How to Start a Small Business in Wisconsin

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Small businesses comprise 99.9 percent of all businesses in the United States, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, and Wisconsin is no exception. Some of the most famous businesses in the country got their start in Wisconsin, including Oshkosh, Harley-Davidson and Kohl’s. Although it takes time to prepare, a thorough business plan is an essential road map to planning your business and anticipating problems.

Starting a Business in Wisconsin

What do you need to know about starting a business in Wisconsin? The state has several organizations to support you along the way, including the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and the Wisconsin Technology Council. Before they can help you, though, you need to have a clear business plan and complete the appropriate steps to register your business.

Writing a Business Plan

Your business plan is more than a hoop you need to jump through to acquire funding. It can also serve as a road map for your business. Business plan formats vary, but they typically include:

  • An executive summary.
  • A company description.
  • A market analysis.
  • Your business’s organizational structure.
  • Your products or services.
  • Your marketing plan.
  • Your financial projections and requirements.

If this sounds daunting, there is help available. For example, the SBA offers online and in-person classes that can help you develop a business plan that will appeal to Wisconsin investors.

Choose a Business Structure

The next step is to choose a business structure. The most common business structures for small businesses are:

  • Sole proprietorships.
  • Partnerships.
  • Limited liability companies.
  • Corporations.

Each structure varies in terms of how it is taxed and the amount of liability protection you have. Wisconsin LLC rules are very different from the rules regarding sole proprietorships, for example. You have to file several documents to create an LLC in Wisconsin, but you don’t need to file any organization documents to start a sole proprietorship.

Since the rules and consequences vary so much, it might be helpful to discuss which structure is best for your business with an experienced accountant or lawyer (or both).

Choose a Name

Choosing a business name is a bit more complicated than you might expect. If you are planning to structure your business as a corporation or LLC, you need to make sure your name is unique. The Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions has tools you can use to look up business names and ensure you chose a unique one.

You can also reserve a name for up to 120 days by filling out an application with the DFI. If you have a sole proprietorship or partnership that uses a name other than your name and/or your partner’s name, you can register that locally in your county.

Obtain an EIN

You must obtain an employer identification number (EIN) from the IRS if you are planning to have employees. It can also be a good idea as a sole proprietor, though, as it will help you obtain business bank accounts. You can file for an EIN for free on the IRS website.

Obtain Required Licenses and Permits

Your last steps before launching your business are to complete your Wisconsin business tax registration and obtain any required licenses and permits. To complete your tax registration, you will need to visit the Department of Revenue website or the One Stop Business Portal, which is a government site that simplifies business registration. Some business entities, such as sole proprietorships, are required to register directly with the Department of Revenue.

The Department of Revenue and the One Stop Business Portal will assist you with any tax-related licenses you need. Depending on the type of business you have, you may also need to obtain licenses or permits through the Department of Health Services, the Department of Natural Resources and through local agencies.

Contact your city or county to find out if there are any licenses or permits you need before you open your business. Make sure to obtain those promptly, and you’ll be well on your way to starting a business in Wisconsin.