How to Give Your Start-Up a Head Start


by Deborah Sweeney, CEO of

Most people tend to feel a bit lethargic around December. The year is drawing to a close, and holiday plans take us away from the worries of business. The owners of start-ups often approach the end of the year as the end of the first chapter of their business – they’ve had a few months to iron out the kinks and, starting January, can throw themselves into the company and turn it into the business they’ve always dreamed of running. Unfortunately, if you don’t use December to get ready for January, you’ll wind up spending months trying to play catch-up. Rather than let December float by, use this checklist to give your business a head start on January 1st.


Incorporate or Form an LLC

Turning your business into its own separate, legal entity is almost always my top tip for start-ups. Forming an LLC or incorporating may have seemed like a waste of time and money back when you were first starting out and weren’t sure if you’d still be in business in a week, but now that your business is really starting to get going, you need to separate your business’s debts from your personal assets. It takes a lot of money to get a company started, and you’ll probably be looking to grow even more in the New Year. Creating a limited liability company or a corporation puts your business in the perfect position to receive loans, without the new debt threatening your own personal assets.


Remember Your Renewals

The state should send a notice when legalities like a DBA name or a business license are coming up for renewal, but you shouldn’t depend on the state to remember every little thing when it comes to your business either. Whenever you file for anything that can come up for renewal, you should write down the date you have to renew by. So, if you haven’t already, look up those renewal dates, set aside the fees you need to pay, and don’t let your company fall into non-compliance because of your forgetfulness.


Draw up Employee Agreements

If 2013 went well, you’ll probably be looking to hire in 2014. Remember that you need an EIN before you hire any employees, and you’ll be responsible for any state and federally-mandated tax withholdings. You should also look into drawing up an employee agreement or contract so that anyone you hire is aware of their responsibilities, any benefits that are offered, and the grounds for termination. An official employee-employer agreement may seem like a lot of work to create, but it does wonders for protecting your relationship with your employees and ensures everyone is on the same page.


File for Intellectual Property Protection

Do you have a logo? A jingle? A company mascot? Have you built up any sort of branding? If you have, you need to file for intellectual property protection. You automatically have rights to any intellectual property you’ve used to market your business, but it can be difficult to enforce these rights without registering with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, or the US Copyright Office. Filing a trademark or a copyright can take quite a bit of time, so it is important to get started now or to contact an attorney or other professional to help.


Prepare for Investor Meetings

Angel and venture capital investing is seasonal, and most firms see January as one of the key months for finding new investments. If you are honestly looking to bring on an angel or VC firm, you need to prepare your business before January starts. That means incorporating so you can offer a share of the company for any investments, and getting your pitch ready. How well did you do in 2013? How do you know 2014 will be any better? The idea behind your business will be important, but you need to show solid numbers before anyone invests in your company.

The New Year offers new beginnings, and if you are looking to really grow your start-up, 2014 is a good year to do that. However, that means you need to get your business ready before the clock strikes midnight on December 31st. The month of December should be a month where you take the proper steps to choose a business entity, stay on top of renewals, create an employee agreement, protect your intellectual property, and, if necessary, prepare for January investor meetings. Make it a proactive month, and you’ll be able to hit the ground running come January. 




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