Starting a business checklist

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Ready to be your own boss, do what you love and set your own hours? Starting a business is exciting and challenging—and it takes a lot of hard work and planning. This checklist can help you get started.

Write a detailed business plan

  • You wouldn't start building a house without a blueprint; you shouldn't start your company without a business plan
  • Business plans typically map out the course of the business for three to five years, and are reviewed and revised regularly as the business moves forward
  • There are many books and online resources that can help with writing a formal business plan; the Small Business Administration website at www.sba.gov is a good place to start

Set up your professional support system

  • Find an accountant who specializes in your type and size of business
  • Depending on your business, you may also need to engage the services of an attorney
  • Having the right professionals in place from the start accomplishes two major goals: They'll have a complete understanding of your business from day one, and your time will be freed up to run your business

Handle the administrative details

  • Your business will need an employer identification number (EIN); the IRS website (www.irs.gov) can help you with that
  • You'll need to register your business name, which is typically done at the administrative town or city where you live; your local chamber of commerce can help with specifics
  • You'll need to determine the legal structure of your business (sole proprietorship, partnership, Limited Liability Company (LLC), corporation, S corporation, nonprofit or cooperative); this is where your accountant and lawyer can help

Choose a location

  • This is one of the most important decisions you'll make, so do your research: Consider the area's demographics, competition, zoning regulations, local laws and taxes
  • In addition to determining what you can afford, think about costs for renovation or IT upgrades; taxes; state minimum wage requirements
  • Check out any possible government economic incentives for which you may be eligible
  • Take the temperature of the business climate by talking to local business owners and prospective co-tenants

Consider financing options

  • If you need financing for your business, look at options for government-backed loans, venture capital funding and research grants to help you get started
  • Your business plan is important to your financing: Many financial institutions who provide startup financing will want to see your plan as part of your application
  • You'll need that EIN for your financing application—and having an accountant and/or attorney alongside you throughout the application process is a smart idea

Know what's involved in being an employer

  • If you're planning to hire help, getting your EIN is the first step: you'll need it to report taxes and other documents to the IRS, and when you report employee information to state agencies
  • Set up your record-keeping system for withholding taxes (federal income tax, federal wage and tax statements and, depending on where your employees are located, employee's location, state taxes)
  • Verify employees' ability to work in the U.S.
  • Obtain workers compensation insurance
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