Thinking about starting a business? You're not alone. Every year, thousands of Americans catch the entrepreneurial spirit, launching small businesses to sell their products or services. Some businesses thrive; many fail. The more you know about starting a business, the more power you have to form an organization that develops into a lasting source of income and satisfaction. For help with the beginning stages of operating a business, the following checklist is a great place to start.
|1. Determine if the type of business suits you.
|Evaluating Your Business Idea
|2. Use a break-even analysis to determine if your idea can make money.
|Will My Business Make Money?
|3. Write a business plan, including a profit/loss forecast and a cash flow analysis.
|4. Find sources of start-up financing.
|Business Financing, Loans & Capital
|5. Set up a basic marketing plan.
|Building Your Business Image
|6. Identify the number of owners of your business.
|Business Ownership Structures
|7. Decide how much protection from personal liability you'll need, which depends on your business's risks.
|What are the risks of starting my own business?
|8. Decide how you'd like the business to be taxed.
|How Sole Proprietors are Taxed
How LLC Members are Taxed
How Corporations are Taxed
|9. Consider whether your business would benefit from being able to sell stock.
|Incorporate Your Business
|10. Research the various types of ownership structures.
|Choosing the Best Ownership Structure for Your Business
|11. Get more in-depth information from a self-help resource before you settle on a structure. If you are unsure, talk to a lawyer.
Talk to a Lawyer
|12. Think of several business names that might suit your company and its products or services.
|How to Name a Business
|13. If you will do business online, check if your proposed business names are available as domain names.
|Choose and Register a Domain Name
|14. Check with your county clerk's office to see whether your proposed names are on the list of fictitious or assumed business names in your county.
|Make Sure Your Proposed Business Name Is Available
|15. For corporations and LLCs: check the availability of your proposed names with the Secretary of State or other corporate filing office.
|Register Your Business Name
|16. Do a federal or state trademark search of the proposed names still on your list. If a proposed name is being used as a trademark, eliminate it if your use of the name would confuse customers or if the name is already famous.
|How to Do a Trademark Search
|17. Choose between the proposed names that are still on your list.
|Choosing a Business Name FAQ
|18. Register your business name with your county clerk as a fictitious or assumed business name, if necessary.
|Register Your Business Name
How to Register a DBA
|19. Register your business name as a federal or state trademark if you'll do business regionally or nationally and will use your business name to identify a product or service.
|File a Federal Trademark Application
|20. Register your business name as a domain name if you'll use the name as a Web address too.
|Choose and Register a Business Name
|How to Form a Partnership
|How to Form an LLC
The LLC Operating Agreement
Online LLC Formation
|23. C Corporation
|How to Start a Corporation
Form a Corporation Online
Drafting Corporate Bylaws
|24. S Corporation
|What Is an S Corporation?
How to Form an S Corporation
S Corporation Tax Filing Requirements
|25. Identify the features and fixtures your business will need.
|Your Business Space & Commercial Lease
How to Start a Home Business
|26. Determine how much rent you can afford.
|Tips for Assessing the Cost of the Commercial Rental.
|27. Decide what neighborhood would be best for your business and find out what the average rents are in those neighborhoods.
|Determine the Space Your Business Needs.
|28. Make sure any space you're considering is or can be properly zoned for your business. (If working from home, make sure your business activities won't violate any zoning restrictions on home offices.)
|Home Businesses and Zoning Laws
|29. Before signing a commercial lease, examine it carefully and negotiate the best deal.
|Commercial Leases: Negotiate the Best Terms
|30. Obtain a federal employment identification number by filing IRS Form SS-4 (unless you are a sole proprietorship or single-member limited liability company without employees).
|Licenses & Permits for Your Business
|31. Obtain a seller's permit from your state if you will sell retail goods.
|How to Get a Seller's Permit
|32. Obtain state licenses, such as specialized vocation-related licenses or environmental permits, if necessary.
|Small Business License Requirements: 50-State Guide
|33. Obtain a local tax registration certificate, a.k.a. business license.
|50-State Business Income Tax Requirements
|34. Obtain local permits, if required, such as a conditional use permit or zoning variance.
|Local Start-Up Requirements for Small Businesses
|35. Determine what business property requires coverage.
|What Type of Insurance Does Your Small Business Need?
|36. Contact an insurance agent or broker to answer questions and give you policy quotes.
|37. Obtain liability insurance on vehicles used in your business, including personal cars of employees used for business.
|38. Obtain liability insurance for your premises if customers or clients will be visiting.
|General Liability Insurance for Small Businesses
|39. Obtain product liability insurance if you will manufacture hazardous products.
|40. If you will be working from your home, make sure your homeowner's insurance covers damage to or theft of your business assets as well as liability for business-related injuries.
|41. Consider health & disability insurance for yourself and your employees.
|The Employer's Legal Handbook
|42. Decide whether to use the cash or accrual system of accounting.
|Cash vs. Accrual Accounting
|43. Choose a fiscal year if your natural business cycle does not follow the calendar year (if your business qualifies).
|Choosing a Fiscal Year
|44. Set up a recordkeeping system for all payments to and from your business.
|Bookkeeping and Accounting Basics
|45. Consider hiring a bookkeeper or accountant to help you get set up.
|Choosing the Recordkeeping System for Your Business
|46. Purchase small business accounting software
|47. Familiarize yourself with the general tax scheme for your business structure.
|Paying Your Business Taxes
Tax Savvy for Small Business
|48. Familiarize yourself with common business deductions and depreciation.
|Business Tax Deductions
Deduct It! Lower Your Small Business Taxes
|49. Obtain IRS Publications 334, Tax Guide for Small Business, and 583, Taxpayers Starting a Business.
|Small Business Tax FAQ
|50. Obtain the IRS's Tax Calendar for Small Businesses.
|IRS's Tax Calendar
As you can see, starting a business involves making quite a few initial decisions and getting policies and paperwork in place. For more information about and help with starting a business, consult the following Nolo resources: