Step 1) Plan Your Business Idea
Before jumping into starting a business in Florida, you’ll need a solid plan. Having a well-crafted business plan is essential for securing funding, managing cash flow, and tracking your progress as your business grows and evolves over time.
When creating your business plan, here are some important things to include:
- A pitch. A quick, one-page snapshot of your plan that hits all the bullet-points below (and more).
- A Unique Selling Proposition (USP). A short and sweet phrase that defines the core mission of your business. For example, our USP at Startup Savant is “Entrepreneurship Simplified.”
- A target market. Who you’re selling to and where to find them. It’s essential that you define your target demographic with great specificity and figure out the most effective ways to communicate with them.
- A marketing plan. How are you going to market your business? You’ll need to decide on a marketing strategy, including what platforms you’re going to advertise on and how much you’re able to spend.
- Milestones. What are your goals for the future? These will evolve over time, but setting up some initial goals is a great way to stay motivated and track your business’ performance over time.
For a more detailed resource, check out our business planning guide. We go over forming a USP, marketing plan, executive summary, sales forecast, and everything else you’ll want to include.
It’s also a good idea to consider a business planning software. There are a number of programs out there that can assist you with every aspect of your business plan. Take a look at our top 7 business planning software ranking for details on our favorites!
Don’t know what kind of business to start?
Our friends over at howtostartanllc.com have compiled a massive list of business ideas, ranging from personal styling to axe-throwing businesses.
If you’re having trouble finding the perfect business idea for you, we encourage you to check them out!
Step 2) Form Your Business
Now that you’ve got a plan of attack, it’s time to choose a business structure.
There are quite a few options to choose from, and each has different features that will affect your business’ leadership, liability and taxes differently. That said, the most popular structures are:
- LLC (Limited Liability Company): LLCs are the most popular business structure because they offer the protection of a corporation without facing double taxation. Forming an LLC is also more flexible tax-wise -- you may be taxed as a sole proprietor, partnership or corporation depending on the membership structure of your business.
- S Corporation: A much more formal structure than an LLC, including up to 100 shareholders, a board of directors and corporate officers. No corporate taxation, though, as all profit/loss goes through the shareholders’ personal tax returns.
- C Corporation: C corps are organized similarly, but there’s no limit to the number of shareholders you can have. They face double taxation, meaning the business and the shareholders are both required to pay taxes on the profits. (Read through our guide for more information on forming a corporation in Florida.)
- Sole Proprietorship: Definitely the path of least resistance, but it comes with a few risks to take note of. If you’re operating without any partners and haven’t registered a formal business structure, you’re automatically classified as a sole proprietor. No need to file formation documents, but you may benefit from filing a DBA.
If you’re unsure which route to take, we suggest you have a read through our comparison guide for a more detailed look at each business structure.
Once you’ve committed to a business structure, you’ll need to take care of all the legal paperwork. Depending on which you choose, this can be a pretty involved process. If you don't have the time to handle it on your own, there are some excellent business formation services out there that will take the reins from you for a small fee.
Step 3) Tackle License & Tax Obligations
Depending on the nature of your business, your tax, license and permit requirements may be quite complex or super simple and straightforward.
Most counties in Florida require businesses to have a general Florida business license. There’s also a variety of special requirements for different industries, though, so you’ll need to take care of industry-specific licensing requirements as well. Here are a few resources for you to check out to ensure your business becomes compliant on a federal, state and local level.
- Federal: You can find a ton of information on federal licenses and permits on the Small Business Association website. As far as federal taxes go, head straight to the IRS business taxes page.
- State: The Florida Department of Revenue put together a succinct guide to business taxes, which is a great place to start your research.
- Local: For information on municipal business requirements, contact your local chamber of commerce.
If all you need is a general business license, this step can probably be handled without professional assistance. That being said, this process can be quite confusing if you require a number of specialized permits or licenses, so you might look into using a business license service. These companies will handle all of the research so you can feel confident that you won’t miss any compliance requirements.
Step 4) Separate Your Personal and Business Assets
Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.
Now that you’ve made it through registering and setting up taxes and licensing for your business, you’ll need to take steps to protect your personal assets and establish your business as an independent entity.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
You can go a long way in protecting your assets with these three steps:
- Open a business bank account.
A business bank account separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection. A designated business bank account also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
To open up a bank account for your business, you’ll need to obtain an EIN (Employer Identification Number). You’ll use your EIN in place of your social security number so that this account is completely separate from your personal finances. After this, start doing your research on various business bank accounts. Local options, like First Bank and Community Credit Union, and national banks, like Chase, both have their perks.
Get $200 when you open a business checking account with Chase. Learn more
- Get a business credit card.
A business credit card helps you separate personal and business expenses. A business credit card will also build your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise capital later on.
- Designate an authorized representative.
Make sure all documents are signed by a representative of your LLC and not by you (or other LLC members) directly. This will help separate you from liability incurred by the LLC.
- Keep your accounting and bookkeeping up to date
Make sure to sync up your banking and credit card accounts with an accounting software like QuickBooks as soon as you get the chance. It’s never too soon to start organizing your business’ finances!
Step 5) Finance Your New Business
If you know where to look, you’ll find that there are a bunch of funding options out there, including angel investors, microloans, trade credit, crowdfunding, and many more. However, depending on the specifics of your business, you’ll want to consider some options before others.
As far as Florida-specific opportunities go, here are a few to consider:
- Florida’s Small Business Development Center provides free financial advising and low-cost workshops for new businesses. While they’re not a direct funding option, they can help you discover exactly what financing options are best for your business and help you prepare for future applications.
- The SBA releases a small-business resource guide every year (both for North and South Florida) that features an entire section on financing and gaining capital. This is also where you can find a ton of information on the loan options the SBA has available.
- To learn about other Florida loan programs, head over to the Florida Finance Network. They list specialized loan options for a variety of industries.
In addition to the resources above, you may want to take a look at our guide on how to finance a business. We outline all of the major funding strategies and when to choose them.
Step 6) Build A Brand
Now that you’ve taken care of all the essentials above, it’s time to work on building your brand!
There are an abundance of factors that impact your brand image, but two of the significant ones are your business logo and website. When you're ready to design your brand logo, keep the following ideas in mind:
- Capture the essence of your business. When thinking about a design, you should choose something that reflects the nature or mission of your company.
- Differentiate yourself. Check out the colors and shapes used by your direct competitors and consider heading a different direction to help you stand out in the market.
- Make it memorable. Select a sleek, bold design that will leave a lasting impression in people’s minds.
- Hire a professional. This is a very important step for your business, so it’s worth investing a few bucks to get your logo professionally done. (Sites like Fiverr can be great for this.)
Check out our guide to choosing the perfect logo for a more in-depth look at business logo design!
Another hugely important aspect of your brand image is your business website -- but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to build a website from the ground up. A simple way to craft a professional, inviting website is to use an existing web-building platform. These services can save you a ton of time and money involved in building a website from scratch.
Step 7) Market Your Business
This final step is one that never really ends: marketing your business. There’s a ton to be said on this topic, but here are a few pointers to get you thinking:
- Identify your target market. In order to effectively market your business, you need to know who you’re selling to and where to find them. For instance, some social media platforms are more popular than others for specific demographics, so it’s vital that you identify which ones will best reach your target market.
- Quality over quantity. There are a ton of marketing strategies out there, and too many entrepreneurs make the mistake of trying all of them at once. Instead of making sporadic attempts at content marketing, social media, SEO and email campaigning, pick one or two and put your full effort behind them.
- Be willing to evolve. This can be a bit of a double-edged sword. Once you’ve established a solid marketing strategy, stick with it long enough to see if your efforts pan out. But if they don’t, be willing to try something new and make whatever changes necessary to successfully communicate with your target market.
- Don’t get distracted by vanity metrics. Sure, it’s encouraging to get clicks, likes and views, but if your marketing efforts aren’t generating any sales, it’s time to try a different approach.
- Leverage software. These days, there are dozens of free/inexpensive programs designed to aid busy entrepreneurs like you. From scheduling social media activity to calculating ROI, there’s a variety of ways software can help your marketing efforts. Marketing a business is a huge undertaking, so keep an eye out for ways to lighten your load. (Resources listed in our guide below.)
Again, there’s so much more to say on this subject, but we won’t get into it here. We encourage you to read our definitive guide to marketing a business for a more detailed look at the art of marketing!