How to start a business in 10 steps
1. Evaluate your business goals
Begin by asking yourself a few basic questions about your small business idea to refine it:
- Why? Think about the purpose of your business and what needs it fills. (Be clear enough about why you’re starting your business so that you can describe its purpose in one sentence.)
- What? What is the product or service you’ll be offering?
- Who? Who is your target customer base or audience? Be specific in describing demographic characteristics, such as age, gender, income level, location and other factors.
- How? Describe your plan for developing your product or service and delivering it to your customers or clients.
Instead of starting a business from scratch, another option is to open a franchise of an established company. With a franchise, the business idea and model are already developed, making it easier to get your business started sooner.
Feel free to brainstorm business names at this stage, but you probably don’t want to get too attached to anything now. Later, you can consult with a marketing professional to help you decide on a name, website domain and tagline.
2. Start writing your business plan
When starting a small business, it’s never too early to write your business plan. A business plan serves as a guide for every aspect of your new business — a road map that takes you from a simple inspiring idea to a successful company.
Make sure your business plan answers the why, who, what and how questions above. In addition, consider including a business description, market strategies, competitive analysis, design and development, operations and management, and financial data. Here’s a business plan template to help you get started.
Business plans take time to complete —sometimes as long as a year, especially since they’re often 30-50 pages long. Consider your business plan a “living” document. As you move through the process and gain more knowledge, you’ll make adjustments and expand upon certain sections. If you don’t plan on seeking funding from outside sources, business plans can be less detailed (sometimes even just one page long).
3. Conduct market research
Market research is critical to help you determine whether your business idea really has legs. It examines customer behaviors and economic trends to help you hone your business strategy. Competitive research looks at product demand, demographic data, market size, economic indicators, location appeal and pricing.
Use competitive analysis to determine how to zero in on a market advantage. You can gather this information through existing sources or by getting answers yourself by conducting surveys, focus groups and interviews of potential customers.
Through careful market research, you’ll be able to figure out who your target customer base is and how to develop products and services that will sell. Market research can also help you determine the name of your business, design color schemes and other branding elements.
Indeed Tip: Include the results of your research in your business plan. Make adjustments to your why, what, who and how answers if necessary.
4. Business structure and logistics
At this stage, you’ll need to make some important decisions that define your business:
Business name and domain: During the market research stage, you should have chosen a relevant, unique business name. If not, check our guide to 26 business name generators. Purchase website domains if you haven’t already secured them. Domains are often inexpensive, so buy as many as you need to ensure that potential customers find you online.
Business structure: Decide what kind of structure is best for your business, such as a sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC) or a corporation. This is an important step as it can impact taxes, personal liability, your ability to get funding and more. Consider consulting with an attorney or accountant to help you make your decision. Here’s a breakdown of the difference between an LLC and a corporation.
Business location: You’ll not only have to decide where your business headquarters is located but its style of operation — whether that’s a retail outlet or a home office. In addition to your online presence, will it also be brick-and-mortar? If so, you’ll need to think about issues like foot traffic, parking, ordinances, utilities, crime, convenience and nearby competition.
Once you’ve figured out those key components to starting a business, take care of these remaining tasks:
- Register your business
- Apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN)
- Get federal and state tax IDs
- Apply for a business license and permits, if applicable
- Open a business bank account
- Apply for appropriate trademarks, copyrights or patents
- Purchase insurance policies
5. Get funding for your small business
One of the most important steps to starting a business is getting funding. Start by figuring out how much money you actually need. Your business plan should contain a budget for operating for one year. Using a spreadsheet or budget software, include every expense you anticipate, including costs for overhead, production and marketing.
One way to figure out how much money you need is by performing a break-even analysis. The formula for break-even point is: Fixed costs ÷ (Item price – Variable costs). This analysis can help you determine profitability, how to price products and services, and how much you have to sell to make a profit.
Once you have your yearly budget, there are a few ways you can fund your new business. Some examples include:
- Self-funding from personal savings
- Borrowing from friends and family
- Small business loan or grant
- Online crowdfunding campaign
- Angel investors (e.g., individuals who provides capital in exchange for convertible debt or ownership equity)
- Venture capitalists (typically for larger-scale projects)
- Accelerators (for short bursts of funding)
- Incubators (sustained mentorship network)
6. Design prototypes and get feedback
Work with freelance designers and engineers to create product prototypes. If your business is service-oriented, this may include designing proprietary products used only by your employees in the field. Then test your designs by setting up focus groups or scenarios where randomly chosen individuals can put your product to the test and complete surveys about their experience. If you’re selling a service, enlist the help of individuals who agree to try it out for free and then give anonymous, unbiased feedback.
7. Put together your leadership team
Put together the team of people who will make your operation hum. It could include partners, employees, freelancers, contractors and consultants. Your team should decide on an accounting system and develop a plan for manufacturing, choosing vendors, and hiring workers and independent contractors. You should also establish protocols for communication and reporting and responding to harassment and other complaints by employees. Much of this planning will determine what kind of culture your company fosters.
8. Develop your product
Here is where you see the fruits of your efforts. Once you’ve finalized the design of your product, make purchases necessary to produce. That could mean setting up a manufacturing process to create a physical product or installing computers for the purpose of creating software. Hire specialists, managers and workers necessary to make the operation run smoothly. Develop policies for quality control and safety.
9. Get the word out
How will you get the word out so your target audience gets the message? What social media platforms should you jump on? What kinds of ads will sell your product and where should they appear? How can you appeal to the media so that the public learns about what you’re offering? These are the kinds of questions you’ll need to answer to make sure you’re connecting with potential customers through sales, marketing, advertising and public relations.
Here are a few ways to get the word out about your new business:
- Print advertising
- Advertising on Google
- Radio advertising
- Advertising on Groupon
- Free ways to advertise online
- Yelp advertising
- Indeed Company Pages
10. Plan for business growth
We’ve all heard stories about wildly successful companies that lose sales or even go out of business because they took off too fast and weren’t prepared for success. Learn to delegate roles and responsibilities. That may mean deciding to hire your first employee. You’ll need to look ahead and make decisions so that you’re not caught off-guard when your business takes off. Such plans could include:
- Studying market trends
- Testing new ideas
- Acquiring another business
- Growing into new markets
- Expanding product lines and services
Opening a business: How to start 15 different types of businesses
Below are complete guides on how to start a business, broken down by business type: