Firestarter: Your Free Startup Tool Kit

Updated on December 10, 2020
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Getting Started

At Fundera, we’re here to be a partner to your business at all stages, helping you make better and more informed decisions as you launch and grow your business. That’s why we created Firestarter.

Firestarter breaks down the exact steps every business owner needs to take to launch their business—no matter what kind of business they’re starting. It also takes the guesswork out of finding the tools you need to start and run your business effectively.

Follow all of Firestarter if you’re starting from square one, or jump to the steps you’re most interested in to get the experience most helpful to you.

Let’s get started!

Step 1: Coming up with an idea

Before anything else comes the idea. Some entrepreneurs are spurred into entrepreneurship by the idea itself. Others might simply know they’re meant to be entrepreneurs but will need to do a bit of searching for the best business idea for them.

Either way, the idea is the start to any successful business endeavor. If you’re still searching for the seed from which your startup will grow, consider the most promising industries for starting a business. What problem areas remain in each of the industries? Is there a vacuum in one of them that your startup could fill? Would anyone actually need you to solve this problem or fill this vacuum? Think about where your new business would fit into the grand scheme of things, and go from there.

Testing your business idea

Even the best small business ideas need to be validated before they take off. Truly, there’s no way to know for sure that a business idea will succeed unless you test it first. It’s crucial to confirm that there’s actually a space for your projected good or service in the market. And whether your intended customers care at all about whatever you want to sell to them.

There are multiple ways to go about learning this information. Here are the steps to take to test your business idea before you invest time, money, and resources into it.

Ask yourself all the necessary questions—so that you’ll have answers ready when others inevitably ask them.

Once you have a general idea of what your business will do, it’s time to start solidifying things. There are a few things you must consider before you dive head-first into testing your business idea. Start by asking yourself these questions. Answer carefully—how you handle these questions will help shape your testing strategy and, as a result, your whole startup.

Find—and reach—your target customers

Now that you’ve answered these crucial questions for yourself, it’s time to put your answers to action. You’ve solidified all the information necessary for testing your business idea—the who and the what—it’s time to start planning your testing strategy.

Though it might be tempting to follow the momentum that tend to accompany the process of starting up, be sure to give this step due attention. Jumping into a premature launch could mean sinking valuable time and money into an idea that won’t work—dedicating the small amount of time and money it requires to test now will likely save you from making costly mistakes in the long-run.

Here are some simple, inexpensive ways to test your business idea before you run full speed ahead:

Drafting a quick business plan

Though you’re still early on in the process of starting your own business, writing a business plan is already something you’ll need to start thinking about. Traditional business plans will call for more information than you have right now—think legal entity type and organizational charts, for example.

That said, you’ll need to draft a starter version of a business plan, if not for potential investors or partners, then for your own preparation and peace of mind. In the SBA guide to writing a business plan, the Small Business Administration provides a guide to creating a lean startup business plan. They recommend you include preliminary information like key partnerships, value propositions, and customer acquisition channels.

These will be preliminary, preemptive answers to key business questions, so the first draft of your business plan will be exactly that—a first draft.

As you solidify each logistical facet of your business, you’ll be able to create your second, third, and fourth drafts of your business plan. When you have everything in place, you’ll be able to create a more formal, comprehensive version of your business plan. When the time comes, consult a comprehensive business plan template to help you create a formalized version of the one you just drafted up.  And get ready to buckle down and write—the SBA recommended business plan length is 38 to 50 pages.

Fundera Resources:

Step 2: Choosing your business entity and legal structure

Probably the least exciting but one of the most important steps in starting a business: choosing your business entity and registering it.

There are a number of business entities that you could choose from:

  • Sole proprietorship: A sole prop is the simplest business entity, which sets up one person as the sole owner and operator of the business.
  • C corporation: A C-corp is an independent legal entity that exists separately from the company’s owners. Shareholders (the owners), a board of directors, and officers have control over the corporation, though one person in a C-corp can fulfill all of these roles, so it’s possible to create a corporation with you in charge of everything.
  • S corporation: An S-corp preserves the limited liability that comes with a C-corp but is a pass-through entity for tax purposes. This means that, similar to a sole prop or partnership, an S-corp’s profits and losses pass through to the owners’ personal tax returns.
  • Limited liability company (LLC): Like corporations, LLCs offer limited liability protections. But they have few paperwork and ongoing requirements, and in that sense, they are more like sole proprietorships and partnerships.
  • Partnership: Partnerships share a lot of similarities with sole proprietorships—the key difference is that the business has two or more owners.
  • And more! These are just the most common business entities. To get a complete list of everything out there, check out this business entity comparison article.

Each has different implications for your business now and down the line—ranging from how you file your taxes to how you structure the ownership of your business. It might not seem like it now, but your business structure has real impact. It’s not a decision you should blow through early on.

Let’s walk through it together.

What to consider when choosing

Gauging your needs in the following considerations will help you decide the type of business entity you really need.

When you’re thinking through these things, try to be as forward-thinking as possible. Of course, it’s impossible to foresee all the things that might happen to and change for your business, but keeping the future in mind will help you make a smarter decision for your business in the beginning.  

  • Legal liability

    How legally protected should you be as the owner of your business? Some business entities will provide more legal protections than others.

    The answer to this question probably depends on the type of business you’re starting. If you’re business lends itself to potential liability, you might want to protect yourself from any personal costs associated with those liabilities. For instance, businesses with large equipment investments or large contracts might not want to personally take on the liability associated with business losses.

    Evaluate how risky your business is and the amount of potential personal liability you’re comfortable with, and choose the business formation that protects you accordingly. When in doubt, go with more legal protection than less, as business owners need to protect their personal assets.

    Here are the most common business entities ranked from most to least legal protection for the business owner:

    • Corporations
    • LLCs
    • General Partnership
    • Sole proprietorship
  • Tax implications

    Different business entities give you different opportunities to minimize your taxation as a business owner.

    For instance, there are a lot more tax options for corporations than there are for proprietorships and partnerships. C corps are subject to double taxation (where income taxes are paid twice on the same source of income—subject to corporate and personal income taxes). An S corp avoids double taxation by offering a pass-through taxation structure, meaning business income gets passed to the owner’s personal tax return, and is never taxed at the corporate rate.

    Here are the most common business entities ranked from most to corporate tax burden to least:

    • C corporation
    • Partnership
    • LLC
    • Sole proprietorship
    • S corporation
  • Cost of formation

    Before you jump to forming an S corp for the tax benefits, you have to consider the cost of formation across all the business entities.

    Generally speaking, corporations (both C and S corps) have much stricter record-keeping and paperwork requirements than partnerships or sole proprietorships have. Staying compliant with state and federal record-keeping regulations can be more expensive than you think.

    Business entities also have a range of filing fees when you file your business at your state office. Sole proprietorships and partnerships only pay a business entity fee once, whereas corporations and LLCs pay a lot more at the point of formation and on an annual basis.

    Here are the most common business entities ranked from most expensive cost of formation to least:

    • Corporations (both C and S corps)
    • LLC
    • Partnership
    • Sole proprietorship
  • Flexibility of your ownership structure

    A final major consideration for which business entity you choose is how you want your ownership structure to be set up.

    Early on in your business, you really want to make sure that you’re setting yourself up for maximum flexibility when it comes to ownership structure—you never know what will happen in the future. If multiple owners are involved, you’ll probably want to choose a business entity that allows for changes in the ownership structure without harming the business’s ability to run.

    Here are the most common business entities ranked from most flexible ownership to least:

    • LLCs
    • Sole proprietorship
    • C corporations
    • Partnerships
    • S corporations

How to choose your business entity based on the business you’re starting

It’s not a bad idea to consult an accountant or legal professional through this decision—it’s a big one, and will have a pretty large impact on how you conduct business.

When it comes to deciding, think about the tax implications and the non-tax implications that are most important to you. Here are the types of thought processes you should be having:

If you’re running a solo business in which you might be exposing yourself to more legal consequences than other types of businesses, then you should really lean towards a business entity with more personal liability protections. Not making the right choice here could put your personal financial assets (your house, car, savings accounts, etc.) at risk.

Another consideration? How much you want to grow your business. If you’re thinking big, then an S corp isn’t for you—you’ll be capped at 100 shareholders. It’s probably better to go the C corporation route.

If you’ll keep your business somewhat small and you’re okay managing the many filing requirements associated with an S corp, then you’ll probably save on taxes.

If you want to keep your business small and simple (i.e. very few filling requirements), then the sole proprietorship route is best for you.  

Step 3: Choosing your business’s name

Choosing your business’s name will take more thought than you think, and it might be a step you’re tempted to blow past. But before you choose a name and move on, take some time to evaluate your ideas.

Does your name match your brand identity?

Does it compliment the goods or services you actually provide?

Take advantage of this branding exercise early on to set your business up for success in the future—and avoid some common naming mistakes outlined here.

There are also some important logistics involved with naming your business that you might not have been aware of. Beyond coming up with a brand-oriented and memorable name, here are some steps you need to think through as you’re naming your business:

  • Check out your state’s business naming requirements. Some states put restrictions on what you can name your business based on how you’re structured. For instance, LLCs or corporations might need to have “LLC” or “corp.” in the name. You can check out what’s required of you on your Secretary of State’s website.
  • Check to see if your business name is available. Before you get too attached to name, check to make sure the .com domain is available, the trademark is available (if you want to trademark your business’s name), and whether there are similarly-named businesses already registered with your Secretary of State.

The easiest way to register a business name is to simply file a DBA (Doing Business As), or fictitious business name, which allows you to register your business as a name different than your own. You can do so with your state or county clerk’s office.

And if in the end you think it makes the most sense for your business’s name to simply be your own legal name, then you won’t have to do anything to register it.

Fundera Resources:

Step 4: Registering your business

You’ve made some key decisions so far: how you’re structuring your business, and what you’re going to call yourself.

Now you have to make it official. This means registering your business on a local, state, and federal basis, and obtaining all the licenses and permits you need to operate.  

Your business’s location and your business structure will dictate how you need to register your business, so it’s almost impossible to lay out an exact guide for how to register your business step-by-step.

We’ll dive into some details below, but if we had to boil the process down, here’s what practically every business needs to do to register:

  1. Choose your business entity.
  2. Choose your name and determine if it’s available.
  3. Register for an EIN via the IRS (you can start the application process here).
  4. File the paperwork necessary to register a business in your state (if it’s required).
  5. Obtain the licenses and permits you need to conduct business in your state.

Registering with local agencies

Most businesses don’t actually need to register with city or county entities to do business.

But if you’re registering as an LLC, corporation, partnership, or nonprofit corporation, you might need to file for licenses and permits from the county or city.

Use your local government website as the ultimate resource for figuring out what you need to register and operate your business on a local level, but here are some common local business licenses you might need to get:

  • Local Business Operating License
  • Zoning and Land Use Permits
  • Building Permits
  • Fire Department Permit
  • Health Licenses and Permits
  • Signage Licenses and Permits
  • Environmental Licenses and Permits

Registering with state agencies

If you’re structuring your business as a sole proprietorship, you won’t need to register as a business entity with your state.

LLCs, partnerships, and corporations will need to register with the state, and the steps you need to take and documents you need to file will depend on the state you’re registering in. The SBA can point you towards the appropriate Secretary of State page by state here. Some states allow you to register online, others will make you do so in person or through the mail.

All business entities (besides sole proprietorships) will need a registered agent in the state of registration to receive official papers and legal documents on behalf of the company. This could be the business owner, though many business owners choose to hire a registered agent service to do this on their behalf.

Again, the documents, licenses and permits need at a state level will depend on the actual state you’re incorporating in.

But there are common documents that state agencies require by business structure:


  • Articles of organization
  • LLC operating agreement

Limited Partnership:

  • Certificate of limited partnership
  • Limited partnership agreement

Limited Liability Partnership:

  • Certificate of limited liability partnership
  • Limited liability partnership agreement

Any corporation:

  • Articles of incorporation
  • Bylaws or resolutions

Also, if you choose to use a trade or fictitious name, most states will require you to register your DBA.

Registering with federal agencies

When it comes to registering with federal agencies, most businesses only really need to get an employer identification number (also referred to as an EIN or federal tax ID number). S corporations will need to do that and file form 2553.

Some business owners will also register with the federal government for trademark protection or tax exempt status. To register for trademark protection, you’ll need to file with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. To file for tax exempt status, head to the IRS’s website to learn more.

After that, the business licenses, permits, and documents you’ll need to file with federal agencies really depends on the type of business you’re conducting, and whether it’s a federally regulated industry. Check out the list of what you’ll need based on regulated industries here.

Fundera Resources:

Step 5: Financial planning & estimating startup costs

Tending to the details of your startup budget won’t necessarily be the most exciting part of your new business—but it could be the most crucial step towards startup success. In fact, 29% of startups fail because they run out of cash. So, taking the time to carefully plan your business’s finances could very well mean the difference between startup success and closing up shop.

Be sure to note: If you’re looking for investors or raising capital for a startup, a financial plan is absolutely necessary. Your startup’s financial planning documents will have to be comprehensive and backed up by serious research.

This guide for financial planning will be meant for basic startup needs, so if you need to fashion a more formal version of your financial documents for potential investors or partners, be sure to consult other resources, like Inc.’s guide to writing the financial section of your business plan.

Estimating your startup costs

First, you’ll need to estimate just how much capital will be necessary to finance your startup. Though the amount of overhead you’ll need to get your startup running will vary from business to business, most all businesses will require at least some initial investments.

Some of the most common startup expenses are office space rent, website costs, insurance costs, license fees, and permit fees.

Take a look at the SBA’s guide to calculating your startup costs and their sample startup cost worksheet to get an idea of how your business expenses will look in the first months of starting up.

Putting together a simple budget

Now that you’ve compiled all of the projected expenses your startup will entail, it’s time to start thinking about your overall startup budget. The Balance offers a great guide to creating a startup budget from scratch. They suggest you start by planning for the day-one expenses. From there, you’ll estimate monthly expenses and monthly sales—and then you’ll create a cash flow statement based off of all of these estimates. (Here’s a guide to cash flow statements once you get to this point).

Remember that all of these projected numbers will rely on guesses, so be sure to make them educated guesses. Chances are, there are example startup budgets for the industry you’re trying to break into—and chances are, they’re available for free online. Whether you’re starting an online, service-based business; a brick-and-mortar, product-based business; or anything in between, be sure to do your research on what investments similar businesses have required in the past.

Managing cash flow

As mentioned, almost a third of startups that fail do so because they run out of cash. That’s why intentional cash flow management is far from negotiable for running a new business.

Most tips for managing cash flow as a new business deal with spending—after all, cutting down your bottom line will mean cutting down on the possibility of running out of cash to keep your doors open. To whittle down your costs, be sure to negotiate with vendors and outsource to save on payroll.

However, to fully manage your cash flow, you’ll also need to make sure you’re taking in cash at a steady cadence.

For one, make sure you’re getting paid on time. Consider offering discounts to customers that fulfill invoices early and negotiating repayment terms for your accounts receivable.

To smooth things out, you can look into opening up a business credit card or a business charge card account—but be careful if you do. Overspending on a business credit card could mean accumulating expensive debt that would add to your business’s bottom line.

On the other hand, you won’t be able to take time to pay down any business charge card spending you do—so only opt for this cash flow solution if you’re certain you’ll have the capital to pay down your entire monthly balance.

There are reasons why every new business owner should have a business credit card, which we explain in Firestarter, but don’t use a credit card just to overload it with debt when you’re starting.

Knowing when and what to pay yourself

There’s no universally applicable approach to the entrepreneur salary. While some entrepreneurs choose to never pay themselves, that’s simply not an option for many new business owners. But how can you know when to pay yourself—much less how much to pay yourself—when you’re just starting a business with limited revenues?

Most sources advise new business owners to only pay themselves out of their startup’s profits—rather than their startup’s revenues.

That said, calculating your own salary into your business’s costs might simply have to happen for your business to exist in the first place.

Nonetheless, you’ll need to set up a structure for your salary, just as you would for any other employee (whether you’re running things on your own or not). Add yourself to the payroll, and set up a regular schedule for your paychecks. If you dip into your business’s revenues irregularly, then you could trigger an IRS audit—which will cost you time and money.

To determine how much to pay yourself, you should consider the government’s concept of reasonable compensation. Depending on your industry, business size, and level of profit, the IRS will expect you to pay yourself a certain amount. Look into this amount for your particular situation, then also consult sources like Glassdoor to figure out what people working comparable jobs are getting paid.

At the end of the day, when and how to pay yourself will depend completely on your startup’s unique financial situation. Be sure to talk to your accountant to see what they suggest for your salary size and timing.

Read more about how to navigate paying yourself as an entrepreneur here.

Getting a business credit card

How do you find financing to get your business off the ground? Unfortunately, most traditional funding options are usually not available until you have 6 to 9 months in business.

So, we recommend getting a business credit card to help finance your initial business transactions, and earn rewards on the inevitable expenses you’ll incur early on.

A business credit card is also essential to:

  • Separate your business and personal finances
  • Build your business’s credit

There are some business credit cards that come with a 0% intro APR period. This means that, for however long that period of time is, you can use your card for transactions and won’t pay any interest on the balance. You will need to pay off the minimum balance required each month, but that’s it.

You then have to be prepared to pay off the balance when the intro period is up. Otherwise, you’ll be hit with very expensive interest on whatever balance you have remaining.

0% intro APR credit cards can be like interest-free loans if used responsibly, and can be incredibly useful for startup owners.

That’s why we recommend the Amex Blue Business Plus for early-stage business owners.

The Amex Blue Business Plus has the longest 0% intro APR period for both purchases and balance transfers at 12 months. You can learn more about this card here and more about 0% intro APR cards here.

If you don’t meet the credit threshold for this card, you should still get a business credit card, even if it isn’t a 0% intro APR card.

If you have a personal credit score below 660+, we recommend the Capital One Spark Classic. You can learn more about that card here or below.

Get the Blue Business Plus

Considering financing and funding

Some business owners choose to start their business with very little capital, taking their chances bootstrapping their business. But others will realize that, to reach their goals, they’ll need some sort of outside capital early on. If that’s you, then take some time getting to know the ins and outs of the financing and funding options that are available to newer business owners.

Admittedly, they’ll be limited. Here’s are your best options for finding capital when you’re just starting your business:

  • Traditional business loans
  • Equity funding
  • Crowdfunding
  • Grants
  • Friends and family

Step 6: Preparing to take in money, storing it, and managing it

If everything goes to plan, you’ll start taking in revenues for your startup soon.

So, you’ll need to be prepared to handle your business’s capital—and handle it well. Being intentional with your business’s revenues will help to ensure a smooth cash flow and on-time bills. Here are systems you’ll need to set up to keep your business’s finances in shape.

Getting a business bank account

Before any other financial processes, you’ll need to set up a business bank account—more specifically, a business checking account.

When it comes to the tools you need to start your business, a business checking account is a must.  

Paying bills online, setting up direct deposit payroll, and even opening up a business credit card account will all require you to have a business checking account. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Beyond the processes and systems that require you to have a business checking account, there are certain aspects to having a business bank account that will simply make your life so much easier—and these can often be the most compelling.

For one, keeping your business finances portioned off into your business bank account—far away from your personal finances—will make tax season much easier. Additionally, this separation of personal and business finances will help ensure limited liability protection. Even just having checks with your business name on the—rather than your own personal checks—will help instill legitimacy.

Our current picks for the best bank accounts for new businesses

These days, opening a business bank account is easier than ever. Many online business bank accounts will allow you to open a new account without visiting a branch. Look into Azlo Business Checking for a straightforward, fee-free online business checking account. Or check out Axos Business Banking for an online business checking account that bears interest.

If you’re looking for something a bit more traditional (like a bank with actual branches), consider Chase Business Checking. Chase Business Checking accounts come in three versions—Total, Performance, and Platinum—which makes it easy to scale your checking account as your business grows.

Open an Azlo Account

Do you need a savings account?

Maybe you already have a business checking account up and running, and your business is producing excess capital. In this case, you should consider setting up a business savings account.  

Storing your capital in a business savings account will make it less accessible—most accounts will have a monthly limit on the number of free transactions you can perform. That said, a business savings account will also allow you to earn interest for your capital, so it’s often worth it if you don’t need constant access to your savings.

For online business savings accounts that you can open without visiting a branch, look into Axos Business Premium Savings and Axos Business Savings. For a more traditional business savings option, you can open a Capital One Business Advantage Savings account by visiting a branch.

Fundera Resources:

Setting up a payment system

Once you have your business banking set up, it’s time to make sure that your business can pay vendors—and, of course, get paid by customers. Payment processing is the background action that allows one bank or card account to pay money to another bank account. This includes ACH payments, credit card payments, debit card payments, and even gift card payments.

Essentially, any business that wants to make it easy for your customers to pay them will need to set up payment processing. It’s just a question of what kind of payment processing they opt for.

  • How to decide what kind of payment processing you need

    Even if you’re a sole proprietor who invoices clients, you’ll likely want to provide an online payment option for your invoices.

    Even payments as simple as this will require the help of a payment processing companies. Luckily, you’ll have a lot of options to choose from. Stripe and PayPal offer mostly online payment processing—and most invoicing tools will offer integrations with them.

    If you need to access payment processing that is more focused on in-person transactions, then consider payment processing companies like Square and Clover, who offer a wide range of point of sale systems for brick-and-mortar small businesses.

    While trying to choose the right payment processing company for your business, be sure to see how they will charge you per transaction. Fees for credit card processing in particular will get pretty complicated: Most payment processing companies will offer either tiered plans, interchange-plus plans, or flat-rate plans, and all of them will come with their own pros and cons.

    You’ll also need to make sure you’re getting the features you need from the payment processing company you choose.

    Is a point-of-sale system included if you’re processing in-person payments? Does your payment processing company offer mobile point-of-sale options if you’re an on-the-go business? If you’re working with an ecommerce platform, does your chosen payment processing company integrate easily with it? These are all factors you’ll need to consider while choosing your payment processing company.

    If you process a lot of in-person transactions and want to keep your solution low-cost, our recommendation for the best POS system is currently Square. But if you’re completely online, you’ll probably want to set up an online checkout process with Shopify or PayPal.

Setting up a general payments collection process

You might be starting a business that doesn’t have a lot of in-person transactions that would call for a tool like Square. Instead, you might be invoicing clients, setting up a credit system, or taking in checks. There are a lot of different ways to get paid, and the first step for setting up a payments collection process is simply determining the best system for you.  

Next you need to set up some rules for how customers pay you. This is especially relevant if you’re invoicing your clients. Businesses that invoices will need to decide how long they want to allow clients to take to fulfill invoices—these will be the net terms a business allows. Once you’ve determined this, you can start sending your clients invoices. Hubspot has an in-depth guide on setting up and managing an invoicing process.

Getting an accountant and accounting software

Now that you’re familiar with all the products you’ll need to store, receive, and send money, it’s time to start thinking about keeping track of it all.

A good business accounting software will make this feat much easier than it would be without one. That said, keeping your business’s books in shape won’t be a walk in the park if you’re doing it on your own—even if you’ve got a high-power accounting software. You’ll need to start tracking your startup’s finances from the get-go, so take these steps to make it easier on yourself:

  • Developing an early bookkeeping system

    From the very start, make sure that you’re actually tending to you small business bookkeeping. It can be easy to assume that your startup’s finances will work themselves out on their own. But this can be a fatal mindset.

    Take the projected startup budget you created in step 1, and compare the projected costs of each bullet to the actual cost you incur. How does it add up? Are you consistently underestimating how much each facet of your startup budget will cost? Where will you make up the difference?

    During the early days, you can get by with creating a simple bookkeeping system in Excel for your business. You can access bookkeeping templates for Excel to help make the process easier, and single-entry bookkeeping with these templates is actually pretty effective—especially for lower-volume startups.

    However, you’ll probably outgrow an Excel-based bookkeeping system pretty quickly. When you do, we currently recommend using Bench. Your Bench bookkeeper will categorize your transactions, reconcile your bank accounts, and prepare financial statements on your behalf.

  • Tracking expenses, organizing receipts, and other important records

    As expenses and revenue streams start compiling, you’ll soon want to upgrade to an accounting software—even if it’s the simplest version you can find.

    That’s because even the simplest business accounting software options will sync to your business’s accounts. That way, your business’s books will automatically track your expenses and revenues as they show up in your bank statements.

    Plus, you’ll be able to digitally capture receipts and attach them to entries to prove they actually happened (without preserving stacks and stacks of paper receipts in some office filing cabinet).

    If you’re not quite convinced that these features will be worth the money, try setting up your business books with a free accounting software option. Free options like Wave will allow you to access all the essential features of accounting software—like bank syncing, receipt capture, customizable invoices, and basic reporting features.

  • Finding a powerful accounting software to upgrade to

    Before you know it, your startup will likely outgrow whatever free or self-run accounting system you’re using. Once you start growing, basic reporting and limited tax capabilities won’t cut it, and it’ll be time to start thinking about an accounting software.

    Upgrading to a more powerful accounting software can save you some serious time and provide you with valuable, easy-to-access insights.

    We recommend QuickBooks Online for cloud accounting software that you can access from any device that’s connected to the internet. It’ll pretty much has everything any business owner needs to have their accounting covered.

    If you’re more comfortable with locally-sourced (read: not cloud-based) accounting software, then you can also consider QuickBooks Desktop, but be sure to weigh the difference between QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop before deciding on one over the other.

  • Knowing when to hire an accountant

    You’ll also need to consider hiring an accountant to manage your small business finances—especially for tax help. Accountants not only manage bookkeeping responsibilities, but also provide high-level insight and tax assistance to small businesses.

    Many startups do well by outsourcing their accounting needs—this helps take the bookkeeping duties out of the hands of the founder or operations manager.

    This will free up time, sure, but it will also mean access to tax advice and sophisticated reports.

    That said, the average going rate for an accountant in the US is about $40 an hour, so ensure that you can afford to hire an account before you decide to do so. Run a cost-benefit analysis, taking into account the wages you’ll need to pay, but also the potential savings you could access, should you hire an accountant.


Step 7: Setting up your business’s operations

Now, for the logistics. Business operations are the behind-the-scenes functions that allow all of the thrilling parts of starting a business actually happen. Operational logistics can’t be forgotten, and as you grow your business, you’ll likely hit every single one of these steps on the list below. Taking care of all of these processes will allow your startup an even greater chance at success.

Choosing your location

If you’re starting up a brick-and-mortar business, then you’ll need to start looking into your business location. Where you choose to set up shop can make or break your new business, so choosing a business location isn’t a process you should take lightly. Finding the perfect business location will require you to consider a variety of important factors.

First and foremost, you’ll need to set yourself a budget. If you’re planning on renting your space, then create a sustained, monthly budget. If you plan on buying your space, chalk up how much of a down payment your startup budget can allow for, and then look into your commercial real estate loan options.

You’ll also need to take into account a slew of other factors, like accessibility, growth potential, and zoning laws. Perhaps most importantly, though, you’ll need to look into what other businesses are near any potential locations. Make sure the location you choose offers a balance between a market fit and a lack of competition. You don’t want to be surrounded by establishments that your target customers won’t ever visit. But you also don’t want to be surrounded by competitors. Be sure to find a location that toes the line between isolation and saturation.

Setting up office space

Alternatively, if your startup is online or service-based—or you want to have a separate headquarters from your storefront—then you’ll need to go about setting up your office space.

The first step for finding the right space for your office will also be setting a budget—monthly for rental properties or a down payment (plus commercial loan payments, if applicable) for purchasing. Most startups won’t have the capital necessary to buy an office space out-of-pocket. And even if they do have the capital necessary, there are probably other, more pressing expenses to put it towards. As a result, renting is often far more feasible and strategic for startup office space.

Once you’ve found your space, you’ll need to set up communication systems before you get going. Consider your options for setting up a phone system—whether you’ll want a landline or could handle a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) system. When you’re just starting your business, you’ll probably want to start off with a VoIP system until you get larger and need a more reliable phone system (though many larger businesses make do with VoIP systems). Our recommendation for the best VoIP phone system for small business is RingCentral. You can read more about RingCentral and other small business phone systems here.

Another crucial step to setting up your office’s communication systems is getting reliable internet (which is necessary bundle if you’ll be using a VoIP phone system). While Verizon Fios Business is a highly rated internet provider, the best provider is the one that is most established in your location. You can dive deeper into business internet service comparisons here.

You’ll also need to invest in your startup office’s equipment needs—whatever they might look like. For many startups, office equipment will simply be computers, printers, and scanners. For others, office equipment could be looms, movie projectors, or high-quality camera lenses. The list could go on and on.

Whatever equipment your startup office needs, it will likely require a large investment. Consider taking on a startup equipment loan to finance these bigger purchases and pay them down gradually.

Hiring employees, contractors, or freelancers

If your starting your business out on your own, there’s only so much growing you can do before you need to start looking for help. Hiring your first employee is a big step, so there’s no need to take it too soon. There’s no need to dive head-first into growing your team with a full-time employee, you can taper on gradually with freelancers or part-time employees.

And with the growing gig economy, gradually growing your startup’s team will be easier than ever. More and more top talent is offering their expertise through contract and freelance work. And top sites for finding freelance and contract services make it that much easier for you to find the perfect person for your startup’s needs.

Hiring employees for your startup—whenever you might choose to do so—will involve a considerable amount of logistical and legal considerations. You’ll need to apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN), register with your state Labor Department, and fill out all of the necessary forms for your given industry and business type. For instance, you’ll need to apply for all of the small business licenses and permits—both federal and state—that apply to your industry. Be sure to check in and see what business license and permits your business will need to secure in order to be a legally-operating employer.

Setting up payroll

Hiring employees will also mean you’ll need to set up payroll for your startup. This will take a few steps to do properly. You’ll need to, of course, secure an EIN as we mentioned before. Some state and local governments will also require that you secure another tax ID number for your business, separate from your EIN.

Next, you’ll need to make sure each of your employees provide you with the necessary information for you to add them to your payroll. They’ll also need to either fill out tax forms, like I-9 forms, W-4 forms, or W-9 forms. You’ll also need to classify each employee into distinct categories, like independent contractors, part-time employees, or full-time employees. Finally, you’ll need to pick your pay period—weekly, biweekly, or monthly are the most common—depending on what your state might require, what your business can sustain, and what your employees need.

Once you have all of the prep work done, you’ll need to choose which payroll software through which you’ll pay your employees.

We recommend opting for an entry-level payroll software plan—like the Gusto Payroll Core plan or the QuickBooks Payroll Self Service plan—will allow for easier scaling in the future.

Get Started with Gusto Payroll

Preparing and filing business taxes

Now it’s time to talk small business taxes. Not the most thrilling of topics in the startup realm, business taxes are an inevitability that all new business owners will have to face sooner or later. Getting ahead of the game and tackling them head on will make them much less of a drag.

Getting business insurance

Another operational logistic you’ll need to tend to for your startup is insurance. Small business insurance comes in many forms, but there are a few non-negotiables, no matter what kind of business you’re running.

There are three required business insurances for all employers:

  • Workers compensation insurance
  • Unemployment insurance
  • Disability insurance

Workers comp insurance is required for all employers and will cost $0.75 to $3 per month per $100 of payroll. Unemployment insurance—also required—will vary by state, but has a 0.6% federal tax for most businesses. Finally, disability insurance, the final required insurance for all businesses, will cost 0.25% to 0.5% of your payroll per month. Be sure to factor these costs into your business budget.

Other optional forms of small business insurance to consider purchasing are general liability insurance, commercial property insurance, and professional liability insurance, to name just a few. Keep in mind, many clients will dictate that you have to have certain types of insurances to work with them, so be sure to check in on these details before signing agreements.

When it comes down to it, there are 9 types of business insurance you should at least consider getting (if you aren’t already required to have it). Check out that list here.

Fundera Resources:

Building your business website

With the logistics of starting your business sorted out, you can now give some thought to the steps you need to take to grow your business.

Growing a new small business—building your presence with your target customer, investing in marketing and advertising, and so on—deserves its own step-by-step guide.

But for the purpose of finishing out the steps you absolutely need to take to start a business, building a website early on can’t be forgotten.

There are a few different ways to go about building a website. Some will cost a fair amount of money (hiring outside design and development) and some can be completely free (using a cheap website builder). The level of effort you want to put into your website really depends on the type of business you’re starting, how you’ll sell your product, and what your business goals are.

If the primary way you plan to attract and convert customers is online, investing in a high-quality website is a non-negotiable. Businesses in this camp should see if they can find cost-effective web designers and developers on a freelance basis (check out websites like Upwork for this).

If you need just a simple website that tells visitors who your business is and allows signup or checkout capabilities, you’ll probably be able to build your website on your own (or with only a small amount of help).

Once you’ve determined the goals of your website, here are the general steps you need to take to get it live:

Meredith Wood
Vice President and Founding Editor at Fundera

Meredith Wood

Meredith Wood is the founding editor of the Fundera Ledger and a vice president at Fundera. She launched the Fundera Ledger in 2014 and has specialized in financial advice for small business owners for almost a decade. Meredith is frequently sought out for her expertise in small business lending. She is a monthly columnist for AllBusiness, and her advice has appeared in the SBA, SCORE, Yahoo, Amex OPEN Forum, Fox Business, American Banker, Small Business Trends, MyCorporation, Small Biz Daily, StartupNation, and more. Email:
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