Welcome to the final installment of the multi-post business series on starting your own business. So far, we've covered "the why" and "the how," and now we're ready to go over "the launch!" By this point, you've thought deeply through your reasons for wanting to be an entrepreneur, have brainstormed thoroughly, come up with a great idea, and researched the market. Your business plan has been fine-tuned, and now it's time to put your money where your mouth is. It's time to prepare for launch!
The first thing you'll want to do is file articles of incorporation for your new business. I personally like having a Limited Liability Company (LLC), but do some research to figure out what would be best for your type of business. Typically all you'll have to do is fill out some paperwork online through your Secretary of State's Office, and wait to hear back with approved documents and your Employer Identification Number (EIN), which you'll be using for all legal aspects of your business dealings/filings moving forward. Depending on your business type and state, you may also require specific additional fees to operate, regulatory licenses, additional tax IDs, accounts with the Department of Labor if you plan to hire staff, and eventually accounts with the IRS, SSA, and any other governing bodies connected to your future work. Make sure to thoroughly research which kinds of regulations may exist where you're doing business, as well. If you need to apply for any particular permissions or permits, now would be the time. Doing a quick search online can often answer most of these questions, or you can try calling your local Chamber of Commerce, Secretary of State's Office, or even ask other similar business owners in the area. You'd be surprised at how many people are willing to lend some free advice.
Next, you'll want to decide whether you'll be operating a business remotely or in a physical location. I cannot say this enough, if you do not need a physical location in order to conduct business, do not do it! Sure, it's cool to have your own space to go to and a sign of success to have a public-facing business, but overhead is awful (and often out of your control in many ways), dealing with landlords sucks, leases are incredibly complicated and binding, and it's just not all it's cracked up to be... coming from someone who has had 3 business locations in her lifetime. I would never do it again, unless I absolutely had to. Some interesting "in between" options are co-working spaces and short-term or hourly office rentals, which you could use on an as-needed basis to meet with clients or vendors. If you can make a work-from-home situation possible for you (and any possible staff), it's definitely something well worth exploring. (Plus you get a tax write-off for a home office and related expenses as well.) But if your business does require a commercial space, do your due diligence. Research what you can online, visit on-site at different times of day to get a real-life feel for the location, work with an experienced broker, meet with the landlord, and speak with other renters in the building if you can. Find out what is standard for lease terms in your area, and don't be afraid to negotiate. I've gotten very clever with my past lease agreements. For example, when a landlord was unwilling to budge on monthly rental rate (for fear it would lower the value of their office park spaces), I requested 2 months of "free rent" at the beginning of my lease term. They agreed to this with no questions asked, and it allowed me to slowly get settled into the new space, complete any customization work that needed to be done ahead of the move, and finish the move-out of my old space without a stressful rush. What's more, I wasn't bearing the burden of two rents at once during the transition, and technically my overall new lease term rent actually went down almost as much as the decrease I was requesting anyway on a monthly basis when you did the math out. The building got a new tenant, and I got a new space I could afford. It was a win-win!
Once you're fully legal to operate, you'll want to find a good bank for your business. Usually somewhere local, convenient to where you live/work, and with good options for growth. They'll require all your legal paperwork in order to get your account set up, and then you can move ahead with ordering checks and figuring out your bookkeeping/accounting plans. I kept my own books for almost the first year until the business grew to the point that I needed professional assistance. I interviewed different accountants in my area and settled on one who specialized in small businesses like mine. He helped me with my monthly accounting, some financial advising, and tax preparation/filings. As my operations changed, I eventually decided I wanted to regain control of my financials myself, and signed up with Quickbooks online to do my own bookkeeping. I still work with my accountant for the other aspects I prefer to have help with.
When you've got your banking all set up, it'd be smart to research good business credit cards. Not only will you want to keep your personal transactions separate for accounting and tax liability reasons, but there are so many benefits that come with having a good credit card for work expenses. I have enjoyed my Spark Business Card by Capital One, as they offered me a high credit limit and generous cash back/points for my spending. American Express also offers a lot of great promotions for new business customers. It's a good idea to set up autopay for regular recurring charges onto cards like this as well.
Depending on what industry you're in, you'll need to understand what insurance is required by law, or is important for your business. Let me start this section by saying that I hate insurance and think it's half a scam, but that's for another story entirely. I say this because it's incredibly expensive, motivated by fear-mongering tactics pushed by reps to make more sales, and government-required but not regulated in terms of how rates are always going up regardless of coverage quality changing. But alas, it is a necessary evil of being in business. I was shocked when I started my first business to find out that I needed any at all, when all I did was offer music lessons initially. What was I needing protection from? No one was operating heavy machinery. My lessons aren't offered somewhere dangerous. I wasn't taking hoards of investment dollars. I didn't drive anyone anywhere. I wasn't serving food. It seemed ridiculous! But simple office insurance is what was needed. I recall at the time the rep literally told me over the phone "if someone fell on a pencil and stabbed their eye out, that's why I'd need it" or "what if someone doesn't think they sing better and wants to sue you after taking lessons?" I couldn't believe my ears. But I just paid it, because I had a growing company and couldn't risk getting shut down over something stupid. Obviously the more moving parts your business has, and if you operate in multiple locations, you'll likely need to have more and different types of coverage too.
All business owners should have some sort of legal counsel at the ready. Whether just an attorney you use on an as-needed basis or a provider you pay a monthly retainer on, you'll probably need legal advice a bit more than you'd think. I've used lawyers to review contracts, leases, write letters, file trademarks, handle disputes, bring people to small claims court, and just ask general questions to understand my rights in various situations.
And finally, you'll want to get your vendors organized. This means, who will you use for the additional products and services your business requires to operate? If you need office supplies, a company like W.B. Mason can deliver them on a regular basis. How about who you'll be using for your utilities? If you're in a commercial space, you'll need to find out who services your building for things like phone, internet, security, trash removal, water, sewage, snow removal (if you live in a colder region), and electricity if not already included in your rent. If you plan to have drinking water available on site, a company like Crystal Rock will be necessary to swap out jugs for you on a recurring basis. How will you accept your mail and deliveries? If your building doesn't offer it securely or you are choosing to work from home or without a permanent business address, you'll want to find a local UPS location to accept your mail and packages for you. Since I ran a music business, I also had a need for some tech support, piano tuners, and contractors for soundproofing and custom space build-outs when operating from a commercial space. Every business is different, but it's important to anticipate what your needs will be and have the B2B relationships ready when you need them.
I know it can feel overwhelming at first, but know that once the aforementioned areas are addressed, they're typically "one time things" and the time you spent researching and getting set up won't be something you'll need to do again. Just take things one step at a time, find good help when you need it, and make sure to cross your T's and dot your I's, as they say. The execution of your creative vision is what follows (the fun stuff!), and then your first sales! Starting a business is one of the most incredible things you can do in your life. Allowing yourself the freedom to create a lifestyle that works for you and do something you enjoy is priceless. If you've made it to the end of this article series, I am proud of you! You now know what to do, how to do it, and are ready to take the next big step in your life. Congratulations, fellow entrepreneur! [*slaps you on the butt*] Now go out there and be somebody! :)