Checklist for Starting a Small Business

So you’ve decided to take the plunge and start that business you’ve been dreaming about. First off, congrats. You’re in for one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.

With all the excitement, it’s tempting to want to just dive right in. But hold your horses. To be successful as a business owner, you first need to take care of some nuts and bolts.

Here’s your checklist for starting a business:

Write a business plan.

A great idea is just the starting point. For your business to be successful, you need to lay a solid foundation for how you’re going to succeed. ln other words, you need a business plan. Think of a business plan as your roadmap for success. It’s not just how you get things off the ground, it’s your strategy and tactics for growing your business. Therefore, business plans often look three to five years ahead, with milestones along the way. Ask yourself these questions as you craft your plan: Who are my competitors? How can I differentiate myself? How will I advertise, and to whom? Do I need funding? If so, where do I get the capital? The Small Business Association has an entire section of its site dedicated to writing a business plan — which we highly encourage you to spend some time with as you’re getting started.

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Think through financing.

If you don’t have the cash to get things off the ground, you need to find it from other sources. Luckily, there are a number of avenues for securing small business financing — traditional bank loans, asking your friends and family, or other sources like Square Capital. But before accepting money from any of these sources,you should conduct a financial analysis and consider important aspects regarding your business. For example, evaluate how you’d like to structure the business. If you don’t want to give up a stake, bringing on investors may not be the right option for you. If you’re accepting a loan or financing from an institution, be sure to read all the details. You should be careful about how much money you really need — and do meticulous math on how long it will take you to pay it back. For more tips on how to think through financing options, check out our guest post on LinkedIn.

Decide on your business structure.

When selecting a business entity, it’s a good idea to consult with a small business attorney and a reputable accountant. That’s because there are a number of business structures to choose from, including sole proprietorships, partnerships, limited liability companies (LLCs), corporations, S corporations, nonprofits, or cooperatives. An attorney or accountant should be able to walk you through your options and make a recommendation. It’s an important decision, as each of these structures have a variety of benefits and drawbacks, especially when it comes to taxes.

Do all of the required government paperwork.

Now that you’ve laid the groundwork, it’s time to make things official. There are a number of rules, regulations, and filings you have to comply with as a small business owner. You need to register your business and your business name, get a Tax Identification Number (TIN), register for state and local taxes, and obtain licenses and permits. If you’re bringing on employees (or plan to in the future), familiarize yourself with your legal responsibilities as an employer. Head to the Small Business Administration for more detailed information on how to set yourself up.

Get a credit card processor.

It’s time for the exciting part — making your first sale. But to do this, you’re (obviously) going to need a way to accept payments. The solution you go with should be easy to set up, with no complicated fees. It should also accept credit cards. People are increasingly ditching paper bills and opting for plastic, and if you don’t accept cards, you’re likely to miss out on some sales. The Square Reader, which accepts all major credit cards, plugs right into your phone so you can securely accept card payments everywhere. The reader is free, and you pay just 2.75% per swipe.

Hire key people.

Sometimes you can do everything by yourself. But more often than not, it’s a good idea to have a few trusted people on tap. As we mentioned, a solid attorney and a reputable accountant are particularly important, especially when you’re just starting out. You’ll undoubtedly have a bunch of questions that you’ll want an expert opinion on — everything from how to set up your books to the fine print of a contract to the leases for commercial spaces.

Make a marketing plan.

If a tree falls in the wilderness … you get where we’re going. No one will know about your business unless you market it. If you don’t have a budget, start with the free stuff. The simplest is stoking some word-of-mouth marketing. When you launch, send your friends and family a mass email announcing that you’re open for business. You may also offer them a freebie or an invitation to your grand opening event. In your email, make sure to tell them to forward it on to others to expand your reach as much as possible. It’s also a good idea to reach out to local press, letting them know that you’re a new player on the scene. Editors are always looking for something fresh to write about. Social media is also important as you rev up — set up Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts for your business, and start posting regularly.

Get systems in place to streamline.

To be successful, you need to learn how to run your business as efficiently as possible. Setting things up with automated, streamlined systems from the get-go will ensure that you hit the ground running. From inventory management to accounting to payroll to invoicing, Square has a fleet of tools specifically designed to make running your business as smooth as possible.

Know the industry.

Starting a restaurant will be entirely different than starting a retail business, so it’s important to become familiar with the industry you’re entering. Do your research to determine trends and identify key competitors that you’ll be up against. The more information you know, the better off you’ll be. Here’s more information about how to start other industry-related businesses:

So there’s the foundation. After you check these boxes, you’ll be off to the races. Good luck out there.

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