by Michele Dagle
1. Choose a business—and domain—name. Unless you’re not planning to ever create a website for your business, a company name that is not available as a domain name (and ideally, one that is a .com address) is nearly useless. You can search for domain names at a registrar such as Network Solutions. Once you choose a name, consider purchasing it and the hosting of your planned website from the same company to save money as well as time spent contacting the company’s technical support (more on creating a site in Step 3).
2. Form an LLC. You may choose to move from being a sole proprietor to a limited liability corporation (LLC), which offers business owners some protection from personal liability for the debts and actions of the LLC. Even though you’ll be required to pay a filing fee, starting an LLC is relatively easy to do. Legal-guide publisher Nolo offers information online about LLCs, including how to form one.
3. Hire a graphic/Web designer. Although the design of your brand identity (logo, stationery, etc.) and website may consume most of your start-up budget, it will probably have a huge influence on your business’s success. If you have the money to hire a graphic/Web designer, do so. You can browse designers’ portfolios at Coroflot. Yes, there are sites and programs that allow you to “design” your own logo and website (usually through templates), but the finished product almost always looks exactly like what it is: a shortcut created by an amateur.
4. Get an Employer ID Number. You also may need an Employer Identification Number (EIN), also known as a Federal Tax Identification Number, particularly if you plan to have employees. To find out if you need an EIN and to learn how to apply for one, visit the IRS website’s small business section.
5. Write a business plan. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the length and complexity of the business plans found in how-to articles and books. Before you find yourself several months post-launch without one, check out the intuitive—and (thankfully) straightforward—business-plan mini-guide from The Renegade Writer Blog. Although the mini-guide comes from a writer, it’s useful for most small-business owners.
6. Announce your launch. Once your site is live, or you’re planning an open house or grand opening for your brick-and-mortar business, begin an email campaign to publicize the launch of your business. An email marketing company, such as Constant Contact or Emma, can help you build your contacts list and create an professional-looking email that matches your identity—and will deliver it on the day and time you choose.
Some of these steps can—and should—overlap: You can start the design of your identity and website during the LLC process (but make sure your business name is either registered or reserved first) and begin writing your business plan during Step 1 (but don’t worry about completing it before moving on to the next step, as you’ll find it will change as your business develops).
The email campaign to announce your website launch or grand opening should be just the beginning of your marketing efforts. From there, start thinking about writing and distributing a press release, in-person and online networking, placing ads on relevant sites and in magazines and newsletters, and joining industry and entrepreneurial organizations.
Michele Dagle is an editor and writer, as well as the founder of Editorial Studio, which provides copyediting, proofreading, publications management, and writing services for publishers, corporations, and individuals.