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9 Essentials when Starting Your Own Business

by Karman Briggs
Director of Jobs & Business Development
Western Dairyland Women's Business Center

Many businesses start out as a simple hobby or interest. You like website design, build a stellar site for your sister and before you know it, your uncle and your cousin's cousin and friends' friends are seeking your services. That's the dream, right? But, what do you do when you never planned on being an entrepreneur? What do you need to do to be legit? Before you get in over your head, run down this checklist of the 9 essentials when starting your own business:

  1. Choose a Name for Your Business. Before you settle on a business name, check the United States Patent and Trademark Office to make sure no one else (particularly in the same industry) is using the name. Also, even though you may not need a website right now, go to Network Solutions and check if a corresponding domain name is also available.
  2. Choose a Legal Structure for the Business. In Wisconsin, you are considered a sole proprietor the moment you make a sale. Even though this is a default designation, it is still advisable for sole proprietors to file a Registration of Firm Names with the county. For legal or tax reasons, you may want to file your business as a Limited Liability Company or LLC, instead. This establishes your business as an entity separate from you as an individual. To file as an LLC, go to the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions
  3. Identify License, Permit & Regulatory Requirements. To identify regulatory requirements, seek a reputable national association for professionals within your industry or check with the State of Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services. Also, check with your local municipality for ordinances and zoning requirements that may affect your business.
  4. Apply for a Federal Tax ID/EIN. An Employer Identification Number or EIN is bit like a social security number for your business. It is a unique identifier given to you by the federal government and you will need an EIN when you get a business bank account. Apply for free at IRS.gov
  5. Wisconsin Business Tax Registration. If your product or service is taxable, you will need a seller's permit and ultimately you will need to submit the sales tax you have collected. To apply for a sellers permit, file your business with the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.
  6. Identify Insurance Needs. Visit a couple of different multi-lane insurance agents to discuss appropriate forms of coverage for your business.
  7. Establish a Business Bank Account. Make sure you already have your EIN. Having a bank account specifically and solely for your business will keep you from co-mingling business and personal funds, which is a huge red flag if you are ever audited.
  8. Establish a Financial Record Keeping System. Whether you use a paper ledger, a spreadsheet or accounting software, that you will use comfortably and consistently to keep track of income and expenses.
  9. Write a Press Release! Local newspapers and other media outlets in the community are more than happy to announce a new business. And, some free publicity never hurts!

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