If you’re starting a business, you’re probably focused on the product or service you’ll sell, but there are other essential tasks you’ll need to tackle, too. Not only do these tasks help establish your business as legitimate and professional, but they can also help your business as it grows and seeks investment capital or small business financing. The most efficient way to organize all of these tasks is by creating a startup checklist.
Use the following startup checklist to launch your business the right way:
Choose and register your business name
From the start, you’ll want a business name that can grow with your business. Whenever possible, choose one that is memorable and one that customers can easily pronounce and spell.
- Find a domain name: Can you secure the domain name for your desired business name? Your domain name is the internet address — for example, StartupNation.com. If it’s already taken, who owns it, and how similar is the current website and its content to yours? The last thing you want to do is send customers to your competitors!
- Check social media handles for that name: Are they already taken? If so, are the current ones likely to cause confusion for your customers?
- Research trademark registrations: Conduct a trademark search for the name you’re considering for your business. The fact that someone already holds a trademark for a business with the same name may not be an issue if the products or services it represents are completely different, but you would be wise to get legal advice first. In addition, you may want to trademark your business name, so researching possible conflicts can be helpful. The USPTO offers a free online Trademark Basics Bootcamp and other assistance to entrepreneurs.
- Register your business name. If you incorporate your business by forming an LLC or S corporation, for example, your corporate filing will include your business name. However, if you operate as a sole proprietor, consider filing a DBA, or “fictitious name,” with your state. This gets your business name into official records.
- Establish an official start date: When it comes to funding, most lenders want to see at least one to two years in business. Make sure you register your name sooner rather than later so you can start that clock ticking!
Secure your online presence
Once you have a name for your business, it’s time to stake your claim online.
- Start a website: It can be simple — even just a landing page to start. You want to first reserve the domain name and then you want to create a way for prospective customers to find you. While some businesses operate solely on social platforms such as Facebook or Instagram, that’s risky. Those platforms could delete your account at any time, and you are limiting your prospective customer base only to those users on those particular platforms.
- Set up a professional email address: Email addresses that end in @hotmail.com or @gmail.com won’t inspire consumer confidence in your business. Your business email address should end in the domain name of your website.
- Claim up social media accounts: Even if you don’t plan to use a particular platform such as Twitter or Pinterest right away, claim the name on social media so someone else doesn’t take it.
- Get your business listed on Google: Use the services at Google My Business to get your business listed on Google. This is particularly important if your business has a physical brick-and-mortar location, but it can be helpful even if you operate primarily online.
Cover the basics
As a startup, you may be working from home or in a temporary location. You may not want to invest in an office or staff quite yet. That’s fine, but your customers don’t need to know that.
- Get a business address: Unless you want to use your home address everywhere (including online), it’s wise to get an address for your business you don’t mind sharing. A mailbox service or PO Box can suffice.
- Get a business phone number: Services like Sideline or GoDaddy’s SmartLine can provide a separate phone number that rings on your personal cell phone with a distinctive ring and custom voicemail. This adds a level of professionalism at a low cost and allows you to turn off work calls when you aren’t working.
Set up your finances
Do not wing it when it comes to money. Setting up your finances properly from the start helps set your business up for success in the long run.
- Get a business bank account: Do not mingle personal and business finances. Get and use a business bank account. Many lenders won’t even talk to you if you don’t have a business account.
- Get a business credit card: Consider getting a business credit card to use exclusively for business purchases. Your business doesn’t have to be incorporated, and it can be new, as long as your personal credit scores are solid enough to qualify and you meet the issuer’s income requirements from all sources.
- Request an EIN: Get a free employer identification number from the IRS. You’ll use it to file taxes for your business.
- Set up a bookkeeping solution: You can learn how to use an accounting program such as Freshbooks, Quickbooks or Xero, or you can hire a bookkeeper to do that for you. Either way, you want to understand the most effective and efficient way to keep track of your business finances every month — not just at tax time.
- Find an accountant: You want a good relationship with an accountant and, hopefully, it’s not just to make sure your taxes are paid on time. Your accountant should be able to provide valuable insights into your business on a regular basis.
- Check and monitor your personal and business credit: When you need financing, having good credit is an asset. Start building business credit early on in your business in order to develop a strong business credit rating.
Protect your business
Starting a business is risky for many reasons, but there are steps you can take to help reduce that risk.
- Get insurance: There are many types of insurance that can help to protect the blood, sweat, tears — and money — you put into your venture. Learn what types of insurance your small business needs, and secure it as soon as possible.
- Create a business entity: An LLC, S corp or C corp separates your business and personal finances and can provide liability and asset protection — if properly maintained. This step can also help set your business up for financing, as some lenders will not lend to unincorporated sole proprietorships.
- Get business licenses: Be sure to get the appropriate business licenses. Failing to do so can result in expensive fines or enforcement actions by state or local government agencies.
While creating a startup checklist and taking the above steps may seem daunting, they are an essential part of properly launching a business and helping to ensure it is successful in the long run. As with any new endeavor, take it step by step, and this startup checklist will get you far.