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Congratulations! This is the year that you’ve decided to start your online business.

Whether that’s a coaching business, e-commerce store, or marketing agency, establishing a new online business can have more moving parts than you may have initially realized.

You need the most comprehensive, up-to-date online business checklist and I’ve got you covered.

As someone who has operated an online business for three years now at the forefront of the artificial intelligence revolution, I’ve finally set the time to create this ultimate checklist for starting online businesses in 2024.

This is going to include everything you need, from the basics, like registering your business, to the more nuanced, like digital marketing, communications, and networking.

So, cheers to a successful business, and let’s get moving.

The Ultimate Online Business Startup Checklist

If you strongly believe in the magic and idea of your business idea, then get started with the following steps.

But if you think you have a winning idea but haven’t done the legwork to test it out, I highly recommend doing heavy-duty market research before investing money (see below on a quick list of things to do first).

Part 1: The Foundations

Checklist 1: online business foundations
  • Business Name, Logo, Branded Colors, Theme
  • Business Structure, Registration, and EIN
  • Business Licensing

1. Business Branding: Name, Logo, Colors

This is arguably the most fun and also least important part of the entire process.

Don’t get too hung up on it because, at the end of the day, this doesn’t actually drive the needle for you. And believe me, you will end up changing this down the road as your business takes shape. Get this done in under an hour.

  • Create A Business Name: Check to see if the name is already being used. Google it, check social media accounts and check domain availability.
  • Create a Basic Logo: You don’t need to hire an expensive designer at this stage. Use an AI logo generator, or create your own with an AI art generator (like Midjourney), or use Canva to start.
  • Company Colors: If you’ve created an image from like Midjourney, plop it into Canva. Select the photo, and you’ll see an entire color palette created for you in a second.

Example: My husband and I are launching our book business, the House of Pages. Here is a logo I created with Midjourney and then transferred to Canva, where it created custom hex color codes for me. I finished all of this in under an hour.

Example of a logo and color palette I created using Midjourney and Canva.

2. Business Structuring: Structure, EIN, and Registration

Alright, you have your business idea, name, colors, and logo picked out. Time to make it official!

Step 1: Determine The Right Business Structure For You

There are tons of business structuring, including but not limited to:

  • Limited Liability Companies (LLC)
  • Sole Proprietorship
  • Limited Partnerships
  • S or C Corporations

Whether you’re planning on going into business alone or with a group of partners, you must do your own due diligence on which business structure is best for your new business.

The Best Advice Given To Me: Partnering with other co-founders and investors is harder to get out of than a divorce. Lawyer up and make sure you’re covered in the event that you want to go your separate ways in the future.

Step 2: Apply for Business Registration

Once you have an idea of the business structure that will be best for you after consulting with the professionals, it’s time to register your business with the state.

You can have a third party do this for you (I personally used ZenBusiness, and they got this done in a few days). You can also do it yourself or have some type of legal representation help you through this process.

Step 3: Get Your EIN

Now, you need to register federally and get an Employer Identification Number (EIN). I like to think of this as my business’s social security number. You will need this for many tax forms, opening up bank accounts, etc. So get going on this right away. It’s essentially your federal tax ID number. Again, I had ZenBusiness do this for me.

3. Business Licensing & Permitting

Business registration and licensing are NOT the same thing. Figure out if there are any additional licenses you’ll need to acquire before starting operations in your state.

Depending on your business sector, some may require a “general business license,” or some may require specific professional licenses or permits.

Be sure to research all the requirements of your state before operating.

Part 2: Business Finances

Checklist 2: online business finances
  • Business Bank Account (Traditional or Digital)
  • Get Your Tax Documents in Order
  • Choose Your Invoicing Services

Time to get those finances in order! In general, whether you’re building an Etsy store or any other e-commerce website, you’ll need to have a way to invoice customers, accept payments, and establish your books.

Step 1: Create Your Business Bank Account

I’m not a financial guru, so do your own research on which online bank you want to use.

Since we’re specifically discussing online business models, there are tons of new digital banking platforms that are entering the scene that don’t have physical locations like a traditional bank.

My personal recommendation is to always make sure they are backed by the FDIC (Silicon Valley Bank anyone?!)

Step 2: Create a PayPal Account

While this may not “seem” like a requirement, I would say it pretty much is.

Paypal Homepage Preview

I’ve had tons of affiliates and partners who only utilize Paypal to send money. You’ll need your business email already set up, so see below about setting up a business email account before completing this step.

Step 3: Invoicing & Accounting Software

If you’re starting a coaching business or consulting service, you will need a way to invoice customers and keep track of payments. If you’re an e-commerce store, you’ll need a way to accept payments for digital or physical products.

You’ll also need software where you can keep track of your accounting (invoices, credits, debits, profit and loss statements, etc). Some of these softwares also provide invoicing services, so you may just use one.

  • Popular Accounting: Quickbooks, Xero, Wave
  • Popular Invoicing: Stripe, Zoho, Wave
  • Shopify already has its own invoicing system integrated with the platform, so you just need to connect it to an accounting software like QuickBooks

Step 4: Talk With Your CPA

You may think this is unnecessary at this stage, but consult a certified public accountant.

They will let you know what documents you may or may not need to keep on record as your business grows. Some things you may need include:

  • Certain forms for contracted work or employees.
  • Payment to the IRS at specific intervals.

Part 3: Insurance & Legal Documents

Checklist 3: Legal & INsurance
  • Determine the insurance coverage you need
  • Consult with legal representation

What Insurance Do You Need?

Image of a man in a suit holding a sign up saying, Are You Covered?

Do not forget that you need insurance. You may think that many online businesses don’t have much to be liable for if there isn’t any physical product involved, but think again.

You’ll likely want general liability coverage as well as specific professional coverage. Even for blogging, we carry media and liability insurance. Contact an insurance agency to determine what your business will need and make sure you CYA.

What Other Legal Coverage Is Mandatory?

Many may also think this is overkill, but I like to make sure I’m legally doing everything correctly. As I operate a media company, I consulted a media lawyer and realized I missed a lot of legal disclaimers and documentation on my site. Make sure everything is aligned.

Part 4: Communication Checklist

Checklist 4: online communication checklist
  • Get your digital business card
  • Choose how you will receive physical mail
  • Set up an email & virtual meeting platform

Step 1: Get a Digital Business Card

If you plan on running a successful online business, you’ll likely need to network with potential partners, customers, and vendors. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen organically like it once did.

Whether you meet new connections from your LinkedIn profile or your Facebook group communities, you will need a way to exchange contact information virtually.

This is where choosing the best digital business card is vital. If you’re new to digital business cards, I break down what a digital business card is for you, as well as the best companies out there on the market.

Here’s what my Popl card looks like:

Sam Brandon's digital business card.

Step 2: Your Physical Mail

If you have an online business, odds are you will get some mail. There are a couple of options for this:

  • Have the mail sent to your home.
  • Purchase a PO box at a local mailing or shipping facility.
  • Use a Virtual Mailbox.

If you are someone like me who travels often and doesn’t want to annoy your friends and family by checking your mail every week, then virtual mailboxes are the way to go. You can have the company scan each document and access the mail from your phone or desktop.

Step 3: Email & Meeting Platforms

Lastly, you’ll need to set up an email account for your small business.

While you can start with a free Gmail account, I highly recommend just purchasing a professional email suite from the get-go.

I made the mistake of using a Gmail account, and six months later, it was a huge pain to transition everything over to a professional one.

Here are some other perks I discovered after I made the switch:

  • If you plan on expanding, you’ll be able to add new users to your account.
  • People will respond more willingly to a professional name, such as @businessname.com. Exchanging contact information as @gmail.com could honestly be anyone.
  • It’s relatively inexpensive, around $20-30 a month, and worth every penny.

Some popular email platforms are Google Workspace or Outlook.

Next, you’ll need a platform for meetings. Google Meets works great, but you can also purchase something like Zoom for meetings.

Image of Sam Brandon in a virtual meeting

Part 5: Digital Marketing and Online Presence

Next up, it’s time to create your digital marketing stack. Now, this is an entire department on its own, and for good reason- it’s not something you can learn overnight.

Here’s a basic checklist to help you get started. From there, you will need to determine if you want to outsource this or learn it yourself.

Checklist 5: Digital marketing checklist
  • Domain Website & Hosting
  • Social Media Accounts
  • Content Marketing Plan (SEO)
  • Email Marketing Campaigns

1. Domain Registration and Website Hosting

Create a website. This can be as complicated or as uncomplicated as you want.

  • You’ll need two major things: a website builder and a website hosting service. The website builder is the platform you use to create a website. This can be things like WordPress, Squarespace, Shopify, etc. A web hosting service is the provider that puts that website on the web. I recommend WPX, but Bluehost is another popular option.

If you’re stumped on which website builder to go with, here are my recommendations.

  • Blogging, Niche Websites, Digital Products, or SEO-focused: Go WordPress.org and WPX hosting.
  • E-Commerce: Go Shopify

2. Establish Your Social Media Accounts

It’s 2024, and you need to have social media. Not only to increase your reach through digital marketing efforts, but as social proof that you’re a legit business.

Many people may stumble upon your business services organically on Google, but they’ll quickly toggle to social media platforms to see what people are saying about your company. Are you even real if you don’t have social media?

Here’s the top stack you should definitely start off with:

  • TikTok
  • Instagram
  • Facebook
  • X & LinkedIn, depending on your niche.

3. More Content Marketing Tools

At this point, you may be thinking you’re ready for action. But the truth is, we’re far far from being seen by the world wide web. You can have a great website design and beautiful socials, but if no one can see them, what’s the point?

You need to determine your content marketing or search engine optimization strategy (SEO). Search engine optimization is when a potential client or customer types in a keyword like “best flashlight for camping” and your page turns up with the results. Likewise, your socials need to make it into people’s feeds. Here are just some things you may need to start considering.

  • Google Ads or PPC Ads (Pay-Per-Click): These are the sponsored ads that come up when you Google something.
  • Social Media Ads (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc): The sponsored ads on social media.
  • Social Media Auto-Scheduling Calendars: Software that allows you to create and schedule social media posts so you’re not doing it everyday.
  • SEO-optimization: The blog you create to target organic traffic. You’ll need an on-page optimizer like SurferSEO.

If you’re new to all of these words, it’s time to get familiar. I can almost promise you that your online business won’t succeed without a great digital marketing strategy in place. After all, you’re competing at a global level. Make a decision to focus on just one outlet and master them one at a time.

4. Email Marketing Campaign Software

When you purchase or reach out to a brand, I am willing to bet you have to give them your email.

How do you think companies send out the daily or weekly emails you receive every day?

The answer: An Email Marketing Software.

Some popular ones include MailChimp, Constant Contact, and Instantly.

Part 6: Tech Stack & Business Operation Tools

Great! So now you have a registered business with all your financials in order. You have your emails established, website set up, and socials on point. I also have a rough idea on my digital marketing strategy.

I should be good to go right?

That depends on the growth of your business or online store. Here are some other things you may not need at the begginning, but will likely need in the future.

Checklist 6: online business operation tools & tech
  • Do you need a CRM?
  • Choose a Project Management Tool
  • Consider a Productivity Tool

What’s a CRM?

A Customer Relationship Management Software (CRM) will eventually become a must if you grow a large sales team or lead generation funnel. This helps maintain all of your sales and customer interactions in one place.

Some popular ones are Hubspot, Salesforce, and Zoho. An e-commerce business or anyone selling a product will likely need one eventually.

What Are Project Management Systems?

A project management system is different from a CRM, in that it’s a way to manage a remote team and the tasks you need to handle.

It’s where you assign projects to your contractors, set timelines, and delegate out tasks to your team. Think of this as the centralized area of your business functions.

To start, you likely will just use Microsoft applications like Word, exchange a million emails, and use a paper calendar or your Google calendar to keep track of deadlines.

But as you grow, you’ll need to centralize this information. The most popular options for this are Asana, Trello, and ClickUp.

What Other Productivity Tools are Needed?

If you’re not quite yet needing a full CRM or project management solution yet, a lot of solopreneurs will opt for a digital planner, calendar app, or note workspace to keep themselves organized.

Preview of Sam's Digital Calendar

Here are some options to consider:

  • For free, you can start with things like Google Docs/Sheets or Microsoft Word & Excel.
  • For planning, you can go old-school with some paper or physical planner. Upgrade to a digital planner like Sunsama or Motion.
  • Use a workspace option like Notion.

I currently utilize ClickUp and Sunsama together, which allows me to coordinate several online businesses while also boosting my productivity. They’re my go-to productivity tools.

Other Considerations Before You Start an Online Business

Before you feel too overwhelmed, know that you don’t need ALL of the above things at once. You’ll start with the basics, and acquire the new tools as you scale.

My last recommendation is to make sure you’ve done all the early footwork before starting a new business. Here are some things you should have a really clear image of before entering the checklist above: what your business will do and how it will monetize.

As you may have realized after scanning through this checklist, starting an online or home-based business is not for the faint of heart. The largest hurdle isn’t necessarily the business or creation of the product but the marketing and growth of your business.

checklist before starting an online business
  • Hash out your business idea
  • Perform high-level market research
  • Create a business plan & monetization strategy

1. Your Online Business Idea

Are you looking to start an E-commerce business and sell physical and digital products on Etsy?

Maybe you want to start some coaching, an agency, or have amazing knowledge that would be great as online courses.

Either way, make sure you nail down your exact concept.

2. Online Businesses’ Market Research

Now, it’s time to research your business idea before you take the plunge. Here are some good questions to ask yourself and then find out:

  1. Is there a gap or need in the market for this product?
  2. Will the target audience actually pay for this? Sometimes, you may find a solution to the problem, but the problem isn’t big enough for someone to pay for it.
  3. Are there any competitors already in the space? If so, how are they doing? If they’re not doing great, it’s a pretty strong indicator the market doesn’t support it.
  4. How would your company separate itself from the competition?

Test out the need!

Ask friends, families, or strangers what they think. Read forums like Reddit to see if it’s something that’s being actively discussed. If you have a prototype, create focus groups or incentives for people to test out your product and ask them questions.

3. Business Plan & Monetization Strategy

You’ve done your research and have decided that your business idea is a winning idea. This is where you need to create a legit business plan and framework.

While there are so many resources to help you develop a business plan, I recommend mapping out a solid six months of work to get a real picture of everything that would need to be done.

Then I recommend getting a true picture on when you would start monetizing and if its feasible. An awesome product is useless if you can’t market your product to the right potential customers.

4. Checklist for Starting Online Business

Time to get started and follow my ultimate online business checklist! Here is the entire checklist in one spot to save you from scrolling up and down the page.

I hope you found this information invaluable on your journey.

ultimate online business checklist

1. Foundations

  • Business Bank Account (Traditional or Digital)
  • Get Your Tax Documents in Order
  • Choose Your Invoicing Services

2. Financials & Taxes

  • Business Bank Account (Traditional or Digital)
  • Get Your Tax Documents in Order
  • Choose Your Invoicing Services

3. Legal & Insurance

  • Determine the insurance coverage you need
  • Consult with legal representation

4. Communication

  • Get your digital business card
  • Choose how you will receive physical mail
  • Set up an email & virtual meetings platform

5. Digital Marketing

  • Domain Website & Hosting
  • Content Marketing Plan (SEO)
  • Social Media Accounts
  • Email Marketing Campaigns

6. Operations

  • Do you need a CRM?
  • Choose a Project Management Tool
  • Consider a Productivity Tool

Perks of an Online Business

As an online business owner myself, there are so many wonderful benefits to operating a business online, and likely you’re after a lot of these perks.

  • Time Flexibility: No one is telling you when to punch in and out, giving you more freedom.
  • Location-independence: You can travel and work anywhere.
  • No physical overhead. No store to worry about, utility costs, or employees to handle the counter when you’re gone.
  • Higher profit margins. When you’re not spending money on traditional business expenses, you take more of the profits home.
  • Selling online is a 24/7 business. You don’t have to be physically present during certain hours to sell online.

Disadvantages To Operating an Online Business

While there are so many reasons to love running an online business, I want you to be aware of the many drawbacks I’ve found. It’s not all moonlight and roses.

  • Isolation: It’s hard not seeing people outside the office or getting adult interaction.
  • Motivation can be harder when you don’t have someone pushing you to meet metrics. It’s completely self-driven. These productivity quotes help me out.
  • It may fail. Or it may not be as lucrative as you thought. And that’s a real risk.
  • Digital marketing is a beast. And if you have an online business, odds are you need to master this. There’s no physical “store” or sign to get people to recognize your business.
  • Market saturation. Everyone wants to “live the dream” and work exclusively online.

Final Thoughts

Creating an online business is a very exciting adventure, but I’ve seen so many people underestimate the work that goes into creating one. I hope this checklist serves to help you on your journey, and that you find joy in the process.

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