How to Start a Business in Iowa

With the 6th-lowest business costs in the nation according to Forbes, Iowa is a great place to launch your business. Start your business today with our simple step-by-step guide and get on the fast track to financial and personal independence. If you get stuck along the way, connect with a business resources in your local area for help.

Steps to Starting Your Iowa Business

Step 1: Choose the Right Business Idea

The first step toward business ownership is deciding what kind of business to start. Look for an idea that suits your interests, your personal goals, and your natural abilities. This will help you stay motivated when the going gets tough and will greatly improve your odds of success. Need inspiration? Here were the most popular ideas among our Iowa visitors in 2017:

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Find the Right Business Idea for You

Our free Business Ideas Tool will help you identify great businesses that match your interests and lifestyle.

Business Ideas
Tool

Step 2: Plan Your Business

Successful businesses are built through careful planning. Before committing a significant amount of money and other resources toward your business, critically analyze your idea and create a game plan. At a minimum, you should have good answers to the following questions.

Product Development
What problem does your business solve? What will set your product or service apart from the competition?

Sales & Marketing
Who are your potential customers? How will you get their attention and convert them into buyers?

People and Partnerships
What roles will you need to hire and what professional relationships will you need to form in order to succeed?

Financial Planning
How many clients or sales will you need in order to break even? How much money will it take to get there, and where will you get the funding?

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Start Planning

Our Business Planning Guide helps you analyze your business idea and gets you access to free planning tools.

Need Help? Find organizations in your local area that can assist you with planning.

Secure your Domain

We recommend that you check to see if the business name you are planning is available as a web domain. Even if you aren't ready to make a business website today, you may want to buy the URL in order to prevent others from acquiring it.

Find a Domain Now

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After registering a domain name, consider setting up a professional email account (@yourcompany.com). Google's G Suite offers a business email service that comes with other useful tools, including word processing, spreadsheets, and more. Try it for free

Step 3: Form your Business

Registering your company as an Iowa business entity, such as an LLC or a Corporation, has two major advantages:

  • Increased credibility
  • Protection from personal liability in the event your business is sued

For most small businesses, registering an LLC is a great option. In comparison to other business entities, LLCs are easier to set up and manage and they have favorable tax treatment. You can set up an LLC in Iowa for as little as $50.

If you choose not to register your company as a business entity, you will be held personally responsible for the debts and liabilities of your business. In addition, unregistered business owners may need to file a Trade Name, also known as a "DBA." Find out if your business is required to file a DBA.

Step 4: Register for Taxes


With limited exceptions, most businesses require an Employer Identification Number (EIN), also known as a Tax ID Number. An EIN is used to identify a business in its federal tax filings. Without an EIN, you can't hire employees or open a business bank account.

Obtain an EIN

You should also be aware of important iowa taxes that may apply to you business:

  • If you are selling a physical product, you’ll typically need to register for Iowa Sales Tax.
  • If you hire employees in Iowa, you will have to register for Unemployment Insurance Tax and Employee Withholding Tax on behalf of your employees.
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Register for Iowa State Taxes

Sales Tax | Unemployment Insurance Tax | Withholding Tax

Step 5: Create Business Banking and Credit Accounts

Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.

When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.

You can protect your business with these two steps:

1. Opening a business bank account:

  • Separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
  • Makes accounting and tax filing easier.
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Recommended: Get $200 when you open a business checking account with Chase. Learn more.

2. Getting a business credit card:

  • Helps you separate personal and business expenses.
  • Builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise capital later on.

Step 6: Set Up Accounting

An accounting system helps you track the performance of your business and simplifies annual tax filings. Quality accounting software lets you download your bank and credit card transactions, making accounting fast and easy. Learn more about the importance of accounting and how to get started with accounting today.

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Recommended: QuickBooks has all the accounting features your small business will need.

Try QuickBooks for free

Step 7: Obtain Permits and Licenses

To operate your new business legally, you will need to comply with federal, state, and local government regulations. In many cases, this involves obtaining one or more business permits and/or licenses. For example, a restaurant will likely need health permits, building permits, signage permits, etc.

Step 8: Get Insured

Business insurance helps you manage risks and focus on growing your business. The most common types of business insurance you should consider are:

We recommend that all small businesses, including home based businesses, purchase a general liability policy. Businesses selling professional advice or services, such as consulting and accounting firms, should also consider a professional liability policy. In Iowa, businesses with one or more employees, excluding business owners, are required by law to have workers compensation insurance.

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Our recommended insurance provider can set you up with an insurance policy that is right for your business

Get a Quote

Step 9: Define Your Brand

The strongest and most memorable businesses are built on a solid brand.

When developing your brand, think about what your business stands for. What are the core values that drive your business? Customers and clients are looking for companies that have a compelling brand, as much as they are shopping for high quality products and services.

Learn more about branding and how to build a brand for your business.

Step 10: Establish a Web Presence

A professional website is critical to the long-term success of your business, regardless of what industry you are in. A website allows potential customers to find your business online and discover the products or services you offer, and it also enhances your business’ credibility.

In addition to a website, you should also consider other avenues for promoting your business online:

  • Setting up social media profiles (Facebook, Twitter, etc)
  • Creating accounts on review sites (Yelp, Google Reviews, etc)
  • Registering for a local Google profile
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More than ever, people are looking for reviews before doing business. Yelp is an important aspect of social validation for your business, claim your page today and get $300 in Yelp advertising credit.

Sign up for our Business Center

Sign up for a free Business Center account for access to tools, legal documents, and discounts that will help you start and grow your business

Signup Now

Get Help From Local Resources

To help you start your business, we have identified the best resources across the state of Iowa that can support you in your entrepreneurial endeavors.

Select your Region

Cedar Rapids Local Resources

Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance

Here are the Principle Service Areas:

  • Sales & Marketing
  • Networking

Offers Free Service

Description

Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance is an economic and business development program embedded in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Members of CRMEA participate in various networking events and roundtable series with experts and seasoned professionals in the field. In addition, members receive discounts on facility rental, exclusive advertising opportunities in CRMEA's e-magazine/newsletter, and connections to other local resources. CRMEA also hosts a variety of events, most of which are free and some of which are open to the general public.

CONTACT INFORMATION:

501 First St. SE
Cedar Rapids, IA 52401
319-398-5317
economicalliance@cedarrapids.org

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Cedar Rapids Resources

Des Moines Local Resources

Iowa Center For Economic Success

Here are the Principle Service Areas:

  • Mentoring
  • Business Planning
  • Fundraising
  • Networking

Offers Free Service

Accepts Walks In

Description

Iowa Center for Economic Success provides educational and financial assistance to small business owners. Some highlights include free year-round tax preparation, business planning workshops, networking events, and one-on-one counseling in business planning and launching. Collaborating with SBA and Iowa Economic Development Authority, ICES also houses a Women’s Business Center and a microloan program. ICES also offers two paid 8-week courses that teach entrepreneurs the basics of planning and starting a business.

CONTACT INFORMATION:

8345 University Blvd., Suite F
Clive, IA 50325
515-283-0940
info@theiowacenter.org

HOURS OF OPERATION:

MON - THU: 8:30 am - 4:30 pm

FRI: 8:30 am - 1 pm

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Des Moines Resources

Dubuque Local Resources

Dubuque SCORE

Here are the Principle Service Areas:

  • Mentoring
  • Business Planning
  • Sales & Marketing
  • Networking

Offers Free Service

Description

SCORE (Service Corp of Retired Executives) is a leading, nation-wide organization that has assisted millions of entrepreneurs over its 50+ years of operation. SCORE is a resource partner of the SBA that offers access to a network of experienced business leaders who donate time to mentor entrepreneurs and small business owners. They also host free or inexpensive workshops online and at 300 local chapters around the United States. Mentoring can be conducted either in person or remotely and is always free and confidential, no matter how often you take advantage of this service.

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Dubuque Resources

Iowa City Local Resources

University of Iowa: John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center

Here are the Principle Service Areas:

  • Mentoring
  • Business Planning
  • Networking

Offers Free Service

Description

University of Iowa's John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center offers a few programs to the community. Venture School is a comprehensive six-week intensive training program with a rigorous curriculum that aims to mimic the process of creating a startup. The business consulting program allows community members to seek help for their startup or business free of charge. Each consulting team is comprised of 3-5 students under the guidance of an experienced mentor and faculties at the University of Iowa. The Institute for International Business offers business consulting services (similar to the business consulting in 2) as well as online CGBP exam prep. The CGBP (Certified Global Business Professional) is good for people who work in a field related to international trade. If you’re a UI student, faculty, or staff, there are more business support programs just for university affiliates. Annual International Entrepreneurial Summit is a panel discussion comprised of business professionals from the U.S. and abroad focusing on a variety of business and entrepreneurial topics. This event is open to the public.

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Iowa City Resources

Waterloo Local Resources

UNI Center for Business Growth and Innovation

Here are the Principle Service Areas:

  • Mentoring
  • Business Planning

Offers Free Service

Accepts Walks In

Description

The UNI Center for Business Growth and Innovation is a large organization that is comprised of several business development programs. All of the services are designed to attract, start and grow businesses in the Waterloo area. In addition to their local work, the UNI Center for Business Growth and Innovation also handles and creates online workshops, statewide events, and the midwest's largest celebration of entrepreneurs: EntreFEST.

CONTACT INFORMATION:

8120 Jennings Dr., Suite 13
Cedar Falls, IA 50614
319-273-4344
cbgi@uni.edu

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Waterloo Resources