Ultimate Checklist To Start Your Business
You have an idea, it’s time to put it to action…
When I started my business, I was still working in Corporate America. My friend Emma, who was the accountant at the company I was working for at the time, said to me “You do a lot of side work, are you registered in California?” With the most confused face I said “Uh, no?.”
Now that I do Small Business consulting, I encounter this a lot. People have an idea they want to execute and they get stuck in the process. They get lost in the Google rabbit hole and end up more confused than when they started. Because of this, I’ve created this handy dandy guide generic enough to start a business anywhere in the U.S. Throughout this guide, most of the resources come from the Small Business Administration which is the federal entity in the U.S. that makes sure small business owners succeed. Our tax dollars go towards SBA
First things first.
For all my linear thinkers, I had to break down the guide into two parts: The Back of the House (BOH) and Front of the House (FOH).
Back of the House
These are the tedious tasks you MUST complete before even announcing your business. I see many people doing it backwards and then finding themselves in a legal mess because they did not complete these tasks. While I always say, Branding is the foundation of your business, the BOH tasks are the land that contains the foundation.
I’m sure your idea is incredible and you know it’s going to be a hit. Yes but no. Let’s not open up a graphic tee company before we learn about what is already out there. There are many ways to do market research and I could do a whole post about it, so I’ll share the easy-affordable-simple ways to do some market research:
Create a mockup of your product and ask friends and family. Ask for people’s opinions, this is good ol’ market research.
Check the Census. They offer data where you can find other businesses in your area as well as the demographics you can serve. Pretty handy dandy tool actually.
I know, I dread them too. Yes, everyone needs one. No, it doesn’t have to be so painful. Did I answer your questions?
Your business plan is the document that tells you, your employees, and everyone about your idea and how you plan to implement it. Even if you don’t have employees or plan on raising capital, you can still make a business plan so you can remind yourself why you wanted to create this business. There are different types of business plans you can create depending on the type of business you’re forming.
Traditional business plan. It’s essentially a book. I see people start these and never finish them.
One page business plan. It contains the essentials you need to get started.
Lean business plan. The in-between of the traditional and one page plans.
Remember your business plan is a living, evolving document. As your company grows, you want to continue updating it to fit your next chapter.
Are you going to have a Brick and Mortar? Do you have the capital to start this? If you’re a service-based business, are you going to work out of your home? Perhaps a co-working space, or an actual office? You will need to have a physical address when filling out your paperwork. Also for the people creating physical products and selling online, you also need to think of where this is going to happen. If you plan on taking over the garage for your creation room that’s fine. Always allocate a space for your business, believe me, it’ll come handy when it comes to doing your taxes.
A more specific point for all my food businesses, make sure you secure a shared kitchen before diving into your cupcake business. You want to make sure you have all your ducks in a row.
We can go for hours on this one. I’ll address the marketing FOH aspect first because it’s important. When choosing a name it has to cover the three As of naming: Adaptable, Available, and Attractive.
Adaptable: Can people from all demographics, ages, and languages say it? Make sure your name also adapts to the potential growth of your company. Don’t get too specific. One of my clients named her business after the neighborhood where she lived in at the time. Once the business grew a couple of years later, she had to do a complete rebrand including a name change because she was no longer at that location. Save yourself that trouble.
Available: Check every social media platform and domain. Before you settle on a name, make sure you can secure your handles and website. This also applies for the legal side which we will cover later.
Attractive: Not in the literal sense, but kind of. Think of Target, the original name was Goodfellow Dry Goods. Which name is more attractive? The shorter one, it’s simple, easy to say and easy to read. If you have a complex business, don’t try to describe it in your name. You can use a tagline for that.
Now to the BOH, where most people get lost. Because we’re keeping it general to U.S. businesses, I won’t get into the specifics. The SBA has a guide that allows you to select your state and verify your requirements. Because I’m in California, I know CalGold provides a comprehensive list of permits and licenses.
Register at the State and City/County level. This is where you register your business as Doing Business As (DBA). This lets the State and City know you’re operating a business within that territory. Please note, if you’re operating your business using your full name, then you don’t need a DBA, only if you are operating as a different name. For example, my business name is Spread Ideas, Move People, and I want to operate as such, so I needed to create a DBA for that business, also for PowerSisters, and Snoozet because they’re not my legal name.
Register at the Federal Level. This is where you let the IRS know you’re operating an entity that is making money. More on that next.
Trademarks and Business Entities. This is something you consult with your lawyer. Keep it in mind. You can operate as a Sole Proprietor, LLC, Corporation, etc. This decision depends on the needs of your business. Again, something to consult with your lawyer.
Also, please note there are different requirements depending on your location. In California, you’re required to publish your business name in a newspaper. So check on that.
EIN and State Tax Id
Once you decide on your business name, if you’re going to operate as a Sole Proprietor (meaning you and your business are one to the eyes of the IRS) or another business entity (LLC, Corp, etc), then you need to file for an EIN. This is like the social security number for your business. This is the quickest of all steps. It takes no more than 10 minutes and you will need to have it in order to open a bank account.
Some states require you to register with the State Franchise Board or other State agencies so they have records of your business. I’d check with the SBA again as they’re the most trusted source for Small Businesses.
Business License and Sales Permits
This one is tricky. At the Federal level, it varies by industry. At the State level, it varies by state. I know, you’re thinking this doesn’t mean much, so I’m going to send you back to SBA to get the specifics. If your trade/service requires specific certifications/permits, then it’s going to be a longer process for you here. If you’re entering one of those industries, then your school/training centers could be a good resource as to what specific permits and licenses you may need.
On the most basic level, you need a business license, and if you plan on selling tangible items, you need a sales permit.
Please please please open a separate bank account for your business. Always remember Church and State, you are the Church, and your Business is the State. They do not mix. Don’t get discouraged if you’re going to open up your bank account with $50 and you feel like that amount isn’t going to grow fast enough. Be patient. I’m going to suggest opening a checking account and a couple of savings accounts. Checking is for liquid cash, savings one is your tax fund, and savings two is your business savings.
The best piece of advise I’ve received was to immediately pay the Tax Man. I live in California which is one of the most expensive states to do business in, so for me, I pay between 20-30% in taxes for every dollar I make. That said, if I get paid $10, then I immediately move $3 to my Tax Man account. I also have paid quarterly taxes since day one (which I highly recommend even if you are not making that much money), so now I have built two great habits and I am not stressed at the end of the year about money for taxes.
And since we’re in the business of money, I know I have not talked about funding. I think there are two schools of thought here, one is you require money to start a business, and the other one thinks you can start a business with just an idea. I subscribe more to the latter. However, I don’t think you are simply starting the business with just an idea, your time is worth money, so I’d say you can start a business with an initial investment of your time.
And that concludes the BOH part. I always tell clients to take a day off to complete the BOH tasks, once those are done, then you can focus on the FOH tasks which come next.
Front of the House
This is where most business owners start because it’s exciting, fun, and you can visually see your business take form. Again, I recommend starting with BOH first so all the tedious stuff is out of the way. Eat the frog. Don’t procrastinate on it.
This is my bread and butter so I will try to be brief. Branding is the foundation of your business. I’m launching a course soon, and you can sign up to be on the wait list to know more as it launches very soon. For a big corporation the visual aspect of the branding is important, for a Small Business, the visceral aspect is what matters. This is for many reasons I’ll go over on another post (be sure to let me know if you want to hear more), for now we will focus on the simplified version of branding:
Brand Container: This is a term I came up with so you won’t find it anywhere if you Google it. The brand container is the single page that contains the important information about your brand: Vision, Mission, Purpose, Promise, Core Values, Ideal Client Persona. Think of your brand container as the document you’d hand out to new employees, or a new vendor if they’re looking to learn more about your business. The brand container is also a reminder to you of why you created this and where do you want to go.
Brand Assets: From logo, fonts, and colors, to personality, style, voice and tone. Consistency is key so you want to make sure you have all your elements in one place.
Brand and Social Media Strategy: What is the plan for social media platforms and the brand overall? Are there any launching campaigns/products you need to plan for?
Social Media & Online Presence
So easy to overlook. We already covered securing your handles in social media and domain. This is your friendly reminder to secure them as soon as possible even if you don’t plan to use them right away. You’ll be glad you have them ready to go when the time comes. Please make sure all your handles are consistent. If you’re opening Rosa’s Cupcakes, ideally your handles would be @rosascupcakes throughout platforms. Make it easy for your clients to find you.
Now that your business is taking form, I want you to think of how you’re going to communicate with your clients. Are you going to be a social media slide through DMs type of business, more #IRL (In Real Life) interactions, or are you looking to cultivate an email list so you can provide value to your clients directly to their inbox. I always advocate for an email marketing software because we live in a volatile world and you don’t own your followers, however, if people choose to provide their email address, then you can reach them even when Instagram goes down for a couple of hours. As far as email marketing providers, there are many to choose from. I started with Mailchimp and as my needs and list grew I moved onto Active Campaign. Mailchimp has a free option that offers pretty cool services. If you don’t have a “list,” I invite you to write a list of people you know that would support your business. Then send them a personal BCC email from your inbox and invite them to subscribe to your list. Now you have a list to start with.
As far as website platforms, there are also many to choose from. We have drag and droppers: Squarespace, Wix, and Showit. You also have the more traditional website builders like Wordpress. This really depends on your level of comfort when it comes to building your site, or delegating the task.
So you’re ready huh? Let’s say that you’re open for business, do you have business cards? Packaging? What collateral materials will you need to actually launch? Some basics:
Packaging (if you have a physical product)
Stickers/Leave behind items
Signage (if you have an actual brick and mortar)
Although I don’t claim to be a linear thinker, I always strive to be as practical and systematic as possible. Having systems in place since day one will help you in the long run. Think of the processes that will be repetitive. Is there a software that can help you achieve that? Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been really good at setting up systems and I have also done things fast and furious and ended up in a chaotic mess. I’m trying to save you this headache. For the podcast for example, I need to schedule calls with guests all the time, and I figured setting up a scheduler that syncs with my calendar and their calendar is the most effective way to make the interview happen. Systems are set up as you go, write the processes you follow as you create them so you don’t have to think about it next time you have to do something. I have a Trello board called SOP (Standard Operating Procedures) and it’s a huge time saver when someone asks me for my bio and I know I can easily grab it from my SOP. Let me know if you want to know more about setting up systems for your life and business. Having systems set up also helps with procrastination. I have no excuse but to get things done because nothing is in the way, other than myself.
Don’t forget to download your FREE checklist. Print it, and keep it with you as you complete the tasks. Be kind to yourself, starting a business is no easy task so make sure you support yourself and check in often to avoid getting overwhelmed or going into analysis paralysis.
Now go start your business manis chulas.