So you want to start a business – congratulations! Once you get over the initial excitement, it’s time to break down the process of launching your startup into manageable chunks.
You might get overwhelmed with the sheer number of items on your to-do list. But not to worry; I’ve broken down this startup checklist into the primary tasks you need to do now, and those that you can defer until later.
What You Need to Do Now
Do the following tasks either before launch or during the early days of your startup.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. Choose a business name
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.
6. Register a domain name
Get a matching domain to your business name. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. 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.
12. 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.
13. Rent retail or office space
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.
14. 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.
15. 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.
16. 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.
17. 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.
18. 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.
19. 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.
20. 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.
21. 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.
22. 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.
23. 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.
24. 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.
25. 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.
26. 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?
27. 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.
28. 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.
29. 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.
30. 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.