First Steps to Start a Business
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed October 25, 2022
Starting a business is never easy, nor is success guaranteed. Confidence is important but so is an honest evaluation and market research of your business plan, an understanding of the legal aspects of entrepreneurship, and a realistic expectation of how your business will make money (and when).
FindLaw's First Steps to Start a Business section provides a wealth of information on what to do first when starting a business. Whether you are brainstorming ideas for a startup business, or you need an answer to the question "What are the first steps to take if you are starting your own firm?" you will find it here.
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Is Entrepreneurship for You?
For the right person, the advantages of business ownership and sole proprietorship far outweigh the risks. Your hard work will directly benefit you, rather than increasing profits for someone else. Your earning potential may be far greater.
But not everyone has the personal qualities required to be a successful business entrepreneur. Before you quit your day job, read the article "Is Entrepreneurship For You?" It's an opportunity to think realistically about your work style and strengths, wants, and needs.
What Is the First Step in Starting a Business? Developing Your Business Idea
Entrepreneurs are creative people who make things happen. They see potential everywhere. How do you whittle down your options to find the type of business and target market that is right for you? See the page on "Evaluating Your New Small Business Idea" for guidance.
Taking a business from an idea to a grand opening requires many steps. For an organized, step-by-step approach, review the article on Start-Up Basics and print out the Business Start-Up Checklist. These documents will help you develop a plan of action so you don't miss any of the details that will make your new business successful.
Be sure to review "What is a Business Plan?" It's an essential document to guide the creation, financing, and operation of your new business. Completing a business plan ensures you have thought through every element of your new business, including:
- Product or service details
- Target audience and potential customers
- Business model
- Market analysis (conducting market research), market niche, and customer base
- Marketing strategy and marketing plan
- Management team
- Financial projections, including cash flow analysis and break-even analysis
- Low-cost accounting software, business licenses and business insurance
- Social media presence, search engine optimization (SEO), domain name
You will find a lot more information on writing a business plan on the Starting a Business page.
"How-To" Start Your First Business
This section includes dozens of examples of how to start specific kinds of businesses. Want to know how to open a nail salon? A hookah lounge? Start a record label? Or a cleaning business? See the articles on "How to Open ..." and "How to Start ..." the specific businesses that interest you. Each article provides step-by-step guidance.
This section also includes practical how-to information for specific things you need to do to set up your business:
- How to register the name of your business. See "How to File a DBA" (doing business as) in your business location.
- How to get an employer identification number, which is a tax ID for your business so you can hire employees and pay taxes. See "How to Get an EIN for an LLC."
- How to protect the name of your business from being taken by others. See "How to Trademark a Business Name."
You will also find information about how to start a nonprofit business, including how to write a mission statement, choose a nonprofit structure, and state-specific guidelines.
Starting a Green Business
Consumers are looking for sustainable products produced by responsible companies. If your goal is to start your own green business, you have an eager market awaiting you. The article below on "Starting a Green Business" will help you consider:
- How your business operates
- Eco-friendly business certifications
- How to interact with other green businesses
- How to meet the goals of the triple bottom line.
If you have a lot of competition, check out the article "Finding a Niche" for advice on how to fine-tune your marketing plan.
You can also check-out earth-friendly business resources from the Small Business Administration (SBA).
Considering a Franchise? Learn About Franchise Development and Financing
A franchise company is a great way to start your own business, but it's not an inexpensive process. The article "Franchise Development and Financing" will help you understand how to value a franchise opportunity. It also explains traditional and non-traditional franchise financing methods.
When you consider buying into an already existing business venture like a franchise, be sure to do your "due diligence." Legal due diligence is a process that helps people make an informed decision. See the article "What is Due Diligence" for advice on this step before you sign any contracts.
Starting an Online Business
A lot of small businesses have moved to e-commerce and operate online, rather than out of a retail space. In this section, you will find links to three articles that can help you start an online store. See "Creating an Online Business: Legal Considerations," "Forming an LLC for an Online Business," and "How to Start an eBay Business."
Tip: Even if you collect payments digitally or through credit cards, you should account for things like sales tax and state tax; you may also have to pay the IRS federal taxes as part of the income you derive from your online business.
Structuring Your New Business
Corporation (incorporation), Limited Liability Company (LLC), Limited Liability Partnership (LLP), Charitable or Non-Profit 501(c), 501(c)3 ... one of the first things to consider when starting a new business is how your business will be structured.
Do you want complete control over your time and working conditions? Then you may want to be a sole proprietor. You make all the decisions, take all the risks, and reap all the rewards. But there is a lot of personal liability associated with this business structure. Be sure you have the right kind of liability insurance.
Would you do better with business partners to bounce ideas and referrals off and to share the work and the risk? If so, will they be equal small business owners with you or do you want one active business manager with equity partners? The legal structure of a limited liability company (LLC), a limited liability partnership, or corporation may be good options.
FindLaw's Start a Business section includes several articles about business structures. Choose carefully. Once you have registered your business, it is not easy to change the business structure. It would be wise to talk to a business start-up attorney at this point.
Business Startup Advice
This section includes a variety of articles offering advice on different aspects of starting a business, such as:
- Do you need a lawyer to start a business?
- How to reduce your liability exposure when operating a high-risk business
- Legal limitations on businesses
- How to locate your state employment agency
- Business Do's and Don'ts, and tips for running a successful small business
Adequately financing a business is critical to success. FindLaw's Starting a Business page has an entire section devoted to financing and start-up costs. Look on the breadcrumb path above and click on Starting a Business, then choose Start-Up Financing, to find information about:
- Business loans and lenders
- Business credit
- Equity investors and angel investors
Hiring a Business Attorney
Of course, the business start-up section also provides advice on whether and why you need a lawyer to start your business right. Before you meet with a business lawyer, print out the Confidential Business Start-Up Information Questionnaire. It will help you gather all of the details you need to have a productive meeting.
The process of starting a new business is complex, but it's also rewarding. Practiced business lawyers can assist you in the process of starting, buying, selling, or closing a business. Contact a business startup lawyer in your area.
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