How to Start a Small Business in All 50 States

Alexander Huls

Starting your own business is tough, and no business is untouched by red tape. That’s especially true when you’re starting a business. You may have your business concept and plan prepared. You may already have your eye set on a prime office location and have done your homework on which small business insurance to choose. But before you can make your mark, or even earn a dime, you’ll have to get better acquainted with a few forms and registrations to make your business a reality.

How exactly you go about doing that depends entirely upon the state in which you’ll open your business. There are shared steps (we’ll get to that shortly) in setting up your business, but how and where you take those steps them, can vary by state.

But don’t worry, we’re here to help. We’ve put together a comprehensive guide on how to navigate the logistics in your home state —whether you’re in Alabama or Wyoming or any of the other 48 (and DC!) — so you’ll know exactly where to go and what to do. We point you toward the forms, websites and information you’ll need to know how to start a business on the right foot.

The Steps to Starting a Business in Your State

Before we get to the details of where to find the offices, documents and online registration sites, it’s important to understand the overall process of starting your own business in your state. Below is a guide to starting your own business:

1. Choose a Business Structure

Not all business structures are created equal. There’s sole proprietorship, partnerships, limited liability companies (LLC) and corporations. Before you register your business with your state, you need to educate yourself on the differences between business structures and pick the one that best suits your ambitions. Once you choose, you can find the forms you need to register your business on the sites we steer you to below. It’s worth pointing out that some states require you to have a registered agent in place before you complete this step.

2. Select and Register a Business Name (If Needed)

In some states, if you are a sole proprietor (or in a partnership), you don’t need to register. In these cases, your business becomes your personal name. If you still want to name your company, you’ll have to register what’s called a “Doing Business As” trade name. To do so, search a database to determine if the name you’re choosing is available (if it already exists, it’s not). If the name isn’t taken, register it. You can typically complete both the business registration and the trade name registration steps at your state or county office (often the office of the Secretary of State). If you do need a trade name, keep an eye out for information on that in our state information list below.

3. Acquire Necessary Licenses and Permits

There is no universal rule when it comes to what licenses or permits you’ll need when starting your own business. But chances are you’ll need at least one if not more. Which ones will you need? It varies. Some states require a general state license, and some don’t. Some professions and businesses require multiple licenses or permits, and some don’t need any. You need to do your homework – use the resources provided below to determine what you need. Be thorough and check every level of government—state, county and city—to see what may apply to your enterprise. You don’t want to find yourself in trouble later on because you didn’t know you needed something like an alarm or signage for your office.

Some states, counties and cities make the process easy with one-stop online business systems that help you with everything. But be prepared to do some legwork with phone calls, emails and even in-person visits to a local office or two. A brief note on that: wherever we were able to find comprehensive directories of local city and county office information, we included them below (see: “Local Permits & Licenses”).

4. Sign Up with the IRS

Before investigating what taxes you’ll have to pay on a state or local level, you’ll need to head to the IRS and acquire an Employer Identification Number (EIN)—also known as a Federal Tax Identification Number. An EIN is especially essential if you’re going to have employees and because the number is frequently required before you register for local taxes with your state.

5. Register for State and Local Taxes

How many taxes, and which ones will apply to your business will depend entirely on your structure and where you’re setting up your business. There are of course, some commonalities: sales tax and withholding tax being two. Fair warning: while some states make the tax registration process easy, you may have to do a little research on your own to ensure you’re not overlooking anything that could penalize you down the road. Consider checking in with your local small business association for help. Generally, however, you can find most of the information you’ll need through the links we’ve provided below.

Where You Need to Go in Every State to Start Your Own Business

Below is a list of each state and where you can go – whether online or in person – to obtain the forms and information required to start your own business properly.






  • Business Registration: You can find the forms you need with the California Secretary of State.
  • Business Permits & Licenses: You can use a service called CalGold (run by the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development) to easily find what your business might need.
  • Tax Registration: A Seller’s Permit can be obtained from the California Tax Service Center. You’ll also find information on other taxes you might need to sign up for there.





  • Business Registration: Go to the website and look for Business Licensing and Registration.
  • Business Permits & Licenses: You can find basic business licenses on the Business Licensing Forms page.
  • Tax Registration: Find out how to get your tax ID number.





















  • Business Registration: The easiest option is to register by SilverFlume, which is Nevada’s online business portal.
  • Business Permits & Licenses: A State Business License can be obtained through SilverFlume, along with other licenses and permits you might need.
  • Tax Registration: Tax forms are available with the Nevada State Department of Taxation, but once again, SilverFlume is your best bet.
  • Local Permits & Licenses: The Nevada Secretary of State site has a list of phone numbers for Nevada county clerks and reporters.























The early days of starting a small business— red tape or not—can be hectic. Why not get regular insights to inspire and inform you along the way? Sign up for the weekly Small Biz Ahead Newsletter, and you’ll receive handpicked articles, how-tos and videos covering the latest in small business tools and trends. What better way to start your small business on the right foot?

4 Responses to "How to Start a Small Business in All 50 States"

    • Michelle | May 16, 2017 at 9:56 am

      Nice, but you forgot the District of Columbia.

      • Elizabeth Larkin | May 16, 2017 at 3:20 pm

        It’s right after Delaware. – Elizabeth

    • Lakesha Weant | October 16, 2018 at 7:11 am

      Outstanding post, I think website owners should acquire a lot from this blog its really user pleasant.

      • Hannah Sullivan | October 16, 2018 at 12:29 pm

        Thanks Lakesha!

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