The 10-point business checklist

It’s time for you to turn that idea you’ve always had into your dream; a business of your own. But knowing where to start can be daunting.

This business checklist is a quick reference guide to the steps you can take to start your own business. Remember one small step towards your goal is better than standing still!

1. Think about your idea

If you know that you want to start your own business but are not sure what to do, think about your passions and strengths above all else. Your product needs to fulfil a need, but if you’re not passionate about what you’re doing and your heart isn’t in it, are you going to be able to put in the hours and dedication that a start-up needs to succeed?

If you already have an idea – fantastic! Now, as harsh as it sounds, it’s time to think about how viable it is – and be honest with yourself. What will make your product or service stand out from competitors; what are you offering that they’re not? Is it going to take capital that you don’t have to start out, or can you start small? How will it fit with your existing lifestyle and demands, or how can you make changes to accommodate this new project? What are your three top unique selling points? In the excitement of deciding to start your own business it can be easy to get carried away, but ask yourself these questions and really think about how your business could work in practice.

2. Research

You might have the greatest, most beautiful product of all time, but if there’s no demand for it it’s useless. It’s time to do some market research!

Free tools such as Survey Monkey can be used to ask your audience questions about what they’d like to see. Ask everyone you possibly can and get their feedback on your idea, and even if you’re told things you’d rather not hear take everything into account. The people you ask are your potential customers, and so be open to their ideas – else what’s the point of asking?

3. Naming your business

Naming your business is important, as you need one which is both unique, sums up what your business does, and isn’t taken by anyone else yet. Quite an ask.

Stay short, catchy and memorable. Draw up a long list and think about the relative merits and drawbacks of each one. Websites such as this one and this one will help you check if some other business has already nabbed the company name or domain name. Don’t forget to check on social media too.

It’s important to consider how a company name fits into social media handles and your domain name, as having different names can be confusing for your customers. Consistency is key to ensuring you remain visible and helps your customers keep track of you (and find you!) You don’t necessarily have to start up the social and website side of things now, but get those names locked down for future use.

4. Business plan

This is a vital part of your business checklist – possibly even the most important (after the idea, of course). You need to map out your business idea, your goals and aims, and how you envisage your business working in practice. For example, how will you make a profit? What price point will you sell your product and service at? How will the business fit into your life and existing demands; are you quitting your job, or starting out small on the side and scaling up? A business plan is what you’ll show to potential investors and to banks; think of it as a complicated equation that proves in the end that your business is viable, with the stats to back it up. Which brings us to…

5. Financial forecasting

The financial forecast is a hugely important part of your business plan, even if you don’t have exact figures yet. This is where you look bluntly at your cash flow, and how much the business will cost – and how much you’ll need to live on – take a deep breath, and try to reconcile the two.

Think very carefully about your expected expenses, and don’t forget the small things that add up – coffees, lunch, travels. Think about where your cash is going to be coming from, and where exactly it needs to go to – estimated cash flow, whether from your product or investment. Think about pricing, and how much profit you’ll make on each transaction. And write it all down!

6. Register your business

You either need to register as a sole trader, a Limited Company, or a partnership. This handy guide explains more about the two options likely to be most relevant to you – sole trader or Limited Company. Registering is super important as it decides the amount of VAT you will have to pay – and if you don’t register you could find yourself slapped with a heavy fine.

7. Licensing and other legal stuff

Ensure that you are up to speed on what legal regulations and certification you require to start your business. If you’re running a food business you’ll have to take a food hygiene course, for example, and if you’re serving alcohol you’ll have to get a license.

Remember too that no matter how small your business you will need to comply with health and safety regulations – find out more here.

Don’t forget about patents and intellectual property. If you have invented a new product, you will need to register the patent.

If in doubt, go over your questions with a lawyer – or if that’s too expensive, check out these legal resources to see if they can answer your questions.

8. Setting up shop (and website)

Whether it’s a home office from which to sell online or you have your own premises from which to sell from, now’s the time to ensure you have all the equipment that you need to get selling - computers, POS systems, and anything else specific to your business. It’s also vital that you get business insurance and consider the business rates for your premises.

If you are solely an ecommerce venture, Shopify is a good option for getting you started with selling online. Alternative options for setting up your own website, if you want to go it alone rather than paying for a designer, include Wix or Strikingly (if you want to keep your website very simple or to act as a placeholder).

9. Social media

Now you’ve already grabbed the appropriate social media handles as per point 3 (right…?) it’s time to get using them. Social media is free and a fantastic way to get word of your product or service out there. Start following relevant people (a good way to start is to discover who’s following your competitors, and follow them). Create dialogue and start connecting with your future customers – it’s never too soon to do so.

10.   Start trading!

The sooner you start trading and bringing in revenue, the sooner you can start to think about scaling your business upwards. But before you get selling, ensure you have set appropriate price points, and either get an accountant or get kitted out with a DIY accounting app such as Kashflow. This way when it gets to the dreaded tax season, you’ll be ready to tackle it head on.

Image source: Flickr Creative Commons