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Starting your business journey is exciting, but it can also be daunting. With so much to do and so much you want to achieve, how do you know where to start? And how can you tell if you’re moving in the right direction? Keep your business on track for a successful launch and a strong first year by following these milestones:

Countdown to your business launch

Want to get your business off the ground without a hitch? Check off these pre-launch milestones:

1. Validate your business idea 

Put your business idea to the test by creating a prototype, getting customer feedback and the like.

2. Make a business plan

Create a business plan that outlines the first three to five years of your business strategy.

3. Set up a business bank account 

Aside from making record keeping a whole lot easier, keeping your personal and business finances separate helps prove to the IRS that your business is indeed a business.

4. Secure funding

How much capital will you need to get your business off the ground and where will it come from?

5. Choose your legal structure 

The type of business you form will affect your taxes, paperwork and even the way you raise funds, so choose wisely.

6. Find a location

Whether you rent or buy it, your business needs a physical address. Choose a space that can accommodate your needs now and as your company grows.

7. Build a business website 

If your business isn’t online, then it doesn’t exist. Establish an online presence from the get-go, so people can find you.

We have liftoff

Your business is in flight, but where is it headed? Help get your business into the stratosphere by completing these early milestones.

8. Create a marketing plan 

Eight in 10 businesses survive their first year. That kind of success rate is encouraging but it's only possible when you have a strong strategy in place. You might have the best product in the world, but if nobody knows about it, your startup business can’t succeed. Develop a marketing plan to promote your business and what you have to offer.

9. Launch your product

Ready to take your product to market? Set a launch date and sell, sell, sell!

10. Get your first sale 

First, do the happy dance! Then use this milestone as a learning opportunity. How long did it take to generate this profit? If it took a long time, consider tweaking your business model, so that you don't have to work as hard.

11. Hire employees

Focus on hiring people with the right skills and personality to fit your company culture and expand your capabilities.

12. Grow your customer base 

Without customers, you don’t have a business, so network, leverage social media and do all you can to build your customer base.

13. Find a mentor

Mentors can provide you with the information you need to strengthen your startup business. They can connect you with others who are willing to invest in your company or offer insight. And they can help you work smarter by steering clear of the pitfalls they’ve encountered in the past. SCORE can help set you up with a mentor for free.

Track your progress 

As you begin meeting these milestones, be sure to check in with yourself. Tracking your progress will not only help increase your success rate, but also boost your confidence and keep you motivated by showing you how far you've come.

Keep your eyes on the prize

It’s tough to stay focused when your next milestone is three, five or 10 years out. So, here’s a little trick to help your small business achieve its goals: Break down your goals into smaller, more manageable actionable steps. In other words, if your goal is to take your product to market, you might break it down into these baby steps:

  • Post your idea on Reddit to get customer feedback 

  • Fine-tune your product according to feedback

  • Create a prototype or mini version of your product

  • Introduce your idea on Kickstarter

  • Adjust your product according to feedback 

  • Build a landing page to get pre-orders

  • Launch your product

And don’t forget to celebrate your success. Once you’ve achieved a milestone, keep the momentum strong by rewarding yourself. Whether that reward is a trip to the beach or a new computer for your business, you’ll be motivated to hit it hard, accomplish your goal and start working toward your next success.

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