17 May 11 Steps To Getting Your Business Off The Ground
Every week, someone tells me that they have a great business concept but they just don’t know how to get it off the ground. I understand. The process of starting a new business, particularly for those who are doing it for the first time, can cause quite a bit of anxiety and quickly become overwhelming unless you have a detailed plan of attack. If you’re willing to invest the time and effort, there are plenty of online resources that will show you the way. But before you dig in, here is a brief summary that will help you get started.
Below are eleven steps that you will need to follow to make your business a reality. Since some of the steps impact one another, I suggest reading this article in its entirety before proceeding. Also, be sure to follow your state’s requirements for any/all steps that demand it. I have always believed that anything worth doing is worth doing right the first time – and you should too! Now go get busy and before you know it, your new company will be off the ground.
Step 1: Name Your Business
To get started, you must of course have a business name. Remember that your name will become the foundation for your business communication. As such, it should be distinctive, memorable, and easy to pronounce. Moreover, it should somehow define who you are, what you stand for, and what products or services you offer.
The difference between a good name and a great name depends entirely on how much effort (and perhaps money) you are prepared to invest in this critical task. If you are in need of general guidance and/or assistance on conceiving a great business name, I would love to help. Together we’ll discuss your current name ideas, assess the pros and cons of each, get the creative juices flowing, and insure that your naming process is moving in the right direction.<br><br>Once you have decided what you would like to name your business, it’s time to check on that name’s availability. In other words, you must confirm that the name has not already been registered in your state or is in use by another entity. This is easily accomplished from your respective Secretary of State website. Visit the Corporations Division and look for a link to the Business Name Lookup tool.
If you discover that your desired business name is not available and is in use by another active company, then it’s back to the think tank. If it is available, you can reserve the name online for a nominal fee in order to insure that no one else can register it prior to your incorporation. Or you can bank on the notion that no one is going to register your name prior to your actual incorporation and save yourself the money. But just in case, and especially if it’s a great name that you simply cannot afford to lose, don’t waste any time getting it.
If you discover that your desired business name has already been registered, that doesn’t necessarily preclude you from getting it. Check the status of the company from the same SOS website and determine the company’s status. If it is not an active company, there’s a good chance you can register the name anyway.
Note: Although most business names are acquired on the state level, some businesses might have applied for and received the protection of a Federal Trademark for their name. This means that they could, if necessary, take legal action to prevent you from using that name in commerce. As such, it’s probably a good idea to visit the Federal Government website and execute a trademark search. For more detailed information on this topic, talk with a Trademark attorney.
Step 2: Prepare Your Articles of Incorporation
I am in no position to provide legal or accounting advice, so if you’re not sure what type of company you should be forming, consult with your accountant. Once decided, your next step is to prepare your Articles of Incorporation (also referred to as the Certificate of Incorporation or Corporate Charter). This document defines the primary rules that will govern the management of your corporation. There are plenty of resources online where you can find a template from which to work but it’s never a bad idea to run your work by an attorney first. You will be filing your Articles of Incorporation (or Articles of Organization, if you are starting an LLC in the United States) with your state or other regulatory agency at the time of Incorporation.
Note: Articles of Incorporation are not always required in order to incorporate but they do establish a formal paper trail for your company.
Step 3: Incorporate Your Business
Incorporating your business can be done in a number of ways. Steps 1 and 2 above can be handled all at once in exchange for a fee by companies like LegalZoom.com, who is my preferred vendor should you decide to take this route. But because this can be expensive for start up entrepreneurs on a budget, I recommend completing Steps 1 and 2 and then head directly to your state’s Division of Business Services office and do it yourself. If you don’t have to wait line, it only takes about 15 minutes.
You can download the required forms from the Secretary of State website or complete them when you arrive. Be prepared to provide your business name (they will check it’s availability before filing your paperwork), your Articles of Incorporation, and payment for the filing fee. This varies state by state, but you can usually expect to leave with papers in hand, formally incorporated, for $400 or less.
Step 4: Obtain Your Business Licenses
In order to legally operate your business, you may be required to obtain business licenses for both the state and the city in which you are based. These fees are nominal, and recur annually. The related forms can be downloaded from your respective Secretary of State website and in many cases, filed securely online.
Step 5: Secure Your Federal EIN
In the United States, every company must have an Employer Identification Number or EIN (also known as a Federal Employer Identification Number or FEIN). This is a unique nine-digit number assigned by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to business entities for the purposes of identification. EINs do not expire, and once an EIN is issued to an entity, it will not be reissued.
Applying for and obtaining an EIN is not complicated and can be done in a matter of minutes from the IRS.GOV website. Be prepared to provide your business Control #, which can be found on your recently obtained incorporation filing. (See Step 3)
Step 6: Open Your Business Bank Account
One of the final steps to formally getting your business off the ground is establishing a banking relationship. Once you have decided where you are going to bank, visit in person, introduce yourself to your business banker and allow them to put a name with a face. A positive first impression is important as it will get your banking relationship started on the right foot.
When you arrive to open your business account, be prepared to present your incorporation filing (See Step 3), your business license (See Step 4), your Federal EIN (See Step 5), and a check for your initial business deposit. After completing this step, you are officially in business and can now accept payments to your company from anyone to whom services or products are rendered.
Step 7: Design Your Logo and Business Cards
Whatever you do, DO NOT cut corners on this critical aspect of your company’s development! Those who do, often end up struggling and scratching their heads, wondering why they don’t seem to be attracting enough business. Your logo and your business name play an important role in your ability to effectively market your products and services. Deciding to retain your best friend’s 14-year old son or daughter, who you have been told is “an incredible artist” will probably not cut it. Nor will placing an ad on CraigsList, announcing to the world of hard working designers that you’re having a logo competition and the winner gets $50. If you have already gone down this path, it’s time to get serious. If you’re determined to succeed in business, an outstanding identity is required.
Identity is a highly specialized area of expertise reserved exclusively for professional graphic designers and those who are good at it are worth their weight in gold. Find one with an established track record and expect to pay either an hourly rate OR a pre-determined set price. Any designer worth employing won’t charge any less than $400-500 for a logo design, and another $150-$200 to create an impressive business card. My preferred designer happens to be my brother, and I highly recommend him for this and all your design needs.
Step 8: Establish Your Online Presence
If you haven’t already done it, now is the time to search for and purchase your business domain name(s) and set up your social media accounts (twitter, facebook, LinkedIn). Acquiring the right domain name can be extremely frustrating, since most everything under the sun has already been registered. There are several important things you need to know about domains, so before you buy the wrong one, let’s talk. In just one hour, I will guide you through the search and acquisition process, reveal my suggested domain criteria, and be sure that the name you get is a winner!
While you may not yet have a company website, you can and should establish an immediate online presence by creating a company twitter account, facebook fan page, and both a personal and company LinkedIn profile. Do not underestimate the power of social media, for you will soon be using it to advertise your business, attract clients, and to build a powerful business network. If you have personal accounts set up already, and your business is YOU, it’s possible you can just utilize them without much retooling. Otherwise, plan on creating new accounts for the specific purpose of marketing your new business. Feel free to contact me if you need to learn all the basics for developing an immediate and effective online presence.
Step 9: Launch Your Website
Regardless of whether you have it in your budget to build and launch a website for your business, I recommend having at least a starter site. A great place to start is to find a Word Press specialist and rather than going custom, use an existing template in order to save some money. I buy mine at themeforest.net. For a basic but effective 4-5 page website that contains basic functionality, you should expect to pay somewhere between $750 and $1500. Be careful if you see someone advertising for far less, for in this field, it’s often true that “you get what you pay for.” Built right, your basic website will provide a solid, workable platform that can be enhanced and expanded as your business grows and your budget becomes more flexible. Built wrong, you will soon learn that a bad website can often be worse than not having a website at all.
As for producing a full-fledged, multi-dimensional website, unless you have previous experience in this arena, this is a job best left to the professionals. From defining requirements, to writing and editing copy, to securing a designer and developer, this job is no small task. But when you are ready, be it now or later, hiring an experience project manager (like me) can be an extremely worthwhile investment. After all, your website will be your most frequently accessed form of brand communication to current and prospective clients.
Step 10: Prepare Your Operating Agreement
If your new business is an LLC (whether it is a single member or multi-member LLC), you may need to put together an Operating Agreement. Properly constructed, this agreement defines and governs the LLC’s business and the member financial and managerial rights and duties. Once signed, the stipulations of this document are in full force, but can be amended at any time by the company members and/or managers.
Be sure to both take your time when creating this document and run it by an attorney first before final execution. If you are working from some sort of template, there are many areas that may need to be changed to accommodate the rules of the state in which your company is located. What’s more, you and all members should have a full understanding of all aspects of the Operating Agreement before signing it.
* Depending on the type of company you are incorporating, an Operating Agreement may not be required.
Step 11: Develop Your Sales and Marketing Plan
If you have successfully completed the 10 Steps above, your new company is now off the ground and ready to open the doors for business. Now it’s time to get busy strategizing, and create at least a basic sales and marketing plan. As this is one of my strengths, I would love to assist. Until then, I wish you the very best on your new business venture. Now get out there and SELL!