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Business Startup Checklist for First Time Entrepreneurs

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Ced operated a marketing communications agency for 18 years before retiring in 2017. He now devotes his time to online writing.

Business startup checklist for first-time entrepreneurs. How many ticks do you score?

Business startup checklist for first-time entrepreneurs. How many ticks do you score?

You have completed the business plan for your intended startup.

You have also assembled the best team in the world. What’s more, behind you stands a supportive family and many encouraging friends, as well as a long list of potential clients.

Is your entrepreneurial success assured? Will you be a newly minted millionaire within a year?

Sorry, you won't.

Too many startup business plans focus on the plus side of things. Things such as, "we would earn $ ... ... revenue per year" or "our projected sales is ... ... (million) units."

Most aspiring entrepreneurs I've spoken to also bragged about having supportive friends, valuable contacts, and so on.

What’s seldom discussed, on the other hand, is the actual background work necessary for entrepreneurial success. In other words, the nitty-gritty, mundane, and tedious stuff. This is tragic, and worrying, because very often, it’s the lack of attention to such backend work that leads to business failure.

Yes, a profitable venture requires vision, foresight, and ambition, but efficiency and organization are equally important ingredients for entrepreneurial success. Without proper backend work and preparation, any business plan is also just speculation. A wild grasp for a lofty target without the instruments for it, metaphorically speaking.

The following is a generalized business startup checklist with 10 areas that no entrepreneur should ignore. Overlook any and you will surely invite failure.

1. Have an Efficient Bookkeeping System

Business is all about making money. Therefore, what’s more important than the system that manages your money?

On your very first day of operations, you should at least have the bare skeleton of a bookkeeping system in place. This must include:

  • An efficient creation and filing system for all your bills, receipts, and other financial documents.
  • An invoicing system that includes delivery orders, statements, etc.
  • A purchase order system to help you keep track of payables.
  • A scheduled and systematic process of paying your suppliers and staff.
  • A recording system to keep tabs on account receivables, i.e., who has not paid you.

Why must your bookkeeping system be functional on the very first day? Because money is exceptionally precious to startups. You do not want and do not need the following atrocities to begin from day one:

  • Billing is delayed because you have yet to do up your invoicing system.
  • It is wearisome for other companies and individuals to pay you because you keep sending them incomplete or wrongly written invoices, multiple copies of the same invoice, etc.
  • You lose the faith of your staff and suppliers because your payments to them are perpetually slow.
  • Oh no! You have double/triple paid someone!
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In short, ensure your money flow is easy to manage and supervise. There are few things more important in any startup checklist than this. There are also lots of affordable bookkeeping software to make the task a breeze.

To reiterate, there are truly few things more important than the system that manages your money. This so, for companies old and new.

To reiterate, there are truly few things more important than the system that manages your money. This so, for companies old and new.

2. Open a Corporate Bank Account, or Not

Nowadays, many entrepreneurs deem it unnecessary to have a corporate bank account or to have one immediately. I will not debate their arguments or justifications.

Instead, I’d just highlight that in the course of operating my own company, I've encountered a good number of organizations that are unwilling to pay to a personal bank account, typically because of regulatory or compliance reasons. Government agencies are particularly sensitive about this.

In other words, whether you need a corporate bank account, or not, depends on your client pool.

If you’re selling online via a third-party platform, chances are that you won't need one. If you intend to deal with large corporations, it’s likely a must.

You should know what the requirements for payment are before doing any job. Do not trap yourself in a situation in which you’re unable to receive payment.

Managing a Bank Account

Regardless of whether you are using a corporate bank account or a personal one, you would be silly not to milk current technologies and conveniences offered.

Be it Internet Banking, Phone Banking, or likewise, familiarize yourself with the ways to readily access and check your account. You will be doing this often, especially during the arduous first few months of operations.

While at this, do not forget to consolidate all information related to your account and put that on record too. This will not be just your account number and name, but also things like the bank code, branch code, and swift code.

Life in a startup is hectic, you will never have enough time. You certainly do not want to waste time on the phone or the Internet hunting for your bank code, just to receive a client's remittance.

Lastly, always have on hand the latest bank fees. Where I'm from, they tend to be tolerable but entrepreneurs from other countries have informed me that financial charges in their countries can easily run into hundreds of dollars

You seriously do not want payment perpetually stalled because your client is appalled by the bank transfer fees involved. Neither do you want that shock at the end of your first year, when you discover you have paid thousands in bank fees.

Always have with you an updated list of fees charged by your bank. Refer to it often too.

3. Prepare Corporate Identity Materials

I'm sure many entrepreneurs would consider this a breeze nowadays. After all, one could get a new company logo designed online within an hour.

Thus, what's the big deal? Why should this even be an item on any business startup checklist?

Again, it’s because your resources are so limited. Your time is your most valuable asset and you want to devote that to building relationships and getting deals, not laying out a letterhead or waiting for a logo just so tyou could prepare a quote.

In fact, it being so easy nowadays to create artwork, there’s seriously no reason at all for corporate identity not to be ready beforehand.

One more thing. Do not lose artwork files. To not be able to begin on your proposal because you can't find your letterhead, or to have to pay the printer extra to redraw your logo each time you print something, such scenarios are beyond silly.

4. Have Useable Marketing Collateral on Hand

This is often challenging. You are a brand new setup, what is there to show?

You have no testimonials. Vice versa, you have limited products, services, and samples too. Would any potential client be impressed by a portfolio containing barely 50 words?

And yet, you still need to show something. Particularly when approaching large corporations.

Begin by at least having a proper company profile. A sensibly written “about us” that isn’t full of exaggerations and brags; instead, one that concisely describes who and what you are.

Prepare a standard list of your products and services too, a functional one that you can readily update. This could be incorporated with your profile and with some graphic layout efforts, transformed into a great flyer.

If you wish to take it a step further, include a schedule for churning out updated collateral in your startup checklist too. Overall, what you want to avoid is that horrid situation of you staring at a potential contract, but unable to initiate contact because you simply have no means to professionally introduce yourself. Avoid that by meticulously scheduling and preparing beforehand.

5. Create a Staff Claims Procedure

May I share this unbelievable experience at my company? During an exit interview, a staff member stated she was leaving because I did not reimburse her transport expenditures within 24 hours. Her expectation was to be immediately reimbursed, in cold hard cash, the minute she returned to the office.

I have also heard from other entrepreneurs about employees caught pilfering from the petty cash pot. When confronted, those staff claimed they thought it was the way to be reimbursed for minor company expenditures.

Unbelievable, isn’t it? Or … not?

Bluntly put, people can be strange. They get weirder when money is involved; particularly, personal expenditures.

Having a proper staff claims procedure, with a standardized form and the need for backing documents like receipts, thus saves you headaches in so many ways. It prevents skullduggery. It also gives your staff peace of mind by assuring them you do not expect them to spend on behalf of the company.

Most importantly, it reinforces the impression that you are a legitimate operation. Such an impression is crucial for staff retention; remember, many people are hesitant about working for new companies. It is also the key to retaining high-caliber employees.

In any business, an annoyed staff is a time bomb. Doubly so for startups.

In any business, an annoyed staff is a time bomb. Doubly so for startups.

6. Have Multiple Sets of Company Registration Documents, Certifications, Etc.

In my country, the most basic of these is a computer printout. For other countries, it might be more complicated, but my guess is that it still wouldn't be anything more than a stack of papers.

In other words, a breeze to duplicate.

As for why you should have multiple sets on hand, it’s because everybody would be asking for them at the beginning. From banks to government bodies, to trade organizations, and so on. Such documents are doubly crucial if you are applying for government grants for entrepreneurs.

Again, the underlying objective here is time management.

These documents aren't hard to get copies of, the process just requires time. In many cases, the process is also roundabout and tedious.

Having spare copies of them around thus never hurts; that is, unless they are excessively expensive to duplicate. In which case, you can still prepare yourself by at least knowing the procedure and cost beforehand.

7. Compile a List of (Potential) Suppliers

I consider this one of the most important items on any business startup checklist.

Simply put, there is nothing more exasperating than losing a valuable contract because of the inability to secure suppliers. Or not to be able to find suppliers in time.

If you have properly done up your business plan, you should also be able to forecast your supply chain. Establish contact beforehand. Do not leave the searching or the contacting till you are quoting for a job. All it takes is but a few minutes for each vendor.

Take note, though, I am not suggesting that you go about requesting tens of quotations from strangers and religiously filing these away. Such requests plummet goodwill towards you like nothing else could. Instead, devise a tactful and professional approach. For example, a phone call, or an email, maybe even a visit in person.

If potential suppliers are welcoming, ask for sample prices too. At this point, might I highlight the need to be humble while establishing contact. Never, ever, act as if you are the next big guru of the corporate world.

Remember, these establishments are older than yours. Chances are, they have encountered loads of startups that fizzled too; thus there will inevitably be some degree of wariness. Always respect potential suppliers as valuable future partners. Nothing lesser.

8. Have Some Sort of Customer Management System

You could get very sophisticated with this startup checklist item. Or it could be nothing more than a simple Microsoft Excel file to keep track of existing clients and potential ones, inclusive of a schedule for regular contact. The latter for the purpose of festive greetings, call-ups, a mailed brochure, etc.

Whichever form it takes, the objective is to maintain contact. As any experienced businessman will tell you, you're never going to grow if you do not have repeat or recurring clients. To achieve this, you must work towards that dream situation of clients returning to you by themselves, without excessive persuasion.

As difficult as this sounds, the key is to just be regular. To maintain light but consistent contact. To ensure customers do not forget you.

Over time, such efforts add to your company image too. You're not that person who only calls when you badly need business, you are also a “friend.”

Lastly, ensure your preferred method of contact is easy and functional. Something that wouldn't be too much of a hassle over time. Obviously, ensure that "consistent" doesn't slip into being persistent too. You don’t want to be labeled a nuisance.

9. Prepare Templates of Business Letters, Contracts, Employment Agreements, Etc

Whatever the nature of your startup, you will require all types of professional documents, some of which could be expensive to produce. For example, those that require professional preparation.

Hang on. Are most of these documents still costly? Aren’t the bulk of them free nowadays?

They are.

Thanks to the Internet, there are all sorts of free templates for you to download. Curate the right ones, store them away, and you have potentially saved yourself hundreds of professional fees.

Do take note, though. Download but have the sense to customize. Ensure that you fully understand the documents too before you go about using them.

It is humiliating, to say the least, if your client or supplier knows more about the document, and points out that you are the one not reading the finer print.

For the latter, you could end up in serious legal trouble. Serious and expensive legal trouble that could shut your startup overnight.

10. Be Psychologically Ready

Yes, you are ready to begin a business. But are you ready to operate one? To sustain and grow it?

A functional bookkeeping system, a perfect customer management software, you have ticked everything on your business startup checklist. But are you psychologically ready to be an entrepreneur? Are you able to keep to your systems and schedules? Your procedures?

Additionally, are you able to make the sacrifices in family and social life necessary to give your startup the attention it requires? Are you ready for the phenomenal amount of work needed to keep any new venture afloat, and to eventually make profits?

Most of all, do you possess the resilience for inevitable economic downturns? Can you weather failure, humiliation, and abandonment, in the long route towards entrepreneurial success?

Is your passion real? Or just a romantic notion for the moment.

To put it in another way, you are the one who needs the most preparation. The crucial one to check again and again, before operations begin. Everything else is but the gear you’re carrying.

You are ultimately the one who makes the actual journey too. If you’re not truly prepared, nothing else helps or matters.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2020 Ced Yong


Ced Yong (author) from Asia on August 23, 2020:

Hi Eric, thanks for commenting. Breaking this into 3 would make for thin content, I doubt people want to read 3 articles instead of one on the same subject.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on August 23, 2020:

Perhaps you could break this up into 3 articles. I just don't have the time to break for a half an hour. Part of my start up -- schedule your time.

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