down the line.
The final section of the startup master checklist involves supporting resources. According to Chomiak, small businesses, especially those run by only a single person, can get lonely, so be sure to establish a support network to keep you motivated:
- A mentor. While it may not be easy to find a mentor, having one is a tremendous asset because he or she can provide an unbiased opinion when you are struggling with difficult decisions.
- Free resources. Since small businesses have correspondingly small budgets, it’s best to use as many free resources as possible. Social media provides a free platform for marketing; cloud-based storage systems such as Dropbox allow you to upload business documents that you can read from anywhere; and business news websites provide hundreds of articles of business advice.
- Help from friends and colleagues. Being a sole proprietor does not mean that you always have to go it alone. If colleagues and friends have extensive experience in a certain area, ask them for advice. Your network is willing to help, so figure out how best to utilize the skills of those around you to both benefit your business and keep you from running out of steam.
- A mantra. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the particulars of starting a business and lose sight of your dream. Take a few minutes each day to remind yourself why you started this business; it will motivate you to keep going during the tough times.
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