If you're thinking about starting a business, you already know it will involve a lot of planning and decision-making. Knowing where to begin and having access to important resources is incredibly valuable when you are getting started. At Souris Basin Planning Council, we want to give you a leg up and help you succeed. That's why we created this Business Start-Up Checklist for entrepreneurs starting businesses in North Dakota Region 2.
We have broken things down into three categories: Strategy, Logistics and Structure, and Branding and Marketing. This checklist should be used as an overview of things to consider, but please be sure to access other resources too. This list is intended to serve as a guide, and you can work across sections and tasks at the same time. We've included many free tools that are available to you in this blog post, but you can also access these and more on our website here.
We created a fun graphic that you can review and print for free! Who doesn't love a good checklist?!
Business Start-Up Checklist
Every new business starts with an idea. To put your idea to work, consider the following:
1. Evaluate your idea - can I really do this thing?
Areas that you may want to consider include:
Customer demographics - Who are your customers? What do they like? What do they need? Who are you targeting with your business product or service?
Products and/or services to sell
Does your idea add real value? Does it address a pervasive, urgent problem? Can you develop a viable business model?
Conduct research to determine if your business idea is feasible.
2. Develop your business plan
A business plan will provide a roadmap for your new business - for years to come. You will use your business plan as a guide to operate and grow your new business, as well as obtaining financing. We highly recommend utilizing your business plan throughout all phases of your business, and updating it annually. Your business plan, at a minimum, should include your market strategy and financial projections.
Check out the Small Business Administration (SBA) website for free templates
Visit your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC) for help with your business plan and your financial projections. The North Dakota Region 2 SBDC is located in Minot and Mary Beth Votava is a wizard! Trust us when we tell you, you want her on your team early.
The SBA Small Business Resource Guide is great!
3. Cultivate mentors
Starting a business is never easy, but when you’ve got a support system in place, your journey can be so much easier. Form a “business crew” that will help you transform your ideas into reality. Your crew should be made up of people you respect and trust – they’ll be in your lives for a long time!
Find mentor support where you can - who will help you make your project a success?
Develop a relationship with your local Chamber, Job Development Authority, and Economic Development Corporations
Consider the following mentors for your crew:
Check out your local SBA SCORE Chapter (another FREE resource!)
Accountants and attorneys
Friends and family
Experienced entrepreneurs you know
TIP: Forming a relationship with an accountant/attorney early on can really help your business in the long run. An accountant/attorney can help you with a lot of key decisions like your business structure, and accounting programs and processes.
4. Understand your financing options
Will you be working with a lender? Make sure to find the lender that is right for you and your project. You may choose to raise money, use your savings, or even keep a part-time job until your business is profitable. Often, you will need to utilize more than one source of financing to start your business. Research and seek information about non-traditional, supportive financing solutions.
TIP: Visit with your trusted lender about the best financing options for you and your business and visit these resources:
Don't forget your local Job Development Authority and Economic Development Corporation!
A few financing options to carefully consider include family and friends, angel investors, crowdfunding, personal/business loans, and credit cards.
Logistics and Structure
Work on these tasks in tandem with one another.
1. Choose a business structure
The legal structure you choose for your business will impact your business registration requirements, how much you pay in taxes, and your personal liability. The SBA Small Business Resource Guide is a great resource.
TIP: Seek guidance from legal and tax experts.
2. Create and register your business name
Create your perfect business name and make it legal to protect your brand! Search for existing trademarks and businesses in North Dakota and across the country. If available, register this name under a domain registration service for your website.
TIP: When thinking about potential business names, make sure that the name isn’t already being used by visiting the ND Secretary of State website.
3. Apply for applicable business licenses, registrations, trademarks, and patents
The licenses and permits you may need for your business will vary by industry, state, location, and other factors. Licenses are administered by a variety of state and local departments. It is important to consider zoning regulations when choosing a site for your business. Contact the local business license office where you plan to locate your business and visit the ND Licensing Information.
4. Get Federal and State Tax ID numbers
You will use your employer identification number (EIN) for important steps to start your business, like opening a bank account and paying taxes.
5. Test your product(s) and service(s)
Testing your product or service provides an opportunity for you to take a small-scale version of your business idea and get key feedback from potential future customers. This may include selling baked goods at your farmer's market, like Prairie Sky Breads did before they launched a brick and mortar store. You can get feedback from friends and family, approach potential customers in your target market, and do some quantitative research.
6. Decide on office and/or store space/location
Do you need a physical location? Can you look at a co-working space, incubator space, or similar establishment until a more formal space becomes necessary? It is important to understand local zoning and permitting, so check in with your city government offices to ensure the space will work for your business. You may also want to consider performing a full business location analysis.
7. Open a business bank account
Create a business bank account to keep everything separate from your personal financials and ensure clear accountability of funds.
8. Set up accounting programs and processes
We recommend seeking expertise from a tax and accounting expert to establish your accounting and financing programs and processes to protect your business.
9. Define roles and responsibilities
Who will be working on your team? Have you established a partnership? Outlining the founding responsibilities assigned to each member on the team can be incredibly helpful when you launch and operate your business. This ensures that everyone is on the same page and no item is left undone. Define the conventions of how you will track and communicate about work across the team.
Branding and Marketing
1. Develop a branding/marketing plan
Develop and refine your business pitch. Consider how you will brand and market your business, services, and/or products. If you need expertise, we recommend working with a local marketing and branding professional.
Some helpful checklists:
2. Create a logo
Working with a local artist or designer to capture the essence of your brand may be your best route, but there are inexpensive tools you can utilize to create a logo, like Canva, if your marketing budget is tight or if you already have expertise in marketing.
TIP: ensure your logo can be easily utilized across all materials like web, print, and embroidery.
3. Create and launch a website
If creating a website is not your cup of tea, there are many local designers who would be happy to help you create and launch your website. Web design may also be a good opportunity for a design or marketing student at your local college or university. Today, having an online presence is incredibly important for any business and at a minimum should include a landing page with contact information and an address.
4. Consider your social media plan
Today, there are so many options for social media, it can be overwhelming to know which platforms to use. We recommend utilizing the social media platforms that your customers primarily access. You can also work with local social media marketing professionals to gain recommendations and expertise.
5. Install signage for your brick and mortar location
Ensure your customers know where to find you by working with a local designer to install signage at your physical location. Make sure you know what types of signage are allowed based on your city's rules and regulations.
Whether you are just dipping your toe into the idea of starting a business, or you are diving in head first, there are a variety of resources available to you. We want you to be ready to maintain that business for years to come. We've curated a resource directory with some of the best public and private resources available in North Dakota so you can find what you need, now and in the future. Check out the abundance of resources available on our website.