Looking for the best strategies and tools to start your own business?
Today, you get the ultimate online business checklist and toolkit to help you run a successful business.
This guide includes:
- A step-by-step business checklist to start your business
- The business software you need to grow your business
- The 7 best business books
- A list of resources to help you get started fast
- And much more
Ready to learn more? Let’s dive right in.
Starting a business checklist
You can do online research and look at what people are already talking about online. A few platforms to use in your research include: Facebook, Instagram, and Reddit.
Starting a business can feel like you’re juggling so many things at the same time. Good news: You can break it down into a system that’s clear and easy to implement.
This business checklist shows you exactly what you need to work on to start a successful business.
Steps to take now
These are all the steps you need to take right now to start your business. Below each checklist item, I’ve included a suggested deadline to make it easier for you to implement them.
Step 1: Business idea
You might think that you can’t start a business without a business idea.
But a big misconception among new business owners is that they have to find a business idea like Facebook or Amazon.
The purpose of a business is to solve a problem and in exchange, get paid for it.
You already have skills that help people solve their problems.
So rather than finding a brand new business idea, you can use one of your existing skills.
For example, let’s say you’re an executive at a company. You probably have leadership skills.
Or you are a pro at giving presentations at work. You have speaking and presenting skills.
With these skills, you can sell a service, like coaching, consulting, or freelancing.
But how do you figure out which skill and service you should sell?
Understand what skills are in demand by taking a look at what people are already talking about, searching, and buying online.
What books, services, and products are they buying? What are they talking about in online chats?
If you see a pattern, you know that’s a service you might consider selling.
Now, maybe you’re thinking: “But all of those business ideas are taken!” Not so fast.
You see, it’s a good sign that businesses out there are already selling what you want to sell. That means that there is a demand for your business idea.
- Identify your key skills
- Research what’s already popular
Useful resource: 121 Service Business Ideas
Deadline: 7 days
Step 2: Market research
The next step is market research.
What is market research?
It’s research that helps you understand your potential clients.
What are their goals? And their pain points and challenges?
Look for things like: What people are willing to pay (based on what they’re already paying), what types of services they’re looking for, and what they like and dislike about existing offerings.
Next, interview at least three people who could be your ideal customers.
Yes, that’s right — get on the phone with them and talk to them. Ask them about their struggles and goals to understand why they would want to pay you.
You can find people to interview in your own network (friends and family) or in online groups where your ideal clients are spending their time. (For example, Facebook groups for ambitious women or Reddit subreddits for sports enthusiasts.)
- Use an interim name, like your own name
- Find another name when you have a few clients (optional)
- Do online research
- Interview three people in your market
Deadline: 7 days
Step 3: Business plan
If you want to put your business idea on paper, you can create a business plan.
Note: It’s not something I necessarily recommend.
And especially if you have limited time, you’re much better off focusing on your market research instead of crafting a long business plan.
Keep it to two or three pages. Take a look at the resource below to get your own business plan template.
- Write a short business plan (2-3 pages)
Resource: Write a Business Plan
Deadline: 7 days
Step 4: Business name
When you’re starting your business and you don’t yet have a domain name or similar, it’s easy to change your name. That’s why you shouldn’t spend too much time getting hung up on the “perfect” name. Pick a name, like your own name, and get started.
When should you then decide on your ultimate business name? Once you have a business with at least a few clients. Even then, you can continue using your name.
Or use a tool like Shopify’s business name generator to come up with ideas (see the resource list below).
Resource: 103 Strategies to Get Clients Online
Deadline: 2 days
Step 5: Legal structure
What should your legal structure look like?
That depends on the business you’re starting. As with everything else that comes with starting a business: Go with the easiest option. You can always change the structure later on.
If you’re starting a business by yourself, that legal structure might be a sole proprietorship or an LLC (the main way they differ is the liability you as a business owner have for your business assets). Read more about these legal structures in the “Business Structures” guide below.
- Read about different legal structures (see the resources below)
- Choose a structure that’s easy to set up
Deadline: 14 days
Step 6: Business licenses (if needed)
If your business needs licenses, you should get them before you start selling your services or products. Note that most online businesses don’t need licenses. Some of the professions that do need a license include medicine, law, and accounting.
- Check if your business requires a license (see the resource below)
Deadline: 7 days
Step 7: Marketing your business
Now it’s time to start marketing your business. This step is all about focusing on one or two strategies to start generating money.
I usually recommend new business owners to focus on strategies like tapping into their network and building relationships in online groups, like Facebook groups. Those are often the fastest ways to get clients.
To learn how to market your business, take a look at the resource below. Also, scroll until the end of this post to get even more marketing resources.
- Choose 1-2 marketing strategies
- Implement them every day
Deadline: 30 days
Steps to take later
These are steps that you don’t need to take right now. Instead, wait until you have at least a few clients in your business. The reason is that you’ll want to focus on the most important things right now — getting clients. Leave everything else, like the steps here below, to later.
Company bank account
At some point, it will be beneficial to have a company bank account so that you can keep your personal and company assets separate. The things you’ll want to look at when choosing your bank are things like:
- Services offered and customer service
- Monthly maintenance fees
- Cash and transaction limits
Do you want to continue working from home or get an office? You can also choose a flexible option, such as a coworking space. After all, an office can quickly add on a lot of business costs. If you’re an online business owner, a physical office isn’t a must-have.
Accounting is a big part of your business. Wait until you have a bit of revenue (a few clients) before you set up your accounting systems. After all, whether you do your accounting yourself or outsource it, you need to set aside time for research.
Surprised that a website isn’t a must-have? It’s true. I never recommend setting up a website before you have paying clients.
The reason is simple: No one will find your website before you have a bit of momentum. In the meantime, you can use your LinkedIn profile or Facebook page as a way for people to find out more about you.
And when you do set up your own website, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Use a basic WordPress website. Scroll down to Business software and tools to see the top tools to build your website.
Are you building a startup? Then, you might apply for funding.
Business software and tools
What are the must-have tools for your business? Here are my top tool recommendations to set up and run your business.
Set up your website
Here are the tools you need to set up your own website. These tools are specifically meant for setting up a website with WordPress.org. You can also use drag-and-drop website builders like WordPress.com or Squarespace.
My recommendation? Use WordPress.org because it’s much more customizable than drag-and-drop website builders. This can be important later on in your business when you need advanced features.
Hover is a domain registrar that lets you buy your own domain for your website. These days, a lot of domains are already bought up. That’s why using your own name as your business name can be a smart move. If you don’t have a common name, your name could still be available as a domain. And if your name is Jane Smith or similar, you can always add on a word, like “consulting” or “coaching.”
WP Engine is a hosting provider. What does this mean? If you set up your website with WordPress.org, you need to host your website somewhere. Otherwise, the URL won’t work.
WP Engine is a robust hosting provider with excellent customer service. That’s why I use it for my own website.
However, WP Engine is relatively pricey. If you’re looking for a less expensive option to start with, Bluehost is a good option.
Just note that if you want to change to a different hosting provider later on, you might face some issues like losing some of your site content.
Divi is a WordPress theme by ElegantThemes. Once you have your WordPress account, a domain, and a hosting provider, you still need to add a website theme to design your website (unless you want to use one of the template designs in WordPress, which I don’t recommend for you). These are usually drag-and-drop tools, like Divi.
Set up your business admin
Google Drive is a good (and completely free) tool to save and share files and documents.
Stripe is a great tool for receiving and sending one-time or ongoing payments.
Build an email list
Use these tools to build an email list. I recommend that you set up your email list when you have a website so that you can start building your own list of email subscribers. Your email subscribers are your warmest audience, which means that they are most likely to buy from you. That’s why you need the right tools for growing your list.
ActiveCampaign is an email marketing platform and automation tool. With this platform, you create an email list and send out emails to your list. The tool comes with some powerful automation options, which are helpful as your business grows.
LeadPages is a tool that lets you set up email opt-in forms and landing pages. These are used to generate leads. So when a person comes to your website, they see the opt-in form you’ve set up and when they fill in their information, they get added to your email list.
Communicate with your clients
How do you communicate with your clients?
These tools help you set up easy processes for your sales and client calls.
Want to set up a professional email? G Suite lets you connect your domain name and create a tailored email address for your business ([email protected]). This will make your business look polished.
Calendly is a scheduling tool that helps you schedule your client appointments. Calendly updates its calendar based on your existing calendar. When you send a scheduling link to your clients, they see your availability and can choose a suitable time slot.
Zoom is a video calling tool. You can use this for sales calls, meetings, and client calls.
Loom is a video recording tool that lets you record and share videos. Perfect for service business owners who want to quickly put together tutorials for their clients.
These legal tools help you set up the legal side of your business.
HelloSign is a tool that lets you electronically sign documents. You can also use it to send documents to your clients to sign.
This is legal coach Lisa Fraley’s starter kit for new service business owners. If you’re planning on selling consulting, coaching, or freelancing services, this kit is for you. You get a client agreement, as well as the legal documents you need for your website.
This is Lisa’s package for those who are just setting up their business and want to ensure they do it right.
Marketing your business
You don’t need THAT many tools to market your business. Instead, focus on refining your strategies to reach more clients.
But I do recommend a few helpful tools:
Canva is a drag-and-drop design tool. Use it to create visuals for your social media channels and website.
Buffer is a social media scheduling tool. You can schedule your social media posts to go out at set times to your own social media accounts.
If you market your business on Tailwind, my go-to tool for scheduling and automating Pinterest marketing is Tailwind.
Scale your business
These tools will come in helpful when you scale your business beyond a few monthly clients.
Teachable is a platform you can use to set up your own online course. Selling an online course is a great way to scale your business because of its low costs and high profit margins.
Samcart lets you set up your own sales pages and optimize conversions in your business.
I love business books! That’s why I’ve listed the seven most impactful books that have helped me grow my now multiple-7-figure business. I don’t see these recommended too often so make sure you check them out.
1. Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz*
“Psycho-Cybernetics” is a self-development book that helps you redefine your self-image to achieve your goals. This book includes techniques to improve and manage your self-image.
2. The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph by Ryan Holiday*
This book shows you how you can use obstacles to become more resilient and turn your problems into advantages. As an entrepreneur, this is key.
3. Secrets of the Millionaire Mind: Mastering the Inner Game of Wealth by T. Harv Eker*
We all have a personal money blueprint ingrained in our subconscious minds. In his book, T. Harv Eker shows you how to reset your money blueprint and position yourself for success.
4. Tapping Into Wealth: How Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) Can Help You Clear the Path to Making More Money by Margaret M. Lynch*
“Tapping Into Wealth” is a book that teaches EFT for your financial life. When I first heard about it, I wasn’t completely sold on EFT But after I started using it myself, I’ve been recommending this book to all my students.
5. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini*
“Influence” is a classic that shows you what it takes to influence other people. These principles are good to know for your sales and marketing strategies.
6. The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It by Michael E. Gerber*
“The E-Myth Revisited” is another classic. Michael E. Gerber shows small business owners how they can turn their businesses into financial successes.
7. Profit First: Transform Your Business from a Cash-Eating Monster to a Money-Making Machine by Mike Michalowicz*
One of my all-time favorite books is “Profit First.” It gives a new take on how to manage business finances. As the name suggests, it’s all about business profitability.
Business resources: How to start a business
What you’ll learn
Learn the basics of how to start a business. In this introductory section, you learn the basics, like what business model you should choose, how to manage your business and 9-5, and how to actually get started.
Start your coaching business
What you’ll learn
Learn how to start a specific type of business: A coaching business (you can also use these tips to start a consulting or freelancing business). This is the business model I recommend that new business owners focus on. Read on to learn how to start a coaching business.
Market your business
What you’ll learn
Learn how to market your business. In this section, you get the best strategies and tips to market and grow your business.
Scale your business
What you’ll learn
Learn how to scale your business to multiple 6- and 7-figures. Here, you get the steps it takes to grow a million-dollar business.
Master your inner game
What you’ll learn
Learn how to master your mindset. So much of your success depends on your inner game. And in this section, you learn how to change your thoughts.
Overcome your fear of failure (video)
Mindset habits (video)
Start your own business!
This online business checklist and toolkit has hopefully helped you take a few steps closer to starting your own business.
If you want a simple way to get started right now, download my free PDF. You learn how to start a coaching business fast so that you can grow it and quit your day job.
(Disclaimer: This article is not meant as legal advice. Consult a legal expert for tailored legal information that applies to your specific situation.)
*Zhou Ventures, Inc. is a proud affiliate of these companies. If you use these links, we may earn a small commission (at no additional cost to you).