Starting a business? Here’s your pre-launch checklist
Due to the state of the economy and the job market, we are seeing a lot of “forced entrepreneurship” people who formerly would have found a new job but are now instead starting their own business. Despite having lots of experience, most people have never taken on a start-up. While there is no definitive recipe for launching your new enterprise, there are key common steps you should follow to avoid costs and disruptions later. We’ll break our pre-launch checklist into three sections Plan, Entity, and Go-to-Market and expand from there.
You’ve been told elsewhere and you’ll get nothing different here: You’ve got to have a plan. If you’ve never written a business plan you’ll never know how much you will learn, or how many potential mistakes you will uncover, by going through the process. If you’re not going to raise money, you may get away with lots of bullet-point content. If you are going to raise money, you’ll not only need a complete plan, but also an “elevator” version, and a one- to two-page summary. Spend a lot of time on the projections, building your forecast as a planning tool that allows you to easily alter assumptions that might change or be challenged in the diligence process. If you don’t know how to mathematically model an enterprise, get some help.
So here’s your plan checklist:
* Business plan “elevator” version
* Business plan two-page version
* Complete business plan
Don’t go looking for investors, calling on potential clients, or opening a storefront before you have created a business entity. Entity development will include branding and identity, and some administrative issues.
It’s often surprising how many entrepreneurs don’t think that strong branding and identity are important prior to launch. But getting the name, Internet domain, logo design and other attributes wrong creates big expense later on. Spend time and yes, maybe some money to get it right the first time. If you’ve been through the creative processes of developing a company name and logo, you might be able to do it yourself. If not, find some help. Once you’ve got a logo, consider whether you want to trademark protect it. Get help with this question. With your name and logo completed, you can have a basic business system created (business cards, letterhead, etc.). Spend wisely on your business system; don’t blow the budget, but be aware it is often not the place to appear cheap.
You’ve probably spoken about your new enterprise with many people. Think about everything that has been said that amounts to an agreement, take the time to write it down, and get it signed. It doesn’t necessarily have to be formal. But you need to think about protecting yourself and your intellectual property with your partners, vendors, suppliers, etc.
Complete a fictitious name filing and get an Employer Identification Number. Do the paperwork for your business licenses, requirements for which will vary depending on where your business lives. If you’re going to do business as anything other than a sole proprietor, file that paperwork with the Secretary of State. You will likely need some help deciding on the right form of entity.
If you will in any way handle sales tax monies, register with the Department of Taxation, which may require you to have a security bond.
Finally, you’ll have to arrange for some business processes, and perhaps facilities. If you need storefront or office space, don’t represent yourself in entering a lease commitment unless you’re a broker or an attorney. Set up a separate business checking account. Keep track of all of your expenses and decide how you want to handle accounting and payroll. If you’ve never done it before, get help.
Here’s your entity checklist:
* The right name, domain, and logo
* Business system
* DBA filing and Employer Identification Number
* Form of entity
* Business licenses
* Department of Taxation? Bond?
* Bank account
* Accounting and payroll
OK, that was a lot of planning, design, and administrative work; now get ready to go to market. You need only a handful of elements to look and be prepared. The first is an Internet presence, which for most businesses has become a ticket to play. Don’t under-resource your Web site; make it something you’re proud of, or don’t do anything at all. Reserve your domain, set up your email (and check it), and, at a minimum, use your logo and identity to set up a “future home of” page. When you have the resources to do it right, get some help and get a Web site you want all your stakeholders to experience.
Lastly, it will help to have some basic collateral. Write biographies of key personnel, put together a product cut sheet or brochure, write a white paper about your technology. You probably have the feedstock for these elements, since you’ve now written a business plan and have content on your web site.
Now here’s your go-to-market checklist:
* Web site: something you are proud of, or nothing at all
* Key biographies
* Product cut sheet, brochure, white paper
* Presentations (company, product/technology, investor)
Have no delusions: That was a lot of work. But it will all have to be done at some point, and it is actually easier to do it early, as opposed to when you’re up and running and dealing with stakeholders all day. Invest your time and resources early and wisely, seek professional assistance when appropriate, and leverage the strong underpinnings of your new enterprise for many years to come.
Robert Kirchman is founder and partner at Incusage LLC, a Reno company that provides design, research, and advisory services to growth companies. Contact him at email@example.com or 842-2534.
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