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7 steps to starting a business in the UK

5-minute read

Jess Day

3 September 2020

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Setting up a business is a big step. So it’s important to consider all the steps involved in getting your startup off the ground.


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This checklist is designed to help you do just that – from registration and marketing, to knowing exactly how you’ll deliver your products or services to your customers.

Your business startup checklist

So often, it all comes back to the ‘to do list’. If you’re thinking about starting a new business, you probably already have a head full of ideas, information, advice, and priorities.

The trick is to sort them into a physical list – call it ‘What do I need to start a business?’, if in doubt. Write it on a big sheet of paper and pin it above your desk. It’ll help you make sense of what’s important, and what needs to be done and when.

We’ve whittled it down to seven basic steps – here’s your ready-made business startup checklist.

1. What's the big idea?

It might sound strange, but one of the earliest sticking points for many small businesses is getting clear on the ‘idea’ and what the business will actually be.

Before you do anything else, take a fresh sheet of paper and jot down a couple of sentences that sum up what you’re going to be doing or selling.

Add your three main products or services, if you know them, and your target market, or source of customers.

Before you know it, you’ll be writing a rough business plan, and in a better place to start researching business startup funding, competitors, and any of the six steps below.

2. Who are your customers?

Next on the checklist, your customer pipeline.

If you haven’t set up your business yet and you don’t know who your first customer will be, that’s fine. What’s important is knowing your target market, or who’s likely to buy your services and products, and doing some decent research.

Make sure you’ve read our step five on marketing below, and if you have a website or Facebook page, start taking email addresses now from people who are interested in your products.

If your business is set up to offer services (accountancy, copywriting, legal work, childcare etc.), you can go one step further and do a bit of networking now. You could start lining up meetings to run through what you offer and maybe even agree on some short-term contracts.

Once you’re set up and working on those first contracts, try not to be complacent. As busy as you are, chatting to potential clients and developing a pipeline of work is essential for sustaining your business.

It might sound like another stressful task to add to your ‘to do’ list, but it’s likely to make your working life more relaxed in the long run.

3. Tax, insurance, and legal obligations of small business owners

If there’s one thing you don’t want to be worrying about three months in, it’s whether you’re registered for tax, properly insured, or legally secure.

First things first: you need to be on HMRC’s radar. This is mainly to ensure you’re paying tax properly – our article on registering with HMRC will help you get started.

You’ll also need to decide whether you’re going to be a sole trader, limited company, or something else. Read our article on company structure options and decide what’s right for you.

Also important to keep on your business startup checklist – setting up a public liability insurance policy and getting organised with any small business licenses and permits you might need. From licenses for working with children to health and safety checks, you’ll need to research your industry thoroughly and keep an eye on any changing requirements.

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4. Set up your invoicing and get paid

Apart from the thrill and the mission, it’s all about the billing. There’s nothing as satisfying as sending that first invoice, unless of course you have to spend a couple of hours going back through your calendar to figure out how many hours you’ve worked, or what you’ve sold and when.

Even if it’s just a very simple spreadsheet, or grid, get into the habit of keeping clear records. It won’t just help you bill customers quickly and accurately, it’ll also be useful if you need to provide an audit trail, hand over to an accountant, or reconcile any queries from a customer.

There are plenty of accountancy software packages available to help make life easier, and some of them are free. You can also read our simple guide to writing an invoice.

5. Create a small business marketing plan

You don’t need a huge budget to create an effective marketing plan.

And remember, not all platforms and methods work for every business. Instagram, flyers, and a bit of local PR might do the job for a small coffee shop, for example, whilst LinkedIn and word of mouth referrals might be the perfect blend for an IT consultant or accountant.

Whatever your mix, the first job is understanding where your customers are, how to reach them, and what their needs are. Even if you don’t have a slick website with all social media platforms established and professional business cards printed yet, there’s a lot you can do with free samples or introductory flyers.

Make sure you’ve looked at lots of options and picked a couple that really suit you and your customer base. Spreading yourself too thinly over every single marketing channel just dilutes your efforts.

There’s more information on the marketing methods you might want to consider in our expert guide to small business marketing.

6. Review how your business is doing

All businesses need a reality check from time to time.

Once you’re through month one, block out some time to look through your sales or invoices, check your biggest source of income, and investigate any stumbles or spikes in business.

You could even ask clients or customers for feedback (their favourite product, preferred form of contact, targets for next month etc.) and use it to add some action points to your review.

Once you’ve got all the facts in front of you, create a quick list of goals or objectives for next month. Perhaps it’s working five hours more (or less!), signing up 20 more email addresses to your newsletter, or spending one evening a month at your local business networking group.

Whatever it is, having performance-based objectives shouldn’t stop when you become your own boss. It’s this sort of structure that keeps you cruising into year two.

7. Take regular breaks

The early days of running a business are all about the work, the clients, and where the next sale is coming from. Remember though, you’re still entitled to a break.

With no HR department or holiday allowance to lean on, you’ll need to monitor your own working patterns and intensity. So don’t just say you’ll book a couple of days’ holiday – block it out in your diary, and do it.

Being your own boss can be all-consuming, but you’ll be much better use to your clients when you’re well-rested and full of energy, let alone your family and friends.

You could make a list of three things you’d like to do and build them into a long weekend. Most importantly, try not to feel guilty! You’re building a fantastic business, and you’ve earned some quality time off.

What would you add to our steps to starting a business? Let us know in the comments below.

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We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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