This checklist breaks down everything you must and should do when starting a business. Mandatory tasks are required under the law in order to operate a valid and compliant business. Recommended tasks, although not strictly required under the law, should be undertaken in order to grow and protect a new business.
Ideation and Protecting Ideas
- Pick a company name and check any potential trademark infringements through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s trademark database.
- Determine whether your business name needs to be trademarked, and if it does, register your trademark with the USPTO.
- Protect your written works and software code by filing a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office.
- If you are inventing or creating a product, file a patent with the USPTO.
- Vet your business idea.
- Protect your ideas when sharing them with others by using an non-disclosure agreement (NDA).
- Search your state’s corporation and LLC name-registration database to ensure your business name has not been taken.
- Check Google, Yellow Pages and local directories to ensure your business name isn’t already in use by local businesses.
Forming Your Entity
- Pick a business structure (i.e. sole proprietorship, C corporation, S corporation, LLC, partnership, non-profit, etc.), and ensure it complies with formation requirements.
- Creating a corporation? File articles of incorporation and bylaws with your local Secretary of State office.
- Forming an LLC? File the articles of organization and an operating agreement with the Secretary of State.
- Get the necessary licenses and permits to operate legally.
- Apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN).
- If you are incorporating, appoint a board of directors.
- For a corporation or LLC, you must appoint a registered agent in your state.
- Forming a partnership? Create a partnership agreement.
- Check your state government’s website for other state-specific registration, taxation and employment rules.
- Register a fictitious or “Doing Business As” name, which allows a business to operate under a fictitious name (this is required for sole proprietorships that want to operate under any name other than the name of the business owner).
- Open your company bank account, and ensure you keep personal and business finances separate.
Identity and Branding
- Design a logo.
- Search for and register a unique online domain name.
- Create your website.
- Ensure your business name is available on a wide variety of social networks in order to develop consistent branding.
- Create and manage your social media presence.
- Get business cards and other physical collateral.
- List your business on search and directory databases to boost your local marketing reach.
Financing and Business Planning
- Create a business plan. Download a free business plan template here.
- Find sources of capital, either through equity funding (i.e angel investors, venture capital, private equity, etc.) or debt financing (i.e. friends and family, loans, credit, etc.)
- If seeking investors, create a business pitch deck.
- For corporations issuing stock to finance the business, use a shareholder’s agreement.
- Find a retail space, set up a home-based office or find an office space.
- Choose a broker to help find an adequate business space.
- For corporation, keep record of meeting minutes.
- Set up an online phone system or a traditional landline.
- Set up your computer and network.
- Pick an internal email system.
- Choose an email system to connect with customers through marketing newsletters.
- Set up a collaboration method for business documents, spreadsheets and presentations.
Financial Planning and Accounting
- Choose a tax year.
- Determine which type of federal business taxes you will be responsible for.
- Determine state tax obligations.
- Create and maintain the top three financial statements (i.e. income statement, balance sheet and cash flow) on at least a quarterly basis.
- Set up an accounting system, such as QuickBooks.
- Find the right accountant.
- Set a budget for the coming year.
- Create sales forecasts and financial projections regularly.
- Get a business credit card and a separate business bank account.
- Track and improve your business credit.
- If you have a corporation, decide whether to elect S-corporation tax status.
- Speak to entrepreneurs and leaders in your industry, and consider asking them to be your mentor.
- Ask mentors to join your board of advisors or board of directors. Advisory boards are optional and provide guidance to young businesses, whereas boards of directors are required for every corporation. To onboard your advisors and directors, use our free templates for business advisor agreements and corporate director agreements.
Building a Team
- Determine the company founders and leadership.
- Clarify who gets equity and how much.
- Create job descriptions, then vet and hire employees.
- Find team members through personal connections, recruiters or job boards.
- Run a background check on new hires.
- Classify workers as either W-2 (employee) or 1099 (contractor), and treat each according to labor laws.
- Make sure workers are properly classified as employees or contractors, as well as exempt or non-exempt.
- Have employees fill out Form I-9 and Form W-4.
- Familiarize yourself with the Department of Labor laws and regulations regarding employment.
- Put up the necessary labor law posters to meet federal and state requirements.
- Familiarize yourself with federal discrimination laws.
- Terminate employees properly to avoid discrimination claims.
- Create job descriptions.
- Have workers sign the proper employment agreement.
- Protect the inventions employees create for you with a non-disclosure agreement.
- Give all new employees an employee handbook.
- Lay out the employee benefits you will provide.
- Choose a payroll service, such as QuickBooks Payroll.
- Set up a system for employee discipline.
- Determine a pricing system for your product(s).
- Hire and train salespeople.
- Pick a customer relationship management system (CRM).
- Make a customer service plan to standardize procedures for complaints and refunds.
- Track which products perform better and which have the best margins.
- Decide on possible discounts, specials and coupons to attract new customers.
- List your products on online marketplaces.
Marketing and PR
- Plan your marketing strategy.
- Decide on a target market, and conduct a market analysis.
- Determine your key performance indicators.
- Improve SEO.
- Set up a search-engine marketing (SEM) campaign.
- Master social media marketing.
- Look into relevant trade shows and conventions to market your product.
- Print flyers, brochures or catalogs.
- Leverage current customers with email marketing.
- Create a PR plan.
- Optimize your site for mobile.
- Reach out to relevant newspapers and press.
- Decide which types of business insurance you need.
- Check any potential insurance providers here
- Find an attorney you trust.
- Use waivers and contracts to prevent litigation.
- Determine the price of your services.
- Check zoning laws.
- Secure a lease.
- Decide on days and hours of operation.
- Determine staffing needs (for prime hours, slower times, closing an inventory, etc.).
- Secure the correct permits and licenses for your city and state.
- Set up lighting and utilities.
- Acquire furniture, register, racks, tables, wall displays, etc.
- Get a state-specific seller’s permit or resale permit to properly collect sales tax.
- Choose a location with good foot traffic, size and appearance.
- Speak with a commercial realtor to get an idea of what to look for and what to expect.
- Establish agreements with your manufacturer, distributor or wholesale supplier.
- Set up inventory tracking.
- Set up your Yelp page and Google My Business profile.
- Purchase computers.
- Set up your e-commerce or online store.
- Choose a shipping or delivery system.
- Set up a system for payment processing, such as QuickBooks Payments.
- Track and improve traffic through Google Analytics.
- Determine cloud storage solutions.
- Set up a system for IT bugs and tickets.
- Hire or outsource software and web developers.
These tasks are just the beginning. For more help, see our section on starting a business.