Own your name
Come up with a name for your business. Then check out USPTO.gov, the government's trademark office, and Trademarkia.com to see if someone's already grabbed it. If not, you can register it through Trademarkia.com for as little as $159 plus the government's filing fee. You'll save hundreds of dollars over the cost of a business attorney's hourly fee.
Capture future Customers
Don't wait until you've already built out your product or retail space before you start collecting customers' names and information. With LaunchRock, you can put up and host a simple "coming soon" page for your business in less time than it takes to finish a cup of coffee -- and it's free. Use the page to promote your venture among friends, family, neighbors and former colleagues who, with any luck, will share it with their networks. At the very least, you want to capture a database of e-mail addresses from potential customers to whom you can send an "open for business" announcement when the time comes.
Build a website
According to stat site Statistic Brain, up to half of small businesses don't have a website. That's not acceptable.
You need to create one with your company's name in the URL. You can set up a semicustomized site with either WordPress or Weebly; both have plug-in features that will allow you to easily stake your claim on the web. Once your site is launched, double-check to see that your business appears in multiple online directories and is categorized correctly. (For example, you don't want your restaurant showing up as a grocery store.) Find a list of the top 50 directories at HubSpot.com.
License and registration, please
The regulatory paperwork, aka red tape, needed to register, license and permit a new business can stall or stop entrepreneurs in their tracks. Enter License123.com, which charges $50 to help locate, complete and file all necessary operational licenses and permit forms. The service enables business owners to avoid underfiling fees (up to $2,500 a pop) from missing paperwork and notes renewal deadlines in the coming years.
Join a group
Depending on the type of business you're launching, there may be an incubator in your region to apply to. If you pass muster, you'll gain access to low-cost rent, shared business services and expertise and, most important, the possibility of financing. According to the National Business Incubation Association, about 80 percent of incubators provide formal or informal access to seed capital in the form of bank loans and noncommercial loans; about 67 percent provide it in the form of angel or venture capital investors. Be aware that incubators are not the exclusive domain of tech-based companies. Oakland, Calif.'s Popuphood is an incubator focused on revitalizing retail in urban neighborhoods. You can find more industry- and market-specific incubators in the U.S. among the roughly 1,250 listed at NBIA.org.
PayPal is fine, but there are less expensive ways to process customer payments. Intuit's GoPayment provides a free card swiper that plugs into an iPhone, iPad or Android phone, turning the device into a POS system that syncs with Intuit's QuickBooks accounting software. (Rates for swiped and keyed transactions differ depending on plan type.) Starting small? Consider Dwolla. Payments under $10 cost nothing to process; those over $10 cost just 25 cents.