Checklist Before Launching Your Startup
There are several discrete tasks that you must complete when you are launching a new startup. Often, the difference between those who make it and those who don’t can come down to intelligent planning and execution. To ensure that nothing slips through the cracks before your launch, here is a checklist that you can use.
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A good pre-launch plan involves validating your business idea, making key financial projections and decisions, completing a series of legal activities, and preparing to deliver an exceptional customer experience.
This article serves as a checklist that sums up the most important tasks that entrepreneurs should take care of before jumping to launch their startup.
Use them to confirm that you are good to launch
If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Are You Mentally Prepared for the Long Haul?
Startups are a marathon, not a sprint. Building a great long-lasting company takes time and you have to go at your own pace i.e. a pace that’s right for your business. Here are few things you can do to establish your mental readiness.
Assess your personality
Do you have the personality traits needed to be an entrepreneur? Particularly useful characteristics include creativity, tenacity, the ability to withstand failure, good stress management skills, high energy levels and charisma. To determine if you have those skills, think of times where you have demonstrated these traits in the past.
As your startup navigates the choppy waters of its early years, you will face doubt and scepticism from various angles. A strong streak of defiance is the key to making it through this phase. Overall, you should be optimistic that your startup will succeed but psychologically ready to deal with the chance of failure.
You need not look like the entrepreneurs so often portrayed in the media, the Mark Zuckerbergs and Bill Gates. Most entrepreneurs are not young men who dropped out of college. They are men and women with business experience and a strong sellable idea.
Examine your business in light of your personality
Given that you will be spending long hours on your business, it needs to be based on a skill you possess or interest that you enjoy. An entrepreneur who is not interested in raising external funds and has a low tolerance to failure would be advised to steer clear of starting a large social network with a view to competing with Facebook. Alternatively, you should find co-founders whose skills and interests complement yours.
Moreover, your startup should be in line with your future plans. Someone wanting to start a family in the next 6 months might want to reconsider founding a business simultaneously.
Get family and friends behind you
Brief your friends, spouse, and other close family members on your startup plans and its impact on your personal and professional life. If you face significant non-constructive criticism, consider minimising contact with that person. It’s important that the people close to you support you 100%, as you’ll have enough challenges without resistance from friends and family. When things get tough, you will benefit greatly from having a healthy support network.
Find a mentor
A mentor who has succeeded in your industry can be a great source of guidance and emotional support. Mentors typically have large business networks that you can draw on for finding clients or employees. If you do not know someone who can act as your mentor, the Internet has several websites where you can browse for a suitable match and exchange contact information.
Do you have your finances set up?
To beat the odds and avoid running out of money, successful entrepreneurs prepare by developing rigorous financial plans that forecast essential information such as how much money it’ll take to get off the ground and what to expect in the first few years.
Budget for at least 6-12 months
How are you and your business going to survive financially for the next 6-12 months? Create a detailed budget that looks at the money you have coming in as well as the money that you will need to expend while starting your business. You should have a back-up plan in place to deal with the worst-case financial scenario.
Set up revenue streams
In business, cashflow is king. If you cannot pay your employees or your rent, your business will close. At the beginning, the cashflow will be from your savings, your day job or external funding. The sooner you bring in revenue, the less dependence on those sources. Having money coming in is also great for morale, which can build momentum.
Get the appropriate insurance
Depending on the type of business you’re starting, you will likely require insurance. In fact, you many require numerous different policies to cover you and your business adequately. Policies you might need to buy include:
•Liability and Property
•Errors and Omissions
•Directors and Officers
You should talk with a licensed insurance agent to compare quotes and find the best policies.
Keep accurate books
Accounting is about keeping track of all the revenues and expenditures as well as changes in your assets. Most entrepreneurs dislike bookkeeping, however, organizing and keeping accurate track of your company’s receipts, invoices, payments, and cashflow is critical to the success of your business. You should figure out how and who will manage the booking for your company from the very beginning. Thankfully, user-friendly accounting software packages such as Quickbooks make it quite easy to manage the bookkeeping needs of small to mid-size companies. Outsourcing your accounting needs to a professional accounting services firm is another good option in the early stages of your business.
For all businesses, taxes could be a burden, but in some jurisdictions, taxes can be onerous and significantly impact your business’s bottom-line and consequently your take home pay. You should have a strategy to effectively manage the tax burden on your business. A key factor in this is to figure out the best place to set up the base for your startup company. When looking into whether to start your business in a particular jurisdiction, you should carefully pay attention to the following taxes:
- Corporate income tax
- Capital gains tax
- Dividend tax
- Tax on foreign-source income
- Tax treaties with other countries
Paying taxes is a legal obligation, and the failure to pay them can lead to fines or jail. Business owners need to know what taxes they must pay and by when. Speaking with an accountant who can advise you on taxes is important.
Is your legal house in order?
Every startup needs basic advice on company formation, financing, contracts, intellectual property rights, employment issues, and the day-to-day legal issues that arise in running any business. The sooner you realize the need to take care of the basic nuts and bolts of your company’s legal issues, the better chances of success.
Incorporate your business
Obviously, you must incorporate your business before launch and the earlier the better. Specifically, you should be looking at a Limited Liability Company business structure that brings a range of benefits including limited liability, easier access to capital, the ability to transfer shares and a more professional image with customers.
Obtain any trademarks or patents
If your business is developing a new idea or technology, you should speak with an attorney about getting a trademark or patent to protect your intellectual property against competitors.
Obtain any licenses
You will need to find out and obtain the necessary licenses/permits as applicable for the type of business you are launching.
Get on top of employee paperwork
If you hire employees, you need to set up a payroll system so that you compensate them legally. You may also need to pay payroll taxes and contribute to your employees’ retirement savings plan as applicable in your country of incorporation. If you’re hiring from overseas, you will need to get the proper work visa for your overseas employees.
Have you validated your product or service with customers?
Make an informed decision on your startup idea’s likelihood of success or failure by taking the time to validate your idea before moving forward with it.
Obtain customer feedback
Lean product development methodologies place great emphasis on “getting out of the building” and talking to customers. Are customers prepared to purchase your product or service at the price you set? Learn how to find out by reading our article on researching and validating your startup idea. As you acquire feedback, incorporate it into your business model by pivoting as appropriate.
Beat your competitors
You should have done enough market research so that you know what edge you have over your competitors. You need to be able to answer the question: Why should customers buy from me? Depending on your business, your answer could be anything from better customer service to a more beautifully-designed product.
What’s Your Marketing Plan?
You should develop the basic elements of your brand identity so that it is presented consistently in your marketing efforts. At minimum, you should create a logo, a tagline, and a color+font palette.
In addition, you should also create a core message document that will become the guiding document for your other marketing efforts.
Build your website
For most businesses, a website is one of the most important marketing and branding investments they can make. You should create a website that conveys a professional profile of your business as a majority of people now visit a company’s website before making a purchase. And as more and more consumers make decisions based on their online experience, the appearance, usability, and accessibility of your website is more important than ever.
There are a number of software platforms that can be used to create professional looking websites very cost-effectively such as WordPress, Squarespace, and Google. These platforms also provide built-in features that can help you rank higher in the results of various search engines.
Utilize social media
If you expect to receive a significant number of your customers from the internet then it is important for you to address social media in your marketing strategy. Your presence on the social media platforms can inform and direct your potential customers to your website; it can also improve your profile with various search engines. You do not need to be on all social media platforms – you should evaluate the demographic profile of your potential customers and select those platforms that are most likely to be used by them.
Generate buzz in the press
Any mention of your business in the media can be a very powerful marketing tool. If your product or service has a unique human or business interest angle, you may be able to get this coverage for free. You should reach out to reporters who cover your segment with a brief profile of your product or service and an offer to provide an interview. If you are not able to get such interest, you should at minimum plan to release press releases for major events in your business.
Grow your network
As well as drawing on contacts in your existing network, it’s a good idea to disseminate information about your business by reaching out to others in your industry. Look for events and conferences that might be appropriate for the type of product or service you are selling. Often, they seek startups to feature at no charge. These conferences are not only a great way to raise your startup’s profile, they also serve as valuable networking opportunities.
You’ll need to develop a good elevator pitch so that people you meet understand your business in a matter of seconds. The written equivalent is a pitch deck or, perhaps more formally, an executive summary. These documents will also help you introduce the business to friends and associates in your existing network.
Some other basics
In addition to the above, the following are some of the other basics that you should set up before the launch:
- A basic set of HR policies and a standard Employment Agreement for hiring staff
- Office space setup
- Selection and set up of appropriate IT infrastructure based on the size and complexity of your business
- Set up of phone and email systems
- Preparation of initial marketing collateral
- Procedures for handling various business processes e.g. sales enquiries, order placement, order fulfillment, after sales service, billing, etc.
Setting up a new business can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be if you plan intelligently and divide up your to-do list into smaller steps.