Introduction & Free Business Starter Checklist
Several years ago when I first started Designify Studio, I had trouble locating all the steps necessary to start an online business in one place. I had to search different websites for all the different steps I needed to complete – I couldn’t find a comprehensive guide to starting a business. Then I had to visit each website that was recommended so I could complete each step. I thought it would have been useful to have a checklist to show the basic steps to starting an online business all in one place, so I decided to create one as a companion to this blog post on a Beginner’s Guide to Starting a Business. You can download the free Business Starter Checklist below.
Phase 1 – Plan
Choose the Type of Business
The first step is to decide on the type of business you want to start. Start brainstorming ideas and write them down. One will pop out at you – the one you’re truly passionate about. Go for it! Ideas to get you started:
- What have you spent a career doing that you could teach others?
- What do you love to do that could be turned into a business?
- What have you always wanted to do but never had the time when you were younger?
Name Your Business
Now that you have your business idea, it’s time to come up with a name for your business. Here are some ideas to help you:
- Your name + type of business you are starting (example: Jane Smith Copywriting)
- Your initials + type of business (ML Design)
- Or try something trendy – a color + name of animal + type of business (Blue Cat Consulting)
Still stumped for a business name? Try an online business name generator like Business Name Generator or Namelix. Just enter one or more keywords related to your business and the site will come up with a list of business name ideas for you.
Domain Name Availability
Check domain name availability for your business name with Google Domains. Stick with a .com extension if possible – it will be easiest for your potential customers to remember and usually costs less than trendy domain extensions (like .biz or .design) to renew. If the exact domain you want isn’t available, try adding “co” or “company” to the end (example: janesmithco.com or bcdesigncompany.com). Your domain can be purchased directly from Google Domains after you have checked the availability of your business name with federal and state searches below.
Federal Business Name Availablity
Check federal business name availability with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Choose “Open TESS” then “basic word mark search.” On the next screen, type in your business name and choose “Submit Query.” If the search doesn’t find anything, no one has a trademark on the name you searched for and you can safely move on to the next step.
State Business Name Availability
Next, check with the state where you plan to start your business to see if your business name is available. Each state has a separate website where you can do this. Do an online search for “business entity search for ___” and enter your state in the blank (example: business entity search for New Jersey). You can also try the Harbor Compliance website, which has links to each state’s website.
Purchase Your Domain Name
Now that your searches are out of the way, the next step is to purchase your domain name. I currently use Google Domains for all my domain purchases. I previously used GoDaddy, but their prices for domain renewals have gone up considerably over the last several years. Because of this, I decided to switch to Google Domains. As of late 2019, their price is the same for new domains or renewals – $12 per year. You can purchase your domain here.
Purchase Website Hosting
With the domain purchase out of the way, your next task is to purchase website hosting. I currently use InMotion Hosting for myself and all my clients. They offer reasonable prices, 99.9% uptime, and superb 24/7 customer support. They also offer free website migration service, which is great if you’re hesitant about moving over from another hosting company. As an affiliate for inMotion, I receive a small commission, with no additional cost to you, if you purchase through my link: InMotion Hosting.
Phase 2 – Setup
Note: You may want to consult an attorney to assist you with the following 3 steps.
Choose Business Structure
Next up is to choose your business structure, for example a sole proprietor, partnership, LLC, corporation, etc. The U.S. Small Business Administration has extensive help and information for small businesses on their website, including this breakdown of the different types of small business structures here.
Register Your Business Name
After completing the above, you will need to register your business name with the IRS. Depending on your business structure, you may need to apply for a Federal EIN (Employer Identification Number).
You will also need to register your business with your state’s Secretary of State. Just do an online search for “Secretary of State _______” and fill in the blank with the name of the state you’re starting your business in (example: Secretary of State New Jersey.) You can also try this site which has a list with a link to each state’s website.
You may also need to register your business with the city or county where you live.
Apply for a Trademark
With all the registrations out of the way, you may want to apply for a trademark for your business name. Although this step is not required, you may want to consider this so you are protected from anyone else using your business name or filing for the same name as you before you get around to it. You may want to have a trademark attorney assist you with this step. You can read more information and apply online here: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Phase 3 – Launch
Open a Business Bank Account
Open a business bank account to keep your business finances separate from your personal ones. Many smaller or online banks offer low cost or free monthly fees. Check out some small banks locally and search for “free business checking” online.
Social Media Accounts
Claim and set up the social media accounts you plan on using for your business next. You can use the links below to claim the most popular ones:
Next up is setting up a Gmail just for your business. This will be used to set up Google Analytics for your website later and to keep your Google-related business activity separate (example: firstname.lastname@example.org). You won’t be using this email as your main business email. You can set up a new Gmail account here.
Set Up and Receive Business Email
Set up your business email with your website hosting provider next. Each hosting provider is different, but if your hosting uses cPanel, you would log in to cPanel and under Email, select Email Accounts, then on the page that opens, select Create. Tip: you may want to set up different email accounts for different parts of your business. For example, to use on your website’s contact page: email@example.com, for administration: firstname.lastname@example.org, and one for clients to reach you directly: email@example.com.
After you’ve set up your email accounts, don’t forget to set up a way to receive your emails on your computer and/or your phone. Your hosting company should be able to provide basic instructions to do this on their website when you set up the email accounts.
Google Voice Phone Number
If you need a dedicated phone number to use you can get one from Google Voice, free for a personal use number and various low-cost choices for a business number. The number can be forwarded to your cell phone or another phone number of your choice so you can easily receive calls. Get your Google Voice number here. Important – make sure you are signed into the Google account that you wish to connect to your new phone number first. The Gmail account you set up in a previous step would be a good choice to associate the Google Voice number with.
Next, set up Google Analytics so you can track your website traffic. You can also find instructions on how to set up Google Analytics through this link.
Google My Business
If the majority of your business is local and/or your business has a physical location, you’ll also want to set up Google My Business. This allows your customers to easily find you in a local Google search for your service or product. They can also get directions to your business location through Google maps.
And that’s it! I know it’s a lot of steps and information to go through, but having it all in one place and using the Free Business Starter Checklist should hopefully make things a bit easier for you.
If you’ve already started your business and are looking to move forward with a Brand and Web Design that stands out from your competitors, let’s talk! You can contact us here. Or if you need more information, check our Services or About pages.