From insurance to accounting to taxes, here’s what you need to do to start a business. 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.
Evaluate and Develop Your Business Idea 1. Determine if the type of business suits you.
2. Use a break-even analysis to determine if your idea can make money.
3. Write a business plan, including a profit/loss forecast and a cash flow analysis.
4. Find sources of start-up financing.
5. Set up a basic marketing plan.
Decide on a Legal Structure for Your Business 6. Identify the number of owners of your business.
7. Decide how much protection from personal liability you'll need, which depends on your business's risks.
8. Decide how you'd like the business to be taxed.
9. Consider whether your business would benefit from being able to sell stock.
10. Research the various types of ownership structures:
11. Get more in-depth information from a self-help resource or a lawyer, if necessary, before you settle on a structure.
Choose a Name for Your Business 12. Think of several business names that might suit your company and its products or services.
13. If you will do business online, check if your proposed business names are available as domain names.
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.
15. For corporations and LLCs: check the availability of your proposed names with the Secretary of State or other corporate filing office.
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.
17. Choose between the proposed names that are still on your list.
Register Your Business Name 18. Register your business name with your county clerk as a fictitious or assumed business name, if necessary.
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.
20. Register your business name as a domain name if you'll use the name as a Web address too.
Prepare Organizational Paperwork 21. Partnership:
26. Determine how much rent you can afford.
27. Decide what neighborhood would be best for your business and find out what the average rents are in those neighborhoods.
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.)
29. Before signing a commercial lease, examine it carefully and negotiate the best deal.
File for Licenses and Permits 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).
31. Obtain a seller's permit from your state if you will sell retail goods.
32. Obtain state licenses, such as specialized vocation-related licenses or environmental permits, if necessary.
33. Obtain a local tax registration certificate, a.k.a. business license.
34. Obtain local permits, if required, such as a conditional use permit or zoning variance.
Obtain Insurance 35. Determine what business property requires coverage.
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.
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.
Set Up Your Books 42. Decide whether to use the cash or accrual system of accounting.
43. Choose a fiscal year if your natural business cycle does not follow the calendar year (if your business qualifies).
44. Set up a recordkeeping system for all payments to and from your business.
45. Consider hiring a bookkeeper or accountant to help you get set up.
46. Purchase Quicken Home and Business (Intuit), QuickBooks (Intuit) or similar small business accounting software.
Set Up Tax Reporting 47. Familiarize yourself with the general tax scheme for your business structure. (See Tax Savvy for Small Business, by attorney Frederick Daily.)
48. Familiarize yourself with common business deductions and depreciation. (See Deduct It! Lower Your Small Business Taxes, by attorney Stephen Fishman.)
49. Obtain IRS Publications 334, Tax Guide for Small Business, and 583, Taxpayers Starting a Business.
50. Obtain the IRS's Tax Calendar for Small Businesses.
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: Legal Guide for Starting and Running a Small Business, by attorney Fred Steingold; Wow! I’m in Business, by attorneys Richard Stim and Lisa Guerin; or Quicken Legal Business Pro (software).
© 2010 Nolo