Congratulations! You've decided to dive into the exciting world of entrepreneurship and bring that great business idea to life. Whether you're opening a local brick-and-mortar business that your community needs, looking to grow rapidly in the next few years and get an investor, or just keep things small and solo, certain steps come next that aren't as exciting as preparing for launch, but need to be done.
Here are the five things you need to do after you've decided it's time to go from idea to delivery.
1. Choose the Right Business Entity.
How you organize your business plays a major role in taxes, bookkeeping, current and potential ownership, and overall administrative burden. While all of these considerations would need to be made regardless of the current state of the tax code, it's especially important to think about in the face of massive tax overhaul. The GOP tax reform bill has become law and many changes go into effect starting January 1, 2018.
Some owners of pass-through businesses can expect to get a bonus deduction of up to 20 percent of profits up to $157,500 for most filing statuses and $319,000 for married filing jointly. Ninety-five percent of US businesses are pass-through entities, which is a sole proprietorship, partnership, S corporation, or limited liability company (LLC) using the same tax structure as one of these entities, with the maximum income tax being 29.6 percent for pass-through income. For C corporations, the maximum corporate income tax rate is dropping from 35 percent to 21 percent.
Taxes aside, each state also treats business entities differently and may present bonuses and disadvantages you weren't aware of. For example, many small business owners reap numerous benefits from S corporations but if you're a New York City resident, you still have to pay city income tax. New York State recognizes S status but New York City doesn't. Sales tax nexus, risk management, and legal aspects are other considerations to make when choosing an entity.
Depending on your entrepreneurial goals as well as personal needs, you need to decide which entity makes the most sense for your operations. If you plan to change entities in the near future due to taking on a partner or investor, you should also factor in how the tax bill will affect you.
2. Register your business with the appropriate state, local, and federal agencies.
When you organize your business, you may automatically be registered into your state or local agency's database after filing articles of incorporation or similar documents. Check with your local Division of Corporations or other authority to make sure that you've taken all necessary steps to register your business once you've decided which entity to go with.
If you're forming an LLC, you may need to file additional paperwork such as a publication affidavit which is when the state requires you to announce your commencement in a newspaper. This can be inexpensive or present a major cost barrier. For any "DBA" claims where you're not doing business under your actual name or business entity name, you also need to check with your county clerk regarding forms and filing fees.
For federal agencies, most of the registration has to do with hiring employees, but even if you don't plan on hiring any in the near future or ever, you still need to get an Employer Identification Number from the IRS. If you need to obtain licenses or approvals before operations commence, you also need to prioritize contacting these agencies and getting your paperwork taken care of before working with your first client.
3. Find business advisers, mentors, and peers.
You want to work with business advisers who can teach you about not just business in general, but also about the specific type of business that you're operating and your industry. A good business adviser is one that will tell you both what you're excelling at and what really needs improvement and how to achieve your business goals.
You want to find an adviser who's on the same wavelength as you, but who can also give you the benefit of their knowledge and experience for your particular industry. In seeking out mentors and professional peers, you'll want to find spaces for your profession or business type online and in person to exchange ideas and learn from each other. They're excellent ways to grow your business while learning the ropes and you'll learn the dos and don'ts of pre-launch.
4. Pick the right accounting software.
Even if you plan on outsourcing your accounting and tax responsibilities to a competent professional, you still need to have an accounting solution in place for them to work with. Jotting your expenses down on an Excel sheet can be a placeholder when you don't have that many transactions yet and haven't formally set up an entity in the very beginning, but it's not going to be a viable long-term solution.
Accounting software isn't as cost-prohibitive as it once was and there are many different products on the market meant for small business owners, solopreneurs, people who travel frequently, and even programs and apps that work in the cloud designed specially for certain industries and types of businesses. Cloud accounting programs are perfect for busy people who use multiple devices, so your accounting professional can see transactions in real time and correctly adjust them as you go.
If your business has more robust accounting needs such as inventory tracking and payroll, you need to test out the program and see if it works well for you. For most people without accounting knowledge, figuring out how to get accounting software set up can be daunting, so you also want to see if your tax professional can help you with this or if there are training videos and courses for your software.
5. Get ready to launch!
Once you've taken care of these crucial items pre-launch, it's time to get going! You can now focus your time and energy on building a great product, finding the best staff, and cultivating a following for your brand. It's just part of the game when you own a business.
While your business entity and accounting needs might not be as exciting as putting together your website and initial marketing blasts, it's extremely important to have them sorted out beforehand so you aren't scrambling to get tax paperwork in order right when things are really taking off for you. By establishing your entity, business registration, publication affidavits, and other business-related paperwork beforehand with the help of a business adviser, you'll also have peace of mind that these things were done right the first time and you won't need to stop what you're doing to keep mailing in forms.
The journey to a successful business is definitely not an easy one. But if you've got a pre-launch roadmap and the right professionals on your side, you'll minimize your chances of dealing with irksome bureaucratic obstacles so you can focus on growing your business.