A Definitive Checklist for Starting a Business

Jessica Elliott

Jessica Elliott

Jessica couples her 24 years of restaurant and hospitality industry experience with meticulous research to deliver insight into technology, operations, and marketing topics. Her optimized copy helps companies engage their audience while strengthening their communication with clients, employees, and management.

What do entrepreneurs need in order to start a business? It depends. While a home-based company can skip the search for a location, for a restaurateur, a promising site is paramount to success. However, both types of business owners must check off a few boxes before getting started.

Along with administrative details, like securing your web domain, you’ll also want to complete financial projections and build an opening day strategy. Preparation helps you avoid risky moves like failing to register your business or pay quarterly taxes. Keep it simple and make your idea successful using this definitive checklist for starting a business.

Smiling black businesswoman on a tablet

1. Start with market research

You have the next big business idea. It’s the real deal. Your solution will improve people’s lives, solve a problem, and earn you a good chunk of money. The thing is, most business ideas aren’t new. In fact, you may have a few competitors in your area or online. That’s where market research comes in. 

Why go through all the work of starting a business if your research shows significant hurdles to success? Market research goes beyond simply asking if your idea will work. It dives into your:

  • Customer base
  • Competitors
  • Business trends and forecasts

2. Develop your support team 

Take a proactive approach when starting a business. One way to do this is to identify key players in your business and choose a support team of professionals. Many small business owners start with: 

  • An accountant or certified public accountant (CPA)
  • A lawyer
  • An IT provider
  • Marketing or sales consultants
  • A local mentor or fellow business owner

3. Build your business plan

Although you may be tempted to rush through the business planning phase, your business plan is the documented foundation for your company. It defines your brand while guiding your budget, marketing strategy, and operations. 

During this stage, you’ll choose your business structure and name. Business plans generally include everything you’ll need to run your company. But, you can add or leave out sections if it’s unnecessary. 

Business summary and description 

Treat your summary like a sales page that showcases your mission, unique selling point (USP), and product or service. Add a description that gives market details, owner experience, and details why you have the competitive edge. 

Market analysis

Turn your market research into insights on why and how your business will succeed and outperform the competition. If you’re sharing your plan with others, then consider adding visuals in this section to make your numbers more clear.

Management and structure 

This is where you’ll document your legal structure (sole-proprietorship, limited liability company, or corporation). Also, list owners, partners, and other stakeholders to show your company’s organizational structure.  

Products or services

Go into detail about your specific solutions. Talk about benefits, special features, and why someone would want to buy and use it. Include any patents or recent investments in research and development that set you apart from the competition. 

Sales and marketing

Describe your marketing and sales plans based on market insights and best practices. List social platforms where you already have a presence and make a note of where you’ll attract and convert customers. You’ll frequently refer to and update this dynamic document.  

Funding requirements and projections

If you need loans or grants for your startup, then use this section. It shows how much money you need, how you’ll use it, and how you’ll pay it back. Even if you don’t need a loan, it’s a good idea to forecast your income and describe your five-year financial outlook. 

Attachments

In the appendix, include resumes, licenses, product pictures, and legal documents. If it feels important and you don’t have a spot for it, put it in your appendix. 

4. Fund your business

Determine what you need to open your doors and where you’ll get that money from. Calculate startup expenses, operating costs, and payroll. Figure out an estimate to get through at least six months without any sales coming in. Entrepreneurs typically finance their business using:

  • Personal finances or credit cards
  • Business loans, corporate credit cards, or grants
  • Crowdsourcing
  • Funds from friends and family

If you apply for funding, you’ll need to fully complete your business plan’s financial projections, including sales forecasts, profit and loss statements, cash flow, and balance sheets. 

5. Pick the right location

Regardless if you’re working from home or searching for the perfect retail spot, your work site matters. Of course, you have more details to worry about when it comes to finding a restaurant location or office building than you do with a home office. 

But, your address comes into play for both. That’s why many small business owners opt for a virtual address for their work-from-home or online business. Once you find the right spot, figure out what it’ll cost to get your building up and running. Tally up: 

Like your business plan forms a documented foundation, your physical location is your actual foundation. Proper setup of your storefront or home office leads to better efficiency, productivity, and customer experiences. 

6. Clear the legal hurdles

Once you know what location you’ll use, then you can complete various legal and administrative work. You’ll use many of the same documents during this step, so it makes sense to get each task out of the way at the same time. 

  • Register your business name at the state, federal, and local level when required.
  • Apply for employer identification numbers (EINs).
  • Acquire necessary permits and licenses.
  • Get insurance for your business and property.
  • Set up your business bank account and credit card.
  • Register web domains.

7. Put your software and hardware into place

What services, processes, or systems do you need in place before you open your doors? For example, think about how you’ll accept payments or track sales. Depending on your business, you may need a combination of: 

  • Accounting programs like Quickbooks or Freshbooks
  • Customer relationship management (CRM) systems such as HubSpot
  • High-speed business internet and WiFi 
  • Point of Sale (POS) systems like Toast
  • Cloud-based business phone services
  • Website, email, and social channels
  • Mobile payment opens such as Apple Pay or PayPal
  • Billing and payment systems, if different from accounting

8. Establish essential policies and procedures

Think about how customers interact with your business, then consider what policies or processes you need in place. You may want to review business law to learn about hiring and termination practices, make policies for in-store customers, or determine payment and return policies. During this phase, it’s a good idea to develop your business continuity and disaster plans. 

9. Secure vendors and supplies

Figure out what type of supplies your business requires and find vendors. Speak with various suppliers to ascertain how long it’ll take to get your supplies and estimate your costs. Go through possible payment and ordering methods, as well. 

Plus, don’t limit your relationships to only companies in one region, as a disaster or shutdown could negatively impact your business and ability to get products.

10. Hire your team 

With staffing policies in place, decide who you need to hire. Create clear job descriptions, set up pay ranges and benefits, and identify areas you’ll post your job ad. Make sure to use the best hiring practices and robust interviewing strategies. Build your company’s culture right from the beginning to avoid a disconnect down the road. 

11. Plan your launch strategy

Customers won’t magically appear. You can have the greatest product, but if no one knows your solution exists, your message goes unheard. A pre-launch and launch marketing plan gives you a blueprint for success. Key tasks include:

  • Create marketing materials like physical signs, brochures, and product descriptions
  • Sign up for business directories, like Google My Business
  • Develop digital campaigns leading up to and surpassing opening day
  • Generate attention by reaching out to the press 
  • Connect with local blogging or social media micro-influencers

Get resources for starting a business 

Are you feeling unsure about your startup strategy? Get help starting a business by diving into a comprehensive list of resources. If you still have questions, then reach out to your local small business development center or find an expert who can give you the answers you need for success. 

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