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Early Stage Startup Operations

Although you’ll certainly want to keep your operation lean and mean when you’re very early stage, there are a few things you should do.

Finance and Accounting

Set up a business checking account (separate from your personal account)

Set up a record keeping system so you can systematically file (and late find) all contracts (including non-disclosure agreements, corporate documents, employee agreements, contractor agreements, etc.).  Later, if you pursue investment and have to undergo due diligence, life will be much, much better if you’ve organized your records.

Work with a contract CFO or accountant to set up basic bookkeeping on Quickbooks.

Track your business expenses just like you would if you were working for a big company.  Fill out expenses reports, and keep them filed.  This will make life easier at due diligence time.

You’ll want an accountant to prepare annual financial statements.  At some point, you’ll be looking for a loan, or for investment, or you’ll be talking to a prospective acquirer.  In all of those cases, you’ll need financial statements.


When you get far enough along to where you’re hiring people – talk to a Human Resources person to structure a hiring process and a HR record keeping process (this is important to make sure you do not break any laws).

Make sure you understand government records retention requirements (this affects filing/retention of everything from resumes and applications you receive, to financial information and more.)

Make sure you know what questions are not allowed when interviewingcandidates.

Make sure you know what specific statements should be in (and should not be in) an offer letter.

Any time you pay individuals and/or companies that are not corporations (e.g., consultants) or lawyers and accountants, always have them complete a W-9 form so you get their tax ID.  At the end of the year, you’ll have to provide them with a Federal 1099 form, and you need the tax ID to do that.  And you also need an accounting system so that you know how much you paid them.

If you hire employees out-of-state, then you’ll probably have to establish a business in that state – check with your attorney.  If you hire sales people who reside and sell out-of-state, then check with a CPA because you probably have to pay sales tax to that state.

When you start paying people salaries, use a paycheck service like ADP or Paychex.  For a small fee, they take care of a lot of details, and they make sure that things like payroll taxes get paid.  You don’t want to hassle with this yourself (you’ll screw it up) and you absolutely do not want to mess up in paying payroll taxes.


Find out if you need a business license from the city you’re in (you probably do) and make sure that gets done.

Conserve cash in every way possible

When purchasing office furniture, equipment, trade show booths, etc. you should almost never buy anything that’s new.  You’ll save considerable money buying used.

Whether you’re buying new or used, always ask for a discount.

Hire an office manager with startup experience.  You’ll be glad you did.  He or she will know about opportunities and dangers you never imagined.