Top tips check list for starting a new business plus some experience of my own

Here is a simple check list which you can print off, of to-do tasks when starting a new business.  And some little bits of knowledge from running several businesses over the last 10 years…In no particular order

  1. Business name – This needs to clearly define your brand, be applicable and attractive to your audience. “Dave’s cleaning services” is only going to attract a particular target audience – you might get the odd cleaning job from Mavice down the road. Something more corporate sounding might land you a contract with a multi-property landlord, office block or estate agency (as an example!)
  2. Domain name – Keep it as simple as you can so people can easily remember it
  3. Logo design – Again, the overall brand is key here – keep it clean and simple
  4. Email Set up – Email allowances should be included in your domain name package.  If not, make sure you purchase this also.  Set up a “catch-all” address, spam filters and any relevant staff member email addresses. Don’t use gmail etc for a business – it looks totally unprofessional and people will not take you seriously
  5. Email footer design – Look professional by adding your contact details, logo and disclaimer on the bottom of all of your emails and set this up to automatically append to any new email
  6. Web design – We live in a technology crazy society. If you don’t at least have a landing page describing your business, people with think you are weird (or you don’t really exist). Keep your web designs responsive for optimal viewing on all devices such as mobiles, desktops, tablets etc. Make sure your design has a “wow” factor
  7. Business cards – If you are on a low budget, grab some cards from Vistaprint. However, if you want to stand out above the rest, I would suggest a designer comes up with something sexy and original and your printer prints it on a touchy-feely medium – again and again I get comments on my various business cards for being different. People won’t throw them away if they are quality cards or unusual
  8. Other stationery – Letterheads, comp slips
  9. Trademarks – If you have a unique name for a product or business name, you might want to protect this and stop someone else using the same. You cannot trademark any words used in the common English language e.g. I managed to get a trademark on “SKINNIE MINNIE” as it is unique, with non-conventional spelling and not commonly used in general convo, but I would not have been able to trademark “Skinny girl” for example, because people use this term all the time in conversation
  10. Patents – if you have a unique product that nobody else has done before, you will have done this a LONG time ago. If not, good luck! It takes years to get a patent on ideas. If you develop a prototype, make sure anyone involved signs a Non-Disclosure agreement! Don’t trust anyone!
  11. Office space – Doesn’t matter if you can work from home behind your laptop? Perfect! If you need to come across more professional, and have multiple staff members you need to keep an eye on, then you’ll need an office obviously
  12. Dedicated phone line – If you are like me, you prefer emails as they are less intrusive. However, some people like to talk unfortunately. And if you are selling something, people need reassurance they are dealing with a legit company, given how scamming is rife these days. If you are too busy to pick up the phone when you are just starting out, I would recommend using a 3rd party phone answering service like AnswerIT who are fab!
  13. Stock storage – Selling physical product? If you don’t have a dropshipper and have to have physical stock which is too much to store yourself, you need a distribution company who will hold all your stock for you and ship out as and when there is a sale. You would be very surprised how cheap it is! When I ran my bicycle business, for a couple of years I had been storing the bikes in a container lockup, until a guy I knew selling TVs online told me about a company who stored and shipped for you. I automatically scoffed that I wouldn’t be able to afford that, but when I got a price, it was only approx £1 more expensive per bike for them to do it! It saved me my lunch hours every day going back and forth to my lockup and booking in couriers and waiting around for them to (not) turn up! I was very happy using Sandrair for years.
  14. Employee contracts – Luckily this is something I have never had to do, as I prefer to outsource anything I can’t do myself and work on a contract / invoice basis. However, if you are employing people, you need to make sure this is water tight.
  15. Any other contracts e.g. sale terms etc – I highly recommend buying and downloading “Business in a Box” – this has saved me several times, helping me to fine tune Sales Agreements, Non-disclosures, debt collection and much more. Worth every penny. And they supply everything in multiple languages!
  16. Business viability – Do your research. Do your research! There is no point in starting up a business idea on a whim or just because you like the sound of it. Who are your target audience? What are your competitors doing if there are any? If nobody else is doing it then great – but if it is that much of a good idea, then WHY isn’t anyone else doing it? If you are anything like me, I have business ideas all day long and when I search the internet, nearly almost every time, some bugger is doing it already. That’s not to say you should be scared of competition – I started a bicycle business of all things – hardly original. And yes it did very well until I lost interest in it. And if need be, do some market research – put together a questionnaire and send it round to your mates – it’s easier than ever with Facebook to ask for help using your friend’s networks (if you have nice genuine friends of course – don’t believe the likes :))
  17. Insurance – If you are dealing with the public, you are going to need insurance of some sort. We are becoming more and more “Americanized” (note the z :)) and no business is safe from the one A-hole who sees an opportunity to make some money. I had someone send a bike back to me years ago completely trashed, demanding a full refund, plus extra for expenses etc. She even scribbled her letters to me on torn envelopes, barely legible. Needless to say, she didn’t turn up at court and she completely wasted both her time and my time, not to mention the stress. So be prepared for pikeys!
  18. Finances – This has always been one I have struggled with and that has got me in to trouble. Money makes money. So if you have a budget and are lucky enough to have some money to get started, use it wisely, because it quickly disappears, and once it has gone, it has gone!
  19. Business Plan – Related to the above also, if you want to get a loan you will 100% need to demonstrate how the business will make money and when to your bank manager. Plus it is good to write it down for your own peace of mind, to see if it would actually work financially and how quickly you can get any investment back (and start earning from it!)
  20. Business structure – You need to determine if you need to work as a sole trader, or set up a limited company. Each has it benefits. I recommend reading a bit more on the gov website
  21. Business license – You may need one depending on your industry and where you are located. Most licenses are at the local council level, so contact them to confirm what is required
  22. Social Media Set up and Management – I don’t think I really need to explain this in this day and age – if you are not on social media, you have a problem. Look at LinkedIn for more professional networking. I managed to get an electric scooter I was collaborating on (TP Scoot from Germany), on a full page spread for free, by contacting someone at the Daily Mail directly on LinkedIn! I got absolutely nothing out of it, as it wasn’t my product, but it goes to show you it works if you try!
  23.  Clothing / Appearance – make sure your clothes and your appearance are smart, so people take you seriously. And wash. That helps.
  24. Business account – obvious
  25. Accountant – if you can do your own, bravo. I can’t be bothered. You can get an accountant for an reasonable price. Mine charges about £600 a year for everything (personal and business), which is better than my previous accountant who completely ripped me off charging double that, and then she didn’t even do them properly leaving me in big trouble with HMRC. I would go for word of mouth recommendations to avoid any stress with useless accountants
  26. Assign responsibilities – If there is more than one of you, firstly don’t go in to business with someone who has no skills and just talks for a living – you will end up doing everything. And also make sure they can split any upfront startup costs with you, unless you have some other arrangement in place. Write a task list (like this one) and assign each task so the workload is fair. If they don’t do their share, sack them off, starting a business is extremely difficult and you need someone just as hard working as you are

There are LOADS of other things I have omitted for this checklist as I could go on forever, such as shop space, product packaging etc etc. Hopefully these check points help a little bit though.

Another piece of advice I can offer, is to go with an idea and stick with it to the very end – the more effort you put in, the more you will get out. I have seen it with my own efforts. The minute I get bored, I see the decline very quickly. A business will not run itself. If you are like me, I get distracted by one idea after the other, and never really give one business idea my full attention (trying to hold down a full time job with no money doesn’t help either!).

Zena Bratcher (wannabe entrepreneur)