Small business owner

Now that you’ve made the jump into entrepreneurship, you’ll have a lot more tasks on your to-do list. You might not mind, because you’re living the dream. But how do you know where to begin? And how can you keep important steps from slipping through the cracks?

Our Small Business Startup Checklist can help you stay on track with everything you need to do to get your business off the ground. It outlines what you need to start your own small business, in the right order, so you don’t have to guess. Cross off tasks as you complete them to be sure you’ve covered all the bases.

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Download the checklist to see exactly what you need to do to build your business, including these easy-to-overlook but absolutely critical tasks:

1. Create a business plan

Taking the time upfront to prepare a well-written, thoughtful plan can help you navigate each stage of your business. Here’s why:

A business plan keeps you on track with your goals. For example, if your goal is to create a cash cushion for your business, you can look at your plan to get a feel for your finances. Are there areas where you can cut costs? Are there different fundraising strategies you can try? Add these action steps to your business plan to help you reach your goal.

A business plan helps you obtain funding. To prepare a business plan that wins funders over, include realistic growth projections, the risks involved (and how you plan to mitigate them), and what makes your business unique.

A business plan helps you manage your cash flow. Adding a cash flow chart to the financial section of your business plan will give you a high-level picture of the money flowing in and out of your business to help you better manage your cash.

Every business plan should include:

  • An executive summary
  • A company overview
  • A competitive analysis
  • A description of products and services
  • A list of target markets
  • A management team overview
  • Financial plans and projections
  • A list of risk factors

Once you’ve got a business plan in place, it’s a good idea to regularly review and update it to stay focused on your goals; determine what’s working and what needs to be retooled; adapt to any new changes in your environment; and seize any opportunities that come your way.

2. Figure out your funding

You know how important cash is to your business. So where can you find the funds you need to keep things up and running? Here are some ways to keep that revenue stream pumping:

Bootstrapping: Rather than borrowing or raising money, bootstrapping is scraping together any funds you can find from your own savings account, credit cards and home equity lines. If you can swing it, bootstrapping will allow you to finance your business without the burden of loans and monthly payments.

Crowdfunding: This approach taps into a large pool of people, including friends, family, future customers and individual investors — online via social media. Because it’s open to the general public, crowdfunding can be a lucrative way for new business owners to raise capital, without having to qualify for a bank loan. Popular crowdfunding sites include Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, RocketHub, GoFundMe and Peerbackers.

Microloans: These are small loans (typically $35,000 or less) that banks provide at a low interest rate to help small businesses grow. Microloans are generally used for startup cash but are sometimes given to newly launched small businesses for working capital.

Business incubators: Incubators help new businesses and startups get off the ground by providing seed money, workspace, mentorship, management training and other services.

Angel investors: These are wealthy individuals looking to fund promising companies. When there’s an angel on your shoulder, you can expect a hefty investment (think millions), often in exchange for partial ownership of the company. To find angels, ask other entrepreneurs in your network or check out the Angel Capital Association, which has more than 13,000 members. You might also get a mentor out of the deal.

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3. Choose the right space for your business

Finding the perfect spot for your business takes time and a little sleuthing. Ask yourself these questions before signing that lease:

What are the hidden costs? On top of rent, you should consider moving expenses, utilities, repairs, improvements and any amenities that need to be added, such as cable.

Does the location benefit your business? You may find the perfect spot, but if your customers live in a town that’s two hours away, you’ll want to look at a different location. Is it in a neighborhood that appeals to them? Is parking convenient?

Can you make the space your own? If you’re an artsy boutique, you might get the itch to paint your walls a funky color. Your landlord, however, might not be open to that idea.

Can you do without an office or storefront? Some burgeoning small businesses can get started from their homes or use a co-working space.

4. Set up a website

If you don’t have a professional website, how will people know you exist? Here’s why it’s smart to establish an online presence right away:

Be where your customers are. According to Statista, 220.6 million shoppers are online. If they don’t find your business, you better believe they’ll find your competitors.

Make a great first impression. Oftentimes, people won’t set foot in your shop before they’ve poked around your website, so create a site that invites them to explore what you have to offer.

Be accessible. Customers can visit your business whenever and wherever they are online. Giving people the option to visit your website and place an order when it suits them makes them more apt to do business with you.

Build credibility. Your website should help potential customers get to know you and trust your work. To help build credibility, include samples of your work; testimonials from happy customers; links to articles featuring your business; and any awards you’ve received.

Follow these tips to create a professional website that gets your business found and brings in the customers.

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