10-Step Checklist to Start a Small Business

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5.01.2022 Business tips

10-Step Checklist to Start a Small Business

Discover how to start your business with this guide.   

Starting your own small business is an exciting yet daunting venture. On the one hand, you're excited about the future. On the other, you're probably a little nervous about how it will work out — which is perfectly normal.  

Running your own business is no small feat, but there’s a reason why business ownership is an attractive option for so many Australians. Many industries afford flexibility to choose your own hours, and following your passion can be incredibly rewarding. 

Deciding how to start a small business can be tricky, if you’ve never done it before. Coming up with a profitable business idea and gaining a good understanding of your target market are natural first steps, but you’ll also need to know the legal requirements for starting a small business in Australia — and much more. 

Keep reading to discover ten time-tested steps to start a business in Australia, whether it’s your first or your fifth.

How to start a small business in Australia

1. Come up with a business idea

First, you need a business idea. The easiest way to come up with business ideas is to solve a problem you have. The second easiest is to solve problems others have. 

Or, perhaps you already have a business idea — in which case, stress testing your idea will be key. 

Deciding what sort of business you’ll run is also important. Will it be an online business, or will you have a bricks-and-mortar shop front? Will it be a business that you run on the side, or are you going all in? 

Once you have an idea, it’s time to ask yourself some questions. 

  • What’s the market size? 
  • Is your business idea based on a fad, or growing market trend? 
  • Who are the competitors in the space? 
  • Are there any restrictions or regulations that could impact the business? 

2. Research the competitive landscape

Research local competitors that sell the same, or similar, products or services. What does the competitive landscape look like? 

If there are a number of similar businesses in your local area, you’ll need to consider how to differentiate your business — as customers will need a reason to try a new business over an established one they already know and trust. 

Make sure to keep updated on new developments and announcements from competitors. You can do this by setting up Google alerts for competitor business names, and joining their mailing lists. 

3. Understand your limits

Starting any business successfully requires an understanding of the legal responsibilities and restrictions you’ll face as a business owner. Check with the Australian Business Licence and Information Service for any permits you may need. Using this service will put you on the right track to ensuring your business is compliant, but it’s also important to check with your local council — as some restrictions only apply to a very small area. 

For example, if you plan on opening a café in Melbourne CBD, check what licences and regulations apply. In some areas of Melbourne, you are able to roast your own beans on-site. In others, regulations will prevent you from doing so. It pays to do your research.

Consulting with a legal expert is also a good idea. It may cost you money upfront, yet it will save you from dealing with legal headaches later on.

4. Brainstorm a name for your business

What’s in a name, you ask? Great question. Having a memorable business name is more than a novelty — it can impact your business's success. If your business name is not unique, it will be difficult for customers to find on Google as you will be competing with many other websites for a coveted spot on the first page of the search results. 

A great business name should be relevant to what your business does. Use name generators to assist with the initial suggestions of your business name.

It’s also important to research other businesses with similar names, so you don’t run into legal problems. Speak with your lawyer, if in doubt. 

Here are some tips on how to choose the right name for your business.

  • The name should be easy to pronounce and easy to spell.
  • Conduct a comprehensive internet search on your proposed name and trademark.
  • Register a ‘.com’ domain.
  • Make a list of a few names you like and run them by your business partners, family and friends.
  • Test the name in the market to see if it resonates with your customers. There are many online small business communities and forums that can provide useful feedback.

Although your business's name is important, remember it can be changed later. The name you decide on should be simple, accurately describe your business and align with your mission and vision statement.

5. Test your business idea

Market research, surveys and feedback from small business communities are all valuable. Yet the best way to confirm your business idea is a good one is to start selling your product or service as soon as possible. Paying customers will always be the best source of feedback. 

A soft launch is a good way to see how people will react to a product before launching to the greater public. Invite a small pool of people to test your products. If possible, use the opportunity to take pre-orders and generate some initial funding to cover your first inventory. 

If you’re selling products such as homemade goods, clothing, homewares and coffee blends, consider renting a stall at your local market. It’s a cost-effective way to get your business out there and market your product, without investing heavily. You’ll create a buzz for your business, speak with customers to gain insight, and get the opportunity to let people know that you’ll be opening a shop soon.

Plan on running a service business? Consider a discounted trial. Make sure to ask your first customers for a testimonial that you can use in your initial advertisements on social media, or a review on Google My Business.

6. Write your business plan

A business plan is a useful asset to have on hand to keep you on track, at least in the initial stages of starting your business. You can always review and change it later.  

The first iteration of your business plan should include critical details about your business and its maintenance, such as  a business overview, marketing plan for launch, financial projections and more. 

Writing a business plan can be a complicated process, however it will benefit you in the long term. By going through the steps, you’ll likely uncover more questions you need to get answers for and discover which tasks to prioritise.

It’s important to keep the plan manageable and succinct, as you may have to deviate and review it as your business grows. 

7. Choose a business structure 

There are a number of ways to structure a business. Choosing the right structure for your business now will save a lot of time and effort, as your business structure impacts critical parts of your business — such as your personality liability, and tax obligations. It can also be difficult to change, down the track.

There are five main types of business structure to consider when setting up a new business. 

  • Sole trader: an individual trading on their own.
  • Partnership: entails income, losses, and control shared amongst partners. 
  • Company: operates as a legal entity that is separate from its owner(s).
  • Trust: an entity that holds property for the benefit of others.
  • Association: an entity usually established for recreational, cultural, or charitable purposes.

Whether or not you need an ABN depends on the business structure you choose, as well as your projected earnings. Discover everything you need to know about getting an ABN on the blog

8. Pick your tools 

Having the proper tools to run your business efficiently is essential. The first thing you’ll need is an EFTPOS terminal — without it, you won’t be able to accept cashless payments for your products or services. 

The ability to accept credit and debit cards —  as well as more modern forms of payment such as via digital wallet, Alipay and Zippay —  is critical to the success of your business. Cash use will continue to decline at a steep rate, and newer payment technologies will emerge. In order for your business to thrive, you’ll need the ability to accept payment from every customer. 

When shopping around for an EFTPOS terminal, ask yourself a few questions — including:

  • how long will it take to receive your funds after receiving them? 
  • what are the the fees — not just transaction fees, but terminal rental fees, monthly account keeping fees, and other hidden fees and charges?
  • how customisable is the platform? Can you tailor your surcharge, refunds and receipt to the way you run your business?

A portable EFTPOS machine with multiple connectivity options, like Zeller Terminal, will enable you to accept payment from wherever business takes you — whether you're running a mobile coffee cart, or testing out your product at the local market. Having the option to connect to the internet via Wi-Fi or mobile hotspot also safeguards your business against unforeseeable events, such as an internet outage or service interruption due to a storm or scheduled maintenance.

Ready to get started with Zeller?

Visit the blog for more information to help you choose the right EFTPOS machine for your new business.

9. Sort out your finances 

Getting your finances and cash-flow right from the get-go is fundamental to the success of your business. Insufficient cash-flow is one of the main reasons half of Australian SMEs go out of business in the first three years of operation. 

A cash flow budget will help you plan financial commitments and account for quieter periods. Your cash flow budget will also project spending patterns and support any future finance applications.

Once you start making purchases on behalf of the business, bookkeeping needs to be a priority task. Another thing to bear in mind is the length of your cash cycle. Accurately calculating and tracking your cash cycle once you’ve opened for business will enable you to ensure you have enough cash on hand to cover expenses. For most business owners, it’s about nine to twelve days

Ultimately, your goal as a business owner is to make money. Ensure you’re making smart business decisions from outset. For example, financial institutions can take between three to ten days to clear deposits. So, finding the right payments provider is crucial. Funds accepted through Zeller Terminal are deposited to your Zeller Transaction Account the same day — giving you faster access to your funds. Funds can also be swept to any external third party account, and be available for spending the next business day. 

You’ll also need to make sure you have convenient access to your funds. However, being money-smart means cutting out unnecessary fees and credit debt. Funds deposited to your Zeller Transaction Account can be spent using your Zeller Mastercard, which has no annual fees. With Zeller, you'll reduce the fees you pay and have money on hand sooner.

10. Market your business

Marketing is essential to get your business noticed and draw in potential customers. A successful marketing strategy involves a multi-prong approach — including a combination of social media ads, emails, and SEO (search engine optimisation). Yet the options are seemingly endless, and it can be difficult to know which tactics to prioritise. 

The secret to a successful marketing strategy is to choose the right channels for your product or service. The aim is simple: get your offering in front of the people most likely to be interested in it. 

Targeted Facebook and Instagram ads are a good place to start. You could create your first campaign for as little as $50. But before you do, make sure you know how they work — and how targeted ads differ from boosted posts. Knowing the difference will help ensure you’re not wasting marketing dollars. 

You can also use social media channels like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok to create a community of followers with organic content. This will allow you to grow brand awareness and promote your business for free. Make sure you understand how each channel works and how it can work to your advantage. 

Once you’ve attracted your first customers, you can start to determine your cost per acquisition. What marketing tactics did you use to attract those initial customers, and what did you spend? From here, you can work out how much it is costing you to ‘win’ each customer — and then work to lower that cost by trying different tactics. 

Starting a small business in Australia can be one of the most rewarding things you do. Following the above ten steps will help ensure you’re giving your business the best chance of success. 

Find more ideas on planning your business by signing up to the Zeller Business Blog.

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