Your Startup Business Plan Checklist

close up of a checklist with pen and phone in background

Do you dream of owning your own successful business? One where you achieve your financial goals, or turn your hobby into your livelihood?

With our comprehensive startup checklist, you’ll find the helpful direction you need to transform your business idea into the reality of becoming a business owner.

Decide on a viable business idea

  • Develop a comprehensive business plan
    Write down what you aim to achieve over your first few years in business. Your business plan will be crucial for showing to your bank, keeping your business on track and remaining focused on achieving your goals.
  • Decide on your business structure
    The four main types of business structures in the United States are sole proprietorship, partnership, Limited Liability Corporation and corporation. Find out more about each business structure on the Small Business Administration website(Opens a new window).
  • Check to see if your business name is available and register it
    Come up with a name that’s unique, effective, descriptive and memorable. It should have an impact on people, relate to your industry and not be easily forgotten. Find out more about safeguarding your business name(Opens a new window).
  • Find enough money to start
    Identify your startup costs and carry out a break-even analysis to find out how much money you’ll need to successfully launch your new business.
  • Research lending options
    Take a look at the financing options available for your business. Be sure of how much funding you need during your startup phase and your projected sales. Take a look at our small business lending options(Opens a new window)
  • Settle on the best supplier for your business
    Use industry networks and your business contacts to find a reliable supplier. Organize contracts for any raw materials or products you need to get underway.
  • Protect your intellectual property
    Look at the steps you’ll have to take to protect any patents, trademarks, copyrights or trade secrets. Visit the United States Patent and Trademark Office(Opens a new window) for more information.

Check for compliance

  • Apply for an employer identification number (EIN)
    In the U.S., your employer identification number primarily serves tax administration purposes. You can find how to apply for one on the Internal Revenue Service website(Opens a new window).
  • Find out if you need any licenses or permits
    You can find out what state licenses or permits(Opens a new window) your business might need through the SBA website. For information on federal licenses and permits, also see the SBA site.
  • Set up a reliable accounting system
    Being able to view your transactions and cash flow situation in real time is a huge advantage, so think about using a cloud accounting system that you, your staff and your accountant can maintain together.
  • Look into options for business insurance
    It’s important that your business is covered by the right insurance. Determine which types of insurance your business will need most, and weigh up the risks versus the costs of all potential coverage.
  • Talk to your lawyer and accountant
    Your accountant and lawyer will go over your business plan with you to ensure it’s all in order before you present it to your bank.

Undertake market research

  • Find out the size of your potential market
    The best way you can learn how large your target market could be (and your likely share of it) is by conducting some research. Complete our online training about researching your market(Opens a new window).
  • Establish your competitive advantage
    Your point of difference, unique selling point or competitive advantage will be a crucial factor in the success of your business. Your potential customers want to know why they should shop with your business rather than your competitors.
  • Ensure it’s simple to make and receive payments
    Will you be able to offer multiple payment options that include the latest technology? Ease of payment will entice customers and help you maintain a healthy cash flow.
  • Explore pricing options
    Can the prices you’re going to charge compete with your competition? If you’re charging more than your competitors, your marketing strategy needs to tell customers why they’re paying more. View our video on how to set a price(Opens a new window).

Create a marketing plan

  • Analyze your customers’ buying behavior
    Speak directly to your customers to find out their needs and buying behaviors. Find out how often they’re likely to purchase from your business.
  • Construct profiles of your target customers
    Design profiles of your main types of customers. Understand their purchasing habits so you can sell more. Learn when, what, why, where and how your customers prefer to buy.
  • Complete social media surveys
    Survey your customers online and use the results to make improvements to your business and its products or services.
  • Create an online presence
    Social media can help you drive traffic to your website, build relationships with your target customers and enhance your credibility. Start working on building a presence online. Take our quiz about building an online strategy(Opens a new window)
  • Attend trade shows and industry events
    Boost your brand awareness, check out your competitors and utilize your networking skills to get your offerings to your target market at events and trade shows.
  • Build word-of-mouth advertising
    Encourage your regular customers to refer their friends, family and work colleagues to your business. Offer them small loyalty rewards for their efforts. Take our business quiz on cost-effective advertising(Opens a new window)
  • Develop and grow your advertising campaign
    Plan an advertising campaign that fits within your budget. Will online promotions, email marketing, signage or print or radio advertising be most effective for your target group? Complete our online training to help build your own marketing plan(Opens a new window).
  • Improve your customer retention
    Remind your customers when it might be time to purchase from your business again, by using your social media platforms, a loyalty program or an email automation system.

Establish who your competitors are

  • Examine your competitors
    Take a good look at what your competitors do well and what they lag behind in. Then, work on an advertising angle that might convince their customers to switch to your business. Learn how to position your small business against larger competitors for greater advantage.
  • Carry out competitor SWOT analyses
    Compiling SWOT analyses of your main competitors will help your business maximize its strengths, reduce its weaknesses, take advantage of its opportunities and avoid threats.
  • Establish your business’s point of difference
    Decide how you want to position your brand, determine which customers it will be able to serve best and look at how it will fit into the competitive landscape. Learn to market your point of difference.
  • Decide how you’ll price in relation to your competitors
    Do you plan to compete on price, or on the benefits of your products or services? How can you counter the actions of established competitors when you enter the market? Read more about getting your price right.

Be sure you can make a profit

  • Estimate your overheads and margins
    The regular expenses your business will have (regardless of how much you produce) are your overheads. Calculate them, and then determine some sales goals to work out your profit margin.
  • Complete a break-even analysis
  • It’s important to have an accurate estimate of how many items (or hours of service) you’ll need to sell each week to cover your costs and begin to make a profit. Learn how to calculate your break-even point.
  • Carry out a cash flow forecast
    You’ll want to predict when you might have too much or too little cash, so generate a cash flow forecast to help identify sales and expense variations month by month. Work out your cash flow forecast.
  • Conduct a sales forecast
    When starting your business look at trends in your industry, check out past statistics of market demand and watch your competitors to estimate your own sales forecast. Find out more about forecasting sales.
  • Check your capacity and capability
    Make sure you have the right equipment, staff and capability to do the job. Do you have the right manufacturing tools, or can you call on the right knowledge and expertise?

Next steps

This information is provided for general awareness purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as legal or compliance advice.

This article is provided for informational purposes only. While the information contained within has been compiled from source[s] which are believed to be reliable and accurate, Comerica Bank does not guarantee its accuracy. Consequently, it should not be considered a comprehensive statement on any matter nor be relied upon as such.

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