Part of starting a business is simply knowing whether now is the right time for it. Beyond that, you need to take care of a number of tasks before you can actually launch it. Some of your tasks will be ongoing once you open your doors, but these are essential to handle before you get your first customer.
1. Choose Your Business Name
There’s a lot you need to do to ensure that your business is set up legally and that your personal assets are protected. Start by choosing a business name. Before you get business cards printed, however, perform a corporate name search (usually with your Secretary of State office) to make sure the name you want is available.
2. Register That Name
If you incorporate or file as an LLC, your business name will automatically be registered in your state. This ensures that no one else can use your business name. If you plan to operate as a sole proprietor, you’ll need to file a DBA (“Doing Business As”) application.
3. Get Your EIN
Next, apply for an Employer Identification Number. You’ll need it to open a business bank account, as well as other administrative tasks. Your EIN is a bit like your business’ social security number. You will use it frequently, including when you file your taxes next April.
4. Select a Business Structure
Next comes something really important: choosing a business structure. If you do nothing, you’ll operate as a sole proprietor. Realize that, as a sole proprietor, your personal assets are at risk. Should your company be sued, the court can seize your own assets if the business doesn’t have enough to pay business debts. Both the corporation and LLC provide a legal umbrella over you, as well as certain tax benefits and other perks.
5. Secure Business Licenses and Permits
Find out what business licenses and permits you need to operate in your city. It’s absolutely imperative that you have these approved before you start operating, or you could risk being shut down or fined.
6. Develop Your Business Plan
Having everything, from what you will sell to who will help you sell it, laid out in an easily-accessible document will help you stay on track with goals for your new business. This is doubly important if you plan to seek funding.
7. Check Your Bank Account
Don’t overlook your pre-launch finances. You need to make sure you have enough money for your first year’s expenses, both personal and business. If you plan to take out a loan, apply for that loan now.
8. Get Your Website Up and Running
You’d think that marketing begins once you launch, but you have to first lay the groundwork for what follows. Register your domain name, using your company name if possible. If not, try to incorporate keywords that relate to your business. Once you’ve secured that domain name, get your website designed. Unless you’re a seasoned web designer, resist the urge to do it yourself. This is the first thing people see that represents your brand, so going for the cheapest option is usually not the best choice.
9. Take Care of Other Pre-Marketing Needs
Next, order any marketing collateral you need, including business cards, brochures and coupons. Again, hire a professional designer so your materials look like quality pieces. Set up social media profiles, but only on a handful of sites that your audience spends a significant amount of time on.
10. Hire Help
You may be the only employee when you first start your business, but if you need help right off the bat, take out a job ad online. Interview your top choices, and then make an offer to the right candidate. Spend plenty of time training each new hire to ensure they’re all ready for Opening Day.
11. Find Software to Make You Smarter
Choose accounting software so that you can easily manage income and expenses, send invoices, and pay your staff. Investigate customer relationship management software so you can keep track of sales and customer activities. Find any other tools, like Google Drive, Dropbox and MailChimp, that can help you be more efficient.
12. Consider Your Intellectual Property
If you have ideas, products or even tag lines that you want to protect, consider trademarking them or filing for a patent. Your intellectual property is worth money, and you don’t want anyone stealing your great ideas.
13. Keep Your Business in Compliance
As you launch, it’s important that you follow deadlines for turning in your annual report or filing other business paperwork. Your business licenses may have to be renewed annually, so keep their due dates on your calendar.
Online services like CorpNet.com can help you knock out many of these tasks. And once you tick each of these off your list, you’re ready for the next big adventure: launching your business! You can then relax, knowing you took all the precautionary measures to ensure that your business is protected and that you’re starting off on the right foot.