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Starting a business – the ultimate checklist

There's so many things to consider when starting a business that it can feel like a mountain to climb. Use this checklist as an easy way to navigate the complicated process:

1. Decide if it’s a good product
Ask yourself: would you buy it? Does it fill a need or provide a solution? Would people pay for it?

2. Stay in the day job 
Although it can be tempting to jack in the 9-5 and start your new adventure, but in doing so you’ll add a whole load of pressure and risk that you could avoid. You’ll still have an income and security, - a position which many start-ups would envy.

3. Talk to family
If you have a partner or close family, it’s worth speaking to them initially. If you can get their backing you’ll find their emotional support invaluable. Particularly for your partner, your work decisions affect them, so it is a good plan to talk it through with them first.

4. Pricing point
How much will you charge your customers? Often, start-ups will price their products/services too low because they feel awkward about charging a lot. This causes problems – you might not make enough profit to stay afloat, it’s hard to raise your prices once you already have customers, and surprisingly you’ll lose some customers because they think you’re lower quality than your more expensive competitors.

5. Create a business plan
Many people think that they don’t need a business plan unless they’re applying for a bank loan. They are actually great for focussing your mind and your goals and working out a financially viable plan.

6. Figure out your finances
Aside from your new business, which might take more time to get off the ground than you expect, where will your living expenses come from for the first 12 months? Do you have savings, your current job, your partner’s income to rely on?

7. Research your competitors
Look at your competitor’s websites, marketing collateral, or even purchase their product/service if you can to understand their whole process.
It’s also a good time to discover if someone has already done your ‘new idea’ successfully! Don’t panic if it is a crowded marketplace, just make sure you know what sets you apart.

8. Research the market
Research the whole market that surrounds your product/service. It’s vital to do your homework, speak to potential customers if you can, and make sure you have the full picture.
It’s also worth listing any assumptions you are making about your market, customer or business and then seeing if you can validate them.

9. Determine your USPs (Unique Selling Points)
What is it about your business that sets you apart from your competitors? Think about the solution you provide, what you give your customers that the competition doesn’t.

10. Find free advice
Attend events, speak to your network, read business books or find a mentor. The more advice you can get before you launch, the better. Although you don’t need to be completely ready (as you probably never will be) it’s always good to know as much as you can.

The Northern Business Expo on 17th & 18th March 2020 is the biggest business event in the North of England and is free to attend. Designed to give you all the support and info you need to get started, the best networking sessions, and skills workshops this is the ultimate place for entrepreneurs. Get your free ticket now!

11. Join a business community
There are plenty of forums and sites dedicated to supporting fellow entrepreneurs and business owners. You’ll be able to ask questions or find feedback on your plans to get a sense of whether you’re on the right track.

12. Choose a business name
Something catchy that says what you do, and something that isn’t already taken! Companies house have a webcheck you can search, and it’s also worth Googling the company name you’d like to use too.

13. Create a logo
It’s worth making sure you have a good logo, as this will represent your brand. You can design one yourself if you’re creative, and there’s plenty of free tools online to help you do this. You may need to pay to download a high res version but it will be worth having one. Alternatively, there’s lots of designers that will create a logo for you, but this can be expensive.

14. Register a domain name
Buy a domain that matches your business name. If you have a website an address like this can make it seem like you’re a scam, or you’re not trustworthy and generally less likely to attract customers.

15. Get a work email address
If you only have a Gmail or Hotmail email address consumers will likely see you as less professional, less caring about your business, and potentially lower quality. It’s worth getting one sooner than later, and you can usually buy it as an add-on with your domain name. 

16. Your customer profile
Who is your ideal customer? Come up with a profile which could include gender, relationship status, location, age, income, interests, housing type etc. This will help you immensely when creating your social media channels, website and marketing materials. You should be creating things that appeal to your ideal customer, otherwise you’re just shooting in the dark.

17. Get some marketing skills
You don’t have to pay a fortune for a course, there are plenty of low cost online-only options which will give you the basics. Of course, you can also do your own research by reading books or Googling, there is plenty of info out there. As a small business owner you’ll need to know how to attract customers.

18. Set up a website
There are some that say you don’t need a website, but in the vast majority of cases, you do need one. It will give you a lot more credibility with consumers and give you a marketing tool straight away. Even if you don’t have all the info about your product yet you can create a basic site. Create your own using something like Wix or Wordpress, or you can pay a designer to make one for you. Find out if your business can be effective without a website.

19. Register social media profiles
You should be on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter at the least. These days consumers expect you to have a presence on here and it may hurt your credibility if you’re not. It’s also free, and a great way to attract customers.

20. Start building an email list
Get set up with a free email marketing site, and consider adding a ‘join our mailing list’ box to your website. Email lists are so valuable even in 2020 and beyond, and you’ll regret not building one from the start!

21. Make a list of suppliers
Suppliers will vary greatly in cost and availability, so do your research. Make a list of suppliers and choose who you’ll go with, keeping a backup in mind in case your preferred supplier falls through at any point.

22. Order business cards
You’ll probably be networking, meeting suppliers, meeting customers etc., and it’s the expectation that you’ll have business cards. They leave a lasting impression and give you that bit more credibility. Don’t spend a fortune, but it can be worth buying better than basic, as these can look very cheap.

23. Build your pitch
It a good idea to have a solid business pitch. This will help your marketing and will make sure you’re prepared to meet any investors or potential business partners. Read how to create a killer pitch here.

24. Find funding
You may not need any business funding, particularly if you are keeping your day job while you start up. But if you do, get started on finding a lender or grant because it can often take longer than expected. Chances are you’ll need more money that you anticipate, so try and prepare for that.

Also, look after your investors as a priority. Give them regular updates, ask for their advice and share your vision because if something goes wrong and you need more money, these are the people who you’ll be asking. See a list funding options for startups here.

25. Learn sales skills
If you’re a small business owner, you have to be a salesperson. Unless you’re hiring a salesperson you’ll need to have the skills to convert potential customers. No one will be as enthusiastic about your business as you, but that’s probably not enough. Go on a course, do some online learning, or find a mentor or business coach to help. Investing in this can pay off hugely, as poor cashflow is the number one reason new businesses fail in the UK. Discover 5 easy ways to bosst sales in your new business.

26. Open a business bank account
Yes, you can use your personal bank account to pay for business expenses, but it will be a pain to sort out further down the line! You can set up a Paypal account or similar if you prefer, but you will pay a fee on your income so it’s worth having a proper bank account instead.

27. Get an accountant
Once you have your bank account set up, choose an accountant or accounting software. Although it’s never been easier to send and receive invoices, submit your VAT return and track your receipts, it’s still a complicated process. A good accountant will be a huge support for you and your business and will take away the pressure of getting your accounts right.

28. Assign responsibilities to any co-founders
If you’re starting the business with someone else, it’s really important to put into writing what your roles and responsibilities are, and your ownership and involvement. It’s all to common to hear about co-founders falling out and causing the business to break apart, with plenty of legal costs and stress involved. Bypass this by having a written agreement in place early on.

29. Register your business 
If you’re forming a limited company, head over to Companies House’ website and register it. It’s fairly simple to do but can take while so get going as soon as you can.

30. Rent retail or office space
If you’ve got a business which needs a storefront, you’ll need to sort this out early. However, if you don’t need an office, if you can work from home etc. instead, do this for as long as possible. Save the money you would spend on rent, and avoid getting tied into leases until your business is up and running.

31. Business insurance
Depending on what you do you may need insurance. Check out whether you need public liability, specific trade insurance, employer’s liability etc. It’s not worth the risk to trade without it if you need it.

32. Look after your IP
Get trademarked or file for patents as soon as possible. This will help protect your business in the long run, and you can get all the info you need for free from The Intellectual Property Office. Why not arrange a meeting with them at the Northern Business Expo in March 2020? It's free and they're happy to give you all the advice you need.

33. Start making sales
Start generating revenue as soon as possible. You’ll always need more money

34. Reach out to your network
See if anyone you know can introduce you to someone useful. This could be a potential customer, a potential supplier or even a business coach. Being introduced to a business by someone you trust is invaluable in today’s age of unlimited choice.

35. Get decent apps
Save yourself time by downloading some useful apps. For example one to track your receipts such as ReceiptBank, your business banking app, HMRC’s app, get your work emails on your phone etc. It can be worth having a dedicated phone for this.

Once you’re up and running, consider the following few steps too:

Every month that passes will teach you more and more about your market. You’ll also probably refine your product or service, or how you structure it. Make sure this is updated in all your marketing, social media channels and website as out of date info is one of consumers biggest pet peeves.

Get backed up
Every company has data. You will have heard about all the data scandals surrounding big companies recently, so you’ll know it has never been more important to be secure. Speak to an IT company or research an IT solution yourself, but make sure you’re protected and backup up.

Hire a great salesperson
Revenue is the key in every business. You need money to market effectively, to develop your product, to give a better service and more. So, your first hire should be someone that can help bring in more cash to the business, before anything else.

Whilst you don’t want to throw away money early on, it’s a well know problem for entrepreneurs that they try and do everything themselves. If you can outsource for a good price, do it. Your time should be spent growing the business into your vision, not being stuck in the everyday nitty gritty.

And don’t forget through all of this to believe in yourself and your product. You’ll have long days, good days and bad days, but if you trust yourself and work hard you should be able to navigate your business into the world of successful companies.

Good luck, and if you need any advice about starting a business, why not visit the biggest business event in the North of England. It’s free to attend, and you’ll find advice on pretty much all the points mentioned including the best networking in the North of England, key skills workshops, a chance to win £5k for your business, inspiring keynotes, suppliers and support organisations. Get your free ticket online now, and we’ll see you at Manchester Central ion 17th & 18th March!
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