When starting a business, it can be easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer number of tasks on your to-do list. To help you with the overwhelming workload, we’ve created this ultimate startup checklist.
This list covers the most common things that entrepreneurs need to remember when starting their new businesses and are broken down into relevant categories.
1. Validate Your Business Idea
It is difficult to be sure that your great idea will transform into a successful business. Make sure there is a real need and plenty of people to benefit from your business. Here are a few ideas on how to do this:
- Talk to customers
- Collect customer feedback
- Research prices
- Test your product out through trials
How do you know if the idea is worth following during this time? Learn How to Tell Your Post-Coronavirus Business Idea is Worth Pursuing.
2. Create Your SWOT Analysis
SWOT is an acronym for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. This detailed brainstorming process is an excellent way of designing strategies to help your company succeed. You can view the details of a SWOT.
Identify Your Business Strengths - Strengths refer to your company’s internal capabilities. You have control over your company’s strengths, such as employee skill, brand, resources, and capabilities.
Recognize Your Business Weaknesses - Identify the company’s weaknesses. Once they are identified, you can work on improvements to strengthen your company.
Find Business Opportunities - These are external factors that can be harnessed to make your startup successful. Opportunities can take any form. They can be potential improvements in technology, new business possibilities, and expansion ideas. It’s important to learn how to recognize then take advantage of these opportunities.
Evaluate Threats - Threats are external factors or occurrences that might possibly damage your business. Examples of threats are competition from other companies, who could undercut your pricing strategy or being unable to obtain an adequate supply of your product. Threats are difficult to prevent, but you can have strategies to include them in your decision-making and analysis.
3. Define Your Unique Selling Proposition
Commonly known as your “USP,” your unique selling proposition is what makes your company unique and better than the competition. How will your startup stand out against your competitors? Having a great answer to this question can make or break your startup. Get started with this template for your SWOT analysis.
4. Write Your Business Plan
Think of your business plan as a roadmap that can help you structure, run, and grow a business. If you want to be successful, and especially if you plan to apply for business loans or attract investors, you will definitely need a solid business plan. Learn how to write a business plan.
5. Build Your A-Team
If all the signs are pointing to hiring a your first employee you’ll want to be sure to understand the new role in order to hire quality candidates. Get the Ultimate Guide to Hiring Quality Remote Workers.
6. Define Your Funding
As with any new startup it’s vital to know how much money you will need to get the company functioning. Unless you have another source of income it’s important to weigh your funding options sooner than later.
Research and Define Your Possible Funding Sources - This can take the form of investors, bank loans, or even your own savings. So, what other ways are there to secure the funding your startup needs?
- Loans for small business
- Trade equity or services
- Family and friends
- Accelerator or incubator
- Grants for small businesses
- Local contests or competitions
7. Prepare Your Financial Statements
It is critical to create a financial statement that includes the following parts.
- Startup budget
- Startup costs
- Sales forecast
- Pro forma (projected) profit and loss statement
- Pro forma (projected) balance sheet
These statements are necessary for lenders to be sure they can provide financial backing to your business. They demonstrate you have planned ahead for any outcome. They also show that you have an idea of where the profit will eventually come from, which is very important for startups.
8. Create Your Business Brand
The effective use of branding will set your new business apart from your competition. Branding can mean the difference between a failed startup and a wildly successful one. You must connect with potential customers to draw them toward your product or service.
Nail Your Content Messaging - content has many different forms to reach your customer. Your customer could convert from a website, landing page, cold call, email campaign or all the above. Make sure that your content conveys your solution clearly. Here are some resources to help you with content.
- How Effective Writing Can Increase Your Startup's Success
- 9 Ways to Use a Customer Journey Map to Control Your Content Marketing
Write a Tagline - A tagline must achieve a number of objectives. It must be memorable to the customer and communicate the essence of your business in just a few words. It must grab the customer’s attention and make them understand what your business does. For example the tagline at VirtualPostMail is “We Scan Your US Postal Mail.
You Read It Online. Anytime. Anywhere.” You know that it is a virtual mailbox service that scans your mail online and you can access it 24/7 with your account.
Develop the “Voice” of your Brand - The “voice” of your brand is a important aspect of how your business communicates with its customers. For example your “voice” can be sarcastic, friendly, or goofy. Your brand “voice” will be conveyed in all channels that include the business’ online appearance, customer service interactions, and social media presence.
Find Colors and Fonts for your Brand and Stick to Them - Colors and fonts are an integral part of your company’s brand and visual representation, make it consistent from print to online mediums.
Make a Logo - A logo is another vital tool for establishing your brand. Logos can create instant recognition in your customer’s mind. For example Starbucks recently removed the name from their branding so that only their logo is used. This is clearly a testament to the effectiveness of their logo.
9. Determine Your Business Location
Your business location matters! It can affect your taxes and how you operate your business. That’s why it’s critical to determine your long term business goals.
The most popular states most startups consider are Delaware and Nevada, due to a business-friendly climate that benefits entrepreneurs in a number of ways. Learn more about the Top States to Form Your LLC: Delaware and Nevada.
If you already have an interest in Delaware, Nevada, and California check out these resources.
- 6 Reasons You Should Form Your Next Business in Delaware
- 4 Steps to Setting Up a Delaware LLC
- 6 Steps To Prepare A Certificate of Formation for a Delaware LLC
- 5 Benefits You'll Get With Your Delaware Virtual Mailbox
You might also want to incorporate a business out-of-state to expand the business, protect privacy, and find better investment opportunities. Before you do so, it’s important to understand the requirements involved because it might not be worth the cost. Learn about When to Register a Business Out-of-State.
10. Find Your Business Address
Whether you are setting up a brick-and-mortar business or prefer to be based online, every company needs to register a business address. Here are some points to think about when deciding on your business address.
Commercial Office - This option provides your company with a real physical office location for your business. This is a good choice for those businesses that want to have in-house employees and accommodate walk-in customers. It can be an expensive option, however, and can quickly drain money from a business if the location choice is not suitable.
Research what’s available, and think hard about your needs. Some examples of physical spaces include business parks, industrial parks, and commercial office buildings. For further information check out What Types of Commercial Spaces Can You Use for Your Business.
Virtual Office - Virtual offices are becoming increasingly popular in the age of remote work. They provide some of the benefits of office spaces, while still allowing employees to work remotely and collaboratively.
Virtual offices also offer office-based functions, including mail receiving services, receptionist services, meeting spaces, and private offices. It might not always be the best office solution for a startup so check out How a Virtual Mailbox is Different From a Virtual Office.
Coworking Spaces - Due to the collaborative nature of many startups, coworking spaces are often a popular option. They are a good solution for those who are looking for physical workspaces, but don’t have the budget to rent out a full office space. They are frequently offered for short term lease and provide similar benefits to a traditional office.
Prices for these vary, but for most coworking spaces, you can usually expect high-speed internet, breakout rooms, meeting spaces. If you want the ability to maintain a permanent business address while traveling and working anywhere get the best of both worlds and learn the Three Benefits of Combining a Coworking Space and a Virtual Mailbox.
Home Address - One of the easiest and most common address options for your startup is to use your home address. It costs nothing, there is no commute, and you can maintain flexible work hours.
WARNING! You do have a higher risk of exposing your personal information when you use your home address. Do you really want angry customers knocking on your door? If you want to give a little cushion room between your home address and the world read How to Maintain Privacy Protection with Your Home Address for Your Business.
However, using a home address only works for those who are selling their time such as freelancers or consultants. Many businesses that sell actual products will not be seen as valid or credible if they are registered under a home address.
This can even be illegal in some cases, so it is important to research this beforehand. Plus, to protect your personal and business liabilities be sure to learn the 5 Benefits of Incorporating Your Home-Based Business.
Virtual Mailbox - Virtual mailboxes are an increasingly popular way for startups to maintain a legitimate physical mailing address without needing to rent a whole office space. Protect your privacy (if you use your home address) and get a professional business image too! Use the virtual address to register your LLC or corporation.
A virtual mailbox scans your mail and sends it to your virtual mailbox account, allowing you to keep all your mail - digital and physical - in one place. Some other great benefits of virtual mailboxes include real-time notifications, mail forwarding, package forwarding, mail shredding, and check depositing.
To learn more about virtual mailboxes view these resources:
- What is A Business Address
- Why You Need a Business Address for Your LLC or Corporation
- Why You Need a Virtual Mailbox with a Commercial Street Address
- How a Virtual Mailbox Compares to Other Addresses
- The Ultimate Guide to a Virtual Mailbox
- Virtual Mailbox Service Reviews
- 4 Benefits of a Virtual Business Address
- 8 Benefits of a Virtual Mailbox For Your Business
- 7 Ways VirtualPostMail Can Help Your Remote Business
- 4 Reasons to Choose VPM for Your Virtual Mailbox
- 5 Ways to Get a Business Address for Your Startup
- 4 Reasons to Get a Virtual Mailbox
11. Legalize Your Business
Once the foundation of your business is established, it’s time to legally formalize your startup, i.e. decide if you want to register as a LLC, corporation, or partnership.
If you’re uncertain on deciding the business entity type it’s recommended to meet with your accountant or attorney, but before you do that learn about the differences between the various options.
C Corporation - C corporations are seen as independent legal and tax entities from the owner of the company. This type of corporation is a great way of keeping the assets of the business and business owners separate. That way, the owner or owners cannot be held liable for any debt incurred by the corporation itself.
C corporations can have any number of shareholders. They then elect a board of directors, who then assign a CEO. It is expected that meetings are held annually.
C corporations are taxed separately from the owners. These owners then pay another tax on any dividends that are distributed by the corporation. This is known as “double taxation”.
S Corporation - This is the name given to any corporation that operates under subchapter S of the IRS code. Like any corporation, they file the Articles of Incorporation with the Secretary of State in order to incorporate themselves. They then select directors and officers to oversee the company. Finally, they file with the IRS in order to be treated as an S Corp.
The treatment for an S Corp is similar to a C Corp. This means that it is technically an independent legal and tax entity, separate from the owners. This helps keep your private assets and debts separate from your corporate ones.
However, in S corporations, owners report their share of profit and loss on the company’s tax returns. There is also no taxation at the corporate level, as profits and losses move through individual shareholders. These are then reported on those tax returns.
In S Corporations, there are certain limits on how many shareholders are permitted. These shareholders are required by law to be US citizens or residents.
Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) - This type of company is a kind of hybrid organization. It has characteristics of a corporation, a sole proprietorship, and a general partnership. It also offers certain tax advantages that are similar to those of a non-corporate structure.
Similar to C and S corporations, LLCs are treated as a legal structure that is independent of the owners. This means that the owner or owners are not responsible for any debt incurred by the LLC. LLCs are also taxed in a way that is similar to sole proprietorships if there is one owner. If there is more than one owner, however, it will be taxed as a partnership. If there are multiple owners, LLCs can also be taxed as either a C corporation or an S corporation.
There are no limits to how many owners an LLC can have. In LLCs, the operations of the business are controlled by operating agreements, and the organization must also have Articles of Organization in place in order to register as an LLC.
General Partnership and Sole Proprietorship - These two types of businesses are very similar in structure and mainly differ in the number of owners.
Sole proprietorships, as the name suggests, have one owner. General partnerships, on the other hand, can have multiple owners. There is no requirement to file official paperwork with the State, so this is one of the easiest business types to set up.
However, the owner is personally responsible for any legal issues the company may experience. Also, they are personally liable for reporting profits and losses on their own tax returns.
12. Register the Name of Your Business
This is an important step in legalizing and formalizing your business. It solidifies and consolidates the identity of your business in the marketplace.
There are a number of ways to register your chosen business name. These include:
- Registering the structure of your business and continuing under that name. This secures the use of that name and makes it yours.
- Apply for a “DBA”. This stands for “doing business as,” and gives your business a name to operate under.
- Trademark the name of your business. This can be done at both the State and national level. This is the most expensive option and takes longer than the other choices.
13. Choose Your Registered Agent
Most states require a registered agent, also known as a statutory agent. This is someone who receives lawsuits, subpoenas, and other official communications on behalf of your company.
The benefits of having a registered agent service are numerous. You will never miss an important communication or document, and it will keep a distance between your clients and documents you prefer to remain private. Also, if your business changes address, you can continue to use the same registered agent, as their address would remain the same.
Further information can be found about registered agents below:
- Why a Registered Agent is Needed for an LLC or Corporation
- The Difference Between a Registered Agent and a Business Address
- 9 Reasons to Use a Registered Agent Service
- 8 Reasons to Use a Virtual Mailbox With Your Registered Agent Service
14. Obtain the Proper Licenses and Permits
Your state and county websites will list the types of permits or licenses you need for your industry specific requirements.
Federal Licenses and Permits - Most businesses do not need a Federal license or permit, but if your industry is regulated at the federal level, then you likely will require one. Check with your federal agency if your business requires this and how to apply.
State Licenses and Permits - The required business licenses depend on where you are and what your business does and the fees vary. Usually, states regulate more activities than the federal government.
Local Licenses and Permits - The local licenses and permits depend on where you are based and your business type. Businesses that are run from home usually need permission to perform these activities in a residential zone.
15. Apply for Your Employer Identification Number (EIN)
This unique nine-digit number is required for all businesses operating in the United States. An EIN is vital for startups for many reasons. Some examples an EIN is critical are for:
- Opening bank accounts
- Receiving loans
- Hiring employees
- Building up business credit
- Registering a LLC or Corporation
Your EIN is a means of keeping yourself separate from the business. This means that you will never need to give out your social security number.
There are a variety of ways to apply for an EIN.
- Online: You can apply for the SS-4 online and obtain an EIN number immediately
- Mail: Simply print out an SS-4 application form, fill it out, scan it, and send it to the appropriate office in the IRS
- Phone: Simply call the number (800) 829-4933 to apply
- Fax: Similar to the online option, simply fill out the SS-4 form, and fax it to your state fax number
16. Open a Bank Account for Your Business
Opening a business bank account is one of the most important things you can do when starting a business. A business bank account protects both your personal and business finances. It also simplifies the organizational aspects of business, including recording expenses, reporting taxes, and making deposit payments in the name of your company.
Many use their personal bank accounts for their business, especially at the beginning. This can present difficulties later, especially if this practice is maintained for longer than it should be.
IMPORTANT! An increasing trend to note when opening your business bank account is the proof of address. Banks are sweeping their databases to verify that physical addresses are real physical addresses. Mailbox addresses, PO Boxes, and registered agent addresses are not allowed. Learn what physical addresses are accepted to open your business bank account.
17. Register Your Web Domain
In the digital marketplace, having the right domain name is almost as important as having the right business name. Not only will it be how your potential customers navigate to your online space, but will also represent your brand.
It’s also best to keep the domain name as closely related to the actual business name as possible. For example, if your business is called “Sandwich Shack”, and your domain is called “www.welovesandwich.com”, it waters down your brand.
18. Design Your Website
An online presence is vital for your startup. The best advice to keep in mind when designing your website is to make it colorful, aesthetically pleasing, and simple. Visuals are vital!
If you are not a naturally gifted graphic designer, and you don’t have the budget to hire one, there are multiple tools available to help you. Here is a shortlist of some of the best:
19. Plan Your Sales and Marketing Strategy
A sales and marketing strategy are important to learn how you’ll get and retain customers with your product and services. Creating a product doesn’t just do the trick. Here are some tips for creating your sales and marketing strategy:
- A goal overview including advertising and marketing goals
- Make it clear why your company is different from (and better than!) your competition
- Create a detailed timeline for everything that needs to be done for both short and long term
- Check Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to better understand your strategies
Developing a marketing plan will give you a clear guide on what steps are needed to build your customer base. The plan should cover what you will do each month, quarter or year. Here are some common types of marketing plans:
Paid Marketing Plan - Paid marketing will include re-marketing, affiliate marketing, video advertising, display advertising, pay per click (PPC), native advertising, and search engine marketing (SEM).
Social Media Marketing Plan - This plan should define which social media channels you are going to use and explain your tactics and what you will accomplish in content and messaging on each social media channel. Also, define the metrics you will measure for social media such as number of followers, comments, and likes.
Content Marketing Plan - This is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience. We recommend using a content calendar in order to plan your posts around topics, holidays, giveaways, contests, articles, and other original pieces.
Want more inspiration? Check out the 14 Best Low-Budget/Free Marketing Ideas for Small Business.
20. Deploy Effective Business Tools
It is essential that you have the right tools and infrastructure in place to keep workflows and channels of communication open and optimized. There are tools available to enhance productivity and the quality of work in your team.
- Tools to Use to Run a Remote Business
- 35 Helpful Remote Work Tools For Your Business
- 31 Remote Tools to Run Your Law Firm
- 28 Remote Tools to Run Your Accounting Firm
- Top SEO Audit Tools
21. Hire Freelancers and Vendors
Many businesses rely on third-party workers, such as contractors and freelancers and it’s important to get help if you need it.
Vendors are an important aspect of any successful startup or small business. Their main role is to provide all the necessary resources. Their knowledge and experience can also be very beneficial.
Suppliers also provide great benefits, primarily in their ability to source great products and items. Maintaining a good relationship with both vendors and suppliers is important.
22. Locate Professionals
Starting a new business involves many legal decisions. It is advisable to find and hire professionals in legal affairs to help navigate through these many documents and decisions.
For example, hiring an attorney or legal advisor can be invaluable when negotiating your way through the initial legalities of beginning your startup. The short-term cost of this is often worth it. Usually, these professionals will agree to a deferred payment. They will ensure your compliance with all the relevant laws, leaving you to focus on the business itself.
An accountant can also be an asset to your fledgling company. A good accountant can help with all the financial complexities of running a business.
Your Business Startup is Ready to Go!
If you follow these steps, you’ll have your startup ready to launch in no time! There is much to consider, but with an organized approach and a great idea backed by passion and hard work, you should succeed.
Remember that it’s impossible to start a business without a registered agent. States require one when you officially register your business.
At VirtualPostMail, we offer a free registered agent service. Combine a registered agent with a fantastic virtual mailbox, and reap the benefits of an address with which you can list a registered agent, while also managing all of your mail from one place.