Congratulations—you’ve successfully launched your business!
However, before you get too comfy, it’s important to make sure you’ve got a plan going forward. The success of your business during its first year comes down, in large part, to having a clear plan of action.
We’re here to make that process as smooth and easy for you as possible. To that end, we’ve created this checklist to go over the essential tasks you’ll need to complete during your first year of business.
To create this first year in business checklist, I turned to our in-house experts here at Palo Alto Software: Sabrina Parsons, CEO; Noah Parsons, COO; Josh Cochrane, Vice President of Product Development; and Josh Fegles, Academic and Government Channel Sales Director, and founder of gluten-free cookie company Jude’s Foods.
Follow their expert advice to ensure that your first year in business is as successful as possible.
1. Business planning
If you thought the business planning process ended with the launch of your business, think again.
Fortunately, we don’t recommend a lengthy, formal business plan—especially after you launch your business—but rather a Lean Plan.
Lean Planning is an iterative, flexible business planning methodology that you can use to direct your business long after opening day. Having a Lean Plan will help you keep your finger on the pulse of your business’s health over the next year (and beyond), as it enables you to see if you are meeting your set milestones.
- Refine your One-Page Pitch
- Create or refine your sales and marketing plan
- Set tangible goals for your first year:
- Hold a monthly plan review meeting
- Turn your attention to scaling your business:
- How can you acquire more customers?
- How can you bring costs down?
- What will enable you to maintain or improve your quality?
- Rinse and repeat (this is a process that should continue throughout the life of your business)
2. Financial management
Perhaps one of the most important things to keep a close eye on during your first year in business is the state of your finances. This includes everything from keeping a detailed forecast, to making sure you have up-to-date records and accounting information.
- Create a financial forecast
- Make sure you have a clear understanding of the cash flow process, and why it matters
- Establish a credit line if you’re going to need one
- Review your finances on a regular basis—at least once a month
- Evaluate the overall state of your finances
- See how you did compared to your forecast
- Determine why inevitable variances from your forecast occurred
- Revise your forecast if necessary
- Start establishing a cash reserve to account for emergencies or unplanned setbacks
- Get—and use—an accounting system (here at Palo Alto Software, we recommend QuickBooks Online)
3. Networking and customers
Your first year in business is the time where you really begin to embed yourself as a fixture in your industry and your local community. It’s also a time to turn your attention to your existing customers, and learn from their feedback.
- Build your professional network to generate partnerships and co-branding opportunities
- Find a mentor, an advisor, or a consultant
- Our Academic and Government Channel Sales Director Josh Fegles recommends the SBDC
- Talk to your customers and integrate their feedback into your plans and strategy:
- Are they happy with your product or service?
- What do they love about it?
- What don’t they love about it?
- Invest in a customer relationship management (CRM) system
- Update your sales materials based on what you have learned from your time in business thus far
- Use customer feedback to iterate and refine your product or service
- Test the improved or altered version of your product with your customers again, continuing to refine it
4. Management and personnel
If you still have key positions to fill within your business, it’s time to turn your attention to filling those gaps. Your first year in business will set a precedent, so make sure you are creating the company culture you want for your business.
Additionally, your first year in business will be a process of refining your offering, based on the learnings you’ll gain from regularly reviewing key metrics, and from the feedback you’ll receive from your customers and employees.
- Hire for key positions, or evaluate whether or not you need to consider hiring
- Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses
- Determine what kind of employees you need to fill the gaps
- Make a plan for acquiring people to fill these key roles
- Incorporate employee performance reviews into your process
- Create a training manual and onboarding plan for employees
- Document your systems and processes so that training new employees is easier and so you can scale faster
- Learn how to delegate; if you do everything and make every decision, you can’t grow
You may have begun the process of marketing your product or service before you started your business, but chances are your first year in business is when you’ll give it more focused attention.
- Develop a marketing strategy
- Create or refine your marketing plan
- Automate your marketing programs
- Check out our favorite marketing tools for recommendations
- Consider testing the waters with email automation—it’s a great place to start
Are there any hurdles you’ve encountered during your first year in business that you’d like us to address? Share this article on Twitter or Facebook and let us know—we’d love to help you out.