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Start-up 101: Get it Right on the First Try

You've decided you're ready to start your business -- congratulations! So now what? Here's a 10-point checklist to ensure you're set up for maximum success.

1. Look to the Future
Spend as much time as you possibly can dreaming about what you want your business and life to look like five years from now. Then write it down! The clearer your vision, the more likely it'll happen. And don't hold back: If your dream is to sell your company for $20 million in five years, don't be shy -- go ahead and say it. If you get writer's block, then draw your vision.

2. Choose a Name Wisely
Pick a name for your business that is catchy and reflects your future vision. But beware -- you might love your boyfriend today, but don't name your company after him. You'll be bumming if you own Jesse's Girl shoe store when Jesse is long gone!

3. Get a Lawyer on Your Side
Find a lawyer to help you choose the right entity for your business and get incorporated. Unless your business is a hobby, sole proprietorship is not the way to go, as it means you're personally on the hook for all the liabilities of your company.

4. Don't Skimp on Accounting
Line up a bookkeeper, CPA, or financial coach who will help you develop a financial record-keeping system that you can maintain. Monitoring your bank balance based on the ATM receipts may be okay for you personally, but your business needs a real-deal accounting system.

5. Look the Part
Get professional photos taken to use in your print and online marketing campaigns. Make sure to have a great hair and makeup artist do you up for the photos, too. Why? Have you ever seen marketing materials from a successful company containing photos of women with bad-hair and shiny-forehead issues? Me neither.

6. Be Professional -- Even Down to the Last Detail
Get business cards made up that sell you and your service and don't just list your contact information. White space is wasted space. And think ahead about what you're projecting with your email address. Does make you trust me? is far more professional.

7. Create Catchy Copy
Either hire a copywriter or write your own core copy for online and print materials. Core copy includes a catchy headline and bullet points describing the benefits of your services or products. Nobody cares that I am Alexis Martin Neely, personal family lawyer extraordinaire, and a headline that says as much isn't going to grab much attention. But you might want to know more about me if the headline says something like, Get the Personal Guidance of a Trusted Lawyer So You Can Make the Right Legal Decisions for Your Business and Family Without Spending Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars.

8. Think Through Your Website
Hire a web designer who can design both your logo and your website. Even a blog will do, but you've got to make it look good. You want a website focused solely on your company. Make it easy to navigate and full of useful information. Before the designer gets started, you should have thought about exactly what you want someone to do and feel when they come to your site.

9. Organize Your Contact List
Set up a database or CRM (customer relationship management system) for keeping track of your leads, prospects, customers, and referral sources. Then, use it to begin communicating with your list by email at least once a week and by mail at least once a month. Your house list is the most valuable piece of your business; start creating it now and nurture it as if it were your baby. Or, you could take the cheap route by getting a big stack of index cards and a pencil. You choose!

10. Plan, Plan, Plan!
Create a 12-month marketing campaign to bring in revenue and prepare some basic expense and revenue projections. Or, you can just wing it, and hope and pray that clients come banging down your door and you don't spend more than you have. Personally, I've done it both ways, and although the outcome may be the same, the planning option sure feels a whole lot better.

Text by Alexis Martin Neely

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