You can start a business with a limited budget and a very short turnaround time. In fact, you can start a business between the time you wake up in the morning and the time you go to sleep that night. You just need a list of resources and tools, and a lot of focus.
There are a few things that will make it easier to start a business and scale it quickly. First, it will help if you already know the type of business you want to build and have a basic understanding of the target market you’re seeking. It can also help if you choose a service-based business, such as a marketing firm or consultancy, rather than one that specializes in products. Product-based businesses require prototypes and plans for manufacturing and distribution, which can take time to set up. However, if you already know the types of products you want to sell, or if you want to open a retail shop or an e-commerce site, it can be done as long as you know where to find the products you plan to sell.
So, are you ready to start a business? This handy list can help. From start to finish, you’ll see the steps you need to come up with an idea and bring it to fruition, giving you the foundation you need to grow a thriving business in the days that follow.
1. Come up with an idea.
To come up with a business idea, and because you’ll be putting a great deal of time and energy into your new business, it can help if it’s in a subject matter area that fits your unique interests. Chances are, you already have a general idea in mind, but if you’ve never thought about what type of business you might start, take a few minutes to think about the best type of company to open for you. Imagine a potential investor or client reviewing your background to determine if you have the skills necessary to offer your particular services. Then try to make a match.
In addition to your background, you should also ensure your business will serve a specific need. What problem are you going to solve? If you plan to start a bookkeeping business, for instance, you may see a demand for the type of services you offer among small businesses like yours. The problem those businesses face is finding someone to handle their bookkeeping at an affordable rate, rather than having to pay a salary to a full-time employee for accounting services. Once you’ve identified the problem, you can start to tailor a solution and design your business.
2. Conduct thorough research.
Market research is a key part of launching a new business, but you don’t have to pour weeks of research into your idea. Instead, you can use the many tools available to learn more about the market for the business you’re starting. For the first day, just take a little time to determine how many businesses like yours are out there and what services they offer. How can you differentiate yourself from them? You should also pay close attention to their customer base since they’re likely representative of your own target demographic.
In addition to existing businesses, you should also spend time searching for information that will reveal the demand for your products or services. If you’re local, search social media community pages. If you’re thinking about starting a mobile grooming business, for instance, search to see if anyone has asked about that kind of service in your area. Extend beyond that to see how often local residents ask for groomer recommendations. If you can’t find helpful posts, create your own and simply ask if anyone would be interested in the services you’re planning to offer.
It can be easy to spend months trying to think of the perfect business name, but while it’s important to choose something catchy, it’s even more important to make sure it’s unique. The first step is easy: Look online to see if any businesses operate under your name. If you plan only to sell locally, having the same name as a business on the other side of the country might not seem like a problem; however, you may have difficulty getting the website name you want, and customers might not be able to find you in search results. So it’s best to choose a name nobody else is using.
Even if a quick web search shows no use, you’ll still need to make sure the name isn’t trademarked. The same goes for any products or specialized services you come up with—always check to make sure the names aren’t protected. You’ll also need to check with your state department of revenue to make sure your business name isn’t already taken, because you won’t be able to register with the state if someone else is operating under the same name.
4. Identify your target audience.
Defining your target market is an important part of starting a new business. There are several demographic maps you can use to identify your key audience, whether you plan to market locally or in a wider geographic range. The Census Bureau has its own apps and data search to help. This information is especially useful if you’re planning on marketing locally, since it will tell you the areas of town where your ideal age group likely is. Say you’re interested in opening a business that will primarily cater to retirees, you will want to focus on the part of town most likely to attract that population.
You can also study the keywords and ads used by specific businesses in your field using tools like SERanking’s Competitor SEO/PPC research tool. If you have time to create a quick survey and post it on your own social media accounts, a tool like SurveyMonkey can help you not only create the polls you need, but easily study the data they provide. These tools are ideal for getting instant information in time to take action on it.
5. Decide on a location.
If you’re starting a business today, you’re probably working from your home office or maybe even your kitchen table. But you don’t have to stay there. Research local workspace options and line up the contact information you’ll need to make a decision. A coworking space can be a great choice for a new, growing business. Coworker.com can help you find a space in the size you need with your preferred amenities. Although, don’t feel pressured to permanently leave your home. You can still work out of your house and just occasionally use a coworking space for a change of scenery or meeting with clients.
Some businesses require a dedicated office space, though. A tax preparer or attorney, for example, might need an easy-to-access office with professional signage to attract clients. If that is your goal, track down a real estate agent that can match you with an available, affordable commercial space for lease that fits your needs. Don’t worry, you can still work on getting other aspects of your business set up since it will likely be at least a couple of weeks before you start meeting with clients. You have plenty of other things to get squared away first.
6. Buy a domain.
Your domain name is an important decision, so take some time to think it through. Experts say the value is in the .com, so if you’re married to the business name you’ve chosen, you could run into problems. Use a tool like GoDaddy’s domain name search to check names related to the one you want. If yours is taken, GoDaddy offers available variations.
Once you’ve found your domain of choice, lock it in by buying it. You’re only committing to the cost of the domain name, which is marginal and will expire within a year or two depending on the payment option you choose. You’ll want to make sure you renew the name before it expires to avoid losing it to someone else, especially once your business is established. Also, try to make your business name as evergreen as possible, avoiding tying it down to a specific location or product. This will allow you to evolve over time.
7. Get web hosting.
Having a domain name is only part of the process. You’ll also need a service to host your website, which you’ll design in the next step. GoDaddy and other domain providers offer web hosting, but their fees aren’t necessarily the cheapest. Shop around for the top web hosting providers and pay attention to the various fees advertised. You’ll pay a monthly fee, which you can sometimes take care of in one lump sum, and for that, you’ll probably also get an email address for your new business. This will match the domain name you chose, but you can direct it to an email address you already use if, say, you prefer to stick with your favorite Gmail account.
Cost is only a small piece of the puzzle, however. You should also pay attention to the customer service your web host provides. Do they promise 24/7 uptime, or something close to it? The last thing you need is for your website to go down at 7 p.m. on a Friday night, only to find you can’t get anyone to do anything about it until Monday at 8 a.m. when the host’s offices open again. You should also look for web hosting providers that promise top security to ensure your website won’t fall victim to a costly security breach.
8. Build a website.
Every business needs a website. It’s the first place customers will go to learn more about what you’re offering. Fortunately, you can build a website quickly thanks to the many do-it-yourself tools where you simply choose a template and upload basic information, like how to contact you and what your business hours are. You can refine the rest later, especially once you have a logo and more details to share. Try to make it easy for customers to contact you to schedule an appointment or ask questions.
There are numerous DIY website builders to consider. WordPress is free and popular, but it lacks the drag-and-drop functionality you’ll see with sites like Wix and Squarespace. These sites make it easy to build a professional website without the help of a graphic designer, but you’ll pay for it. If you want to remove the branding that comes with such sites, you’ll be asked to pay a monthly fee. Wix, for instance, charges $14 a month and up for business sites, while Squarespace charges $18. You may want to opt for the slightly higher-priced monthly plan for each of these, though, rather than committing to a full year, to give yourself a chance to try it out.
9. Set up phone service.
Before you can win your first client, you’ll need phone service. You likely already have a cell phone, but you’ll need a more professional interface to run your business. Nextiva’s phone service helps you move seamlessly between a desk phone and your cell phone, with a mobile app to manage it all. If you’re on the road for the day, you can switch all your calls to your cell phone. Perhaps best of all, if you make outgoing calls from your personal phone, it will show up to the person at the other end of the line as your office number.
If you’re starting a new business, your needs go well beyond basic phone service. Nextiva’s bundles combine phone service with chat, surveys, customer service CRM and more. You’ll even have analytics to offer insight into how you’re doing as you work hard to grow your business. Best of all, since these phone services are cloud-based, your solution will grow as you do, which means you won’t have to waste time shopping around once you’ve added a few employees to your team. You’ll also pay a low monthly fee, so there will be no expensive setup fees to kick things off.
10. Set up a customer database.
At one time, professionals kept all of their contact information in address books and on Rolodex cards. Today’s successful businesses maintain a comprehensive database, collecting information on prospects and customers and using that information to close deals. If you learn offhandedly that a potential client enjoys football, for instance, the right database will allow you to log that detail so that you can refer to it later. Maybe you can purchase tickets as a gift or simply mention to last night’s game in conversation.
Not every business needs such a database. First, it’s important to determine if you’ll be regularly interacting with your customers and, if so, whether you’ll need to track them on an ongoing basis. In most cases, you will, and the best type of database to set up will be a customer relationship management (CRM) solution. There is a wide range of software options, including the ever-popular Salesforce, Infusionsoft and HubSpot CRM. Make sure you choose a tool with plenty of modules and integrations so that you can add on to it as your business needs evolve. If it ties into your email and phone applications, you’ll reduce duplicate work.
11. Generate leads.
As a new business, you need good leads to win customers. No matter what type of business you run, getting those names will present a big challenge at the outset. Lead generation software can help by automatically identifying people who might be interested in what you’re selling. Whether you’re calling potential clients on your own or planning to deploy a mass email campaign, this type of tool can help you narrow down those who are most likely to say “yes,” avoiding the time you might waste contacting those who would never be interested.
Your options vary from solutions that automatically pull leads and use them to populate your database, such as LeadGenius, to those that interact with the solutions that you already use. Marketo gathers information on the people who visit your website each day and helps you deliver personalized messages to them. If you use Salesforce as your CRM, you can use Pardot to make sure your pipeline is always filled with ready-to-convert leads. The software even interacts with your social media platforms to ensure that you’re fully informed about the potential customers interacting with your brand online.
12. Create a social media presence.
In addition to a website, you’ll also need a social media presence. You may have personal profiles on sites like Facebook and Twitter, but it’s a completely different world when you’re coming at it from a business perspective. Your new company will need a profile on every social media site where your customers are likely to hang out. If you’re after the younger demographic, you’ll want to put your focus heavily on Snapchat and Instagram. The older crowd, on the other hand, is more likely to be on Facebook and YouTube. Set up a page where you’re likely to find your target demographic so that you’ll be prepared to make use of it once your business is officially open.
For customer-facing businesses, it’s important to pay close attention to Yelp, which houses reviews for businesses, because local customers interested in buying from you will probably go there first. And if you’re local, you should also consider setting up a page with Google My Business, which will show your operating hours and location when someone searches for you.
13. Apply for appropriate licenses.
You can’t operate a business without the required licenses. If you’re an attorney, accountant or other regulated professional, you probably already know what licenses you need, but a business also needs to register with state authorities and pay the associated fees. If you’ll be selling items subject to sales tax, you’ll need to set up your business to set aside those funds so that you can submit them to local authorities on a monthly basis. Specialized businesses, such as those selling alcohol, will also need permits from the state to operate.
No matter what type of business you run, though, you’ll need a license from the state. Luckily, you can often get the ball rolling online. In Kansas, for instance, you’ll find the paperwork you need on the Secretary of State’s website. Here you can check to make sure your chosen business name is available, file formation documents and more.
14. Get an EIN.
You’ve likely gotten to this point in your professional life using your social security number. That nine-digit ID is all you need to get paid by an employer and file taxes each year. You can even work as an independent contractor or sole proprietor using your social security number. However, if you’re working with a large number of payers, who will be asking for your tax information in order to pay you, you may want to consider getting an employer identification number (EIN). This number will protect your social security number while still allowing businesses to report that they paid you.
The IRS requires you move to an EIN once you begin operating as a corporation or partnership. You’ll also be expected to have an EIN once you hire employees or file employment tax returns. Filing for an EIN is an easy, immediate process that you can do online. You’ll simply go to the IRS website and complete the form. Once you have the EIN, you can begin using it in place of your social security number when you’re acting on behalf of your business.
15. Open a bank account.
You’ll also need a bank account for your new business. The first resource for this will most likely be your own bank because you’re an established customer, but don’t hesitate to at least look at the fees other banks are offering. You may find you save money by switching to a bank that specializes in business accounts. You’ll want to find a location closest to your home for convenience, but it’s also OK to set up an online bank account. Many of your transactions will be electronic anyway, but remote deposit makes it easy to deposit paper checks without setting foot in a bank.
Before you can open a bank account, you’ll need to have the right paperwork. This includes your EIN, if you’ve set one up, or social security number if you prefer to do things under your own name for now. You’ll also need copies of the documentation you provided to the state when you registered your business, including your articles of formation. You may need a copy of your business license before you can finalize the account, so if the state hasn’t issued it yet, this step of the process could be delayed.
16. Invest in accounting software.
You won’t have much of a business if you can’t get paid. One of the most important steps you’ll take is to set up accounting procedures for your new business. Invoicing is essential, but it can help to tie it into your bookkeeping software to ensure everything is logged in real time. Fortunately, there are many accounting and invoicing solutions to choose from, all of which can be set up in a matter of minutes. Look into each solution first to determine which will work best for your needs.
Among the top solutions available are QuickBooks, FreshBooks, Xero and Zoho Books. Some of these do have free options, which will work fine before you have customers to bill, but you will quickly exceed the limitations of free accounts. So, make sure you compare the monthly costs associated with the business size you’re estimating to have within the next few months, rather than the customers you think you’ll have in your first few weeks of operation. Also, be sure it’s easy to pull the reports you need at tax time so that you don’t spend weeks trying to get everything together.
17. Create a marketing plan.
It can take a while to create a marketing plan for a new business, so don’t feel pressured to put together an overly detailed document right away. Small Business Trends has templates you can use to build a quick marketing plan. At the very least, it will prompt you to think through the various ways you’ll promote your new business. You’ll be asked to come up with a mission statement, describe your target market and more.
As you draw up your marketing plan, you’ll refer to the demographic data you discovered while setting up your social media profiles, because before you can figure out how to promote your business, you’ll need to identify your target market. Another part of your marketing plan might be buyer personas, which means coming up with an imaginary person to represent your typical customer. You can list out that buyer’s occupation, family data and personal interests and tie them into how that person will use your products.
In addition to a marketing plan, you’ll need a business plan, which will come in handy as you seek financing and reach out to new clients. As with your marketing plan, you’ll be able to refine and add to your business plan as your business grows. It’s important to have a document in place that gets you started, especially if you plan to ask for a bank loan, and the Small Business Administration has a business plan builder to help you get going.
A traditional business plan includes an executive summary, general description of your company, data from the market analysis you’ve done, information about your product or service, and your financials. Since you’re brand new, you may not have all those things yet, but at least you’ll have the skeleton of your plan so you can build on it later.
19. Get funding.
Now that you have the beginnings of a business plan in place, consider how you’ll pay for your upfront expenses. If you’ve chosen a business that you can operate from your home, you’ll save some money. But you’ll need to consider personal bills, assuming you aren’t going to run your business on the side, and how you’ll take care of smaller expenses like paid ads and networking events. A bank loan is worth considering, but it will put you in debt. Perhaps instead, check into grants that might be available to small businesses like yours.
Crowdfunding can be another useful way to bring in money for your new business. This is especially beneficial if you’re selling a product where you need a large chunk of money up front in order to pay for manufacturing. This strategy can help build an online presence that you can use to promote your campaign and generate word of mouth. Even if you plan on running a service-based business, you can use a site like Indiegogo to get the word out and gather support.
20. Protect your products.
If you’re concerned about someone stealing your concept, you may want to trademark your business name, but first you’ll need to make sure nobody else has filed before you. You’ll also need to demonstrate that you have a distinctive name and you plan to use it for a very specific type of product. You can’t, for instance, trademark the name “World’s Best Donuts” for your shop. And the filing fee is in the hundreds of dollars, so make sure you’re ready to make that investment.
You’ll also need to make sure your idea is protected against theft. A patent can help with that, allowing you to get exclusive rights to your product design. If you plan to pitch to investors, being able to confirm that you’ve filed for a patent can demonstrate how serious you are. You can file the application yourself and save money or turn it over to an attorney to manage, at which point you can expect to pay thousands of dollars. Either way, it will take time for the request to be processed and approved, so on Day One, you’ll only be able to kick off the process.
21. Get a logo.
You’ll need a distinct, professionally designed logo if you want your business to stand out to and stick with the customers who come across it. You can look through portfolios on sites like 99Designs and Upwork, narrowing your choices to those whose design matches the style you want. If you want quick turnaround, make sure you let the designer know. You can also hold a contest on 99Designs and have multiple designers compete for the job.
If you have artistic talent, you can save money and time by designing your own logo. You can try it the old-fashioned way, using a tool like Photoshop or GIMP, or you can use a tool that offers help, such as the AI-powered logo maker provided by Logojoy. Since simple design is in style, this may not be hard as you think. Experiment with various fonts and colors and pass them over to some friends and relatives to ask for feedback.
22. Consider insurance needs.
Insurance is one step you shouldn’t skip. A shop with foot traffic throughout the day can’t risk a slip-and-fall lawsuit without insurance in place to protect it, for example. The type of insurance you need depends heavily on the work you’ll be doing. However, every business can benefit from professional liability insurance. Also known as errors and omissions insurance, this protects you against any mistakes you might make in the course of doing your work.
As much money as working from home can save you in the early days, you’ll need to be aware that your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance doesn’t keep your business safe the way it does your personal property. You’ll need to check with your insurer to find out what extra coverage you’ll need for the equipment and other items you’re using for your business. You’ll also need to pay close attention to any extra coverage you might need on your vehicle if you’re using it for business. Lastly, business interruption insurance can safeguard your investment if a disaster should someday temporarily affect your ability to earn income from your business.
23. Decide if you need help.
As your business grows, you’ll likely find it more difficult to do everything on your own. But hiring a salaried employee can be a huge commitment. There are less long-term arrangements that can help you. You might try contracting with a virtual assistant who can help as needed. Sites like Upwork and TaskBullet are ideal for getting help with specific tasks, such as cleaning up your mailing list or transcribing an audio file.
You aren’t limited to virtual assistance through sites like these, though. You can also use outsourcing to hire workers to write content, answer emails, schedule appointments and more. By hiring contractors for small tasks, you have the opportunity to try them out and determine whether you want to continue working with them in the future. It can also be a great way to find a salaried worker, provided you’re OK with them working remotely. Even once you have employees on the payroll, though, you’ll probably still find that you can use freelancers for certain tasks.
It may take more than a day to fully build out your new business, but these steps are a great start. On Day Two, you’ll show up for work ready to move forward with so many things already in place.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in October 2018 and has been updated for freshness.
Photo by @itsjuliwilliams/Twenty20.com