Whether you’re an entrepreneur starting or building a business with skysthelimit.org, or a volunteer supporting someone in their journey towards business ownership, our Pathway to Business Ownership Checklist is a great resource to use every step of the way.

As a member of skysthelimit.org, you have access to the full set of  Pathway to Business Ownership resources, free of charge.

SKY’S THE LIMIT

BUILD YOUR BUSINESS CHECKLIST

1. BUSINESS PLAN

In the BUSINESS PLAN SECTION OF THE PATHWAY, you’ll learn how to create a basic design for how your business will make money, how it works, and how it can achieve your goals. You’ll also learn how to get feedback and advice from our community to improve your plan. 
Build your business model 

Log in to your skysthelimit.org account to use our free BUSINESS PLAN TOOL to build a short outline of your business.

Inventory people

Write down all the people you know who could help you with this business. Share the plan you created on skysthelimit.org with them and get some feedback.

Inventory skills

Use our EFFECTUAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP WORKSHEET to write down all of the skills, experiences, and resources you have that can help you build this business.

Make sure you can live

Think about how you are going to pay your bills while you start this business.

Get feedback

Review your business outline with several trusted business advisors on skysthelimit.org to get feedback.

Additional Resources:
If you need to prepare a full, 15+ page business plan for an investor or bank, here is a business plan template you can use.

2. CUSTOMER DEVELOPMENT

In the CUSTOMER DEVELOPMENT SECTION OF THE PATHWAY, you’ll learn how to develop a deep understanding of your customers: their problems & desires, the different types of customers, where they are, how to reach them, what they think is valuable, how to get them to buy from your business, etc.
Create list of interviewees

Use our CUSTOMER MESSAGING MATRIX to write down all of the people (potential customers) you think would be interested in buying your product/service and why you think they would want to buy it.

Research your competitors

Create a list of all the other businesses where these potential customers could get a product or service like yours.

Visit your competitors

Go visit your competitors, online and in-person. Write down what you like and don’t like about their business. Write down why your business will be different and better.

Prepare for interviews

Use our GUIDE TO INTERVIEWING CUSTOMERS to learn how to interview potential customers. Create a list of interview questions for these people to find out if they really need or want what you are making. Schedule interviews with at least 15 potential customers.

 

Interview potential customers

Now, go out and actually talk to at least 15 potential customers for your business. Listen to what they say they want, but don’t tell them yet about your business. You’re just trying to learn about their problems and desires – and how you can build a business to solve those problems and fill their desires.

Write down your notes from your customer interviews.

Prepare a pitch!

Use our PITCH PRESENTATION TEMPLATE to create a pitch presentation and/or video for your business so that you know how to talk about it to other people. Now present your pitch to 10 people and get their feedback! These people could be potential customers, partners, friends, etc.

Start talking about your business!

Complete our CUSTOMER ANALYSIS WORKSHEET. Now, go out and tell at least 10 potential customers about your business idea. Listen to their feedback (don’t worry if they don’t like it yet, you’re learning from your customers!) See if you can get some of them to commit to buying from you when you’re ready.

Refine your pitch

Go back to your Pitch presentation and incorporate the feedback you got from your potential customers.

Talk about your business more!

With your revised Pitch, go back out and talk to 10 more customers! Listen closely to them and make any changes to your business that you feel you should make.

Additional Resources:
Check out Google Forms or Survey Monkey to create an online survey to send to potential customers to learn more about what they like or don’t like.

3. BRAND

In the BRANDING SECTION OF THE PATHWAY, you’ll learn how to name the business, create a logo, design how the business looks and create a slogan or tagline. You’ll also learn how to talk about the business to other people.
Name your business

Create a name for your business. Check that no one is already using that name and has copyrighted it.

For more information about copyrights and trademarks, use our GUIDE TO BRANDING.

Create a tagline

Create a tagline or slogan for your business.

Create your look

If you’re ready, create your company’s logo and choose your colors!

Additional Resources: 

  1. To create your own logo, try Canva.
  2. To have someone else make a less expensive logo for you, try Fiverr or Upwork.
  3. To have someone else make a more expensive logo for you, try 99Designs.

4. PRODUCT / SERVICE DEVELOPMENT

In the PRODUCT / SERVICE DEVELOPMENT SECTION OF THE PATHWAY, you’ll learn how to design, build, and distribute the right products and services. You’ll also learn how to estimate revenues & costs to ensure profitability.
Design your offering

Design your first product or service based on what your customers want & need – think back to your customer interviews!

Identify the customer need

Identify how this product/service solves an important problem for your customers.

Identify your value prop

Identify the three key benefits of your product/service that attract customers – what makes your product or service better than a competitor?

Perform research

Figure out where you will get the equipment & materials you need for this product/service.

Decide how customers will purchase from you

Figure out how you will get your product/service to your customers (for example: online; in local stores; at farmer’s markets; in their home).

Name your offering

Name your product/service.

Determine cost

Determine the Cost of providing your product/service.

Determine selling price

Determine the Selling Price of your product/service (make sure you’re covering your costs and making money at that price!).

Create a description of your business

Create a description of “How your Business Works” to explain it to customers, and update your Pitch presentation.

Project your financials

Estimate how much it will cost you (time & money) and how much you will make from sales over the next 12 months.

Get more customer feedback

Now, go back out and tell at least 10 potential customers about your business idea. Listen to their feedback (don’t worry if they don’t like it yet, you’re learning from your customers!) See if you can get some of them to commit to buying it when you’re ready. Based on what you’ve learned, make changes to the design of your product or service.

Create a sample

Create a sample product/service to test out with your customers, once you decide on the design of your product or service. Make sure to research cheap ways to make your product sample or deliver a sample of your service. Don’t worry about being perfect – you need to try things out with your customers to figure out what works!

Get your first customer

Use our SALES STRATEGY GUIDE to go out and get your first paying customer using your sample!

Additional Resources:

  1. PRODUCTS: To find a manufacturer to make your products, try Alibaba or Printful (for clothing) or Maker’s Row.
  2. SERVICES: To test your idea for a service, create a profile on Thumbtack (use this guide to get free credits on Thumbtack).

5. WEBSITE DEVELOPMENT & TECHNOLOGY

In the WEBSITE DEVELOPMENT & TECHNOLOGY SECTION OF THE PATHWAY, you‘ll learn how to build a website for your business & developing marketing materials. You’ll also learn about creating social media pages and using the right online platforms for sales.
Research competitors

Research the websites and social media pages of your competitors.  Notice what draws your attention and how you would like to build on their ideas for your own online presence.

Build your website

If your business needs a website, use an easy, cheap (or even free), high-quality website builder to create it, like Wix.com, Squarespace, Shopify, etc.

Create at least one online profile

If you don’t want to build a website yet, just build an easy profile for your service (on Thumbtack.com) or your product (on Etsy.com) to start making sales!

Use our GUIDE TO THUMBTACK.

Take photos

Take great, consistent photos of your first products or services to put on your website.

Tell your story

Don’t forget to write the story of you and your business on your “About Us” page.

Build your social media presence

Create social media pages for your business using the sites you have the most experience with, such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, YouTube, etc.

Find customers using online marketplaces

Every entrepreneur should check out online platforms to sell your products or services, and decide whether to use them or not, like Thumbtack, Etsy or Upwork.

Additional Resources:

  1. Check out Shopify (best for product-based businesses), Wix or Squarespace (best for service-based businesses).
  2. Creating a Facebook Business Page  
  3. Instagram for Business
  4. Twitter for Business
  5. Creating a LinkedIn Business Page

 

6. FUNDING

In the FUNDING SECTION OF THE PATHWAY, you’ll learn how to identify the best ways to get funding for your business (if it is needed).
Prepare

You need to be ready before you ask for funding. Use our GUIDE TO FUNDING to help you prepare.

Determine financial needs

Figure out whether you need money to get started with your business or not, and what kind of money (loan, crowdfund, donation, etc.) you want.

Create startup & operating budget

Create a Startup and Operating Budget for your business, listing all the materials, equipment, marketing, etc. needed. Write down each item needed, quantity, $ price and totals.

Seek funding

Go out and try to get funding! This is usually hard to do, don’t get too discouraged.

Additional Resources:

  1. Through a partnership with Kiva, our entrepreneurs can get access to a special kind of interest-free & fee-free loan for business expenses up to $10,000. Click here to learn more and sign up.
  2. Crowdfunding sites allow entrepreneurs to “pre-sell” their products or services (essentially, customers can give you money now in exchange for your products/services in a month or two later when you are ready). These sites are especially good for unique, product-based businesses. Check out IndieGoGo or Kickstarter.
  3. If you know that your personal network of family and friends would just donate money to you to get your business started, check out GoFundMe.
  4. Financing a business through a credit card is risky but can work for some people. If you have a great credit score, an established business and plan, and/or some collateral, you can try to get larger business loans (i.e. around $50,000 or more) from microlenders such as Working Solutions or VEDC.
Extra Readings:

  1. Small Business Loan Guide

7. MARKETING & SALES

In the MARKETING & SALES SECTION OF THE PATHWAY, you’ll learn how to get paying customers for your business by testing up to 18 different ways to sell your products/services. You’ll also learn how to promote and get the word out about your business.
Create a marketing plan

Use our 18 WAYS TO SELL AND GET CUSTOMERS GUIDE to figure out which methods you will use to promote and sell your products or services. 

Create marketing collateral

Create what you need to promote your business and make sales (i.e. website, email marketing campaign, flyers, business cards, etc.).

Create list of potential customers

Create a list of all the people you know (and their contact information) who might be interested in your business.

Get customers

Go out and get your first 5 paying customers!

Get more customers

Get your 10th paying customer!

Get customer testimonials

Get some testimonials from your early customers as you go (i.e. ask them for a sentence describing why they like your products or services or business).

Create engaging content

Consider creating a video about your business and products/services to engage your customers.

Additional Resources:

  1. Check out marketing tools to help you, like Kit

8. BOOKKEEPING, ACCOUNTING & FINANCIALS

In the BOOKKEEPING, ACCOUNTING & FINANCIALS SECTION OF THE PATHWAY, you’ll learn how to set up a separate business bank account with its own debit card & online banking, choose a payment processor for credit cards (e.g. Square), create a system to manage your money, and create formal business financials & budget.
Open a checking account

A business owner should keep her/his personal money separate from the business’ money! Even if you haven’t officially started your business, consider going to a bank and opening a (free) personal checking account with its own debit card (and online banking). Put some money in that account. Then, every time you spend money on your business, use that debit card – and every time you get money from the sale of your products or services, put that money into your business account. At the end of each month, go on your online banking and see how much you spent and how much you made!

Sign up for credit card swiper

Sign up for a free credit card swiper with Square or Shopify so that your customers can pay you with a credit card.

Sign up for PayPal

Sign up for PayPal so that you can send your customers invoices and accept online payments.

Consider Bookkeeping Service

Decide whether or not your business is big enough to need to sign up for an inexpensive (or free) bookkeeping service, like Xero or Quickbooks.

Prepare budget & financials

Use our BUDGETING & BUSINESS FINANCIALS TOOL to estimate how much money your business will make and how much your business will cost.

Extra Readings:

  1. Click Here to learn more about accounting and financial best practices

9. LEGAL & REGULATORY

In the LEGAL & REGULATORY SECTION OF THE PATHWAY, you’ll learn how to understand and manage liability and protect your business from risk.
Business licenses

Check on the licenses (from the City or State or Federal gov’t) and permits you need for your business.

Insurance

Explore getting insurance for your business.

Trademarks & copyrighting

Consider whether or not you want to invest the time and money in trademarks and copyrighting.

Liability forms

Explore whether or not you need to create liability forms for customers or partners.

Determine your business form

Decide on whether or not you want to be a different kind of business than a sole proprietorship, weighing the pros and cons.

Extra Readings:

  1. Intro Guide to Legal Concerns for Small Business (SF Bay Area)
  2. Business and the Law     
  3. (More) Legal Information and Templates

10. BUILDING YOUR TEAM

In the BUILDING YOUR TEAM SECTION OF THE PATHWAY, you’ll learn how to build your team to support the growth & needs of your business.
Identify role needs

Use our QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER WHEN BUILDING A TEAM GUIDE to think about who you need to grow your company, what their roles are, how (or if) you will pay your team, etc.

Create a recruitment plan

Create a plan to get the right people on your team.

Recruit team members

Recruit and test out new teammates.

Manage your team

Manage your team!

11. OPERATIONS

In the OPERATIONS SECTION OF THE PATHWAY, you’ll learn how to create business processes & systems to help you get organized, be more efficient and grow the business. You’ll also learn how to build detailed work plans that describe milestones and set business priorities. 
Create a business flow

Create a document for your “business flow” to look at everything you need to do in order to make your product or deliver your service – make it more efficient!

Automate operations

Think about what parts of your business you can “automate” (i.e. use technology to automatically send emails, book meetings, etc.).

Set goals

Set your goals for the year.

Create a work plan

Create a work plan to guide your day-to-day plans for your business.  Use the 40/40/20 Rule to guide you: spend 40% of your time on your product/service, 40% of your time on selling and marketing, and 20% of your time on internal operations and meeting with advisors/mentors.

12. STRATEGY

In the STRATEGY SECTION OF THE PATHWAY, you’ll learn how to create and refine strategies to help your business grow to meet your goals. You’ll also learn how to anticipate risks to your business and market.
Create an improvement plan

Create a plan to continue improving the quality of your product/service.

Create a growth plan

Create a strategic plan to grow your business.

Conduct a SWOT analysis

Do a SWOT analysis to help you understand your business’ priorities.