Startup Checklist

Person ticking a checkbox.

Launching a startup is far more complex than merely possessing an ingenious idea; the real challenge lies in the execution process, which is critical to success.

The process of bringing a startup to life requires attention to critical areas, such as planning, financial management, accounting, legal compliance, marketing strategies, and operational logistics. Handling these diverse responsibilities can often feel like an insurmountable task.

To ease this journey, our business checklist can serve as a roadmap that details the essential actions required to successfully establish your startup.

Recommended: Download Our Startup Checklist

The Complete Startup Checklist

This business checklist will walk you through everything you need to do to launch a startup. Although every business is different, most startups must complete each of these tasks.

Determine if You're Ready for Entrepreneurship

Do you have what it takes to create a startup? Successfully launching a business often requires several entrepreneurial characteristics.

For example, launching a startup typically requires passion, creativity, motivation, and self-discipline. You'll also have to be observant, adaptable, and willing to take risks. Here's the good news: you can work on developing all of these characteristics to turn your thinking toward an entrepreneurial mindset.

Recommended: Are you ready to become an entrepreneur and create a startup? Take the Entrepreneur Quiz to find out!

Build a Network

Even if you're just thinking about launching a startup, the first thing you should do is begin building and growing your entrepreneurial network. A strong network of other founders, entrepreneurs, advisors, mentors, and other members of the startup community can serve as crucial sources of knowledge, advice, connections, and resources.

You can start online — either through social media or one of the many founders' networks like the Entrepreneurs' Organization and StartupNation. Alternatively, you can begin with your local startup community. To find local resources near you, check out our local business resources guide.

Get a Mentor

Every entrepreneur can benefit from having a mentor — someone seasoned in guiding startups. A mentor can not only offer a platform to test your ideas, but also encouragement and expert advice.

As you expand your entrepreneurial circle, consider potential mentors — especially those with experience in launching businesses similar to yours.

Initiating a mentorship can start simply. Instead of directly asking, "Will you be my mentor?" propose a casual meeting with, "Can I buy you a coffee and discuss my startup ideas with you?" This approach fosters a more natural business relationship.

Choose a Startup Idea

Launching a startup begins with an idea. If you still need some startup ideas, begin your search by examining what you already know. This includes your capabilities, skills, interests, and passions.

Attractive startup opportunities — those created with rapid growth in mind — typically share four key qualities, including: 

  • Desirability: You want to pursue this idea because the risk vs. the reward is worth it to you.
  • Feasibility: You have — or can acquire — the skills and resources needed for the project.
  • Sustainability: The idea is economically viable, socially responsible, and environmentally friendly.
  • Timeliness: Now is the right time for the market, the idea, and for you.

For help finding the right startup idea for you, read our How to Come Up With Startup Ideas guide. You can also try TRUiC’s Business Idea Generator to find a small business idea that suits you.

Conduct Market Research

As you begin to develop your idea, you should start conducting some market research

Start with secondary market research to lay the foundation of your understanding. Use existing resources, such as industry reports, market analysis studies, and online tools like Google Trends. This approach offers a cost-effective way to gain insights into market trends, customer behaviors, and competitive landscapes without the need for original data collection.

Next, move on to primary market research to gather specific data relevant to your startup. Engage directly with your target audience through surveys, interviews, and focus groups. Tools like SurveyMonkey and social media platforms can facilitate this process, allowing you to collect firsthand insights about potential customers’ needs, preferences, and feedback on your idea or product.

Finally, analyze and synthesize the data from both your secondary and primary research. Look for patterns, opportunities, and challenges within your market. This comprehensive understanding will inform your business strategy, helping you to tailor your offerings to meet customer demands and stand out in the competitive landscape.

Name Your Startup

Naming your startup is a crucial step toward forming your business. Choosing the right name will depend on the type of business you plan to start, its industry, and your target market. To learn more about choosing the right name and how to register your business name, check out our guide on how to name a startup

You’ll need to ensure the name you choose isn’t already in use and then confirm the availability of your domain name. To do so, try searching the web, federal trademark records, and your Secretary of State’s website (or the equivalent department in your state).

Recommended: Try our free Startup Name Generator, which allows you to generate business names for your industry with available domain names. 

Validate Your Startup Idea

Before fully developing your product or service, it's essential to validate your startup idea. This means verifying there's a market willing to pay for your offering. Start by pinpointing your target audience, engaging them with questions, and analyzing their responses to gauge their interest and price sensitivity.

Testing your business concept can be a fairly straightforward process. Consider setting up a landing page with mock offers to assess customer interest and conversion potential. Simple online surveys or “A/B” testing also can help you understand customer preferences regarding features or pricing.

With this feedback, you’ll have the opportunity to adjust your product's features, functionality, pricing, and marketing messages to better meet the demands and desires of your target market.

Write Your Business Plan

Creating your business plan enables you to take an in-depth look at your industry, target market, and competitive position. It’ll help you set goals, determine your keys to success, and outline your strategic approach. This process also will force you to explore your financial projections and cash management strategy.

Business plans come in many different forms, depending on their purpose and the stage of your new venture. In the earliest stages of your entrepreneurial journey, you may want to create an informal business plan like a lean canvas.

When you’re ready to begin seeking funding, you’ll most likely need to provide a formal business plan to lenders and potential investors.

Choose a Business Location

Choosing the right business location requires careful consideration of several key factors. First, you must ensure the location aligns with your business type, target audience, and brand identity. You also need to account for zoning laws, local ordinances, building codes, and the impact of state and local regulations and taxes on your operations.

It's important to evaluate the local labor market to confirm the availability of necessary talent. For customer-facing businesses, assess the neighborhood's suitability, demographics, foot traffic, accessibility, parking availability, proximity to complementary businesses, and the level of competition.

Incorporate Your Startup

You should strongly consider incorporating your startup as a formal business structure. The two main types of formal business structures include limited liability companies (LLCs) and corporations.

Each legal structure will require you to register your new business with the state as a separate legal entity. As a result, your startup will gain liability protection for its owners and certain business tax benefits.

If you aim to secure outside investments, you should strongly consider the C corporation (C corp) business structure. Most investors prefer C corps because they have investor-friendly taxation rules, a simple transfer-of-ownership process, and natural exit strategies. Many angel investors and venture capitalists won't invest in unincorporated businesses.

Recommended: Check out our guide to the best incorporation services for startups. 

Get an EIN

You’ll also need to register your business with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by obtaining an Employer Identification Number (EIN). An EIN is how the IRS identifies a business. Many types of business structures require an EIN, and you’ll also need an EIN to open a business bank account, pay taxes, or hire employees.

To apply for an EIN for free, visit the IRS website or apply by mail, fax, or phone. For more information on how to apply, read our How to Get an EIN guide.

Open a Business Bank Account

Once you have an EIN, you can open a business bank account. Setting up a company bank account is a crucial step toward separating your business and personal assets, ensuring personal liability protection, and allowing you to accept credit card payments for products or services.

Startups can open business checking accounts through traditional banks or fintech companies, such as Mercury or Brex, that offer extensive financial tools alongside their banking services.

Register for Taxes

Depending on the nature of your product or service and the state in which you live, you may need to register for taxes (e.g., sales taxes, franchise taxes, and/or payroll taxes).

Sales tax, or "sales and use tax," is a common tax that states, counties, and municipalities charge on the sale of certain taxable goods or services. Each state — and certain counties and municipalities — has its own set of rules and rates on what's taxable within that jurisdiction.

Check with your state's Department of Revenue (or the equivalent state department) as well as your local tax office to learn the goods and services for which you must collect sales tax in your state and obtain a sales tax permit.

Obtain Licenses and Permits

In addition to registering your business, you'll likely need to obtain business licenses and permits from your local and state government agencies as well as the federal government.

For more information on federal licensing, visit the federal licenses and permits page on the US Small Business Administration (SBA) website.

To learn more about the permits and licenses required in your state, check out our How to Get a Business License guide.

Finally, you’ll need to check with your local county clerk’s office about the types of licenses and permits required in your area.

Recommended: Professional business licensing services can handle the research and filing process for all of the licenses you’ll need to remain compliant.

Get Business Insurance

Your startup likely will need insurance in one form or another. Finding the best insurance provider to secure coverage for your business is essential. 

Your state may require businesses to carry some types of insurance, such as workers' compensation or unemployment insurance. You also may want to consider purchasing other forms of insurance (e.g., general liability or personal liability insurance) that, while optional, can help protect you and your company from disaster.

Set Up Accounting

You’ll also need to set up an accounting system for your startup. Business accounting is an important (and required) aspect of operating a startup, serving strategic, legal, and tax purposes. Business accounting also allows you to track your startup’s financial performance, key benchmarks and goals, and net worth.

Beyond its strategic, legal, and tax-related purposes, your accounting system will enable you to accept payments, pay your employees, and manage your startup’s finances.

You can handle your business accounting in a variety of ways, including hiring an in-house accountant, hiring an outside bookkeeper or accountant, using a payroll service, and/or using small business accounting software.

Recommended: Hiring an accountant can save your company thousands of dollars in taxes each year. Get a free tax consultation with 1-800Accountant.

Seek Funding

One of the first things you must consider is how you plan to fund your startup. Many founders choose to self-fund the earliest stages of their startups. But, most startups require outside capital to cover their initial expenses until they can generate a profit and again in order to expand, build inventory, or weather slow seasons.

When planning your small business, you should determine the types of business financing options you’ll need and when. The most common sources of business funding include:

To learn more about funding your startup, read our How to Get Funding for a Startup Business guide.

Build Business Credit

Just like individuals have personal credit scores, businesses also earn their own credit score. You can build business credit in several ways.

First, set your business up as a legal entity — either as an LLC or a corporation. Next, get an EIN and open a business bank account.

You also should establish a physical address — not a P.O. Box — and get a dedicated business phone line. Finally, you should establish a credit account with Dun & Bradstreet — the main credit-reporting agency for businesses. Check out our guide on How to Get a DUNS Number for Free so you can build your business credit faster.

Hire a Team

When you’re ready to hire your first employee, you’ll need to complete several tasks. If you’ve been following this guide, you’ll have some done already.

To hire an employee, you’ll need to obtain an EIN, register with your state’s labor department to get set up for unemployment taxes, obtain workers’ compensation insurance, and establish your payroll system. You’ll also need to write a job description, interview candidates, make an offer, and then have your new employee fill out the required paperwork.

Recommended: Use our guide to the best payroll services for startups to streamline the process of paying your employees.

Brand Your Startup

Building a brand for your startup is a key step toward business recognition and loyalty, setting your startup apart from the competition. 

The first task in building your startup’s brand is designing a business logo. A well-designed logo can not only help people identify and remember your brand, but also foster trust.

We recommend using our Free Logo Generator to create thousands of professional, high-resolution, downloadable logo options for your startup.

Build a Business Website

Every business needs a website, including your startup. For many businesses, their website serves as the face of the company. Fortunately, building a website for your startup is simple. 

Website builders like GoDaddy, Weebly, Squarespace, Wix, and WordPress now make it easy to create your own business website without the need for any web development experience.You can read our review of the best website builders to find the right one for you.

Market Your Startup

Now that your startup is ready to sell its products or services, it's crucial to focus on a marketing strategy to attract potential customers.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a key strategy that enhances your website's visibility and brand awareness by optimizing it to rank higher in search engine results.

Building a social media presence is another effective marketing tactic. Platforms like Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and Instagram allow you to connect with and engage potential customers. For tips on establishing a robust social media strategy, consider exploring resources like our social media marketing guide.

Press releases also are a valuable tool for promoting your startup, boosting its visibility, and solidifying your brand identity. Whether you opt to use a press release distribution service or decide to craft them yourself, leveraging guides on how to write effective press releases can be beneficial.