How to start a business: a checklist
So you want to work for yourself, but where do you begin? There's so much to remember and do. That's why we've created this checklist on how to start a business. Follow the links to other parts of the site to get the information you need at each stage, and work your way through it step-by-step. Once you've worked through all the options in each section, finalised arrangements or made a key decision, tick that section off and move onto the next one.
What kind of business should I start?
There are loads of options out there for all of you who want to become self-employed. Click on the links below to explore each.
- Start a part-time business.
- Your own business idea - a completely new product or service. Read up on idea protection if you're following this path.
- Start a franchise.
- Buy a business.
- Buy a license to sell an existing product.
- Do you want to start alone or would it be better to find a business partner?
- Or, do you want to be a freelancer and try something like photography?
How do I research my business idea?
- Is your idea viable? You need to do a rough working of your costs versus the money you can make from sales. How much will people pay for your product? Use this guide for more info and ask people who will give you an honest opinion.
- Is there demand for your business? This will take more time. You need to do market research and work out who your target customers will be.
- Can you afford to start the business you have in mind or find the money to do it?
- Research your competition.
- Find at least three unique selling points (USPs). If you can't, think of a new business idea, because you won't be able to lure customers away from your already-established competition. This feature will help you determine USPs.
- Do some preliminary research into suppliers and distributors - a bit of Googling, a few casual phonecalls to potential suppliers, and ask other businesses in your sector - so you know how easy it is to get the materials and products you need and how much those items will cost.
- Find out what price people will pay for your product and what your business model will be. Do market research and use this advice section.
- Try making a few sales if you can via eBay or however you can - just a bit of testing to see how the market responds. Follow up on other ways to test your market.
Writing a business plan
Writing a business plan might seem like a long and boring task, but it forces you to think about your idea rigorously, highlights potential show-stopping problems and makes you take a hard look at how much money you're going to need. Use our 500+ free business plan templates for guidance.
- Read our advice on business plans.
- Decide where your business will be based - start at home if you can (here's why). If you need commercial premises, look at this advice section and research property prices in your area to include an approximate cost in your budget. Factor in business rates and utility bills.
- Write your business plan.
- Some details will need to be updated as you complete the next few steps - or you might need to complete the next few steps before finishing your business plan. That's fine - a business plan should be a live document, updated regularly.
- Once you've done your business plan, make a project plan what you need to achieve by which (target) dates to get you through the next steps. This is an absolute must!
How can I finance my business?
- Work out what savings, income and solutions like remortgages you can use to finance your business. Warning: do not put all your eggs in this one basket. Five in six businesses fail in their first year - we don't want to be pessimistic, but we also don't want you to end up homeless if this doesn't work out.
- Read our section on business finance to look at all the options available to you.
- Talk to an accountant. Here's advice on how to find one.
- Talk to your bank manager, business plan in hand, to find out what kind of loan you will be able to access. Make it clear you're still pre-start-up and just doing research at this stage. Watch this video for advice on what the banks are looking for. Watch this video on the EFG to see if you're eligible for that too.
- Look into which small business grants you might be eligible for - you can start by searching our grants database.
- Redraft your business plan according to the finance you have available.
Prepare: business training, skills and support
- Read our advice section on business skills and training.
- Start reading business books relevant to your sector to get a good feel for how it operates and how you should enter the market.
- Do any courses or training you think you need.
- Join relevant networks and find a mentor if you can. Look at our advice on networking and mentoring to find out more.
Getting the right people on board
- Find an accountant if you haven't already.
- Assess your skills set and start thinking about what other help you will need. Bring in a business partner if needed and talk to people or businesses you will need to outsource to. Warning: don't start employing people until you really, really need to. You need to keep costs as low as possible. If you definitely need employees, check out this advice section.
- Make sure you have the support of family and friends. You'll need it.
- Join start-up networking groups, the Smarta community and look into business mentors.
Naming my business
- Read up on branding and advice on choosing business names to start thinking about the perception a business name creates.
- Brainstorm a whole heap of possible names and pick out 10 - 20 favourites.
- Google your names to see if anyone else has them.
- Search Companies House to see if the name is available.
- Check no one has the web address (or addresses) you'd want if you started up with that name. If you're sure about the name, buy the domain for it now.
Registering my business
- Work out which structure is right for you with this advice section.
- Contact HMRC to tell them you're becoming self-employed and to get the right business starter pack for you.
- If you're going to be a company, you need to register with Companies House. You can register your company with Companies House on Smarta - we simplify the process to save you time and hassle.
Setting up shop
- Set up your home office (this feature tells you what you need and how to get it on the cheap), or...
- Find your premises and negotiate your lease.
- Open a business bank account (click the link to do this with our partners RBS or NatWest here on Smarta) if you haven't done so already, and apply for a business loan if you need one. And read this feature if you get rejected first time for a loan.
- Sort out your IT and equipment, furniture, business mobile and phone lines. Handy hint: rent stuff rather than buying it.
- Order business stationery (though make sure you have secured your domain name first - see the section below).
Set up a website
- Read our advice on business websites.
- Buy relevant domains for your new business name.
- Either build your website yourself or get a designer to, following these guidelines.
- Read our feature on what you should pay for a website.
- Optimise your website for SEO following the advice in this section.
- Read up on the data protection act if you're going to be collecting data from your website.
Getting suppliers and distributors on board
This stage might come earlier in the process, depending on the type of business you're starting.
- Read our advice section on business suppliers and distributors and logistics - or import and export, if that applies.
- Read our guide on choosing a supplier.
- Set up relationships with main suppliers and distributors, but also keep a list of back-up ones in case something goes wrong.
- Get credit from as many suppliers as possible to cut costs. Read this case study if you struggle with getting credit.
- Road-test your supply chains and distribution processes with small batches of product first, to make sure everything is working.
- Talk to suppliers and distributors about their capacity to scale up if you plan to grow quickly.
Get the nitty-gritty right
- Get legal advice.
- Get business insurance.
- Push through any patents or other IP needed.
- Find out about what business rates (on premises) and taxes you need to deal with.
- Find out what regulations and restrictions you might face, and any licenses you need to obtain before you can start trading. Talk to your local council to find out.
- Find out about health and safety regulations.
- Read up on VAT to find out if you need to register for it.
Almost ready to start selling
- Read these guides on sales.
- Work out your pricing strategies.
- Learn about advertising and marketing, PR and social media and plan your strategies.
- Have your books set up and know who will manage them. Crucial note: you need to be able to understand them even if an accountant is doing most of the work. Check out our advice sections on money management and bookkeeping for help.
- Network like crazy to tell people about your business!
Congratulations - you're in business!
Smarta Business Builder
To help you on your business journey, we've created Smarta Business Builder, the complete online tools package for growing your business. Website Builder, Business Plans, Accounting Software, Legal Documents and Email - all in one place - from just £20 per month with no contract! Try it out today.