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50 Questions to Ask Before Starting a New Business

Starting a business is an inherently risky venture. Getting your business off the ground requires a plan, capital, and a whole lot of hard work. From coming up with a great business idea to creating the proper business structure to execute this idea; from raising the money to fund startup costs to conducting the market research to justify your company’s raison d’etre, there are tons of steps before you can even think about opening the doors (physical or virtual) to your customers.

If you’re looking for a quick pathway from idea to implementation, we strongly recommend jumping from here to our article highlighting the 10 Steps to Starting a Business.

On the other hand, if you’re still in the early planning stages, you’ve come to the right place. The best way to really get the ball rolling is to start by asking yourself all the tough questions first. While you may not have an exact answer for each of these questions, this collection of inquiries is a great way to get you thinking about everything–big and small–that goes into launching your own business.

50 Questions To Help You Start a Successful Business

There’s obviously a lot that goes into getting a business off the ground. So how can you be sure you’ve thought of everything first? Well, you can’t. Rule number one–be prepared for the unexpected as a business owner. That said, you can take every possible step to reduce the risk of the unexpected. We’ve devised 50 critical questions to help you do exactly that. Because there’s a lot here, we’ve divided these questions into specific areas. Read on to find out which questions you should be asking about your Business Idea and Structure, the Competition and Customers shaping the marketplace, the Financial and Organizational components you’ll need to address to build your business, and finally, the Brand that you’ll be working to establish.

The Business Idea

1. What problem are you solving?

This is the very first question you need to ask yourself, because it will ultimately tell you whether or not there’s an actual need for the product or service you plan to market. Where did your business idea come from? Have you observed an unsatisfied demand for a certain product or service, or the need for innovation or improvement in the way a product or service is delivered? Perhaps you’ve found a way to offer quality with greater affordability, or a faster delivery system, or simply with a more customer friendly approach than the industry standard. Whatever it is that roots your business idea, be sure it’s something that addresses an actual problem with a viable solution. Moreover, be sure that the solution you’re offering is also profitable. Indeed, your goal here is to identify the need for your idea as well as the ability of this idea to generate profit.

2. Do you have a business plan?

Of course, it’s one thing to say that you have a great idea that can render a profit. It’s another thing to show it. That’s what your business plan is for. This is your chance to explain your idea in its entirety–to conduct a SWOT (Strengths; Weaknesses; Opportunities; Threats) analysis; to elaborate on the key features of the broader marketplace including the competition and the customers; to present financial forecasts that demonstrate the idea’s profitability; and more. That said, there aren’t necessarily any formal rules on what must be in a business plan. As an article from the Small Business Administration (SBA) notes, “A business plan is a written tool about your business that projects 3-5 years ahead and outlines the path your business intends to take to make money and grow revenue. Think of it as a living project for your business, and not as a one-time document. Break it down into mini-plans – one for sales and marketing, one for pricing, one for operations, and so on.” Ultimately, this will be a valuable document for securing bank loans, investor funding, or just for giving yourself a set of meaningful benchmarks to pursue. Developed properly, your business plan should give you the chance to think objectively about the various moving pieces that must ultimately come together to transform your idea into a reality.

3. What is your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)?

What is the value that you will offer your customers? Is there really a demand for this value, and can you actually deliver it? And can you deliver that value in a way that betters the current offerings in the marketplace? The key behind a great idea is that it will likely resonate with prospective customers either because it provides something heretofore unseen in the marketplace, because it significantly improves upon something in the marketplace, because it improves the accessibility of something in the marketplace for which there is great demand, or because it otherwise represents a distinct value to the customer that cannot be obtained elsewhere. Make sure you fully understand what makes your product or service offering unique, and just as importantly, why these unique properties represent a chance for profitability.

4. Is there a proof of concept for your idea?

So you’ve established the unique value proposition implied by your idea. But how can you be sure that it’s something people will actually pay for? That’s where proof of concept comes in. According to the definition provided by the Gartner Glossary of business terms, a proof of concept “is a demonstration of a product, service or solution in a sales context. A POC should demonstrate that the product or concept will fulfill customer requirements while also providing a compelling business case for adoption.” In other words, is there some precedent to prove that people will pay for what you’re offering? While your offering may be a unique proposition, is there a track record of success for similar product or service offerings? Have you yourself experienced even anecdotal success selling others on your product or service? And is that anecdotal success compelling enough to justify the launching of an entire business? In short, you’re looking to find the perfect balance between something that is at once novel and proven–a unique value spin on a product or service with a proven track record.

5. Have you thought of a good business name?

Believe it or not, this is one of the toughest parts of the process. Coming up with the perfect name can be genuinely challenging. And that makes sense. After all, a lot rests on a business name. The right name effectively describes what your business does, conveys the identity of your business, and gives your target customers something memorable to latch onto. While an imperfect name may not doom your business idea to failure, the perfect name could be a real game changer in your pursuit of success. Don’t rush this stage. Take the time to brainstorm ideas, run them by people you know and trust, and don’t settle for something that doesn’t feel right. Once you come up with the right business name, you can move on to the clerical steps like registration, licensing, and tax filing.

6. Can you explain your business idea in just a few words?

There’s an old adage that says, “if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” The quote is sometimes attributed to Albert Einstein, though historians have generally disputed this, especially in light of the actual complexity of his scientific theories. To wit, it may well have been coined by an unknown business magnate, because it applies brilliantly to the notion of a business startup. You need to be able to explain your business idea in as little as 30 seconds–the length of the so-called elevator pitch. This is important, because that’s about how long the attention span is of the average person. The attention span may be even shorter for the average venture capitalist. If you’re looking to excite others about your idea, perhaps even enough to net a few worthy investors, you need to be able to convey your business idea in a way that is at once compelling, clear and concise.

The Business Structure

7. What will be the legal structure of your business?

Now is the time to determine the best legal structure for your business based on the scale of your operation, the legal liabilities specific to your sector, and the nature of your product or service. Will your business be a sole proprietorship, a limited liability company, a partnership, or a corporation? Is your business intended as a non-profit entity, a religious organization seeking tax exempt status, or a traditional brick and mortar business in the retail space? Each of these entity types will come with its own specific rules for registration, licensing, tax status, operational regulations, and more. It’s up to you to determine which of these models makes the most sense for your product or service. If you’re not sure, this is a great time to consult a business attorney. You’ll want to be sure you get this step right as so many subsequent steps will hinge on making the right call here.

8. Do you need to register your business? 

The answer to this question may be different for every aspiring business owner and will depend on factors like your locality, the nature of your business, and the intended scale of your operation. In most cases, registration will be pretty straightforward, but it may not always be necessary. As an article from the Small Business Administration (SBA) notes, “For most small businesses, registering your business is as simple as registering your business name with state and local governments. In some cases, you don’t need to register at all. If you conduct business as yourself using your legal name, you won’t need to register anywhere. But remember, if you don’t register your business, you could miss out on personal liability protection, legal benefits, and tax benefits.” As long as you’re speaking with a lawyer about the structure of your business, you’ll probably want to inquire about these protections and benefits. Determine whether or not it makes sense to register your business. But bear in mind that you’ll probably need to register your business in order to respond in the affirmative to the next question.

9. Do you have an Employer Identification Number (EIN)?

This is important because you’ll need this number for just about everything else that comes with starting a business. Your EIN is kind of like a social security number, but for your business. This is what the U.S. government uses to identify your business as an official taxpaying entity. As an article from the Small Business Administration notes, “Your Employer Identification Number (EIN) is your federal tax ID. You need it to pay federal taxes, hire employees, open a bank account, and apply for business licenses and permits. It’s free to apply for an EIN, and you should do it right after you register your business.” The SBA explains that you’ll need an EIN to do everything from operating as a corporation to establishing a partnership; from paying employees to filing tax returns for employment; from withholding income tax from employees to overseeing certain tax-deferred pension plans. In other words, getting an EIN should be among your first steps. The good news is that it’s pretty easy to get an EIN directly through the IRS EIN assistance portal.

10. Do you have a general business license? No matter what kind of business you plan to operate, you are required to have a business license. In the vast majority of cases, a General Business License will suffice, and this will usually be issued by your locality. According to an article from Investopedia, Any business, including home-based businesses, must obtain a local city or county business license. This is a basic license that allows the holder to engage in business activities within the local jurisdiction. If your city or county doesn’t have a specific business licensing department, you can obtain information on obtaining a basic business license at your local tax office.”

11. Does your business model require a special sales tax license?

Depending on where you plan to operate, this license may already be included as part of the general business license. But this is not always the case. And where it isn’t the case, you are legally liable for ensuring that you do carry this additional licensing. According to the article from Investopedia “A sales tax license may be part of the general business license in some areas. But a separate sales tax license is required in other areas in addition to a local business license. Not sure if you need a separate tax license? The local department from which you obtain a business license can tell you if you must obtain a separate sales tax license and where to get it at either the state or local level. Make sure that you have this covered before you open your business.” Indeed, failure to do so could actually make you criminally liable.

12. Do you require special permits to conduct your business?

However you slice it, you will need to get this license. However, there is also specialized permitting that you may need to get. This will largely depend on the nature of your business. Permits, as per their name, give you permission to engage in specific business activities within your locality, and will usually be granted by a professional association specific to your sector. For instance, say the article from Investopedia, Environmental licenses or health department permits are less common for home-based businesses. These documents are most generally required for businesses that engage in the wholesale or retail sale of food and beverage products. In any event, it’s easy enough to check with state environmental protection agencies or local health departments to find out if your business requires any type of environmental inspection or permit.”

13. Do you need specialized insurance?

The answer to this question will depend on the nature of your business, as well as the organization, resources, and personnel involved in this business. If you are a sole proprietorship selling a creative service like web design or digital marketing, you won’t likely require any special insurance coverage to operate out of your home office space. On the other hand, if you plan to rent or purchase property for the operation of your business, you plan to hire employees, you expect to operate vehicles or machinery in the production or delivery of your products or services, or you are manufacturing a retail item that will find its way into the homes of consumers, you may need to carry certain specialized insurance policies. This may include commercial property insurance, professional liability insurance, or general liability insurance. Some small business owners will choose to carry a generalized business insurance simply in order to mitigate unforeseen risks and legal entanglements. If you’re not sure which types of insurance are recommended or required in your sector, consult a business attorney.

14. Are there zoning requirements you need to be aware of?

Before you start a business in your locality, make sure you’re aware of any practical legal limitations on what you can and can’t do. If you’re planning to rent or purchase a property, be sure you understand all the zoning rules in your municipality and county. Will your business objectives be in compliance with these rules? Are there additional steps you’ll need to take, and expenses you’ll need to sustain, in order to achieve compliance? You may need to ask these same questions if you plan to run your business out of your own home. Be sure that you are aware of any rules or regulations imposed by your township or country regarding the operation of certain business types from spaces that are zoned as residential properties.

15. Does your Home Owners Association (HOA) have any rules about operating a home business?`

Speaking of operating a business out of your own home, many communities and developments are overseen by organizations called Home Owners Associations (HOA). HOAs often have pretty far reaching rules about how you can and can’t use your residential space. Some may even have restrictions on operating a business out of your home. This is something you’ll want to be aware of before you attempt to launch a business from your home office or backyard workshop. If your HOA forbids this type of commercial activity, you may be required to rent or purchase an alternative space for the operation of your business. Naturally, this means you’ll need to factor this cost into your operating expenses.

The Competition

16. Who are the leading competitors in the space you’re entering?

Find out everything you can about the businesses that are leading in your space. Which companies are dominating in sales and market share? Which companies have succeeded in establishing a sturdy reputation in the space, and which entrants have made the biggest splash as innovators? In addition to finding out who these competitors are, you should know how each one has built a successful business in the space you plan to enter. An article from Business News Daily advises exploring all aspects of your competitors’ business to achieve a comprehensive understanding of what has allowed them to succeed. According to Business News Daily, “these aspects could be pricing, distribution and delivery strategies, market share, new products or services coming to market, who their long-standing, highest-spending customers are, the quality of after-sales support, and which sales and marketing channels they use.”

17. Is there room for a new entrant?

Now that you understand a bit more about the competition, you should be in a better position to honestly assess this question. How much space is there in the market for a new entrant? Are you facing down a field in which the competition is endowed with billions of dollars in operating capital? Is the field saturated with other startup businesses looking to build their own reputations as trailblazers? (Cryptocurrency industry–I’m looking in your direction.) As you prepare to make your own splash in a selected marketplace, do some honest soul searching about how much space there really is for your idea in this sector. If you find a marketplace that is deeply tilted toward just a few monopolistic entities, or one that is absolutely teeming with would-be innovators, you may want to turn your attention elsewhere.

18. Are you looking to innovate in your field?

Speaking of innovators, are you among them? This ties directly into the question of your Unique Sales Proposition (USP). Are you preparing to offer a product that significantly enhances what has previously been available in the marketplace? Is your service offering a meaningful step forward from previous service offerings in the same space? If you are offering customers something that is truly a distinctive, first-of-its-kind purchasing opportunity, you may be in a position to transform the marketplace, and place yourself at the forefront of this transformation. Before you enter the field, determine whether you plan to work within the parameters already established by those who came before you or whether you plan to disrupt the industry with exciting new innovations.

19. How will you differentiate your business offering from the competition?

Of course, innovation isn’t the only way to differentiate your offering from others in the marketplace. You can find ways to make your products and services more affordable, more accessible, more efficient, or more functional. Even incremental improvements in what’s available could set your company apart. An article from Business News Daily asks, “Could you improve the quality of your products or services by adding or amending a feature, lowering the price to be more affordable or improving after-sales support? Could you achieve a better ROI on your marketing budget by investing in a more capable CRM for better lead management?” Determine how you will set yourself apart, both from those who have established themselves as leaders in the space, and from those who are going head to head with you at the startup tier.

20. Is there anybody else who can do what you plan to do?

Do you have an ace in the hole–something that your business will do or offer that nobody else can replicate? Have you invented an exciting proprietary technology, or created an unparalleled synergy with another business partner, or is your team simply loaded with the type of intellect and talent that other companies can’t match? Identify the greatest strengths that your business has to offer, whether these are features embodied in your personnel, your products, your structure, or all of the above. Once you know what these strengths are, do everything you can to magnify them. These strengths will be your greatest selling point when it comes to beating the competition.

21. How has this industry or space changed in the last several years? Where is it going in the future?

Beyond just studying the current players in your business, you should have a strong sense of the history of your space. What are the trends and innovations that have helped to shape your area of the market? Are there technological or conceptual developments that have been inflection points in this field? And how has the field evolved since these inflection points? Try to gain a full understanding of the leading trends in the marketplace, as well as the path that led to this point. The better you understand what came before, the more readily you will be able to anticipate future developments in your field. Naturally, this anticipation could be the key to tremendous success.

22. What do the success stories in your industry look like?

Speaking of success, it’s not a bad idea to get a firsthand glimpse at exactly what this looks like. You’ve already identified the leading competitors in the field. Now find out what got them to where they are today? What was the unique value proposition that each of these successful businesses offered? What innovations did these businesses bring to the market? In short, what were the keys to their success? Whether you hope to replicate, build on, or surpass that success, the first step is to fully understand how your competitors achieved it. Every company has a story. Explore these stories and think about how they can inform your success.

23. What do the failures in your industry look like?

Not to be negative, but you can also learn a lot from the failures in your midst. Just as the sector you plan to enter is populated with winners, the world of business must also have losers. Find out more about the also-rans, the companies that tried, failed, and folded. These are cautionary tales with tremendous value to you, as a new entrant into the field. What were the causes of their failure–a failure to differentiate themselves, a lack of capital, poor organization, or just bad luck? All are possibilities, and more. Before you launch your business, use these stories of disappointment and poor fortune to identify, anticipate and sidestep your own pitfalls.

The Customers

24. Who are your customers?

Now that you know the competition, it’s absolutely critical that you also identity your customer base. Which demographics do you expect to serve, and more importantly, how well do you know the real people who make up these demographics. You need to understand your target if you are to effectively market to these populations. One helpful exercise here is to actually create target customer personas as hypothetical use cases for your products or services. To clarify, we mean that you should literally write out 300 word descriptions of imaginary customers–who they are, what their needs are, and why they are likely to find your product or service offering to be the ideal solution to that need. Beyond identifying customers by what you perceive to be key demographics, this exercise should allow you to hone in on individual customer types. Create characters around these customers and do your best to put yourself in their shoes. The better you understand exactly who your customers are, the easier it will be for you to identify their needs and provide products and services that effectively meet these needs.

25. Is there a large enough market for your product or service to fuel a profitable business?

Identifying your target customers should naturally lend an answer to this subsequent question. Does the customer base that you’ve identified constitute a large enough population to support your product or service? In the section below, we’ll discuss some of the financial components of starting a business. These will make it a bit easier to address a question like this. But on its own, the purpose of this question is to determine whether there is realistically a large enough market for your offering to fuel a profitable business. Without enough prospective buyers, it won’t matter how innovative your idea is. It will still be unlikely to generate a profit.

26. How will you market yourself to your target customers?

Now that you know who your customers are, and how many of them are out there, you have to figure out how you’ll reach them. This means determining where your prospective customers hang out. Are they online, browsing store aisles, or doing a bit of both? Are they reading print ads, clicking onto products from various social media accounts, or making their purchasing decisions based on word of mouth? This offers further motivation for getting to know your intended target market on a deeper and more personal level. As an article from The Score explains, “Knowing your target audience will also help you know how to market your business. For example, younger audiences may be attracted to social media channels, such as Snapchat or Instagram, while B2B audiences may respond better to webinars and white papers. Do you want to focus on SEO and content marketing or do you want to spend time gaining reviews and word-of-mouth referrals? Before you start a business, it’s important to understand where and how you are going to market that company. The best brands in the world have figured out how to communicate their value proposition effectively.” You need to be able to draw the triangulating lines that connect your marketing strategy, your value proposition, and your customer.

27. What is your marketing budget?

On the one hand, there’s the strategy you plan to implement in order to reach your prospective customer base. On the other hand, there’s the actual amount of money that you have with which to do so. Again, we’ll address some of the financial components of your startup business in the section below. But the purpose of the question in this section is to incline you to think realistically about what it costs to reach your targets through the various channels where you are most likely to find them. Will you be budgeted for a robust marketing campaign right out of the gate, or will you opt for a soft launch while you raise additional funding? The latter option may even be preferable if you are still in the process of working out the kinks in your product or process. In other words, you’ll want to develop an initial marketing budget based both on your available resources and your readiness for an influx of new customers.

28. Are your customers local, online or both?

Speaking of new customers, where are you expecting to find them, and where are you most likely to complete transactions with these customers? Is your business a strictly online business with a national or even global customer demographic? Is your business a strictly local operation like a landscaping business, a wedding cake baker, or a dentist? If it’s the latter, your strategy for reaching customers will likely be quite different from the strategy of those in the former category. Geography matters when marketing to your customer base for a variety of reasons, including its impact on the channels you will use to reach them, the language and tone you will use to engage them, and the nature of the products and services you will make available to them. Make sure your product or service offerings, and your marketing strategy, match the practical geographical expectations of your target.

29. Are there underserved groups in this space, or gaps in the marketplace?

Have you identified a unique subset of your chosen marketplace that is not currently being reached by your anticipated competitors? This could represent the opportunity to fill a need in your space. Remember those target personas that you developed? Now let’s think of some personas that are not having their needs met in the current marketplace. Are there prospective customers who are being priced out by the cost of products and services in your industry? Are there customers who require a more specialized type of service that simply isn’t available? Is there a geographic or cultural enclave that isn’t being reached by the messaging and marketing of current competitors? Try to find gaps in the way the marketplace is being served. These gaps could represent a substantial opportunity both to address unmet customer needs and to facilitate the growth of your business. Depending on the nature of your business, carving out a specialized niche could be just as profitable as taking a lead position in the industry, writ large.

The Financial Components

30. What are the startup costs for your business idea?

Once you’re certain that there is both space for your ideas in the industry and customers to help make your idea marketable, it’s time to get down to dollars and cents. How much money do you need to get your ideas off the ground? Startup costs will usually include a variety of administrative fees for licensing, registration, permitting, zoning, etc. These costs will also include property rental or purchase, any necessary insurance coverage, contract labor, employment costs, production costs, marketing costs and more. Clearly, there’s a lot of expense that comes with the start of a new business. Make sure you have a full sense of what those costs are. Refer back to your business plan for specifics. Hopefully, those specifics will also help you pin down sources for funding, whether these startup costs come from angel investors, venture capitalists, bank lenders, or from your own pocket.

31. What does it cost to make your products or deliver your services?

In addition to start up costs, you’ll need to know the operational costs of your business before you start paying the bills. If you’re manufacturing a product, you’ll need to calculate the costs of materials, labor, and delivery on the supply chain. If you’re delivering a service, you’ll need to calculate the costs of personnel, transportation, and actual labor. Do some research on your competitors to find out what they’re spending on these line items. Before you can determine what to charge for your goods and services, you need to know what it will cost you to deliver them.

32. Are there commodities that you’ll require that come with fluctuating costs?

Of course, that is easier said than done. That’s because many of the key commodities that businesses rely upon for production or for the delivery of services can fluctuate dramatically in price. The most obvious example is gas. Countless factors can impact the price of gas from inflation and supply chain disruption to natural disasters and political unrest. Of course, these occurrences can be highly difficult to predict, which means the price of this essential commodity can be difficult to anticipate. This directly impacts businesses that rely upon gas-powered vehicles for delivery or gas powered machinery for manufacturing. And of course, this is just one example. Shifts in the cost of lumber can have rippling effects on costs for builders and contractors. Changes in the availability of corn, rice, wheat, or soy can impact prices across the food distribution and service industries. These pricing fluctuations can impact profit margins and ultimately shape the price that you pass along to consumers. These fluctuations can be quite unpredictable. As you initiate your business, take into consideration your reliance on commodities that tend to fluctuate in value. To the extent that is possible, you’ll want to prepare for these possibilities in both your budgeting and pricing structure.

33. How will you price your products or services?

Speaking of pricing structure, it’s important to establish a price point for your products and services that makes sense within the scope of your industry and the broader economy. An article from Forbes notes that pricing is a delicate balance. Forbes points out that “You don’t want to over priced, but you don’t want to price your products too low. This is where research comes in handy as you want to look at what your competitors’ price their products at. Are your items the same, more luxurious or more simple? You also want to take into consideration the packaging and postage costing as well as maintaining the business overall. Where do you fit in the market for your target consumers?” Make sure you establish a price that consumers are likely to accept, but one that also ensures the profitability of your business regardless of your operational costs and potential fluctuations in the cost of commodities.

34. What is the product life-cycle for the goods or services you plan to deliver?

Obviously, you want to provide high quality products and services. This is a great way to ensure customer loyalty. On the other hand, nothing lasts forever. Do your products have a relative expiration date? Does the impact of your services have a diminishing benefit over time? In other words, will your customers ultimately need to update or upgrade the products they’ve purchased from you? Will they need regular service visits to ensure the continued effectiveness of the services rendered? This is important to know, because the timeline from initial purchase to subsequent purchase or service visit may tell you a great deal about your company’s profitability. If the goods and services you offer do indeed have a finite lifespan, be sure you have positioned your company to provide the appropriate replacements or repairs when the time is right.

35. How will you define financial success?

We recognize that this is a fairly broad question, but it is worthwhile to identify some financial benchmarks by which to log your own successes. Before you launch your business, you should have a clear sense of the milestones that you will use to mark your progress. Will you be targeting a specific amount of annual revenue; a break even point based on your initial investment; or a certain degree of profitability? What financial achievements will you use to track your company’s progress? Identify these measures in advance so that you have some concrete financial goals to shoot for.

36. Will you be opening a separate business bank account?

This is a good idea even if you operate as a sole proprietorship. A designated business account can make it a great deal easier to conduct effective accounting, to keep your personal finances separate, and to process customer payments. Indeed, you can set your business account to feed inputs into your accounting software, to accept credit card payments, to make payments on your business credit card, and more. In the simplest terms, you really should have a separate business bank account even for the smallest and most independent of operations. It helps to keep things clear and organized while reducing your personal financial risk.

The Organization

37. What skills do you bring to the table? What skills will you need to source from others?

You’ve decided to launch your own business, so obviously you are enterprising and ambitious. But what other virtues do you bring to the table? Are you good at delegating responsibilities and communicating ideas to others? Or are you better at wheeling and dealing with other business leaders? Do you have a gift for understanding and connecting with clients or are your skill sets more technical? It’s important to identify the talents you bring to the table for a few reasons. First and foremost, you’ll want to channel your greatest strengths into helping get this company off the ground. But secondly, and just as importantly, you’ll want to identify the areas where you may not be as strong. These are areas where you might want to enlist engagement from others. If you excel at business planning but are less skilled at engaging personnel, you may wish to partner with somebody who has managerial skills. If you bring a ton of technical expertise to the table but you don’t really know how to crunch the numbers in order to turn a profit, bring in somebody with financial management experience. In short, identify the areas where you excel, and partner with those who excel in areas where you don’t.

38. Are you still planning to work your day job?

This is worth asking if only because it underscores just how much time you’ll be able to invest in launching your own company. It’s understandable that you wish (or need) to retain your paying income even as you work to get a new company off the ground. But if this is the case, you simply need to be realistic about how much time you have to invest in your new venture. Divided attention may delay or even stand in the way of establishing a successful business. Taking the leap from full time work into full startup mode can be scary, but it may also be the only way to make it really work. If you have a day job with flexibility, you may be able to do both. But if your daily work responsibilities are standing in the way of your ability to launch a new company, you may want to think very seriously about taking the full leap into your new venture, and if possible, paying yourself a salary from the startup funding or revenue generated by this business.

39. How many employees will be needed to make this business work?

Speaking of taking a salary, you may not be the only one that your new company must pay. If you are a sole proprietorship, this probably isn’t a concern for you. But most business enterprises require other people to succeed. How many people you need to succeed will depend entirely on the initial scale of your organization. To the point, an article from Forbes notes the importance of anticipating the startup scale of your organization. Realistically speaking, what are the labor requirements for making your idea into a reality? Forbes notes that you may be “starting this business solo or with a business partner, but you also want to consider how many employees you will need as the time goes on. This is important to consider if you are beginning a business with the idea that it will scale up in the future, and require a team for growth.”

40. Is your business idea scalable? Can your company grow, and if so, what will that mean?

Speaking of growth, what do you envision for the future of your company? Are you providing a product that can be manufactured and distributed en masse? Are you offering a service that can be made widely accessible? How realistic is it that your company could expand regionally, nationally, or even globally? And if it did, what would that mean for your overhead costs, the size of your labor pool, and the potential for profitability? While all of these ambitions may be well in the future, you’ll want to anticipate these possibilities even now, at the outset of your business venture. Are these ambitions possible? Does your business model allow for this level of growth? And if not, what must you do to make this type of growth possible? Take steps now to analyze and recognize the potential scalability of your business model. This consideration may prevent you from suddenly realizing at some future date that you’ve reached the limits of your company’s ability to grow.

41. What logistical challenges will you have to address?

While there is a lot that you can control as a business entrepreneur, you must also rely on the competence of others to carry out your work. This may include mail sorters, parcel delivery services, truck driving fleets, port workers and countless others in the supply chain who will contribute to the timeliness of your shipments. Whether you’re waiting for incoming supplies or banking on the expedient shipment of outgoing products, there are logistical factors that will contribute directly to your costs of operation and your organizational efficiency. Make sure you have a full understanding of these logistical factors, and that you’re prepared to manage the challenges that these factors can sometimes impose on your ability to serve customers effectively.

42. Are there political externalities to consider?

In addition to logistical concerns, there are some businesses that are directly at the mercy of external political factors. Are you entering into the type of business that relies on government funding, that requires the efforts of lobbyists, or that touches upon an area that is considered divisive in American politics? Some products and services may even fluctuate in popularity based on their political and cultural appeal. Does your business idea depend on the political dominance of one party or another? Is your business model vulnerable to fluctuations in prevailing political ideals? If this is the case, you should be aware of the potential ebbs and flows this could create in your company’s popularity and relevance. These factors could consequently cause ongoing volatility in your company’s bottom line.

43. Will it be possible to delegate leadership responsibilities to others?

What role do you see for yourself in this company? Will you be a hands-on, day-to-day business manager? Or are you more likely to delegate responsibilities and take a hands off approach? The answer to this question should depend on your skill sets. Some business managers prefer to oversee every detail of their company’s operations. But speaking with candor, the most successful business owners are those that can effectively hand business leadership responsibilities over to trusted employees. In an ideal world, you would be able to delegate most daily management tasks to trusted personnel in your organization.

44. Do you plan to exit your business at any time?

This may seem like kind of a funny question to ask when you’re literally at the very start of running your own business. But it may be valuable to consider this question before you get your business off the ground. Do you envision this as a family company, one that you will ultimately pass on to the next generation? Or is it merely a profitable idea that you would ultimately sell to the highest bidder? In short, do you see yourself running this company for the rest of your working life, or would you be just as happy (if not happier) to create a valuable enterprise that ultimately sells to a bigger company for a big price tag? If you chose the latter, we can’t say we blame you.

The Brand

45. What is your company’s identity, and how does this connect to your target market?

Your brand refers to the way you present yourself. So how do you intend to present your company? This should be a function of your target market. If you’re pursuing a younger demographic, you’ll want to establish an identity that is at once informal and authentic. If you’re pursuing a demographic of business professionals, you’ll want to establish an identity that is polished and articulate. Such is to say that your intended audience will play a big role in defining your brand. Make sure you establish an identity–in your imagery, marketing material, and personnel–that reflects the desires of your target demographic.

46. What are your company values?

Your brand is more than just an abstract vibe. It’s also the foundation underlying your company’s values–the things that your organization stands for. Identify those values from the start and it can help you to better understand your own brand. Is your company focused on affordability, accessibility and inclusion? Do your values emphasize activism in the face of global climate change? Or are your company’s values simply focused on creating profits for your shareholders? Whatever demographics and priorities you serve, take time to articulate your company values now. This may help to create a brand that truly resonates with your target audience over the long haul.

47. Does your company have a mission and vision?

Your values are an indication of what your company stands for. By contrast, your mission and vision speak to what your company actually intends to do. What do you hope to accomplish as an organization? Is it innovation, equality, environmental justice, social progress, or technological advancement, just to name a few of the infinite possible answers to that question? Part of establishing your brand is articulating the mission that your company will actively pursue and the vision that your company will hold as its grandest ambition.

48. How will you convey this brand?

Now that you’ve pinned down your brand, how can you be sure that others will perceive the image that you’re putting out there? Do you have plans to build a website that captures your company’s identity, tone and vibe? Do you have a way to source a logo, color palette, and iconography that match your organization’s culture, energy, and intent? In most cases, these are tasks that you will want to outsource to qualified third-party providers. But you’ll need to establish your own clear sense of these things first. Take time to think about the aesthetic that you believe will best convey your company’s identity and find artists, copywriters and web designers who will work closely with you to capture this aesthetic

49. Do you need any special patents or trademark copyrights?

In addition to working with artists and web designers to create your company’s iconography, you’ll want to work with lawyers to ensure that this ephemera is protected from intellectual property theft. That’s why, according to our own Ultimate Guide to Starting a Business, “Many companies apply for trademarks to protect the unique components of their company. Trademarks can cover a specific brand, a logo, a catchphrase, or product design. Or anything else that sets your business apart from your competitors.” Make sure you apply for these protections in the early going. When your company achieves massive success, you’ll be glad that you secured your images and icons against misuse.

50. Does your company have a story to tell?

Part of your brand identity is your personal history, the history of your idea, and the history of the organization you’ve built to deliver that idea to your customers. Find a compelling way to tell this story in your company’s literature, on your website, and through your marketing materials. Your company’s story can help to personalize the purchasing experience for your customers, to make your brand more relatable, and to ultimately help you establish an identity with lasting commercial impact.


Looking for even more detail on how to succeed at business? Our Ultimate Guide to Starting a Business includes step by step details on how to create a business plan, a rundown of special business permits and licenses, and tons of other actionable tips on getting your business venture off the ground.