I’ve spent almost 20 years starting businesses and helping hundreds of clients, colleges & friends start theirs. I created this resource to have the single most comprehensive guide anywhere on all the different items involved in starting a business. I wish I had this years ago…
Mandatory tasks are required under the law in order to operate a valid and compliant business.
Recommended tasks, although not strictly required under the law, are tasks that should be undertaken in order to grow and protect a new business.
Ideation & Protecting Ideas
- Pick a company name and check any potential trademark infringements on Trademarkia or KnowEm.
- Determine whether your business name needs to be trademarked, and if does Trademark it at the USPTO.
- Protect your written works and code through the Copyright Office.
- If you are inventing or creating a product, understand patents and register for one at the USPTO.
- Vet your idea with the idea checklist.
- Protect your ideas when sharing them with others by using an NDA.
- Search your state’s corporation and LLC name registration database to ensure your business name has not been taken.
- Check Google, Yellow Pages, and local directories to ensure your business name is not taken.
- Learn how to select a good business name.
Forming Your Entity
- Pick a structure (Sole Proprietorship, Corporation, S-Corp, LLC, Partnership, LP, LLP, Non-Profit) and ensure that you comply with business formation requirements.
- Creating a corporation? File Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws with the Secretary of State’s Office.
- Forming an LLC? File the Articles of Organization and an Operating Agreement with the Secretary of State’s Office.
- Get the necessary licenses and permits to operate legally.
- Apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN).
- If you are incorporating, appoint a Board of Directors.
- For a corporation and LCC, you must register a service agent.
- Going into a Partnership? Create a Partnership Agreement.
- Check your state government’s website for other state-specific registration, taxation and employment rules.
- Get your DBA (Doing Business As) which allows a business to operate under a fictitious name (this is required for sole proprietorships that want to operate under any name other than the name of the business owner).
- Open your company bank account.
Identity and Branding
- Design a logo (99designs).
- Search for and register a unique online domain name (GoDaddy, 1and1, Register).
- Create your website (WordPress, Intuit, Weebly, Wix, SiteKreator, GoDaddy).
- Ensure your business name is available on a wide variety of social networking websites in order to develop consistent branding (KnowEm).
- Create and manage your social media presence.
- Get business cards and other physical collateral (Vistaprint).
- List your business online with MerchantCircle, Manta, Yelp and DandB.com.
Financing and Business Planning
- Prepare for and create a Business Plan (if you need one).
- Find sources of capital— friends & family, business bank loans, angel investment, venture capital or even crowdfunding (Crowdfunder, Fundable).
- If seeking investors, create a business pitch deck.
- For those issuing stock to finance the company (corporations), use a Shareholder’s Agreement.
- Find a retail space, set up a home-based office or find an office space on LoopNet, OfficeFinder or ShowCase.
- Choose a broker to help find an adequate business space on TheBrokerList.
- For corporation, keep record of Meeting Minutes.
- Set up an online phone system (Ring Central, Google Voice, Onebox) or set up a traditional land line (Verizon, AT&T).
- Set up your computer and network.
- Pick an internal email system (Gmail, Outlook).
- Choose an email system to connect with customers (Constant Contact, MailChimp,Sendgrid).
- Set up a collaboration method for business documents, spreadsheets and presentations (GoogleApps).
Financial Planning & Accounting
- Choose a tax year.
- Determine which type of federal business taxes you will be responsible for.
- Determine state tax obligations.
- Create and maintain the top 3 financial statements: income statement, balance sheet and cash flows on at least a quarterly basis.
- Set up an accounting system (Quickbooks).
- Find the right accountant.
- Set a budget for the coming year.
- Create a sales forecasts and financial projections regularly.
- Get a business credit card and
- Register with Dun & Bradstreet to build business credit and obtain a D-U-N-S Number to accurately gauge and share your creditworthiness.
- If a corporation, decide whether to elect S Corporation tax status.
- Speak to entrepreneurs and leaders in your industry and consider asking them to be your mentor.
- Ask mentors to join your Board of Advisors (for the overall benefit of the company).
Building a Team
- Determine the company founders and leadership (partnership, owners, CEO, etc.).
- Clarify who gets equity, and how much.
- Conduct job interviews—look out for red flags.
- Find team members through personal connections, recruiters or job boards (Ziprecruiter,Craigslist, Monster, Indeed, SimplyHired).
- Run a background check on new hires.
- For one-off or task based activities, use AmazonTurk or Odesk.
- Make sure workers are properly classified (employee, independent contractor, part-time employee, intern, etc.).
- Have employees fill out Form I-9 and Form W-4.
- Familiarize yourself with the Department of Labor laws and regulations regarding employment.
- Put up the necessary labor law posters to meet federal and state requirements.
- Familiarize yourself with federal discrimination laws and heed them
- Terminate employees properly to avoid discrimination claims.
- Create job descriptions.
- Understand the definition of an “At Will” employee.
- Have workers sign the proper Employment Agreement.
- Protect the inventions employees create for you with an Employee Non-Compete and Confidentiality Agreement.
- Give all new employees an Employee Handbook.
- Lay out the employee benefits you will provide (paid leave and holidays, health insurance, bonuses).
- Choose a payroll service (ADP, Trinet, Paychex).
- Set up a system for employee discipline.
- Determine a pricing system for your product(s).
- Execute the 5 Step Sales Process.
- Learn the art of persuasion.
- Hire and train salespeople.
- Use a sales management service (one that fits your business size, from smaller to larger companies).
- Pick a Customer Relationships Management System (CRM).
- Make a Customer Service Plan to standardize procedures for complaints and refunds.
- Track which products perform better, and which have the best margins.
- Decide on possible discounts, specials and coupons to attract new customers.
- List your products on online marketplaces.
Marketing & PR
- Plan your marketing strategy.
- Decide on a target market and conduct a market analysis.
- Determine your Key Performance Indicators.
- Get free online traffic.
- Improve SEO.
- Get paid online ads, such as Google AdWords and Facebook Advertising.
- Master social media marketing.
- Look into relevant trade shows and conventions to market your product.
- Print flyers, brochures or catalogs.
- Leverage current customers with email marketing.
- Decide if you want to hire a PR Agency.
- Go mobile and consider app development.
- Reach out to relevant newspapers and press.
- Decide which types of business insurance you need.
- Check any potential insurance providers here
- Find an attorney you trust.
- Use waivers and contracts to prevent litigation.
- Prepare for when your company is sued.
CHECKLIST FOR YOUR SPECIFIC BUSINESS
- Determine the price of your services.
- Don’t forget to clarify the deliverable, deadline and cost in your service agreement.
Retail/Brick and Mortar Businesses
- Check zoning laws.
- Secure a lease.
- Decide on days and hours of operation.
- Determine staffing needs (for prime hours, slower times, closing an inventory).
- Secure the correct permits and licenses for your city and state.
- Set up lighting and utilities.
- Acquire furniture, register, racks, tables and wall displays, a register, etc.
- Get a state-specific Seller’s Permit or Resale Permit to properly collect sales tax.
- Choose a location with good foot traffic, size and appearance.
- Speak with a commercial realtor to get an idea of what to look for and what to expect.
- Establish agreements with your manufacturer, distributor or wholesale supplier.
- Set up inventory tracking (understand a Stock Keeping Unit).
- Set up your Yelp page.
- Purchase computers.
- Find images for your website.
- Set up your e-commerce or online store (Shopify, FlyingCart, Goodsie).
- Choose a shipping or delivery system (FedEx, UPS, USPS).
- Set up a system for payment processing (PayPal, Google Checkout).