22-step business start-up checklist

You want to start a business...congratulations! It’s an exciting adventure that is fulfilling, challenging and wonderful all at once. It’s likely that you feel unsure about where to start or where to go to launch your small business - don't worry. You've come to the right place.

We’ve compiled a 22-point checklist of essential “to dos” when starting a business. It’s the everything-you-need guide for getting your business out of your mind and into reality. Here, we'll go through all of the prerequisites, legalities, logistics and support elements you need to start a business - broken down into 22 easy-to-follow steps.

Starting a small business checklist

  1. Develop an idea.
  2. Test the plausibility.
  3. Identify your market.
  4. Select a business name.
  5. Create a logo.
  6. Determine the costs.
  7. Write a business plan.
  8. Establish a budget.
  9. Register your business name.
  10. Secure permits and licenses.
  11. Set up the books.
  12. Buy insurance.
  13. Build a website.
  14. Set up a business email account.
  15. Order marketing materials.
  16. Network.
  17. Open your doors for business.
  18. Provide outstanding customer service.
  19. Find a mentor.
  20. Take advantage of free resources.
  21. Ask for help.
  22. Remind yourself why you're doing this.

Before you start...

Before you do anything, there are a few prerequisites to starting a business. Make sure these seven elements are in place so you can effectively and efficiently launch your new small business.

  1. Develop an idea.

    In the small business world, an idea is everything. You’re probably starting a business because you had a need that wasn’t fulfilled in the marketplace, or you saw an opportunity to do something better than the competition. Or, maybe you just had a strike of inspiration! Wherever it came from, make this idea concrete and put pen to paper. From here, your business is on its way to formation.
  2. Test the plausibility.

    We all know ideas are great, but they need to be tested. Ask your friends and family for feedback, or meet with a business consultant to see if it is a feasible model. Consider if your small business idea is sustainable, how many competitors you'll have in the market, and if you have the right tools, talent and skills to bring the idea to life.
  3. Identify your market.

    Create buyer personas that embody specific demographic information, preferences and buying styles to narrow your target audience. At the beginning of business, having a market focus is best for longevity. You'll focus your messaging and brand communications around this target customer, so it's important to create a complete profile.
  4. Select a business name.

    Once you come up with an idea, it’s likely that you have a working business name in mind. However, before you get moving, settle on the actual name. It will be needed on all important documentation as well as in presentations to investors. Consider what makes your business stand out from the competition and how you can leverage that in a clever, but straightforward way in your business name.

VISTAPRINT TIP

This handy trademark electronic search system will help you avoid selecting a name for your small business that’s already claimed.

  1. Create a logo.

    A logo is essential for any business - it's a visual representation of your brand's values and identity, and it will go on all of your marketing materials for years to come. Ultimately, the goal is for customers to identify your business as soon as they see your logo! If you need help creating a logo, 99designs by Vistaprint makes it easy to work with creative experts from around the world to build your brand.
  2. Determine the costs.

    Figure out what it’s going to cost to get your business out into the world. Itemize everything so you’re not surprised by fees down the road - talk to an expert if you're unsure about specifics. Do you need funding? Retail space? Specialized equipment? Additional employees? Branding help? Marketing materials? The list goes on and on. Get a handle of your expenses for the first year, at least, so you can prioritize costs and decisions once your business is in motion.
  3. Write a business plan.

    The previous steps have laid the groundwork for your business plan - this is where you formalize your idea and outline the strategies and tactics you're going to use to launch your business. In your plan, include everything from your business concept to your technology needs to your workspace set-up - be as detailed as possible. Ideally, the scope will include detailed information for years one, three and five so you can show growth and long-term objectives within the document. Create a business plan that is actionable and useful, and you’ll thank yourself down the line.

VISTAPRINT TIP

The U.S. Small Business Administration has a free business plan resource that assists you in filling out a comprehensive business plan at your own pace.

  1. Establish a budget.

    A budget is a natural outcome of a business plan, so this step should be near completion once your plan is finalized. Review your budget and ensure all the nitty gritty details are accounted for - and that you have the budget broken down into six-, twelve- and 24-month timelines. Planning for two years in advance helps you (and the business!) stay focused. Your budget should outline where the big spends are being allocated (maybe rent for a studio space) and identify opportunities where you can be more creative with funding...whether looking for free resources or bartering with another small business.

Follow local regulations.

With your business idea well thought out and on paper, it’s time to make it official. Take care of these four steps to avoid any legal delays or future snags.

  1. Register your business name.

    Since you selected your business name, protect it by registering it through a county clerk’s office or state government. This allows you to claim you are “Doing Business As” your chosen business name. It is the required step to officially operate a business as a sole proprietor, an existing corporation or LLC.
  2. Secure permits and licenses.

    Permits and licensing for small business operations vary by location - it's important to make sure that you're operating lawfully! Before you open your doors for business, make sure you meet these requirements - you can find all state-specific information here.
  3. Set up the books.

    It’s time to get your finances in order. Open a bank account specifically for your business, keep track of your spending and establish a list of vendors and clients. If you’re an accounting novice, it’s a good idea to meet with an accountant to make sure you’re covering all your bases and don’t leave your business vulnerable to unforeseen taxes and fees.
  4. Buy insurance:

    Your small business is likely an extension of yourself and may even feel like your child. What do you do when a baby is born? Add them to your health insurance plan or open a savings account on their behalf...so they'll always be protected. The same goes for starting a business. Your business may need different types of insurance, but the most common are general liability, product liability, professional liability, commercial property and home-based business insurance. Review the insurance descriptions and purchase whichever combination of plans make sense for your business.

Make it real.

To get your business up and running, there are a few things you need to make it 'real' to prospective buyers. Incorporate these five small business checklist items to give your business the presence and credibility it deserves.

  1. Build a website.

    In today’s world, a website is a requirement for any business - it's often how people discover new businesses and validate their authenticity. Create a professionally designed website to reflect your business’s values and offerings to communicate your brand promise to prospective buyers.

VISTAPRINT TIP

Wary of building a website on your own? Try our website builder, which is easy to use and intended for small businesses. Or, let us build it for you!

  1. Set up a business email account.

    Business email is so important for credibility purposes - responding from your personal Gmail account can come across as unprofessional or informal. Instead, set up two business accounts - one for yourself, and one for general inquiries or customer service messages that come through your website. This way, you can effortlessly manage and prioritize all correspondence.

VISTAPRINT TIP

Aside from traditional print marketing materials, don't be afraid to get social! Drum up excitement around your soon-to-be-launched small business with eye-catching posts on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and more - get started in our Social Design Studio.

  1. Order marketing materials.

    Don’t overlook the importance of traditional print marketing materials. Business cards, postcards, brochures and flyers are useful materials that can be used in a multitude of ways. Think: business cards that double as a rewards tracker or postcards that get packed with a personal note in shipped orders. Design these materials in your brand's colors, add your logo and include any useful, relevant business information. (Like your operation hours and contact details!)
  2. Network.

    Use every opportunity to network and spread the word about your business. Attend (or sponsor) community events, talk to people while you wait in line for coffee, join a local co-working space or revisit old contacts who may be interested in your new venture. Networking and connecting is half the battle of getting a business off the ground.
  3. Open your doors for business.

    Once you've laid the groundwork for launching your small business, ordered your marketing supplies and spread the word to your network, it's time to open your doors (digital or brick-and-mortar) for business! Generate excitement around your opening with a special event or limited-time promotional offer.
  4. Provide outstanding customer service.

    Customers expect a higher level of service when they shop small, so make stellar service a priority for your business. Establishing loyal customers and a memorable customer experience will help sustain your business in the long run, so invest time, energy and care into your customer service approach.

Identify your support system.

Small businesses are often a team of one...and it can be lonely at times. Establish a support system that keeps you motivated throughout every challenge and helps you reach your goals.

  1. Find a mentor.

    This is easier said than done, but having a mentor is an underrated asset for small business owners. An unbiased third-party can offer an objective lens when you’re wrestling with tough decisions. Look to someone who has business experience, is trustworthy, and whose opinion you value - maybe a former supervisor, colleague or teacher.

VISTAPRINT TIP

If you’re drawing a blank within your own network, SCORE is a program dedicated to connecting entrepreneurs with mentors. They can match you based on industry and other factors to find the best fit.

  1. Take advantage of free resources.

    Small business budgets are generally small, so take advantage of every free resource you can. Social media is a great way to market your business without spending a dime. Many social platforms offer free analytics and insights, so you can better evaluate your ROI and narrow your target audience. Dropbox offers a cloud-based storage system for your business, so you can work from any location - like your local library, co-working space or coffee shop. And use platforms like LinkedIn, Clubhouse and Twitter to stay up-to-date on the latest industry trends.
  2. Ask for help.

    Just because you’re the sole proprietor, doesn’t mean that your network can’t help you. If an old colleague has expertise in a certain area, reach out to her and ask for advice. Is your best friend a strategic planning genius? Employ his skills to create your business plan. Is your neighbor's daughter an Accounting major? Let her take a pass at balancing your checkbook. We're guessing that your close network will likely be more than willing to help when asked. Think about how you can leverage the talent around you, so you get the best results for your business without burning out.
  3. Remind yourself why you’re doing this.

    You can easily lose sight of your dream when launching a business. Dedicate a few minutes each day to reflect on *why* you chose to pursue your passion. It will ground you in your motivation and give you a sense of purpose during tough moments. Starting a business is a process...try to enjoy it! It’s the ultimate reward to watch your small business grow and succeed.

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