Learn about the key steps and knowledge needed to start a new venture.

Building a business is exciting, and one of the most creative endeavors one can embark on. However, it also requires careful research and planning. Understanding the fundamentals of business planning, funding, marketing, and legal issues are important aspects to developing any business. To get you started, we have broken down the key steps to starting a business in the guide below, with links to additional information to help you dive even deeper.






Key Steps To Starting a Business


1. Define the vision for your business

What will be the mission of your business? What do you aim to achieve? Why are you starting this venture and what will be your guiding compass? In a couple of paragraphs, define the goals for your business and why you are launching this endeavor. This will help ground your future decisions in your mission.

Learn more about writing a mission statement


2. Do market research

Regardless what type of business you are starting, you want to have confidence that your product or service will have a market to generate sustainable income. This even applies to nonprofits or social-impact driven businesses. They need to ensure that their services will provide value to those they work with, and also that they have identified sustainable forms of income or funding over time. Every type of business can benefit from performing market research.

A good way to start with this is to determine your unique value proposition - what sets you apart from other competitors doing similar things in a similar market? Research your competitors, and also talk to potential customers to gauge their response to your product or service. You need a clear understanding of your value proposition and the market you are trying to enter. These steps will help you understand your market opportunity, and also define your target customer(s).

Learn more about market research


3. Create a business plan or business model canvas

While daunting to think about for some, 70% of business owners recommend writing a business plan or business model canvas when starting out. Both of these planning tools can help you map out critical elements of how your business will succeed. In fact, effective plans even include some of the steps we already mentioned above! 

Effective business plans or business models include details such as a business description, market analysis, competitor analysis, marketing plan, team and management structure, and financial projections. There is a ton of advice out there to help with this process, and even free counseling you can access through your local Small Business Development Center, for example.

Learn more about business planning


4. Determine your business or organizational structure

There are many different legal business structures one can choose when forming a new business. Some of the common options range from sole proprietorship, general partnership, LLC, corporation, and nonprofit. They all have various pros and cons, especially as it relates to how your business is taxed and its legal liabilities.

Educating yourself about the basics of each and determining what is right for you is important. It will help you move forward confidently with many other aspects of your business ranging from taxes, business registration, legal obligations, and more. 

Learn more about business structures


5. Evaluate your startup costs and finances

Starting a business, no matter how big or small, will likely come with some form of start up cost at the outset. Start by evaluating the costs associated with launching your business. This might include software, equipment, studio space, licenses, registration fees, raw materials, and more.

Once you have a sense of your early costs, determine how you will fund those costs before earning steady revenue. There are many possible options for this including personal savings, micro loans, personal loans, crowdfunding, grants, and more. Startups that have hopes of seeking outside investment in exchange for company equity may even look into venture capital or angel investment options for funding.

Learn more about calculating costs

Learn more about funding options


6. Register your business

The rules for registering your business will vary depending on your business structure, location, and exact type of business operations. Some business structures may be required to register with the state, while others may only need to register with the local city or town. Checking with your Secretary of State’s office is often a good starting point to learn more about your local requirements.

Beyond registering the business, you may also need to apply for licenses and permits, depending on the type of business you plan to operate. Again, this is usually dependent on local laws, so check with your state or local government to learn more.

Learn more about registering your business


7. Consider getting an Employer Identification Number (EIN)

An EIN is like a social security number for your business. It identifies your business to the federal government and allows you to easily pay federal taxes. Applying is free and can be done online through the IRS. An EIN is needed if you want to open a business bank account, which is a nice way to separate your personal and business finances. 

You also may want to explore how to get a State Tax ID. The process for this is similar, but varies depending on the state.

Learn more about EINs and State Tax ID


8. Explore accounting options

All types of businesses involve money coming in and going out. You will need to track your revenue and expenses, as well as practice good bookkeeping to assist with filing taxes or preparing financial statements. You also may need to produce invoices, track inventory, and other logistical details. 

There are many options that can help with these aspects of running a business. You might consider working with a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), though this would involve a cost. There are also numerous subscription software options that help freelancers and small businesses with their accounting needs such as Quickbooks, Fiverr Workspace, or Wave Apps.

Learn more about accounting options

9. Get familiar with contracts

For many businesses, utilizing contracts will be a necessary aspect of operations. This is especially true for freelancers or those who are offering design services to clients. Using contracts for business agreements is a critical way to protect your business, as well as those you work with. 

You don’t need to be a lawyer to make a contract. Contracts can be written in simple language. What is most important is that they clearly outline the responsibilities of all parties and the scope of the work involved. There are many contract templates and examples out there, but be sure to use contracts that are personalized and work best for you.

Learn more about contracts


10. Market your business to attract clients/customers

In order to be successful, people need to be able to find your business or organization! This is where marketing comes in. There are many different forms of marketing, and no one approach is inherently better than others. You should consider what will work best for your business. Explore options such as social media, print advertising, direct mail, guerilla marketing, and even full-service marketing agencies.

As a starting point, you’ll almost certainly want to create a website. This can act as your business’ home base, and much of your marketing will likely lead back to your site. You’ll also want to create a marketing plan that maps out how you aim to reach your customers and build awareness for your brand. 

Learn about marketing plans

Key Resources For Starting a Business

Check out these sections of our site for in depth advice and resources on these important topics.

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Business Planning

Every business should incorporate business planning into their process. Learn what goes into business plans and models, along with the importance of market and customer research.

Learn More


typographic art installation
Finances and Legal

For some businesses, getting access to capital through investments, loans, grants, or even crowdfunding can be an important part of success. Having knowledge of basic legal issues for starting a business is also key. Learn some of the different ways you can access funding, effectively manage finances, and learn about key legal concerns.

Learn More


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Making and Selling

Finding resources for manufacturing and selling your work or products can be an important factor for many businesses. The resources in this section can help you find manufacturers or suppliers, as well as online platforms to sell your work.

Learn More


RISD Alumni Entrepreneur Stories

Past speakers from RISD Mindshare talk about how they built their studios, practices, and businesses.

katie stout at mindshare
Videos of Entrepreneur Lectures

Watch over 50 videos of RISD alumni sharing their thoughts on how they built their business or studio practice. Learn from other creative entrepreneurs describing how they made it happen!

Learn More