Talk to any entrepreneur or small business owner and you’ll quickly learn that starting a business requires a lot of work. Generating a business idea is a great starting point, but an idea doesn’t become a business without effort. Some budding entrepreneurs understand the effort necessary to create a business, but they might not be familiar with the many steps required to launch a business venture. If you’re willing to put in the effort to build a business, you’re going to want to know the steps needed to reach your goals.
Follow this 10-step checklist to transform your business from a lightbulb above your head to a real entity.
1. Refine your idea.
If you’re thinking about starting a business, you likely already have an idea of what you want to sell, or at least the market you want to enter. Do a quick search for existing companies in your chosen industry. Learn what current brand leaders are doing and figure out how you can do it better. If you think your business can deliver something other companies don’t (or deliver the same thing, but faster and cheaper), you’ve got a solid idea and are ready to create a business plan.
“Many people think they have a great idea and jump into launching their business without thinking through who their customers will be, or why these people should want to buy from or hire them,” Desaulniers said. “Second, you need to clarify why you want to work with these customers – do you have a passion for making people’s lives easier? Or enjoy creating art to bring color to their world? Identifying these answers helps clarify your mission. Third, you want to define how you will provide this value to your customer and how to communicate that value in a way that they are willing to pay.”
2. Write a business plan.
Once you have your idea in place, you need to ask yourself a few important questions: What is the purpose of your business? Who are you selling to? What are your end goals? How will you finance your startup costs? These questions can be answered in a well-written business plan.
A lot of mistakes are made by new businesses rushing into things without pondering these aspects of the business. You need to find your target customer base. Who is going to buy your product or service? If you can’t find evidence that there’s a demand for your idea, then what would be the point?
Conducting thorough market research on your field and demographics of potential clients is an important part of crafting a business plan. This involves conducting surveys, holding focus groups and researching SEO and public data. . It’s also a good idea to consider an exit strategy as you compile your business plan. Generating some of idea of how you’ll eventually exit the business forces you to look to the future.
A business plan helps you figure out where your company is going, how it will overcome any potential difficulties and what you need to sustain it.
3. Assess your finances.
Starting any business has a price, so you need to determine how you’re going to cover those costs. Do you have the means to fund your startup, or will you need to borrow money? If you’re planning to leave your current job to focus on your business, do you have money put away to support yourself until you start making a profit?
Experts generally agree that startup businesses often fail because they run out of money too quickly before turning a profit. It’s never a bad idea to overestimate the amount of startup capital you need, as it can be a while before the business begins to bring in sustainable revenue. Additionally, don’t overspend when starting a business. Understand the types of purchases that make sense for your business and avoid overspending on fancy new equipment that won’t help you reach your business goals.
4. Determine your legal business structure.
Before you can register your company, you need to decide what kind of entity it is. Your business structure legally affects everything from how you file your taxes to your personal liability if something goes wrong.
If you own the business entirely by yourself and plan to be responsible for all debts and obligations, you can register for a sole proprietorship. Be warned that this route can directly affect your personal credit. Alternatively, a partnership, as its name implies, means that two or more people are held personally liable as business owners. You don’t have to go it alone if you can find a business partner with complementary skills to your own. It’s usually a good idea to add someone into the mix to help your business flourish.
If you want to separate your personal liability from your company’s liability, you may want to consider forming one of several types of corporations. This makes a business a separate entity apart from its owners, and, therefore, corporations can own property, assume liability, pay taxes, enter into contracts, sue and be sued like any other individual.
5. Register with Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS)
To become an officially recognized business entity, you must register your business with CAC and FIRS respectfully. After you register your business, you will need to register for Company Income Tax (CIT) and Value Added Tax (VAT) after which you obtain your Tax Identification Number(TIN) from FIRS. After due registration, you can start filing your VAT as long as you have commenced business and also apply to obtain a Tax Clearance Certificate (TCC).
You may also need to file some certain forms to fulfill your federal and state income tax obligations. The forms you need are determined by your business structure.
6. Purchase an insurance policy.
It might slip your mind as something you’ll “get around to” eventually, but purchasing the right insurance for your business is an important step that should happen before you officially launch. Dealing with such incidents as property damage, theft or even a customer lawsuit can be costly, and you need to be sure that you’re properly protected.
If your business will have employees, you will, at a minimum, need to purchase workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance. You may also need other types of coverage depending on your location and industry, but most small businesses are advised to purchase general liability (GL) insurance, or a business owner’s policy. GL covers property damage, bodily injury and personal injury to yourself or a third party.
If your business provides a service, you may also want to consider professional liability insurance. It covers you if you do something wrong or neglect to do something you should have done while operating your business.
7. Build your team.
Unless you’re planning to be your only employee, you’re going to need to hire a great team to get your company off the ground. Joe Zawadzki, CEO and founder of MediaMath, said entrepreneurs need to give the “people” element of their businesses the same attention they give their products.
8. Choose your vendors.
Running a business can be overwhelming, and you and your team probably aren’t going to be able to do it all on your own. That’s where third-party vendors come in. Companies in every industry from HR to business phone systems exist to partner with you and help you run your business better.
When you’re searching for partners, you’ll have to choose carefully. These companies will have access to vital and potentially sensitive business data, so it’s critical to find someone you can trust.
9. Brand yourself and advertise.
Before you start selling your product or service, you need to build up your brand and get a following of people ready to jump when you open your literal or figurative doors for business.
Create a logo that can help people easily identify your brand, and be consistent in using it across all of your platforms, including your all-important company website. Use social media to spread the word about your new business, perhaps as a promotional tool to offer coupons and discounts to followers once you launch. Be sure to also keep these digital assets up to date with relevant, interesting content about your business and industry.
10. Grow your business.
Your launch and first sales are only the beginning of your task as an entrepreneur. In order to make a profit and stay afloat, you always need to be growing your business. It’s going to take time and effort, but you’ll get out of your business what you put into it.
Collaborating with more established brands in your industry is a great way to achieve growth. Reach out to other companies or even influential bloggers and ask for some promotion in exchange for a free product sample or service. Partner with a charity organization and volunteer some of your time or products to get your name out there.
While these tips help launch your business and get you set to grow, there’s never a perfect plan. You want to make sure you prepare thoroughly for starting a business, but things will almost certainly go awry. To run a successful business, you have to adapt to changing situations.