THE BLOG
09/07/2016 08:38 am ET

Back to School Means Back to Business: Your Must-Do Small Business Startup Checklist

Summer is a time when many startup entrepreneurs tend to ease up on the intensity of their work. Vacations...kids home from school...it's easy to fall behind in moving your business forward. But now that school's back in session, it's time to get back on track.

If you're just starting your business, you need to put your nose to the grindstone as fall arrives. To be full steam ahead by year end, you must accomplish some important tasks.

But where do you begin? First and foremost, you'll need to take care of some important legal and accounting compliance details so you can legitimately operate your business.

Here's my Must-Do Small Business Checklist to help guide you in tackling the critical requirements:

1. Decide On Your Business Structure. I can't emphasize enough how crucial it is to do your homework and carefully review your options. Selecting a business structure affects the liability protection your business will have and the way taxes are applied. While being a sole proprietor offers convenience and less compliance complexity, it puts your personal assets at risk. By filing your company as a corporation or forming an LLC, you gain some liability protection and potential tax benefits.

2. Register Your Business Name. After you carefully choose your business name and perform a corporate name search (typically with your state's Secretary of State office) to make sure it's available for your use, you'll need to register it. When establishing your business as a corporation or forming an LLC, your business name will automatically be registered. If you decide to conduct business as a sole proprietor, then you'll have to file a DBA (Doing Business As) application to secure your name. The exception to the DBA requirement is if your business name reflects your personal first and last name (for example, Jane Snow's Gift Boutique).

3. Apply For Your EIN. To open a bank account and take care of some other administrative tasks, you'll need to apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN). It's sort of like a social security number for your business, and you'll use it quite often, including when you file your taxes.

4. Get The Business Permits And Licenses You'll Need. Some types of businesses can't legally operate unless they've secured certain licenses and permits. Find out what licenses and permits you'll need at the local, state, and federal levels, and apply sooner rather than later. Sometimes approvals may take some time depending on what licenses or permits you're applying for.

5. Protect Your Intellectual Property. While this isn't a requirement to launch your business, it's important to think about so others don't steal what's yours! To protect ideas, products, names, tag lines, logos, etc., you might consider filing for trademarks or patents to protect your brand from copycats.

What I've listed here is just the beginning! You'll also need to open your bank account, write your business plan, get your website up and running, set up social media accounts, order business cards, hire employees, get insurance, and more.

If you find it all slightly overwhelming, know that's to be expected--and don't feel like you have to go it alone.

Not everything has to be done by you and you alone. For example, you can lessen your stress level by getting the help of a legal professional and/or using the services of a business document filing service for taking care of the items I've included on my checklist. And you might consider the help of a SCORE mentor or business consultant for guidance on other aspects of starting and running a business.

Yes, summer is over, and you face a lot of work ahead. But you'll soon realize that after taking care of the essential steps involved in launching your business, the fun has just begun.

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