The information contained herein is of a general nature and is not intended to address the circumstances of any particular individual or entity. No one should act on such information without appropriate professional advice after a thorough examination of the particular situation.
Gumption gets you far but a smartly crafted small business checklist AND gumption? Well, that gets you even farther.
Your first step to success is having a strong idea of what you want to do and how you want to do it. Hopefully it’s something you’re passionate about because starting your own business can burn you out, and burn you out fast. This is a big part of the reason why only 1 in 4 businesses will make it to the 15 year mark. 
2. Research Your Product
Before you go borrowing money from your friends and family--make sure that what you’re investing in is worth investing in. How much will it cost? What price point do you need to hit to turn a profit? Can you afford enough quantity to get your margins low enough? How much time and money will need to be invested in updates, maintenance and support?
3. Assess Your Needs
Starting a business (even if it’s a seemingly low-cost adventure) can often be more expensive than one predicts. Create your own small business checklist of potential needs such as: manufacturing, web/app development, prototyping, digital assets (photography, graphic design, logos etc.), website hosting, employees, freelancers, and a CRM (customer relationship management) system.
Apart from monetary needs, you also should consider time and expertise. Are you working a 9 to 5 while you grow a side hustle? Will you have the time to do so? Will you be spending the majority of your time learning, rather than doing?
4. Checkout the Competition
Before you start a business, you need to know who your competitors are, how they’re succeeding (and failing) and how you’re going to add value to the market. Do they have investors? Are there any partnerships that have brought them success? Are they doing PPC (pay-per-click ads)? If so, can you tell how much they’re spending? What does their email funnel look like?
It’s not a bad idea to act as a customer or even be a customer just to see what the onboarding and purchasing process is like. This will give you a good idea of industry standards and might also give you some ideas of how you can improve it.
5. Decide on Your Name and Business Entity Type
Unless you choose a made-up name, this can be a long and frustrating process. Most likely, the first name you think of will be taken. However, with some creativity and persistence, you’ll be able to settle on something you like.
If you’re really stuck, there are even tools that will generate a bunch of names for you based off a keyword.
6. Get a Business License
Each state has their own set of rules, but wherever you plan on operating, you need a business license. Without this, you’re not going to be able to sell anything. Don’t believe me? Just ask the the poor kids who had their lemonade stand shut down in Texas for operating without one!
7. Get an EIN (Optional for Sole Proprietorship)
EIN stands for Employee Identification Number. According to e-FORMS.US here are four things that obligate you to get an EIN:
● The Entity has hired, or plans to hire employees
● The Entity needs to open a business bank account
● The Entity needs to file Tax Returns
● The Entity needs to comply with State and Federal regulations
At times, sole proprietorships may just need to use their Social Security number.
8. Open a Business Banking Account
A lot of people start out using their personal card for business purchases. Not that this is necessarily “wrong”--but it’s bad business practice. Separating your personal purchases from your business transactions will help you have cleaner books and easier time doing your taxes. It also helps you compartmentalize and organize your expenses. You know exactly how much capital you’re sitting on at all times, never having to worry if you can use that money for business needs, or if you were saving it for your mortgage.
9. Create a Business Plan/Roadmap
Flexibility in a roadmap is key. You’d be hard pressed to find a business owner who predicted exactly how everything would unfold. Regardless, you need to have a 1 year, 2 year, and even 5 year plan in mind. This will help steer your day to day decisions, what projects you prioritize, and give your investors (if any) confidence in what you want to accomplish.
10. Create a Mission Statement
This is less a financial model and detailed strategy session as it is a philosophical manifesto. Remind yourself (and your team) of your values, goals, and the “why” of your business.
11. Implement a Bookkeeping Solution
Bookkeeping allows you to see where your money is going and how it’s being spent. Done right, it can also help you secure more financing--something most small businesses desperately need. It also happens to be one of business owners least favorite tasks. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could automate it? Well, you can. There are a number of online bookkeeping services like KPMG Spark that offer you the ability to sync up your bank account to their software while a remote team of accountants meet your bookkeeping needs and help prepare your tax returns.
12. Establish a Value Add
Perhaps the most important and crucial question to address on the small business checklist is “What do you bring to the table that others don’t (or can’t)?” Will it be your stellar customer service, will it be a better designed user interface, a proprietary piece of tech? Once you establish this value ad or differentiator, you will want to hit on this over and over with your marketing efforts. Which brings us to the next step...
13. Create a Marketing Plan
“Your brand is the single most important investment you can make in your business.” -Steve Forbes
Creating a marketing plan is essential, because regardless of how good your product is--if no one knows about it, it’s not going to get any traction.
14. Decide on a Brand
Besides choosing your marketing channels and who/how much you want to invest in said marketing--you need to take time to decide HOW you want to present yourself as a business. In today’s world, consumers make up their minds about you quicker than ever, just check out some of these stats:
● Average bounce rate is between 40-55%. That means if you’re doing okay, 1 out of every 2 prospective customers who view your site jump ship right away!
● Out of those that do decide to stay, most of them will leave under a minute and many of them under 10 to 20 seconds.
What does all of this mean? It means you need to have smart design, one that makes your value ad clear from the get go. Consumers needs to feel confident in your product, know what it is, and that it speaks to them. Even if your focus isn’t digital, these same principles apply.
15. Get a Logo
Your logo is your name, your face to the world. Whether you pay a high end graphic designer or use a freelance directory site, make sure it defines you and communicates what you stand for.
1 6. Create a Website
Even if you’re not digitally based, you need a website. A website is the modern-day equivalent of a business card, and it’s going to give you a place to control the messaging. Customers want to know more about you? Other businesses want to partner with you? A news outlet wants to give you coverage? You need a website.
If you’re not well versed in web development, consider using a website platform that doesn’t require you to know custom code.
17. Choose Your Social Channels (Wisely!)
Some brands make the mistake of going as wide as possible when it comes to social media, creating a profile on every platform they can think of. The problem is, when you’re starting small, you might not be able to afford the time or money to hire a full-time content creation team. The fix? Choose 1 or 2 platforms that have the best chance of reaching your audience and dedicate yourself to creating consistent and quality content for those channels.
If you plan on using Instagram, you’re going to want to read our article on how to get more instagram followers.
18. Get a Custom Domain Email
help@gmail[dot]com is not a custom domain email. help@yourbusiness[dot]com is a custom domain. It may not seem like much, but having your business name in your email will create a sense of security, trust, and authority with the online public. Making this change isn’t priority one in creating a business but if you plan on sending emails often (which is probably a good idea), then you want to have a custom domain.
19. Obtain the Proper Licenses
Certain industries will require additional certifications and licenses such as the food and beverage industry. Other industries such as the firearm industry require federal approval from the likes of organizations like the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives). Know your industry and don’t be afraid to connect with others who have “been there done that” and can help you navigate the system.
20. Get Business Insurance
You don’t want to invest dozens of hours and your life savings into a business only to have it burned to the ground with nothing to show for it. Some insurance policies can even help protect against 3rd party lawsuits.
21. Hire Employees
Obviously, not for everyone (especially if you’re a freelancer), but definitely something worth considering. If you do hire, you’ll need that EIN number we discussed, you’ll also need to setup some type of payroll system, and you’ll also need to get your paperwork in order such as a W-4 and I-9.
To learn more about hiring your first employees, checkout our guide on hiring for a startup company.
22. Create a Strong Launch Plan, Execute
Momentum is huge. Before you launch your business, you should think about how you can make it a PR-worthy “event.” Do you have a list of PR contacts? Have you prepped your family and friends? Do your social media channels already have a substantial amount of content and look like they are worth following? Or do they look empty?
If you have complicated or tech-heavy product, you might consider adding beta users and testers ahead of a launch so that by the time that day rolls around, you’ve ironed out all of the kinks.
23. Leverage Personal Contacts
Unless you have a large network of contacts, you’re likely going to need to reach out to family and friends--not only as potential customers but as spreaders of the word. Even if they aren’t interested in your product, ask them to share with their personal networks. These will likely be your first customers.
24. File for Trademarks/Patents
Boring, but essential if you have any inventive products or names you don’t want your competitors to copy. Depending on your product, securing one of these could be the make it or break it step in creating a successful business. If you need to know more about patents and trademarks, visit the USPTO website.
25. Hustle, Learn, Hustle
Even after all of these steps are completed, your business hinges on your ability to work hard, adapt to the market, and work hard some more.
1. Deane, Michael. “Top 6 Reasons New Businesses Fail.” Investopedia. October 29, 2010.
2. Zaru, Deena. “Texas cops shut down girls’ ‘illegal’ lemonade stand.” CNN. June 11, 2015.