How to Start a Small Business Checklist

Step 1: Research Your Market and Write A Business Plan
Step 2: Fund Your Business
Step 3: Select Your Advisors
Step 4: Find Out What Licensing and Tax Requirements Apply to Your Business
Step 5: Draft Your Marketing Plan
Step 6: Launch Your Business

1. Research Your Market and Write A Business Plan

A successful new business always begins with a comprehensive business plan. It provides the foundation for building your new business – from crafting the mission statement, to financial planning, to ensuring your business is in the perfect location.

Do Your Homework

First, familiarize yourself with How to Write a Business Plan. Once you understand what's involved, you should dive into doing Market Research on your business. BizLaunch has curated several free tools that will make doing your research easy. Be sure to schedule an appointment with a BizLaunch advisor to learn more about each tool and how it can help you understand the market for your new business. 

Draft Your Plan

Writing a business plan isn't as hard as it might sound. There are numerous free examples available online.  Find one that you like, then customize it by plugging in the details relevant to your business model. Here are a few places you can go to find sample plans:

Refine Your Plan

Once you've done your research, plugged that information into your outline and have a draft business plan, it's a good time to solicit feedback. Meet with a mentor or consultant who can review your plan and point out potential risks and opportunities. Advisors can be invaluable at this stage. They bring real world experience and insight to the process, which can often save you from making rookie mistakes.

Both of these services offer mentors and advisors that can help you start your business:

2. Fund Your Business


Every small business needs capital. You need to know you have access to funds to ensure you can start and manage your business successfully. Very few businesses are profitable from the onset; you need to ensure you’re able to take the time to attract clients and repeat customers, and that means you'll need financing to keep things moving until you reach profitability.

Some small business owners have their own personal financing or investments from family and friends to get started. Others rely on traditional bank loans or are able to raise venture capital. Research which avenue is best for your business.

Common sources of capital include:

  • Personal Savings 
  • Friends and Family 
  • Traditional Lending 
  • Commercial Lending 
  • SBA Guaranteed Lending 
  • Venture Capital 

Your funding does not have to be limited to one source. Take the time to investigate a variety of sources. For example, you should explore SBA Funding Programs, our free OpenGrants database and Grants for Non-Profit Startups.   

Establishing reliable, stable funding early is critical because there are always unforeseen circumstances that arise, and there should always be a business nest egg set aside to handle emergencies or other unanticipated challenges.

3. Select Your Advisors 

Running a business involves a lot of red tape – the kind that can be unfamiliar to the majority of us. To be successful in business, it’s important to hire professionals to provide advice and ensure you’re taking each step in the process thoroughly and correctly.

Advisors such as an accountant, attorney and banker may be costly at first, but each is a unique and worthwhile investment for your business. These professionals are specifically trained to know what’s needed and what to look for at every step of your process – from knowing how much capital you’ll need, to ensuring you have the right business structure. 

Pro Tip! This isn't the time to hire a friend. Hire professionals who specialize in your industry or field of business.

Here are a few sources to help you find professional advisors:

In addition to hiring an accountant and a lawyer, you also need to find an agent to help you purchase the appropriate business insurance. Business insurance is very important and the right agent will help you determine the best product to protect your business and your assets. 

4. Find Out What Licensing and Tax Requirements Apply to Your Business



While writing your business plan might be the single most important aspect of starting a successful business, not knowing the regulations and tax codes that apply to your business is the step that could cause the most harm. There are requirements at the local, state and federal level that all need to be completed before launching a business, so it’s critical to make sure you’ve done your due diligence before you launch your business. 

Check Your Business Name

Be sure your business name is distinguishable. Search the United States Patent and Trademark Office as well as the State of Virginia’s distinguishable name check availability. Check your business name now.

Find Out What Licensure or Certificates Your State Requires

Visit the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupation Regulation (DPOR) site to see if your business is regulated by the Commonwealth of Virginia.  

Determine Your Business Structure 

The business structure you select (i.e. LLC, Partnership, Inc.) will determine how much you pay in taxes, the paperwork you need to file, your personal liability and more. Visit the SBA site to review and compare common business structures and choose your structure in consultation with your lawyer and tax advisor. 

Once you select the one that best suits your needs, apply for your business structure with the State Corporation Commission (SCC). You’ll want to set up your CIS account with the SCC and register your Trade Name. The fee for a Trade Name is $10. Once you are set with the state, you can apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) with the IRS. 

Check Into Home-based Business Requirements 

Once you have your EIN, you’ll need to determine if your business will be home-based or if you will lease a commercial space. If home-based and you rent or live in a condo, you’ll want to check with your landlord or property management to see if they will allow you to operate your business from home. If your business is running from home, you will need to apply for a Home Occupancy Permit. This costs $50. Be sure to use the same name you used for your SCC application for your Home Occupancy Permit application too. Note that even with a home-based business, you still need to obtain any necessary business licenses and certifications. 

Get a Commercial Occupancy Certificate 

If you’re in a commercial space, you will need to apply for a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). Typically, a CO is issued after the commercial buildout is completed. If you are unsure how your commercial space is zoned, check with the BizLaunch team. If you are a childcare center or need special permission to conduct your business in that space, you’ll need a Use Permit. 

Apply for Special Permits 

Some of the most common use permits businesses need are Live Event, Temporary Outdoor Seating and Signage permits. If you have questions about what permits are applicable to your business, please contact the BizLaunch team for assistance. 

Prepare for Unemployment Taxes 

Any business with employees on the payroll has to pay the state an unemployment tax. For more information contact the Virginia Employment Commission, located at 5520 Cherokee Avenue, Suite 100, Alexandria, VA or call 703-813-1300. 

Get Your Arlington Business License

Every Arlington business MUST have a valid Arlington business license in order to operate. To apply, contact the Commissioner of Revenue’s Office. This office is where you will set up your license and pay your Business License and Business Tangibles taxes.  

Your Business License Tax is the way you pay for your local taxes, while your Business Tangibles Tax is how you pay for equipment you use in the process of doing business. Both taxes are equally important in avoiding penalties and interest. 

Some businesses must also collect Custodial Taxes based on their industry or Retail Sales and Use Taxes based on the goods they sell.

5. Draft Your Marketing Plan 

Whew! You’ve done so much already. There's just one more step to go. Now it's time to let the public know what you offer and why they should do business with you.

This is where marketing comes in. You will need a good marketing plan to be successful. A good marketing plan clearly defines your target market and your marketing strategy. It explains the four P's: your product, its position in the market, its pricing and how you plan to promote your business. It outlines your budget and provides a detailed action plan which clearly defines how you plan to attract and retain customers.

Just like you did when working on your business plan, it's often easier to find an existing plan and customize it, then it is to start from scratch. Here are a few tips to help you get started:

  1. Review the key elements of a marketing plan
  2. Find a sample plan to use as a template (Plan A | Plan B | Plan C)
  3. Customize the plan to your needs
  4. Review your marketing plan with your mentor or advisor

Don't forget to include the free marketing and promotional opportunities offered by BizLaunch in your mix.

6. Launch Your Business 

Congratulations! You've written your business plan, determined your financing, hired professional advisors, investigated applicable tax and licensing requirements and drafted your marketing plan. Now its time to launch your business!