Starting a business is one of the most challenging and rewarding things you’ll ever do. The process is simpler than you might imagine, but to try to boil it down to five or 10 steps is an underestimation and an injustice. The following 50 steps to start a business are, for the most part, necessary — though some businesses may be able to skip several steps, and others may be able to accomplish them completely out of order.
Take these steps to start your business, however they suit you best:
1. Be inspired. Your first step is to get inspired to be an entrepreneur. If you’re reading this article, you’re probably already there.
2. Have a passion. Few business owners are successful without a sufficient passion driving their efforts. Find something you’re passionate about.
3. Educate yourself. You don’t need a college degree, but you do need to be aware of the risks and realities of business ownership.
4. Generate an idea. This is the hard part: coming up with an idea that has the potential to launch a full-fledged business.
5. Preliminarily research the idea. Poke around the web and see what you can find. Are there other businesses like this?
6. Talk to others. See what your friends and family think about your idea, and be open to criticism.
7. Develop the idea. Brainstorm to work out the potential flaws and key advantages.
8. Research and start a business plan. Now’s your chance to get more involved. Find out what competitors there are and dig deep to create a full-fledged business plan (use the next steps to help you).
9. Determine your target market. Not everyone will be your target customer. Find a niche.
10. Come up with a financial model. How much are you going to charge? How much will it cost to run the business? How profitable can you be?
11. Come up with an operations model. Who and what do you need to maintain production?
12. Come up with a staffing plan. Determine the people you need to hire to get things started.
13. Come up with a sales and marketing plan. This isn’t superfluous. Sales and marketing are what will drive your business to grow.
14. Come up with a growth plan. How do you expect to scale in the first year? What about years two and three?
15. Decide on a legal structure for your business. Every legal construct has advantages and disadvantages. Think carefully about what will work best.
16. Determine what you need to start. Think about the people, resources and capital you need, and have both an “ideal” and “minimum” range.
17. Objectively analyze the risk. Determine how much you stand to lose if the company goes under.
18. If you’re ready, quit your current job. If everything looks good, pull the trigger and invest yourself full-time in your enterprise.
19. Secure capital. Withdraw savings, borrow from friends, seek funding or set up a line of credit with a bank — or some combination of these.
20. Seek resources and aid. Join a small-business development center and find local resources to help you succeed.
21. Scout for potential clients. Keep your eyes peeled for individuals and businesses that might buy from you, and the earlier the better. Try to get at least one client before investing a dime.
Related: Need a Business Idea? Here are 55
22. Register your business name. It’s a simple step, but a necessary one.
23. Get a tax ID. Don’t forget about your tax responsibilities.
24. File for state and local taxes. Don’t neglect this financial step.
25. Obtain any necessary permits or licenses. Your business may require additional legal registrations.
26. Recruit one or more mentors. Find experienced entrepreneurs who can help you with the remaining steps, offering insight and guidance.
27. Find your key locations. Your office location, operations HQ and related issues are important decisions to make.
28. Establish a unique brand. Find out what makes your business unique, and develop a brand around it.
29. Start building a personal brand. While you’re at it, build a personal brand for yourself.
30. Create a test product or service. Call it a prototype if you want. Create a sample if you haven’t already.
31. Establish key vendors and partners. Find contractors, vendors and suppliers to help your business succeed.
32. Learn and apply your employer responsibilities. You’ll have to offer certain benefits, conditions and withholdings.
33. Hire your first employees. Hire the bare minimum you need to get started.
34. Create a human resource plan and company culture. Create some guidelines, and hire people who will adhere to them.
35. Start selling. Go out and sell the heck out of your products.
36. Launch a website. As soon as you can, establish an online presence.
37. Outline and begin a digital marketing campaign. Digital marketing is cheap, easy, and effective. SEO, content marketing, and social media are good places to start.
38. Network everywhere you go. Make it a point to meet people. You never know who could be a new client or employee.
39. Find at least one dependable, long-term client. Prioritize getting at least one surefire long-term client.
40. Use promotions and discounts to attract new customers. Profitability is not as important as recognition in your early stages.
41. Learn from customer feedback and launch a second iteration of your products or services. Make tweaks to your offerings.
42. Hire more employees if necessary. When you’re ready, expand the team.
43. Tweak your operations to become more efficient. No operation plan is perfect. Find ways to improve yours.
44. Ensure your cash flow remains positive, with proper safety measures. Cash can kill an otherwise profitable business. Don’t neglect it.
45. Scale your sales strategy. Do more.
46. Scale your marketing strategy. Reach further.
47. Invest in infrastructural improvements. Improve whatever you can afford to improve to make your customers happier.
48. Learn more about your industry. Reach out to competitors, and attend industry conferences.
49. Become a thought leader. Establish yourself as an authority by speaking, writing and hosting webinars.
50. Evaluate your progress thus far, and adjust your business plan. Determine where you are in contrast to where you thought you’d be, and think about what expectations you had that were wrong. Revisit your business plan and adjust it to reflect your current situation and understandings.
Every business is unique, so yours may not perfectly adhere to the formula. Use these steps as a loose guideline for the course of your business’ development, and thrust yourself into the process as much as you can.