Start a Business Checklist: 11 Steps to Setting Up Your Small Business

You need a lot more than an idea to start a small business. Research, an online presence, funding and a workspace are just some of the areas to tackle.  

To help you get your new venture off the ground, discover the key steps to take in your early days as an entrepreneur with our in-depth business startup checklist.  

1. Do your research 

Research is very important when starting your own company. You need to understand if there’s a market for your idea, who your target customers are and whether there are any competitors you need to be aware of. Detailed research will help you identify if there is a need for your product or service, define your business proposition and work out what makes your offering unique.   

The British Library has a network of Business & IP Centres in libraries across the UK which provide free access to market research databases and global company data that can really help with the research process.  

You can also run market research surveys using tools like Survey Monkey and Typeform, conduct face-to-face interviews and run focus groups with your target customers to finesse your idea. 

2. Choose a name 

When selecting a name for your business, make sure it properly reflects what you do. A quirky or unusual name could help you to stand out, but bear in mind that some people might find it hard to pronounce, spell or remember.  

Difficult to spell names may affect how many people can find you in search results. You may also want to consider whether using a name with relevant keywords in could be useful for SEO purposes. 

You also need to check whether you can claim a website address and social media accounts that fit with your company name. 

If you’re setting up a limited company, you must register your company name with Companies House. It cannot be the same as another registered company’s name and it must not infringe on another company’s trademark. You can check company name availability here and existing trademarks here. 

If you’re a sole trader, you don’t need to register your business name but it’s worth checking that no one else is using the same one as it could cause confusion.  

3. Register a domain name 

While choosing your name, it’s worth checking that an appropriate website domain address is available. Even if you’re not ready to build your website, you should claim your domain as soon as you possibly can.  

The domain you select should be directly related to your business and be easy to remember. There are several domain extensions (the suffix at the end of a website address) to choose from but for UK businesses, the most popular are .com and .co.uk. There are many domain registrars you can use to register your domain, including GoDaddy, BlueHost, and FastHosts. Search on Google for the best deals.  

4. Claim your social media accounts 

Just like your website domain name, it’s worth claiming social media handles as soon as possible.  

Using social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn can be a highly effective and low cost way to promote your business and build relationships with customers. But remember, you don’t necessarily need to be on all social media platforms. Research the ones that your target customers use and look at what your competitors are doing – there’s no point having a TikTok account if your target audience isn’t looking here for your product or service.  

You also need to decide whether you’ll have personal accounts, accounts for your brand or both. 

5. Pick your business structure 

Choosing your business structure is very important when starting a small business. You could be a sole trader, partnership or limited company. The option you select depends on your personal circumstances and what you want to achieve with your business. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages.  

Find more information on the Companies House website and ask an accountant for advice. The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales and the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants have directories you can use to search for an accountant. 

6. Write a business plan 

A good business plan will help you to clarify your idea and focus on the steps needed for your business to succeed by defining your short and long-term objectives. It will also help you to identify any potential problems and secure funding. 

Key sections of a business plan include: 

  • Business objectives 
  • Target customers 
  • Competitors 
  • Sales and marketing plans 
  • Organisational structure, team and advisers 
  • Financials and cashflow forecast 

The government’s Start Up Loans scheme has a downloadable business plan template here 

7. Open a business bank account 

If you’re running a limited company, it is legally separate from you so you should open a business bank account. You don’t need a business bank account if you’re a sole trader or freelancer, but you may decide to set one up anyway to keep your personal and business finances separate. 

When selecting a business bank account, look out for any charges and what facilities are provided. Some banks offer perks such as cashback and discounts on goods and services.  

8. Decide if you need funding 

It’s possible to start a business with very little money and many new entrepreneurs use their personal finances to get going. You might require funding from other sources though so work out exactly how much you need taking into account all costs. Remember that you likely won’t make a profit for several months or even years so you’ll need enough money for your living costs. It is for this reason that many founders start a business alongside a full-time job.  

For advice on the various types of funding you can access when starting your own business, read our guide

9. Find a place to work 

With a phone and a laptop, modern entrepreneurs can run their business from pretty much anywhere. However, finding a dedicated space to work from brings many benefits. It can help you to focus, improve your mental health, boost your creativity, meet useful contacts, find a mentor and form collaborations. 

In the early days of running your business, you could opt for working from home most of the time and from a shared space a few times a week. As your business grows, you can expand to your own dedicated desk or office.  

Central Research Laboratory offers a range of options including flexible hot-desking for whenever you need it, a dedicated desk that you can call your own and private studio offices for growing teams.   

Being based at innovation hubs like Central Research Laboratory and Plus X also brings other advantages such as access to prototyping workshops and business support programmes, as well as the opportunity to connect and collaborative with other businesses in the same stage as yours. 

10. Create a website 

Most people search online for products and services these days and it’s beneficial to have an internet presence, even if it’s just a simple website with your contact information. Before you properly launch, a one-page site with a box for capturing email addresses is a good way to build buzz around your new business and start to build a mailing list.

Think carefully about search engine optimisation and the keywords people are using online when looking for products or services like yours. Google’s Keyword Planner is a useful tool.  

If you have the budget, you could pay a web designer to build your website but there are also plenty of low-cost website template services, including Squarespace, Wix and WordPress 

If you’re selling products online, you can integrate eCommerce solutions such as Shopify and WooCommerce or sell on marketplaces like Amazon, Etsy and Not On The High Street. 

11. Start building connections 

Effective networking can help you to build a successful startup. Look for events where you can make connections with people who could help your company. They might be experts in particular areas of business or fellow entrepreneurs who can share their experiences. Websites like Eventbrite and Meetup are good places to find business events.  

Joining innovation programmes or business accelerators is another way to make valuable connections. You can benefit from the advice of experts, and many schemes also provide grant funding and access to potential partners and manufacturers.  

Plus X and Central Research Laboratory run several innovation programmes, including the internationally-recognised programme for product makers, CRL Accelerator, which deliver knowledge, guidance, connections and structure to unlock the potential of a great idea.  

Ready to start your business journey? Book a tour of Central Research Laboratory to see how we could help your business succeed. 

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