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You Know What You Want to Do

You’ve got a great idea, unique products and valuable services that you simply can't wait to share with the world. You're ready to open your doors and start making money, but there's just one small problem — you're not sure how to start a business in the first place.

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Get Your Business Started

Many entrepreneurs feel overwhelmed at the beginning, but you don’t have to figure everything out for yourself. With Incfile's clear and comprehensive business checklist, you'll be able to start your new venture with confidence.

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Incfile Knowlege Base

Business Basics

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Pumpkin spice latte fans, rejoice: There's nothing wrong with being basic, and that's true in the entrepreneurial world too. Every business must first nail these basic categories before it can go on to succeed.

Create a Business Plan

If you have an idea of the kind of business you'd like to open and how you'd like to run it, then you already have what you need to create a business plan.

And if you think you don't really need a business plan, it might change your mind to learn that entrepreneurs who write formal plans are 16 percent more likely to achieve success than their planless counterparts.

When creating your plan, start by crafting a mission statement. Simply put, your mission statement will describe your business' overarching purpose.

Next, move on to filling out the rest of your plan. It doesn't have to follow a strict format, but we recommend loosely adhering to this structure:

  • Executive summary

    A brief overview of your products, services, audience and goals.

  • Your core goals

    Detail the main objectives you aim to reach with your business.

  • Description of your business

    Explain what you want to sell, what your unique specialty will be and the location you'll run your business from.

  • Market and demand analysis

    Research the current market and demand for your products or services. Also analyze your competition as well as their advantages and limitations.

  • Your business structure

    State whether you plan to form a Limited Liability Company (LLC), operate as a sole proprietor or choose another entity type.

  • Your business model

    For instance, you might choose to sell products at a retail location, perform services for clients remotely or travel to clients' homes.

  • Marketing and sales plan

    Describe how you'll market your business (e.g., social media, paid search ads or local publications), as well as how you'll make sales (e.g., selling each item individually, offering subscription plans or signing a contractual agreement).

  • Financial projections

    Estimate how much money you'll need to spend over the next year or more, as well as the amount you'll be able to make.

  • Notes and appendices

    Record any miscellaneous notes or link to resources.

Choose a Business Name

The perfect business name can be elusive, and it must fulfill a variety of criteria. For example, it must be unique, memorable and succinct, and you'll probably want to like it enough to not get tired of it within a few months.

To ensure you come up with a winning business name, check out our 22 creative tips and resources, and use our Business Name Search Tool to easily see if your preferred name is available in your state.

Remember, if you inadvertently choose a name that one of your competitors has already claimed, you may be unable to get a trademark in the future. To avoid this, it's always worth it to perform a business name search before committing to a name.

Choose the Right State to Form Your Business

Believe it or not, the state you call home might not be the best one for you to form your business in. That's because each state has its own set of rules for forming a business, and everything from filing fees to annual reporting requirements can vary greatly from one state to the next.

To see how much it will cost you to start an LLC in your state, check its current filing fees. Then, look up its processing times to find out how long you'll have to wait.

Depending on the information you discover, you might be able to save a considerable amount of money by forming your business in another state — there are several business-friendly states to choose from, including Montana, Wyoming and Nevada.

For more about each state's rules and regulations, see our LLC state information map.

Get Social Media Accounts

Social media marketing and accounts are vital for any online business, so make sure you can get social media accounts in the name you choose before settling on a business name. The most important social media platforms for businesses include:

  • Instagram
  • YouTube
  • Facebook
  • TikTok
  • Pinterest
  • Twitter

Depending on your audience and their interests, you may also benefit from joining platforms like Reddit and LinkedIn as well.

Sites like Namechk, Namecheckr and CheckUsernames will allow you to see whether your preferred handle is available across various networks. If it is available, create your accounts as soon as possible to prevent someone else from doing so first.

Get a Website Domain and Email

Most businesses need a website, even if they’re not selling online. And even if you don’t plan on using a website, it’s still worth securing your domain name so no one else can use it.

You can search for and register your domain name through various domain services, including:

While you're registering your domain name, set up your email account. If you sign up for Google Workspace (or go through your web hosting provider), you'll even be able to use your own domain in your email address for an extra-professional touch.

Design a Business Logo

Since people often find it easier to remember pictures and images than they do to remember words, it's safe to say that your business's logo is almost as important as your business's name.

Begin by evaluating your competitors' logos and making a note of which elements you like best. Then, use a design tool like Wix, Placeit, Canva or Logogenie to create an eye-catching logo of your own.

Or if you'd like someone else to create your logo for you, you can hire a freelance graphic designer on sites like Fiverr and Upwork.

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Company Formation

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Now, for the moment you've been waiting for (besides making your first sale, that is) — it's time to officially form your business.

File Articles of Organization

Unless you're planning on running your business as a sole proprietor (and don't mind putting your personal assets on the line), you'll need to register your business with your state's government. To do so:

  1. Access your Secretary of State's website
  2. Find the correct forms
  3. Fill out the forms
  4. Pay the requisite fee
  5. File the forms either online or in person

Or, you could save yourself some time with the help of Incfile's filing services. Just tell us about your business and the state you're filing in — we'll handle the rest.

Get a Registered Agent

Not sure what a Registered Agent is? No problem — it's simply an individual (or business) who accepts tax and legal documents on your and your business's behalf.

At this point, you may be wondering if you can just be your own Registered Agent. While you technically can, it's not recommended — after all, you don't want important correspondence from your Secretary of State getting lost amidst a pile of junk mail and bills.

The solution is to use a Registered Agent service. If you choose to do so, you can eliminate a whole lot of inconvenience. (Psst: Every Incfile package comes with one free year of Registered Agent service).

Obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN)

If you plan on hiring employees, then you'll first need to obtain a federal Employer Identification Number (EIN), also known as a tax ID number.

An EIN isn't just useful for hiring team members, though. You'll also need one to:

  • Open a business bank account
  • File your business's tax returns
  • Apply for business licenses and permits

Plus, having an EIN will make it easier to keep your business and personal finances separate. Once tax season rolls around, you'll be glad you did.

Trademark Your Business Name

If you want to protect your brand from counterfeiting, fraud and copycats, then you'd be wise to consider getting a trademark for your business name.

While you're at it, you can also look into trademarking your:

  • Logo
  • Slogan
  • Product names

But before you start sending in trademark applications, just be sure to learn what can and cannot be trademarked and read up on common trademark mistakes to avoid.

Satisfy All Business License and Permit Requirements

Depending on the state you live in and the kind of work that you do, you may need to obtain specific business licenses or permits in order to legally do business.

For example, common types of businesses that require licenses and permits include:

  • Restaurants and bars
  • General contractors
  • Construction companies
  • Hair and nail salons
  • Retailers

Use our handy Business License Search Tool to determine if you'll need a business license — if you do, Incfile's Business License Research Package will make the application process a breeze.

Create an Operating Agreement or Corporate Bylaws

Most businesses have internal rules that state how (and by whom!) they are run. This helps avoid confusion and also ensures that all the members, managers or directors are on the same page.

LLCs typically use a document called an “operating agreement” to define how the business should be run, while corporations use “corporate bylaws.”

While this might sound complicated, it doesn't have to be — we can provide you with operating agreement or corporate bylaw templates that you can tweak to your exact needs. Check out our library of business contract templates to see for yourself.

Establish a Company Address or Get a Virtual Mailbox

Don't want to get business mail delivered to your home? Want to maintain a professional appearance for clients, banks and investors? Then you need to either establish a company address or get a virtual mailbox.

If your business has a physical location, such as an office or retail space, then that address will suffice. But if it doesn't, a virtual mailbox service can give you the dedicated address you need.

Consider Business Insurance

Not all businesses are required to have insurance, but all businesses should have insurance. Why? Business insurance can help you cover the cost of property damage, liability claims, accidents, natural disasters and more.

And in some cases, you might be legally obligated to have business insurance. Check out this business insurance guide from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to learn more.

State Filling Fees

Sort Your Financials

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Get ready to cross your t's and dot your i's because it's time to sort your business's financials.

Open a Business Bank Account

There are plenty of benefits that come with opening a business bank account, including:

  • Protecting your personal banking information
  • Making it easier to file taxes
  • Simplifying your bookkeeping

And if you apply for a business loan, a business bank account will be required.

Ready to open your own business bank account? Read up on everything you'll need in order to get one.

Get a Business Loan, Financing or Other Funding

If you don’t already have money to start your business, you may need to borrow funds. There are several ways you can raise cash, such as:

  • Applying for a traditional loan
  • Qualifying for a line of credit
  • Raising capital from investors
  • Using business credit cards
  • Borrowing from friends and family
  • Applying for an SBA loan

Not sure how to go about getting a business loan? It's simpler than you think:

And if you’re after a great business loan from a specialized business loan provider, we recommend Kabbage for competitive rates and terms.

Get a Business Credit Card

A business credit card gives your business a simple way to buy products and services now and pay them off when you have the cash.

If your business is new, your credit card will mainly be issued based on your personal credit score, so make sure it’s in good shape before applying. And of course, always remember to pay your business card off regularly so you don’t run up large interest fees.

Get an Accountant or Bookkeeper

Good financial management is essential for any small business. So if you're able to, you'd do well to hire an accountant or bookkeeper who can provide financial advice, help you with your taxes and file them on your behalf.

You'll also need to understand cash flow statements, balance sheets and profit and loss reports so you can stay on top of your money. Typically, a bookkeeper will help you with financial record keeping and reconciliation, while an accountant will also assist with preparing and filing taxes and providing financial advice.

Not sure where to find a professional accountant or bookkeeper for an affordable price? Incfile's Accounting and Bookkeeping service may be just the solution you're looking for.

Decide If You Want Your LLC to Be Taxed as an S Corp

If you’re forming an LLC and want to reduce the amount of tax you pay, you might want to complete an S Corporation Tax Election.

Doing so will tell the Internal Revenue Service to treat your business like an S Corp, which could reduce the amount of income on which you need to pay self-employment tax. This can substantially reduce your tax bill, with only a slight increase in administrative overhead for you and your accountant.

Not sure how an S Corp is different from an LLC? Here's what you need to know:

Choose Accounting and Invoicing Software

It will make your (and your accountant’s!) job a whole lot easier if you use accounting software to keep track of your finances on an ongoing basis.

There are plenty of great online tools for managing your invoices, expenses, transactions and reports. Widely used options include:

Understand How to Track Expenses and Deductions

Every business has to spend money to operate. These payments for the necessary goods and services to run your business are called “expenses.” Expenses are typically deducted from your business revenue when working out your profit, and you won’t usually need to pay taxes on them.

Tax deductions can be complex, so it’s worth speaking with your accountant about details. Here are some of the more common ones you can claim:

  • Product costs such as raw materials, manufacturing and shipping
  • Office costs such as rent, insurance, repairs and utilities
  • Operational costs such as software, hardware, furniture, accounting and housing
  • Customer service costs such as returns, repairs, and customer service systems
  • Marketing and sales costs such as marketing campaigns, ad fees and branding
  • Transaction costs such as fees from processing payments via PayPal, Stripe or debit and credit cards
Understand Taxes and Sales Tax

Benjamin Franklin was right about death and taxes, and as such, there are plenty of taxes you'll need to pay as a business owner.

If you’re set up as an LLC, your business profits will flow through to your personal tax return, which is where you will pay taxes.

The types of tax you will need to pay include:

  • Federal income tax

    You'll need to pay federal income tax on any earnings.

  • Self-employment tax

    Income from your business will be taxed under a self-employment tax.

  • Sales tax

    If your business sells physical products or certain types of services, you may need to collect sales tax and pay it to your state.

  • State tax

    Most states have a state income tax, and if yours does, then you'll be taxed on your earnings. To register for state tax, see your Secretary of State's website. And if you're unsure if you need to pay taxes in a state other than your own, find out by determining your sales tax nexus.

  • Payroll tax

    If you pay employees, you'll also need to pay payroll tax.

  • Corporate tax

    If you incorporate as a C Corporation, you'll need to pay corporate tax.

  • Other taxes

    In certain circumstances, you may need to pay some other types of taxes. Talk to your accountant to find out what else you may be liable for.

Create Merchant Accounts to Accept Credit Card Payments

Finally, don't forget that you may not be able to accept payments via credit card if you haven't created the proper merchant accounts beforehand.

Some accounting software, payment gateways and other setups let you accept cards automatically, especially if you just take payments online. If you take payments in person (like in a retail setting), you might want to look into merchant account providers to get the best rates on your card transactions.

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Work on Operations

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Every business needs to sort out its everyday operations in order to succeed. Here's what you need to do to get your operations running like a well-oiled machine.

Get Equipment

The equipment you need depends on your industry and the type of work you do.

For instance, if you're a social media influencer, then you may need a laptop, smartphone and studio lighting. But if you're opening a beauty salon, then you'll need things like styling chairs, cosmetic products and professional tools.

If you're trying to keep costs down, you might be able to lease certain equipment or buy used versions. But whether you buy used or new, remember to record exactly what you’re spending so you can write it off as business expenses on your taxes.

Research and Choose the Best Vendors and Suppliers

If you’re selling a physical product, then you'll need to source it from somewhere. Choosing the right vendor or supplier is a vital part of managing your supply chain. Look at multiple suppliers, read reviews and speak to other people in the industry. Talk with potential suppliers and understand the terms and conditions you'll both have to work with.

There are plenty of online vendor marketplaces where you can start finding and researching products and suppliers, including Alibaba, ThomasNet, EC21 and more.

Get the Right Business Software

Good software is essential to reducing your administrative overhead so you can focus on business growth and success. Here are some various tools you might find helpful:

Get a Virtual Phone System

If you want your customers to call you but don't want to receive business calls on your personal phone, a virtual phone service is a good idea. If you use one, you won’t have to share your personal number but can still take calls for your business on your landline, cell phone or other mobile device.

A virtual phone system lets you create a unique business phone number; when people call it, the calls are automatically forwarded to another phone that you specify. Most come with other features like voicemail, call holding, analytics and more. Well-rated options include Grasshopper, Google Voice and Phone.com.

Learn How to Manage Your Business

As an entrepreneur, one of the best things you can do to ensure your own success is learn how to effectively manage your business.

For instance, you'll need to know how to handle company changes such as amendments and expansion, remain compliant with your state's regulations, file business taxes and more.

That may sound like a lot, but the good news is that Incfile's business management services can make it easy. From filing your annual report to changing a Registered Agent, we can take the guesswork out of managing your business.

Connect with Other Entrepreneurs

Running a business on your own is empowering, but it can also feel lonely. That’s why we recommend joining local groups, such as entrepreneur meetups or your Chamber of Commerce.

Doing so will let you talk with other business owners who have faced similar challenges and can help you brainstorm solutions. You can also look at online networking through LinkedIn, professional Facebook groups or other dedicated business forums.

Find Office Space (If Needed)

Although many entrepreneurs choose to work from home, you might need a physical location if you have a team or a slightly larger business. You could start by going down the traditional route and leasing commercial office space, but doing so may not be cost-effective.

If that's the case for you, you might want to look into a coworking solution like WeWork, where you can rent space on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.

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Hire a Workforce

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There's something to be said for flying solo, which is why so many solopreneurs exist. But if you're more of a team player, then your next task is to hire a workforce.

Decide on a Payroll Service

If your business has employees, then you're going to have to pay them. The easiest way to do this is via a payroll service that calculates salaries, payments and benefits and can even assist with payroll taxes. Some of the most commonly recommended ones include Gusto, Paychex, OnPay and Payroll4Free.

And if you'd like to know more about what you can expect to pay in payroll taxes, our easy-to-use payroll calculator can help.

Create an Employee Benefits Program

If your employees work full time, then they'll expect you to provide them with benefits like vacation time, health insurance, retirement contributions and the like.

To prepare, look into the total cost of employment to help you budget for employee benefits. The U.S. government provides small business health insurance options through the SHOP Marketplace, and if you're interested in setting up retirement plans, Gusto's guide is a good place to start.

Establish Your Freelance and On-Demand Workforce Needs

Even if you don't need permanent employees for certain tasks, you might still want to hire freelancers on an as-needed basis.

There are plenty of freelance marketplaces like Freelancer, Toptal and Upwork — but if you just want straightforward, easy-to-use services, Fiverr is hard to beat. You might also consider Fiverr Pro, where you can find vetted freelancers for more demanding projects.

Just need help with administrative tasks? Check out virtual assistant services like Delegated, Zirtual and Fancy Hands.

Establish Your Permanent Workforce Needs

If freelancers just won't cut it, you'll need to hire permanent employees to join your team. To do so, you have a wide variety of options, including:

  • Going through a local staffing agency
  • Creating job listings on sites like Indeed
  • Posting on social media
  • Attending job fairs
  • Advertising at local universities

Whatever route you use, you will need to advertise the role, find promising candidates, review applications, interview applicants, agree on terms and hire the right people for your business.

Learn About Legal Requirements and Your Responsibilities to Employees

As an employer, you'll need to make sure you have proper worker's compensation insurance to cover employee injuries, illnesses and their associated medical costs.

You will also need to calculate and withhold income tax so you can pay the appropriate government bodies. If this sounds a bit overwhelming, you can outsource your HR services to a third-party provider like TriNet, ADP or Paychex.

You also have a duty to provide your employees with a safe working environment, proper training and regular pay. OSHA explains your health and safety requirements, while the U.S. Department of Labor details other responsibilities.

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Marketing and Branding

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Now that everything else has been taken care of, you can finally show the world what you have to offer through marketing and branding tactics.

Get Business Cards

Once you've finalized your name and logo, you can get custom business cards printed. With online services like Vistaprint and Moo, you can have beautiful new business cards mailed straight to you.

Need your business cards now? Same-day printing services from big box stores like Staples and Office Depot can help.

Create a Branded Email Signature

One easy way to increase brand awareness is to add your logo, slogan or other branding to your email signature. This is easy to do in Gmail, Outlook and various other email clients. Make sure to include a link to your business website, and give people a reason to click through.

Build a Company Website

If you’re an online-only business, your website is your window to the world. And even if your business is brick and mortar, your website is still a crucial destination for people who want to learn more about your products, services and contact information.

If you want a designer to create a site for you, try using marketplaces like Toptal, Fiverr Pro or Upwork. Alternatively, you can use an online website builder to do it yourself. Many services are available, but sites like Wix, Squarespace and Weebly are all good choices.

Use Google Analytics and Google Search Console

Google Analytics and Google Search Console are two incredibly powerful (and free!) tools that give you tons of insights into your website's visitors and their behavior.

Specifically, Analytics lets you understand how visitors are finding your website, which pages are the most popular, user demographics and much more.

On the other hand, Search Console shows you how your pages are performing on organic Google searches. You can track the search queries your website pages are ranking for, and see how to optimize them for more visibility.

Advertise Locally

If you’re a local business, it makes sense to get the word out in your community. You can do so by purchasing local ads in papers, on billboards or through the radio. And don’t forget about local business listings, such as Yelp, Google Maps, Facebook and more.

To generate goodwill and positive press, you can try sponsoring local organizations or events, as well as partnering with other businesses.

And if you want to build repeat customers and increase your word-of-mouth marketing, incentivizing customers through loyalty programs can help do so.

Create Your Google My Business Profile

If your business doesn't have its own Google My Business profile, then you may be missing out on a great deal of local customers.

Some of the benefits of a Google My Business profile include:

  • Showing up on Google Maps searches
  • Sharing your hours, logo, photos, updates, website and other vital information
  • Building your reputation by collecting Google reviews
  • Standing out from local competitors

Not sure how to set up your Google My Business profile? Incfile has partnered with Google to make it as easy as possible.

Advertise Online

With the help of search engine advertising platforms like Google Ads and Microsoft Ads, spreading the word about your business is easier and more affordable than ever.

All you need to do is sign up for an account on your chosen ad platform, enter some key details about your business, choose your preferred keywords and create your first campaign — yep, it's that easy.

Embrace Social Media Advertising

Given that about 70 percent of Americans use social media, chances are that your potential customers do too.

To make sure they know about your business, you can try using social media advertising platforms such as:

Please note: This post contains affiliate links and we may receive a commission if you make a purchase using these links.

 

Want to Get Your Business Off the Ground?

Creating your own business from scratch is no small feat, but it’s not impossible. Break down your work into bite-sized chunks with our checklist.