Step 1: Plan Your Business Idea
The reason squaring away at least the initial draft of your business plan comes first is because it’s going to force you to really dig into your value propositions, refine/erase assumptions you may be stringing yourself along on, evaluate your current/forecasted financial situation objectively, and much more. You don’t go outside in a Western Montana winter without your coat on, and you don’t start a business without a game plan!
Take Action: Check out our 100% free Business Planning Guide designed to get you from A-to-Z as pleasantly as possible. Plus, we provide access to tons of other great tools along the way.
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: Choose Business Structure & Register
Now you will need to pick the type of business entity you want to register with the state. Doing this will secure your brand name, give you some tax benefits and protect your personal assets like house and car.
Most entrepreneurs form an LLC because it has all the benefits of a Corporation without the disadvantages like double taxation, board of directors or corporate officers. However if you're trying to take your company public or raise substantial outside capital, consider forming a Corporation.
Take Action: Since this step is so important and expensive if it's not done correctly, we highly recommend investing 10 minutes to go over your options through our business structure comparison guide. You'll get a better idea of the advantages and disadvantages of each while building a solid legal foundation for your business.
Step 3: Tackle Montana Tax Obligations
Unlike its vast network of stunner hiking, biking and ski trails the Montana tax code is pretty darn quick and easy to master. In fact, The Tax Foundation ranks 2016’s Montana business tax climate 6th-best on their index (0% Sales and Excise Taxes helps). As you’ll see, aspects of steps 2, 3 and 4 tend to blend together because they’re all the same category of red tape.
Take Action: If you’re doing this Lone Ranger-style without legal help, head on over to the Montana Department of Revenue’s website and leverage their Businesses Section. Their 2015 Corporate Income Tax Booklet is a free PDF you can use to get started as well.
Step 4: Obtain Licensing/Permits
The next leg of this trek will be either very simple or a bit complex depending on a) what kind of business you’re in and b) where your business is located within Montana. Maybe you only need one simple business license to open shop, or perhaps zoning is involved, or even the public. Just be sure to do your research.
Step 5: 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 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 6: Pick A Stellar Montana Location
If you’re setting up a physical business, or renting commercial space, then the first thing you need to know is that people in Montana are pretty spread out. Looking at 2013 numbers, the three bighorns are Billings, Great Falls and Missoula. Added together that only comes to roughly 241k souls…so about as many people are in those three cities as Laredo Texas. But they’re amazing people and everywhere you look is breathtaking.
Take Action: We know picking a spot can be tough if it doesn’t somehow happen naturally through your personal/professional networks. If you’d like to brush up on everything that goes into making this decision, refer to our friendly guide on How to Choose the Perfect Location.
Step 7: Finance Your Startup
To be frank with you, outside funding from more conventional sources can be a smidgen more limited because Montana accounts for a small portion (less than 1%) of US GDP. VCs can be hard to come by in-the-flesh and many banks outside “bigger” cities are more used to lending to ranchers than modern companies. That said, CrowdFunding and Social Lending are very viable and accessible options as long as you have internet access and a bank account.
Take Action: The email course we mentioned in Step 1 really comes in handy here because planning and finances go together like Stroopwafels and cowboy boots. You can also browse our guide on How to Finance a Business to start generating ideas. If it applies, take your time on this step and always know exactly how much you need to get started.
Step 8: Design & Publish A Business Website
Without a website today’s consumers/professionals take your brand about as seriously as a bull takes a naked rodeo clown. They’re default now, whether we’re talking ecommerce or the easy-responsive agency site that sums everything up on one page. No one’s saying you need a complex digital storefront, but there needs to be something online in place where potential customers can investigate who you are and what you’re about.
Take Action: The first step is finding the right platform, which thankfully there are a couple fantastic business website builders. Our favorites are Wix and Weebly. No matter which website builder you end up choosing, you’ll be in good hands since each one offers free support.
Step 9: Market Your Business
Yep, it's time for the Big "M" word - marketing. It used to be so much simpler, then the internet came around and introduced a ton of different digital marketing methods that are still evolving today. Some of the best advice comes in two parts:
- Start as close to home as possible - friends, family, neighbors, and professional networks.
- Start small and build where engagement IS first/now, not where you'd like it to be in the future.
Take Action: Before throwing resources behind any marketing trend, see how well it stacks up against these. Is it close to home, or something you can reach out and touch (so to speak), and is it starting small with plenty of room to build?
Step 10: Continue Learning & Stay Inspired
Once you’ve got steps 1 through 9 in the bag, consider Startup Savant as a reliable resource for not just tools of the trade, but motivating insight from fellow change-makers moving forward. We talk to entrepreneurs on a daily basis to learn their tips and tricks.