How to Start a Small Business (Checklist)

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By DeVry University

November 30, 2021
6 min read

Deciding to start your own business may be the start of a new and exciting phase of your life. While the whirlwind of decisions involved might seem big, any new endeavor starts with a single step. Gain clarity as you begin your startup journey by using this small business checklist.

Small Business Checklist

1. Outline Your Small Business Idea

To start on your small business journey, you need a compelling idea that you feel passionate about. An effective business idea satisfies a potential customer’s problems or provides a service. It should have a unique hook, or angle, that will grab your audience’s attention and influence customers to choose your business over others in the market. Having a good hook and a clear mission is a significant step on the path to pursing entrepreneurial success.

2. Conduct Market Research

Once you have your idea, you should be prepared to get into the nitty-gritty of market research. Doing a deep dive into competitors in your market can help you identify the kind of people they cater to and what their hook is. Doing market research can also help you to refine your idea further. Your business doesn't need to be globally unique, but it does need to stand out from whatever 'local' competitors populate your market area.

3. Come Up With a Business Plan

Now that you have fleshed out your idea, what makes you unique and how you can make your business stand apart from competitors, it is time to develop your business plan. Developing a business plan is arguably one of the more challenging aspects of learning how to start a small business, yet, it is an essential step that helps your business go from an idea to a functioning entity.

While each business will be different, your business plan should include:

  • How you will produce your product or service
  • The suppliers you will use
  • Your budget for suppliers and start-up fees
  • A marketing strategy to gain potential customers

In the end, your business plan will be one of the tools you use to help you market, secure funds from banks and investors or acquaint your accountant with your business structure.

4. Set Up Your Primary Team

Once you have your business plan, you might find that getting your small business up and running at full speed is too much for one person. Your primary team should be people you want to be well acquainted with your business as it gets started and grows.

For example, if you offer a service, you might want to hire a manager early on to help you get set up. By the time you open your doors, they will also know the business inside and out. You may also want to hire an accountant early on in the process to keep your financial records in order.

5. Find Your Start-Up Funding

Ideally, your business will start making a profit after the first couple of years, but until then, you’ll need start-up funds to get it off the ground. Your business plan might have helped you find investors for your business, or you might also have put away a nest egg and have what you need in the bank. In some cases, you may need to secure a small business loan.

A small business loan is a loan you can get from a bank or credit union. You can use the money for anything related to your business from renting your space to purchasing equipment or paying employees before revenue comes in. Be aware of any accruing interest on your loan, and factor that into your finance plan.

6. Decide on a Business Structure

When you’re learning how to start a small business, getting yourself legally set up requires attention to detail, and sometimes outside help. This is where having an accountant may come in handy. They should have a good idea of the kind of business structure you should have and your tax bracket. Your business structure impacts your business registration requirements, liability and even how much you will pay in taxes.

7. Choose a Name for Your Business

Choose a name that you feel reflects your brand and the spirit of your business. Branding is extremely important when it comes to choosing things like your name and logo. The name should be meaningful, giving people an idea of your business. Mental association is a powerful thing and you can use it in your name to convey positive feelings towards the business.

You also don't want a business name that is close to one someone else is already using. That is particularly true for anyone working close to your area or in your niche.

8. Register Your Business

Now that you have the perfect name picked out, you can register your business. This step is where it begins to get legally impactful. It is also the step that protects your brand, business model, angle or name.

Registering will also involve getting your employer identification number (EIN) and federal and state tax IDs, signaling that you are now a functioning business and can start paying taxes.

9. Set Up a Small Business Account and a Record-Keeping System

Once your business has been registered, you can set up a small business account. Having an account and a record keeping system for your business will help you or your accountant keep track of your finances or any other information you need to keep track of. There are programs you can use with features built in to keep track of things for you, or you can use a manual system if you prefer.

10. Pick a Location for Your Business

Whether you are a brick-and-mortar business or are entirely online, you still need to set up your location. You may want to lease a physical storefront or for online businesses, you can create a consumer-friendly selling platform or website. Either way, keep your brand identity front and center, so who you are is clear to your customers.

11. Check Into Licenses, Insurance and Permits

Legal compliance is one of the many elements involved in getting your business up and running smoothly. Before you open, ensure you have all the proper licenses and permits taken care of. The ones you need will vary based on your industry, city and state. You can check with your local mayoral office and business sector to verify you have all the correct licenses before opening.

Before you offer a service or product to anyone, you also need to have insurance. Consider what assets you have, services you offer or what you sell to determine what you need to have covered. Check with several small business insurers to guide you to the best type of insurance for your business and to shop around for the right rate.

Interested in Entrepreneurship?

Learning how to start a small business can be challenging in the beginning. Expand your skills by earning a degree in business, accounting or a specialization in entrepreneurship at DeVry. Our flexible hybrid and 100% online class structures make it easy for you to study around your schedule. Classes start every 8 weeks.

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