That’s why we’ve compiled this helpful business startup checklist, covering everything from pre-launch planning to post-launch to-dos. Use it to help guide you through the start of your small business journey and beyond.
Pre-launch. Get ready!
The pre-launch phase lays the basic groundwork for establishing your business and outlines the resources you’ll need to get started.
1. Decide on a business name and secure the web domain
The name of your business can have a huge impact on its success. A name that’s too long, hard to spell, or hard to pronounce might cause marketing issues down the road. Your name should be able to grow with your company, so avoid names that are limited to one product or location.
In fact, the name doesn’t even have to describe your product or service at all. Apple, for example, is a globally recognized brand worth trillions of dollars, but the fact that you won’t find their products in grocery stores hasn’t hindered their success.
Once you have decided on your business’s name, register a web domain for it. If you can, try to secure a “.com” domain—they’re easier for potential customers to remember and are often associated with an established business.
2. Write a business plan
You wouldn’t travel to a faraway land without a navigation tool. The same goes for your small business journey—it helps to know where you’re going.
Your business plan is a roadmap that begins with the business’s vision and goals and includes resources, funding, market analysis, and financial projections. If you have potential investors or partners, they will want to know this information before backing your business.
3. Decide on the business’s taxation structure
Decide if you’ll be running the business as a sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC), C corporation, or S corporation. Each entity type comes with its share of tax advantages and drawbacks, so do your research before making a final decision on the business structure. Don’t worry if you think you’ve made the wrong choice, though, as the structure can be changed down the road.
Keep in mind that if you establish the business as a corporation, LLC, or partnership, you will need to obtain a Federal Employer Identification (FEIN) from the IRS. This identifier is necessary to open your business’s bank account and process payroll for employees. You may also need a state tax ID number if your business is required to pay state taxes.
4. Apply for licenses and permits
Depending on the type of business you will have, certain licenses and permits may be required to operate. Some of these application processes may be lengthy, so it’s wise to begin this step early in your plan.
Unless your business activities will be regulated by a federal agency, you won’t need a federal license or permit. However, your local government will require a business license.
If you are selling a physical product in the state your business is in, you will also need a sales tax permit to collect and pay sales tax. Your business may also have a tax nexus in other states, requiring you to collect and remit sales tax there as well.
Check with your city’s licensing authority, the Small Business Administration (SBA), or consult with an attorney to verify if your business will require any additional permits or licenses.
5. Open business bank accounts
Business bank accounts commonly include checking, savings, credit card, and merchant services. These accounts allow your business to accept credit cards and allow customers to make checks out to your business. Separating your personal and business accounts not only makes bookkeeping easier but gives your business greater credibility.
6. Arrange for office and storage space
If you’re not going to run your business from home, renting office and storage space should be next on your pre-launch to-do list. The best way to find commercial office space is to look through online listings or brokers for spaces that meet your budget and needs.
7. Get small business insurance
Insuring your small business is just as important as insuring your home or car. It protects your business from claims that could easily deplete your resources. Policies commonly consist of general and professional liability insurance, and business income coverage. If you employ others, you’ll also need workers’ compensation insurance.
You’ll also need commercial property insurance to protect the premises if you are running a brick-and-mortar business.
Need help finding insurance? Check out our guide to the best (and cheapest) small business insurance around!
8. Set up your bookkeeping system
You’ll need accurate financial records to file your business taxes on time, and getting this set up sooner rather than later will save you the headache of sorting out a messy backlog of financial entries and reports.
Choose a suitable accounting or bookkeeping software package for your business. The right package will vary depending on your business needs, so check out our guide to the top bookkeeping solutions for small businesses if you need help getting started.
If you prefer to take a DIY approach, try our Excel income statement template. It’s free to download and easy to use.
If you’d rather let someone else handle your books, you can always try Bench! As America’s largest professional bookkeeping service, we help small business owners stay on top of their finances and sail through tax season with ease.
9. Establish your online presence
If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to follow through on getting your business online. Since you should already have your domain name, the next step is to design and build an easy-to-navigate website for it. Don’t worry; you won’t need to hire a developer for this job. Sites like Shopify, Wix, and Squarespace offer affordable, easy-to-use e-commerce templates.
Get the word out on social media. Social media allows you to interact with prospective customers who may be interested in your brand, which can generate more sales. Start by thinking about which social platforms your ideal customer uses most often: are they more likely to be found on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter…or maybe TikTok? Set up accounts on the networks that make the most sense for your business and audience.
You should also consider networking online with other entrepreneurs who have similar business interests to share hints and tips on attracting customers. LinkedIn is a great place to find other professionals in your niche, but there are also many forums and groups for small business owners.
10. Hire employees
You may plan to start your business as its only employee, but if you plan to recruit outside help, make sure you have fulfilled all of your legal requirements beforehand. Then, create a job description to attract qualified candidates and spread the word on sites like Indeed, CareerBuilder, and your social media platforms.
For a more in-depth look at hiring, check out our blog: How to Hire Employees: 11 Tips for a Great Hiring Process.
You’ve worked tirelessly in anticipation of this time, crossing off every item on your pre-launch to-do list. Now, it’s time to get down to business.
Here are the steps that can guide you through a successful launch.
11. Spread the word that you’re open for business
Build up the buzz about your grand opening on the social media channels you established during the pre-launch phase. Simple word-of-mouth can work wonders, so ask family and friends to spread the good news too.
12. Attract customers with freebies and giveaways
Who doesn’t love getting freebies? Give out sample items or include free products with selected purchases. Have random prize drawings periodically throughout the launch period.
13. Collect emails to create a customer loyalty program
Running a points-style reward program is a great way to entice customers to purchase from your business. The email addresses you collect from the program can be used to continue the conversation with your new customers.
Post-launch. Keep going!
Congratulations! You had a successful launch. But now’s not the time to rest on your laurels. Follow this post-launch checklist to make sure that you can keep your customers coming back.
14. Monitor your social media channels
Keep a close eye on your social media, making sure to review your customers’ feedback as well as any suggestions for improvements. Social media is a conversation, so don’t forget to respond to any questions or comments. Keeping your social media presence active is a good way to stay top-of-mind with your target audience.
15. Analyze your sales results
Track how many sales per day, total conversions, cash flow, and total revenue your business had during the launch period. Monitoring these results monthly will help you keep close tabs on any potential spending issues and track your profits.
It’s not just about cash flow, either—keep an eye on which products generated the most interest and which were not as well-received. If you spot a trend, you can choose to lower prices or shift your strategy.
16. Check website performance
Review your website analytics and make sure your site is functioning as expected. Things like slow load times and broken links can be off-putting to potential customers and lead to lost sales.
17. Evaluate your marketing strategies
After you have a better sense of your business needs and capacity, take some time to think about what your ideal marketing efforts would look like. Decide where your time is best spent—should you be blogging monthly or posting regularly on Instagram, or is another platform more useful for your business?
Go over your pre-launch marketing strategies and see which were most successful (and which didn’t make an impact). You can use these insights to inform your next promotion.
How Bench can help
Launching a new business venture can be a rewarding experience. However, it requires careful planning and decision-making to ensure you start off on the right foot. During this hectic time, you may find that setting up your bookkeeping system is too overwhelming to tackle by yourself.
At Bench, your bookkeeper works closely with you to set up your books and keep them current and accurate. We’ll handle your bookkeeping and tax filing requirements, so you can focus on growing your new business.
The bottom line
Starting your own business doesn’t have to be a complicated or stressful endeavor. When you have a plan in place, you can improve your chances of a successful launch that will wow your customers and keep them coming back for more.
Further reading: How to Start a Business (12 Steps)