Venturing out to start a business is definitely one of the most exciting and rewarding things you’ll ever do, but it can also be downright scary and confusing at times. There’s a sea of recommendations and suggestions available on how to get started. How do you know which ones are right for you and your business?
I created this guide to share the must-know essentials of how to start a business, based on my experience of creating Dreamer & Creator and the infinite amount of research I did to find what worked for my business. I sincerely hope that this will give you some clarity and direction in what may be a hectic and somewhat confusing business journey.
Quick note: This guide is designed to be very high-level to make sure the basic steps in setting up a business make sense. Business set up can get extremely detailed as you dig deeper and deeper into requirements and strategies, and can differ from company to company. Please refer to your lawyer and CPA for detailed requirements. For help with business strategies, please refer to my other blog posts, one-on-one business coaching and consulting.
Starting a Business: Evaluation Phase
You’ve had an a-ha moment about the most amazing business idea that you know the world needs and can’t seem to stop thinking about. It sounds like you’ve been bitten by the entrepreneur bug: a bittersweet, persistent little bugger. That means it’s time to find out if your idea is a good one.
1. Get Your Business Idea Out of Your Head: You know that nagging business idea you’ve been obsessing over in your head? Well, it’s time to get it down on paper to see what this looks like in the light of day. This can be a simple sketch or some bullets, but make sure you get everything out and on paper. There are no stupid ideas here.
2. Evaluate Your Business Idea (Part 1): It’s time to do some initial research and see if other companies are doing what you’ve been obsessing over. You need to ask yourself questions like, “Who else is doing this now? What’s their approach? Are they successful at it? How’s my idea different?” If you find a company already with your idea, then it’s back to the drawing board to think about how you can differentiate your idea from theirs. If you find you have a viable business idea, then it’s a green light for you to proceed down the list.
3. Set The Entrepreneur Foundation: Before you get too deep into this, it’s important to take a step back and evaluate where you are in life currently and how this business fits into it. Are you currently working and plan on leaving your job to work on this business or are you going to work on it on the side? What does owning a business look like to you? Do you imagine yourself having a bunch of employees or going it solo? How much money do you need to live? Why do you want to start this business in the first place? That last question is one of the most important, I believe. It’s what gives your business a purpose, heart and soul. All your business decisions from that point forward should come from your place of purpose.
4. Evaluate Your Business Idea (Part 2): Now it’s time to think through some company basics. Is this going to be a product or service type business? Is this going to be an online business or will it need a physical retail store? Do you need a website? Will you need to purchase materials and store them? How much money do you need to get this idea off the ground?
Starting a Business: Development & Planning Phase
You just finished thinking about some foundational elements of your new business, but you’ve only scraped the surface. It’s time to dig deeper and flesh out your idea.
5. Develop Your Business Idea: It’s time to plan, baby! This is the most crucial part of starting a business and will tell you, through research, whether this business can make it the long haul or not. Most people won’t need a 50-page business plan for investors, unless your business calls for that sort of thing. You can create plans in PowerPoint with lots of charts and graphs or create text heavy documents in Word. Whatever your style is, get to it. I will give a warning: do not proceed past this point without a business plan. If you find that you can’t commit to creating a business plan, then I would be concerned whether you will be able to run a business day-to-day. If you need help with this, I offer Business Foundation Planning that includes coaching and easy-to-understand workbooks to make writing a business plan easy and effective. Make sure you go through the steps of identifying and profiling your target ideal customer, along with outlining the core messaging of your business. These will help your marketing and communications to hit the target. If you need help with either of these, check out my Target Your Ideal Customer and At The Core of Your Message coaching and DIY workbooks.
6. Choose a Legal Structure: This is where people tend to get nervous. There are 6 types of business structures to choose from: Sole Proprietorship, Limited Liability Company (LLC), Cooperative, Partnership, Corporation and S-Corporation. All of these have different levels of flexibility, ongoing requirements, legal and tax implications. I know how confusing this area of starting a business can be and recommend familiarizing yourself with each business entity to begin. You can learn more about each of these from the U.S. Small Business Administration. Next, I highly recommend talking to a business lawyer AND CPA to get their recommendations. I say both because they each come from very different perspectives on business and will give you important factors on each side to take into consideration. Then, I suggest you talk to other business owners to get their first-hand experiences with the business entity they chose. At this point, you should have a pretty good idea on what will benefit you and your business the most.
7. Name Your Business: If you chose a Sole Proprietorship business structure, then the naming process is easy—legally, you are required to operate your business under your legal name or will need to register your “Doing Business As” (DBA) with your fictitious business name. You can get all the details on registering a DBA from the U.S. Small Business Administration. If you chose any other business structure, then get ready to dive in. Naming seems like it would be a super fun process but can quickly become disheartening once you find out most names are taken already. To combat this, I recommend doing a naming brainstorm to get a bunch of names to check. Start off by crossing off any names with trademarks by searching the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office’s search tool. If you chose a LLC or Corporation business structure, then you need to check the remaining names with the Secretary of State in your state. By now your list is most likely smaller than when you started. Next, you’ll need to check your county clerk’s office to see if any of the remaining names are already being used. Finally, if you plan on having a website, then you’ll need to check if the URLs are available through an Internet domain registrar company like WHOIS or GoDaddy. This should leave you with a few names to choose from. If all your names got crossed off, then it’s time to do another brainstorm and start the process again.
Starting a Business: Implementation Phase
At this point, you have evaluated and developed your business idea. You’ve made some major decisions about business structure and the company name. Now it’s time to put your plan and decisions into action and make your business a reality.
8. Register Your Business: This is when you need to take action on the business structure and naming decisions you made. There are a lot of different ways to do this. If you are a DIY type person, then you can purchase your Internet domain name, file your business name with your county clerk, submit your business structure filings and file for your federal tax ID number. As with anything legal, there are a lot of requirements and details that go into handling this on your own. I don’t recommend this option to most people, unless you’ve done it before or have someone who has walking you through it. Another option is hiring a business lawyer to help you with this. This service can be very expensive. The third option is using an online filing service company. There are a lot of affordable and trustworthy filing companies that will do all of this and more for you with the click of a purchase button (service fee + my state filing fees= under $600 for my company). This is the route I chose for time and simplicities’ sake. I got Dreamer & Creator registered as an S-Corporation with the State of Texas, filed with my county clerk, and assigned a federal tax ID number through My New Company. I chose them over other companies like Legal Zoom and Biz Filings after comparing features, pricing and reviews. I had such a positive experience with them that I now offer their filing services to my clients with a 15% off filing fees discount. If you’re interested contact me for support in getting your business registered.
9. Prepare Your Business Filing Documents: Most of this will be done for you if you chose a filing service company. All you’ll need to do is fill out a couple things, sign on the dotted line and get them in the mail. Easy peasy.
10. File For Licenses and Permits: If you chose a filing service, this would be done for you as well. If not, then make sure you check with your local county clerk’s office to find out what permits you need. Permits usually only apply to businesses selling a product, not a service.
11. Find a Business Location: If your business is going to be needing a physical retail space then it’s time to start looking for your brick-and-mortar storefront. It’s best to work with a retail realtor to help you find exactly what you need in your budget. Make sure you get in contact with your insurance agent for liability insurance also. If you don’t need a physical storefront, then it’s time to carve out a home office space and make it your own.
12. Design Your Website & Company Branding: These days, a website is a requirement. At the minimum, you should have a basic website that has information about what your company does and contact information. Depending on your business needs, your website can be as robust or simple as needed. Dreamer & Creator and my last two websites were built on Squarespace. I had a Wordpress website before switching to Squarespace 6 years ago and have never looked back. I love the easy-to-use, drag-and-drop design and layout tools that don’t require coding, unless you want it. I also love the seamless integration with MailChimp (email automation tool) and the ability to purchase my domain URL through them (no mapping required). Other website builders include Wix, Weebly, 1&1, GoDaddy Website Builder, and Shopify.
13. Set up Your Financial Accounting: Now it’s time to set up a business bank account and a bookkeeping system to track your financials and revenue for tax time. There are a lot of competitive business accounts from banks, so make sure you shop around. They will also ask for your Federal Tax ID, so make sure you have that completed. There are also a lot of ways to manage your financials, including some great cloud-based software solutions: Wave, Intuit Quickbooks, Freshbooks, Xero, and Sage. Even if you have an accountant doing your taxes, make sure you have it all organized through tracking software or an Excel spreadsheet and receipt shoebox at a bare minimum. Certain business structures may require you to set up payroll for yourself and any employees you have as well. You will also need to set up your tax reporting. I won’t bore you with all the details. Have a chat with your CPA, accountant or bookkeeper to get this all squared away.
14. Understand Employer Responsibilities: This isn’t something that was necessary for my business but the U.S. Small Business Administration details everything you need to know about hiring an employee.
15. Have a Go-To Lawyer and CPA/Accountant: This is super important. There are going to be many times throughout your business journey that you will need a lawyer and/or accountant. During your business set up process, you’ve spoken to a few hopefully. It’s important that they fit your budget, understand your business and industry, and ultimately, that you trust them. Referrals from colleagues, friends and family is the best way to find them if you haven’t liked the ones you’ve talked to so far. You’ll probably want to go the per-use charge route, unless you want to pay a retainer to have them on standby 24/7.
16. Assess Your Technology Needs: Go back to your business plan and figure out what technology you’ll need to run your company, reach your customers and maximize sales. This includes social media.
17. Protect Your Brand & Company Name: Regardless of whether you plan on using social media, it’s important to claim your business names across all social networks to protect your brand from imposters who could use your name and potentially threaten or hurt your business and customers.
18. Plan Your Launch: It’s time to plan how you will unveil all of your hard work to the world. Do it with a bang! Coordinate your website content, social networks, email marketing and any other marketing tactics you dreamed up in your business plan. Business launches can be highly successful and bring customers if there’s a plan in place to get their attention. If you need help in putting together a launch plan, contact me and let’s chat about your goals.
Starting a Business: Management Phase
Look back on everything you’ve done and see how far you’ve come! You should be extremely proud of yourself and everything you’ve accomplished. Hopefully your launch was successful and you got some buzz going from potential clients. Maybe you got your first customer! There’s an endless amount of things to do from this point on that I’ll save for another time, but there are a couple I’d like to bring your attention to.
19. Put Processes & Systems In Place: This will keep you from getting burnt out and overwhelmed with the many things you’ll have to manage, especially if you are a solopreneur. Automating things like email marketing through MailChimp and social media posts through HootSuite can save you tons of time. You can also decide to outsource items to a virtual assistant. If you have a service-based business, creating systems for your processes and programs will be a lifesaver.
20. Get a Support System & Mentor: This is so crucial to your success. It’s said we are only as great as who surrounded ourselves with. If you are surrounded by fellow entrepreneurs and mentored by a wildly successful businessperson, then you will have support, wisdom and information at your fingertips. If you’d like to join other Dreamers & Creators, then come on over to the Facebook group I created for entrepreneurs like yourself to connect and help one another. I’m also going to be giving a pretty big call-to-action in the next couple weeks to this group that should help you accelerate your learning and nurture your business.
21. Continue Your Business Learning: There are a lot of learning sources out there on every part of running a business. Find one that resonates with you the most and try some new things out along the way. I offer entrepreneur trainings on various subjects, as well as share some of my trade secrets through email. Feel free to connect with me or sign up for my monthly emails.
I truly hope that this guide will give you a general roadmap to begin the business of your dreams. I believe we all are given a specific purpose to share with others. It’s time to bring yours to life.
Now it’s your turn. Where are you at in your business journey? What do you find most challenging and rewarding? Share your insights in the comments below.
Thanks for reading and be well!