Learning how to start a business is no small task, but it’s necessary if you want to successfully get your venture off the ground. To help, I’ve put together a complete guide that walks you through the steps of starting a business.
The guide covers every requirement to start a business: from the paperwork and finances to creating your business plan and growing your business online. At the bottom, you’ll find a library of the best free tools and resources to start selling and marketing your products and services.
Use the links below to navigate to each section of the guide.
- What Do You Need to Start a Business?
- How to Start a Business
- How to Start a Business Plan
- How to Decide on a Company Name
- How to Choose a Business Structure
- How to Register Your Business
- How to Comply with Legal Requirements
- How to Find Funding for Your New Business
- Tips for Starting a Business
- Resources to Start a Business
- How to Start a Business Online
Let’s get started.
What Do You Need to Start a Business?
- Business Plan: Your plan is a document that provides in-depth detail about your business and its short- and long-term strategies.
- Business Name: Your name is what you’ll call your company on all official documentation and licenses.
- Business Structure: Your structure refers to the type of leadership and ownership your business will operate under.
- Business Registration: Your registration is a credential with state authorities that allows your business to operate legally.
- Legal Requirements: Your other legal requirements include business licenses and permits beyond the initial registration.
- Funding: Your sources of funding refer to business grants, loans, and personal savings.
Every budding entrepreneur wants more visitors, more qualified leads, and more revenue. But starting a business isn’t one of those “if you build it, they will come” situations. So much of getting a startup off the ground has to do with timing, planning, and the market, so consider if the economic conditions are right to start a company and whether you can successfully penetrate the market with your solution.
In order to build and run a successful company, you’ll also need to create and fine-tune a business plan, assess your finances, complete all the legal paperwork, pick your partners, research apps for startups growth, choose the best tools and systems to help you get your marketing and sales off the ground … and a whole lot more.
This process may feel overwhelming, so we’ll walk you through it step-by-step. But first, let’s summarize what we’ve just learned.
Requirements for Starting a Business
To summarize, the requirements for starting a business are:
- A business plan
- A business name
- An ownership or business structure
- A business registration certificate
- A legal license or seller’s permit (as well as other legal documents)
- A source of funding
Without these elements in place, you unnecessarily risk your new business’s future.
Now that you know what you need, let’s go over the basic steps for starting a business.
How to Start a Business
- Write a business plan.
- Choose a business name.
- Choose an ownership structure.
- Register your business.
- Review and comply with legal requirements.
- Apply for funding.
Having a great business idea is only part of the journey. In order to be successful, you’ll need to take a few steps to get it off the ground. In order to refine your business idea and set yourself up for success, consider doing the following:
1. Write a business plan.
Your business plan maps out the details of your business, including how it’s structured, what product or service you’ll sell, and how you’ll be selling it. Creating a business plan will help you find any obstacles on the horizon before you jump into running a business.
2. Choose a business name.
Your business name is an essential part of your new business. It determines what you’ll call it on official documentation and on the business plan you’ll share with investors. Because your name will stem off your business plan and offerings, it’s best to create it after you’ve written a plan.
3. Choose an ownership structure.
Your business’ legal structure can impact what you’re liable for and the taxes you pay. The most common types of business structures are sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company, and corporation. In the process of starting a business, you’ll need to choose the most appropriate one for you.
4. Register your business.
Registering your business is the next step after choosing an ownership structure. That way, you can ensure you’re operating within the most essential legal constraints.
5. Review and comply with legal requirements.
In addition to choosing a legal structure and registering your business, there are other requirements to follow to ensure your business is operating legally, including acquiring any business licenses and permits. Licensure requirements depend on industry — for instance, if you’re planning to found a construction firm, you’ll need the appropriate construction permits.
6. Apply for funding.
When you’re starting a small business, getting loans from family and friends may suffice. However, larger ventures will require more capital.
Startup funding is essential regardless of the type of business you’re creating. Whether you leverage loans, grants, or family and friends, having solid funds will allow you to more effectively and economically launch your business.
As evidenced by this list, starting a business involves a whole lot of moving pieces, some more exciting than others. Brainstorming business names? Fun! Filing taxes? … Not so fun. The trick to successfully getting your business off the ground is to meticulously plan and organize your materials, prioritize properly, and stay on top of the status and performance of each one of these moving parts.
From registering with the government to getting the word out about your business to making key financial decisions, you’ll need to take a wide range of steps to start a successful business.
Now that we’ve gone over an overview of the steps, let’s go over each one in detail.
How to Start a Business Plan
- Use a business plan template.
- Narrow down what makes you different.
- Keep it short.
- Write an executive summary.
- Describe your company and business model.
- Analyze your market’s conditions.
- Explain your product and/or service.
- Outline all operations and management roles.
- Design a marketing and sales strategy.
- Detail a financial plan with business costs, funding, and revenue projections.
- Summarize the above with an appendix.
- Review section examples for inspiration.
Having a solid business plan can help your business stay on track, especially when obstacles arise. But before we go over the steps of writing one, let’s answer an essential question first: What exactly is a business plan?
A business plan is a living document that maps out the details of your business. It covers what your business will sell, how it will be structured, what the market looks like, how you plan to sell your product or service, what funding you’ll need, what your financial projections are, and which permits, leases, and other documentation will be required.
At its core, a business plan helps you prove to yourself and others whether your business idea is worth pursuing. It’s the best way to take a step back, look at your idea holistically, and solve for issues years down the road before you start getting into the weeds.
Below are the key elements in a business plan template, details about what goes into each of them, and example sections at the bottom. You’ll also learn tips for writing a business plan.
1. Use a business plan template.
Before you begin your business plan, download this business plan template. It provides an outline for you to follow and simplifies the process.
The first steps are to create a cover page, and write a description of your business that outlines your product or service and how it solves a need for your customers. The next step is to work on the company description, which provides detail on how your company will be organized and includes the mission statement.
In the next section of the business plan template, you’ll identify your target audience or buyer personas. Through research, surveys, and interviews, you’ll understand who wants your product, why they’re interested, and what problem your offering solves for them.
The next step is to describe your line of products and services in detail, including the pricing model, and the advantage you have over competitors.
From there, you’ll write down your plan to market and sell your product or service. You’ll also identify your growth plan and set targets and measures for your marketing and sales activities.
Then, you’ll determine which legal structure your business will have (LLP, sole proprietorship, etc.), and if there are any other legal factors you need to consider (e.g., permits, licenses, health codes).
Finally, financial projections will be made, and short-term and long-term goals will be set for the business.
2. Narrow down what makes you different.
Before you start whipping up a business plan, think carefully about what makes your business unique first. If you’re planning to start a new athletic clothing business, for example, then you’ll need to differentiate yourself from the numerous other athletic clothing brands out there.
What makes yours stand out from the others? Are you planning to make clothing for specific sports or athletic activities, like yoga or hiking or tennis? Do you use environmentally friendly material? Does a certain percentage of your proceeds go to charity? Does your brand promote positive body image?
Understanding your brand’s positioning in the market will help you generate awareness and sales.
Remember: You’re not just selling your product or service — you’re selling a combination of product, value, and brand experience. Think through these big questions and outline them before you dive into the nitty-gritty of your business plan research.
3. Keep it short.
Business plans are more short and concise nowadays than they used to be. While it might be tempting to include all the results of your market research, flesh out every single product you plan to sell, and outline exactly what your website will look like, that’s actually not helpful in the format of a business plan.
Know these details and keep them elsewhere, but exclude everything but the meat and potatoes from the business plan itself. Your business plan shouldn’t just be a quick(ish) read — it should be easy to skim, too, like the example below.
Now that we’ve gone over the first essential steps of building your business plan, it’s time to jump into the creation process.
4. Write an executive summary.
The purpose of the executive summary is to give readers a high-level view of the company and the market before delving in to the details.
Pro Tip: Sometimes it’s helpful to write the executive summary after you’ve put together the rest of the plan so you can draw out the key takeaways more easily.
The executive summary should be about a page long. It should cover:
- Overview: Briefly explain what the company is, where you’ll be located, what you’ll sell, and who you’ll sell to.
- Company Profile: Briefly explain the business structure, who owns it and what prior experience/skills they’ll bring to the table, and who the first hires might be.
- Products or Services: Briefly explain what you’ll sell.
- The Market: Briefly explain your main findings from your market analysis and product market fit.
- Financial Considerations: Briefly explain how you plan to fund the business and what your financial projections are.
5. Describe your company and business model.
Next, you’ll have your company description. Here’s where you have the chance to provide the following information:
- A summary of what your company does
- A mission statement
- A description of your business structure and business owner
- A description of your location
- A list of the marketplace needs that your business is trying to meet
- A detailed account of how your products or services actually meet those needs
6. Analyze your market’s conditions.
One of the first questions to ask yourself when you’re testing your business idea is whether it has a place in the market. The market will ultimately dictate how successful your business will be. What’s your target market, and why would they be interested in buying from you?
Get specific here. For example, if you’re selling bedding, you can’t just include everyone who sleeps in a bed in your target market. You need to target a smaller group of customers first, like teenagers from middle-income families.
From there, you might answer questions like:
- How many teenagers from middle-income families are currently in your country?
- What bedding do they typically need?
- Is the market growing or stagnant?
Include both an analysis of research that others have done, as well as primary research that you’ve collected yourself — whether by customer surveys, interviews, or other methods.
This is also where you’ll include a competitive analysis. In our example, we’d be answering the question: how many other bedding companies already have a share of the market, and who are they?
Outline the strengths and weaknesses of your potential competitors, as well as strategies that will give you a competitive advantage.
7. Explain your product and/or service.
Here’s where you can go into detail about what you’re selling and how it benefits your customers. If you aren’t able to articulate how you’ll help your customers, then your business idea may not be a good one.
Start by describing the problem you’re solving. Then, go into how you plan to solve it and where your product or service fits into the mix. Finally, talk about the competitive landscape: What other companies are providing solutions to this particular problem, and what sets your solution apart from theirs?
8. Outline all operations and management roles.
Use this section to outline your business’ unique organization and management structure, while keeping in mind that you may change it later. Who will be responsible for what? How will tasks and responsibilities be assigned to each person or each team?
Includes brief bios of each team member and highlight any relevant experience and education to help make the case for why they’re the right person for the job. If you haven’t hired people for the planned roles yet, that’s OK — just make sure you identify those gaps and explain what the people in those roles will be responsible for.
9. Design a marketing and sales strategy.
This is where you can plan out your comprehensive marketing and sales strategies that’ll cover how you actually plan to sell your product. Before you work on your marketing and sales plan, you’ll need to have your market analysis completely fleshed out, and choose your target buyer personas, i.e., your ideal customers.
On the marketing side, you’ll want to cover answers to questions like:
- How do you plan to penetrate the market?
- How will you grow your business?
- Which channels will you focus on for distribution?
- How will you communicate with your customers?
On the sales side, you’ll need to cover answers to questions like:
- What’s your sales strategy?
- What will your sales team look like, and how do you plan to grow it over time?
- How do you plan to scale for growth?
- How many sales calls will you need to make to make a sale?
- What’s the average price per sale?
Speaking of average price per sale, you’ll want to go into your pricing strategy as well.
10. Detail a financial plan with business costs, funding, and revenue projections.
Outline your financial model in detail, including your start-up cost, financial projections, and a funding request if you’re pitching to investors.
Your start-up cost refers to the resources you’ll need to get your business started — and an estimate of how much each of those resources will cost. Are you leasing an office space? Do you need a computer? A phone? List out these needs and how much they’ll cost, and be honest and conservative in your estimates. The last thing you want to do is run out of money.
Once you’ve outlined your costs, you’ll need to justify them by detailing your financial projections. This is especially important if you’re looking for funding for your business. Make sure your financial model is 100% accurate for the best chance of convincing investors and loan sources to support your business.
11. Summarize the above with an appendix.
Finally, consider closing out your business plan with an appendix. The appendix is optional, but it’s a helpful place to include your resume and the resume(s) of your co-founder(s), as well as any permits, leases, and other legal information you want to include.
12. Review section examples for inspiration.
Let’s go over examples of the sections in a business plan, so that you have an idea of how to approach your own. We’ll use a business plan for a fictional art supply store named NALB Creative Center.
Executive Summary Example
“NALB Creative Center (NCC) is the place where artists meet. NALB is an acronym for “No Artist Left Behind,” with our company by-line stating: “Live Your Art.” NCC is a specialty retail store offering a large array of artists’ materials and supplies, crafters’ needs, a gallery, and an education center. NCC will provide a pleasant facility that will inspire and support amateurs, professionals and crafters in the Big Island art community. NALB will sponsor art shows and competitions, art and craft fairs, scholarships for artists to continue their formal education, and other community events. NALB will facilitate, organize and offer creative workshops and classes in a variety of techniques and media.”
Company Summary Example
“NALB Creative Center is a startup, to go into business in the summer of this year. We will offer a large variety of art and craft supplies, focusing on those items that are currently unavailable on this island. The Internet will continue to be a competitor, as artists use websites to buy familiar products. We will stock products that artists don’t necessarily have experience with. We will maintain our price comparisons to include those available online.”
Market Analysis Example
“In West Hawaii, the mauka community of Holualoa in Kona, Kealakekua and South Kona, as well as Waimea and Hawi in Kohala are three communities with large artist populations and galleries. In West Hawaii, the Holualoa Foundation for Arts and Culture, the Society for Kona’s Education and Art, the Kailua Village Artists, the Kona Arts Center, the Waimea Arts Center and other well-established non-profit groups offer arts classes and instruction in various media year-round to children and adults.
“NALB Creative Center will market to four primary customers:
- Professional artists.
- Amateur artists and crafters, including hobbyists.
- Businesses, such as architects, graphic designers, interior designers, or direct mail advertisers.
- Teachers and students.”
Products and Services Example
“NALB Creative Center will provide a wide variety of products of interest to artists and crafters. Our wholesale suppliers will include: Grumbacher, Liquitex, Windsor and Newton, Mabef Easels, Duncan, PrismaColor, Speedball, Masterpiece, Fredrix, Holbein, Rembrandt, and Strathmore. Vendors will include MacPherson and Herr’s. There are thousands of products available, we will offer many that are unusual, or new, as well as the basics that every artist needs on a regular basis. We will offer lines to include bargain, mid-range and professional quality products.”
Personnel Plan Example
“NCC will be operated in the first few years by the owners. Additional part-time help will be provided by family members. As NALB grows over the next years, we will need two additional full-time sales clerks, and two part-time clerks. This will free the owners to concentrate on building the business, and expanding into the other areas of NALB’s vision (tours, competitions, music, gallery, special events, etc.).”
Marketing Plan Example
“Our marketing strategy will focus heavily on customer service with loyalty and retention in sales; on sales promotion, and on niche positioning in the market.
“In addition to price and item promotional announcements, NALB Creative Center will focus its marketing efforts via several key direct-to-consumer advertising vehicles:
“Local and Regional Magazine Publications: (West Hawaii Today, Hilo Tribune-Herald, Hawai’i Island Journal). Each of these papers provide a demographic base that lines up nicely with that of NALB’s.
“Direct Mail Postcards: NALB will look to increase consumer awareness, retain the existing customer base and promote increased sales via postcard mailings. These mailings will be targeted around special events, and are intended to liquidate slow moving products or showcase vendor negotiated specials.”
Financial Plan Example
“The growth of NALB will be moderate and the cash balance will always be positive.
- Being a retail environment, we will not be selling on credit. We will accept cash, checks, Visa and MasterCard.
- Marketing and advertising will remain at or below 5% of sales.
- We will finance growth mainly through cash flow. We recognize that this means we will have to grow slowly.
- It should be noted that the owners of NALB Creative Center do not intend to take any profits out of the business until the long-term debt has been satisfied. Whatever profits remain after the debt payments will be used to finance growth, mainly through the acquisition of additional inventory.”
After you create your business plan, you will likely have a good idea of your business’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. You can therefore strategically create a name for your business that differentiates you from your competition, while still making it clear what you offer to customers and prospects.
That’s why creating a business name often comes after you create your plan.