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A Real, No BS ‘Start My Business' Checklist That I Actually Used To Start My Business

When you start your business, you’re going from Ground Zero. 

Aside from your expertise and a cup of enthusiasm, you probably don’t have much else in the way of launch material - nor do you know where to source it - and that’s scary.

At its core, a business plan is a strategic document that talks about where and how your business operates in an ideal market, so that you can swiftly and efficiently take it there. Of course, it should cover things like goals and objectives, financing, marketing, branding and internal policies - but in my opinion, these are just the basics..

The truth is, when you’re starting a business, there’s only so much planning you can do. My business changed drastically about three or four times in the first six months alone, which would have rendered all that upfront work obsolete had I stuck to it too religiously. 

Instead, in your business plan, you want to focus on the action items. And one of the best ways to do this is to use a business checklist.

My business checklist for Wordy and Smith, my strategic copywriting and communications studio, was short and sweet. I identified really early on what I would need to get off the ground and into full swing, and I tabled those needs in a very simple way. It was essentially: item, notes about that item, and status of that item.

Right underneath, I tabled costs. What kind of insurances, subscriptions and expenses would I be coughing up for, and what would I need to bring in (or have saved) from the get-go in order to make those costs. 

And that was it. 

Because the hardcore business and brand plan will come later. All that “who is my ideal customer?”, “what’s my competitive edge?”, “how much do I need to bring in to build a team?”, “what’s my niche?”, “what do I want to be seen as?”. All of that is great in theory, but you’re kidding yourself if you think you won’t iterate a million times before you land on the perfect business model. 

Even now, my business shifts slightly every few months as I work with a different type of client or my thinking evolves. And that’s the beautiful part of running your own show.

So, enjoy my table below. Tweak and it and refine it however you need to to suit your own business goals, product or services-based, and relish in its simplicity. It’s not a super crazy Excel sheet or PDF with multiple built-in formulas, because you don’t need that.

You just need to get started, friend. And this will help you do it:

Lock-in early rates

How much are you going to charge off the bat? What do your competitors charge? See costings below to help you better work out this number.

Create website (+ SEO)

Jot down your website domain, hosting details and any basic DIY SEO work you want to do, like utilising certain keywords throughout your copy, alt-tags and meta-descriptions.

Create logo

Doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should represent you and your style.

Pick a name and buy a domain

What’s in a name? Well, if you go with your gut, a lot.

Get business cards sorted

Not a necessity, but I attended a lot of networking and business events in the early days to meet others and get the word out, and these really helped.

Set up online freelance profiles

If you’re services-based and looking to do a little freelancing work to get the ball rolling, these can be a great place to start.

Vet social profiles

Heads up: People will be Googling you. Make sure your online profile is a good representation of who you want them to see - or make your profiles super private.

Create go-to proposal

When you find that first, great client - you’ll want to send through a Proposal of Work straightaway. As in, right off the call. So set up a basic proposal or quote document that you can easily personalise and send forth. 

Write up short introduction templates

Reaching out to prospective customers, agencies, clients and stockists can be time-consuming and energy-draining. Use a few go-to introduction templates that you can whizz out in response to job postings or if you just really want to work with someone. Leave ample space for personalisation but know where your personalisation slots are so you don’t leave [COMPANY NAME] with a bad impression.

Set up G Suite Basic (including Gmail for Business)

Or whatever email aliases you use. Branded emails are super professional, and expected nowadays if pitching to big fish.

Set up email signature

Keep it simple if you don’t have the resources for anything flashy. Name, phone number, website URL and availability will suffice. Avoid overblown images as they make emails very unsexy.

Obtain written referrals

Get some written referrals that you can plaster all over your website, LinkedIn and online profiles.

Set up home office

List everything you need in order to set up a home office. Desk, mouse, keyboard, chair - anything else and you’re maybe going a bit overboard. Let’s make some money first, shall we? The snazzy city office comes later.

Obtain ABN number 

ABN’s are importanto, and you need them to trade as a business. Register and write it in this section so it’s always handy (keep it on important documents, too).

Meet with accountant and set up business accounts

Having a dedicated business account just makes tax-time simpler. I also used this space to jot down my accountant’s recommendations for how to siphon my money. As a rule of thumb, I put 25% into an account for tax, 10% into my super (you should pay yourself as a small business) and I keep some aside for my student loan as that will be calculated and payable at tax time (it’s around 5%). I actually pay into my student loan as well so I pay less when inflation is calculated, but we’re getting technical here and you can learn more about the money side over at my blog, That Girl On Fire.

Set up a digital resume

Having a one-page, PDF version of my resume that I could whack out on request was helpful. Often, when businesses are looking for contractors to work with, they’re short on time - meaning that the hiring process is quick. Be prepared.

Set up invoice template and system, and expense system

For logging expenses, managing invoices, keeping track of clients details and keeping a keen eye on cash flow.

Set up Terms and Conditions and contract

“By signing here, you accept these Terms and Conditions and enter into this arrangement…”. I kept lists of legal websites with important information on Ts and Cs and linked a virtual copy of my Terms and Contract here so I could always refer to it if needed.

Content marketing strategy

I kept a list of how I wanted to market myself on a budget in the beginning. This included:

  • Blog (SEO);

  • Social media (build following);

  • SEO optimisation on website (keywords);

  • Guest posting for media (pitch articles, listicles and ideas).

Market research

Here’s where I linked any bookmarked pages of my favourite meet-ups and groups. Meeting with existing people in your network or potential clients is a great way to start testing what your industry needs and finding potential partners and clients.

Have professional headshots taken

The quality of iPhone photos today is amazing. Keep a link here to the folder with them in here.

Organise insurance policies 

List out relevant insurance policies for the business (public liability is a standard for most) and keep the folder with the PDF confirmations of them here.

Top tip: If you’re working from home at all, let your home and contents insurer know.

Set up productivity tools

Password storage, folders, workflow, anti-virus softwares. Make sure everything is encrypted and stored safely.

Renew library memberships

You might be wanting to work from them a fair bit.

Create social media handles

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, CRM. List them here.

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Now, the next part is optional, but something I found very effective in the early days was to write a list of things I wanted to do - and a list of things I wasn’t prepared to do.

You see, we all have a particular skill-set and in the beginnings of our business journey, we often feel like we can (and should) be everything to everyone. This leads us to taking on work that we don’t particularly enjoy, or feel is the best use of our talents.

From personal experience, it’s one of the quickest ways to start resenting what you do. And that should never be what happens. To avoid this as much as possible, start with a list of non-negotiable no’s from the beginning, and don’t deviate from those. It allows you to hone in on the things you’re great at and keep the happiness levels high. 

Overall, your business is going to become whatever you make it, and that’s an amazing thing. The world of entrepreneurship is so full of incredible highs and lows, so enjoy it.