Have you been thinking about starting your own business but aren’t sure where to begin? Or are you ready to start, if only you can find time to get everything into place? Here’s a checklist of some of our favorite services, apps, and other must-have tools to guide you through the basics, save you time, and help get your small business off to a good start.
Every business is different, but in general, you’ll need:
1. Your business and sales tax permits
Depending on the rules where you live, you may need a business license from your city or county and/or a license from your state. The Small Business Administration lets you search by state to find what you’ll need for your particular business. If you plan to sell digital or physical goods, you may also need to apply for a sales tax permit.
It only takes a few minutes to apply for a free Employer Identification Number (EIN) at the IRS website. The IRS requires an EIN for many types of businesses, and you can see a list of them here. Even if you’re not required to get an EIN, you can still apply for one. Using it in place of your personal Social Security Number in your business dealings can protect you against identity theft. Your bank may also require an EIN to open a business account.
3. Your business savings and checking accounts
Once you have your license and your EIN, you can set up business bank accounts. Even if you’re not dealing with a lot of money at first, having business accounts separate from your personal ones will save you bookkeeping and accounting headaches later. Look for a bank or credit union with low fees, good service, online bill paying, mobile banking, and a debit card for your business expenses.
4. Your business insurance
Protect your business from the start, especially if you’re a sole proprietor with unlimited liability. Talk to an agent you trust to see if you need additional coverage for your home office or professional liability coverage for the services you provide. If you have employees, you’ll be required to pay taxes toward unemployment insurance, too.
5. Your email marketing tools
Even businesses on a tiny budget should invest in good email marketing tools. One option we like is Constant Contact, which can help you quickly put together professional-looking emails, send them to all or part of your email list, and track responses. Speaking of email marketing…
6. Your email list
Your list is the heart of your business. It’s the email addresses, personal information, and marketing preferences shared with you by your current customers and everyone else who’s opted in to get your emails. These are the people you’ll want to reach with your marketing emails and social media campaigns.
7. Your web hosting service
You need a business website so customers can find you, and you need someone to host that site. Your hosting service should have reliable uptime, good customer service, and the templates and extras you need. Not surprisingly, we’d humbly suggest using HostGator. Add on a backup service like CodeGuard to protect your site in case of data loss.
8. Your e-commerce tools
To sell digital or physical goods online, you’ll need shopping cart software that’s easy to use, like Magento or Zencart. HostGator offers 1-click installs for both of these and several other e-commerce solutions. You’ll also need a service to process customers’ card payments – either a third-party service like PayPal or an independent credit card processor. Look into fraud prevention services, too, to screen transactions and prevent expensive chargebacks.
9. Your connectivity
Your business internet and mobile service should be as reliable as possible. Shop around to find the options with the best speed, least downtime, and broadest coverage so you can work uninterrupted.
10. Your point of sale tools
If your business sells goods at events or in a retail space, you’ll need an EMV-compliant card reader. Services like PayPal and Square offer inexpensive smartphone-plugin card readers. If you work with a card processor, you’ll need a durable point-of-sale terminal and software.
11. Your packing and shipping stuff
There’s nothing quite as satisfying as shipping a customer order out the door. It’s easier to do if you set up an account with the shipper of your choice, get a postal scale, and source your packing supplies before orders start coming in.
12. Your contracts
Agencies and service businesses need a contract to use with clients or customers, to define everyone’s expectations and responsibilities. You can find DIY templates at RocketLawyer and LawDepot, but it’s always a good idea to have a trusted attorney review your contract before you use it.
13. Your task team
Sometimes it pays to delegate small or specialized tasks so you can focus on other business matters. Services like Upwork can help you find people to tackle everything from data entry to product management. On days when you don’t have time to shop or run errands, Amazon Prime, Instacart, or TaskRabbit can help you out.
14. Your accounting software
QuickBooks is what PC Magazine and Business News Daily recommend for small business accounting. It’s also what most small-business CPAs and bookkeepers use, so when you’re ready to outsource record keeping and tax preparation later on, it should be a smooth transition.
15. Your printing service
You’ll need professionally printed business cards to start and maybe more printed items later on. Online services like Vistaprint can store your designs so you can use them on other items later, like thank-you cards, product labels, and postcards for promotions.
16. Your professional connections
Get to know your local and industry business groups to build your peer network, learn more about business ownership, exchange ideas and find mentors. Make connections with local business reporters and send them your press releases and updates.
These are the basics to help you move your small business from idea to reality. What’s in your small business toolkit?
Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelancer who enjoys writing about business development and marketing, e-commerce payments and fraud prevention, and travel.