When it comes to launching a new business venture, the intrepid American spirit hasn’t suffered in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a record 5.4 million new business applications were filed in 2021. It may be the right time for you, too, to embark on starting a new company. Before doing this, however, there are essential steps entrepreneurs need to take.
1. Identify a creative idea.
The most successful businesses all started from the same place: an idea. Think of a business idea as the seed of your company. You need that before you can begin adding fertilizer, watering and growing complementary plants. In other words, before you can do all the steps below, make sure you have a solid idea for your new company – it’s what your business hinges on. What is a unique service you can provide? Where is there a gap in the marketplace that you can fill? Consider these cheap business ideas for inspiration.
2. Write a business plan.
After identifying a business idea, experts agree that writing a business plan is the next step you should take. Creating a business plan displays a genuine level of commitment, but it also forces prospective business owners to answer essential and sometimes challenging questions at the start of the development process. A business plan is also the first thing any potential investor will request. It will give them a detailed overview of your proposed business venture, your level of industry expertise and understanding of the opportunity, and the financial requirements and potential upside. [Read related article: How to Find and Attract Business Investors]
Bottom Line: Identifying a solid idea for your new company and then writing a business plan are the critical first steps in the process of starting a business.
3. Choose a legal structure.
Selecting the proper legal structure for your business at the outset is critical, especially since it’s not an easy change to make after the fact. Each type of legal entity comes with specific requirements and restrictions, and only certain types of corporations may apply to your particular business needs. If you need help, a corporate attorney or experienced business accountant can offer timely and accurate advice for creating the proper legal structure for your proposed company.
4. Get your business registration, licenses and tax identification.
Once your business structure is in place, you need to register your business and obtain the correct licenses, taxpayer identification number (TIN) and employer identification number (EIN). There are various resources to assist with business names, filing incorporation paperwork, obtaining necessary licenses and registrations with your local municipality, and getting your federal tax information squared away. Aside from the IRS for federal tax matters, regional corporation commissions (typically at the county level) can assist any new business owner with meeting the regulatory requirements for each locale around the country. If you’re planning on hiring staff to help run your business, you’ll also need to apply for a federal tax ID or an EIN. Having an EIN will protect you and your identity, allow you to file business taxes separate from your personal taxes and help establish credit for your business.
5. Know your competition and the marketplace.
There’s nothing wrong with a bit of competition. It allows business owners to innovate and evolve their products and services continuously. Knowing your business’s market, what your competition is doing and how your company fits into this landscape is critical in establishing your business. Including this information in your business plan will showcase your thorough knowledge of the industry for your proposed company. Without this information, no serious investor will rise to the occasion, and it will be hard to stand out in the marketplace. Know your industry, know your competition and understand how your business will become a differentiator in the market.
6. Finance your business.
Unless you’re an accountant, have a degree in finances or are a sophisticated investor, you’ll need some help nailing down this part of your pre-launch planning. Investors will want to know how much money your company will have to begin with and how much it will need in the future. Regardless of where your revenue will come from, list it in your business plan. Will you use your credit cards and home equity to start? Will you need a loan to get started? Are you willing to give up a percentage of your ownership in exchange for cash? Will you have sales the day you open your door? These are all critical questions to address.
Tip: Find out the best business loan and financing options so you can make an educated decision on how to finance your new business.
No matter how you plan to finance your business, include that information in your business plan. There are many investors out there, and they’ve seen it all. Don’t assume that no one will invest just because you aren’t also bringing some capital to the table. Investors typically want to know three things:
- How much?
- For how long?
- What is the exit strategy?
Answer these three things to an investor’s satisfaction, and you’re very likely to strike a deal. [Read related article: How to Know an Investor Is Offering You a Good Deal]
7. Identify and secure a location.
Whether it’s a home office or an entire building in an industrial park, you need to know where your business will be located before you launch it. Prior to your first day of operations, you’ll want to have the following in place:
- Phone and internet service
- Business directory listings
- Lease or purchase agreement for your workspace
If you haven’t identified or secured a location for your business before meeting with investors, don’t fret. Investors, bankers and legal counsel generally don’t see the lack of a specific location early on as a dealbreaker or red flag.
8. Get proper insurance.
Selecting the right business insurance for your company is not a decision to make lightly. There are several types of insurance to consider, including health, auto, directors and officers, liability, performance bond, travel (including AD&D) and life. In addition to understanding the differences between the available options, it’s important to identify any local regulations that might require your type of business to carry certain types of insurance. For example, if you’re starting a carpentry or plumbing company, you’ll need liability insurance, which typically isn’t necessary for businesses in other industries. Learn what else you need to keep in mind when choosing business insurance.
9. Obtain legal counsel.
Whether you want to have in-house counsel or hire an attorney as needed, your business needs to have access to legal advice. You may need legal representation specializing in corporate, tax, intellectual property, labor, or international law. Wherever regulatory requirements demand compliance, asking a lawyer to review and sign off on this part of your business will save you time and money and protect you from potential legal ramifications.
10. Establish a web presence.
In addition to securing your business’s physical location, you’ll also need to establish a virtual presence on the web. First, you’ll want to register a domain name that matches your business’s name so you’re ready to build your website when the time comes. Then, once you’re ready to develop your website, research the options available to ensure you’re selecting the best website builder that will meet your immediate needs and be able to support your desired functionality in the future, such as online ordering capabilities. Enlist the help of an SEO expert before starting so that they can ensure your website’s design and content are fully optimized. You may also want to consider the cost of starting an online business when deciding which kind of company to start.
Tip: In addition to a website, set up accounts to build a social media presence for your business. A consistent username across all of your preferred social channels will build credibility for your business. Read more about the importance of social media for small businesses.
11. Use local and national business resources.
There are plenty of local, county and national resources to make sure your business name is available, verify the legal structure you’ve chosen is correct and in compliance with location-specific ordinances, and advise on the different business loan options and other funds available to entrepreneurs. You can also refer to resources provided by your local corporation commission, the Small Business Administration and the IRS throughout the planning process.
12. Create a marketing plan.
Writing a marketing plan that complements your overall business plan will help ensure your new business’s success. A fully optimized website should be at the center of your marketing plan, even if you’re planning a brick-and-mortar business. Review these additional tips for creating a marketing strategy for your business.