How to Start a Business in Wisconsin

With the 7th-highest access to SBA funding in the nation, starting a business in Wisconsin is a great choice for entrepreneurs. 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 resource in your local area for help.


To Start a Business in Wisconsin, follow these steps:

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 Wisconsin visitors in 2017:

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Find the Right Business Idea for You

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

Business Ideas
Generator

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.

Business Name
Naming a business can be challenging. You'll want to choose a brand name that follows Wisconsin naming rules, resonates with your customers, and is available as a URL.

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

  • Create a robust business plan to help navigate the early years of your business. To use this free tool sign up for the Business Center.
  • Need Help? Find organizations in your local area that can assist you with planning.
  • If you’re a solo-entrepreneur, setting up a virtual office can add credibility to your business by having a business address on Google search, protect your personal privacy, and provide you with a business phone line and a live receptionist to answer your calls. Save $200 on a virtual office today.
  • If you’re a woman in business, find funding, tools and resources with this great new series Women in Business.

Step 3: Form Your Business

Registering your Wisconsin company as a legal 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 Wisconsin for as little as $130.

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.

Secure Your Domain

We recommend that you check online to see if your business name is available as a web domain. Even if you don't plan to create a business website today, you may want to buy the URL in order to prevent others from acquiring it

Not sure what to name your business? Check out our Business Name Generator.

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 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 wisconsin taxes that may apply to your business:

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

Additionally, learning how to build business credit can help you get credit cards and other financing in your business's name (instead of yours), better interest rates, higher lines of credit, and more.

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: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank, credit union, business-loan friendly banks, one with many brick-and-mortar locations, and 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 Wisconsin, businesses with three 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.

Your business name is the cornerstone of good branding and a successful business. To learn more about creating the best name for your business, read our How to Name a Business guide.

Creating a logo for your business is vital for increasing brand awareness. You can design your own unique logo using our Free Logo Generator. Our free tool can help you design your own unique logo for your new business idea.

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’s 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

Wisconsin Formation Guides

Get Help From Local Resources

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

Select your Region

Eau Claire Local Resources

Western Dairyland Business Center

Here are the Principle Service Areas:

  • Mentoring
  • Business Planning

Offers Free Service

Description

The Business Center operates out of several Wisconsin locations and provides a broad assortment of services to entrepreneurs at any stage of the small business journey. One-on-one counseling is available on topics like writing a business plan, forming legal entities, and marketing. Classes and workshops cover multiple areas of expertise, including a monthly class for people trying to formalize a business idea. Most classes are offered for a nominal fee.

CONTACT INFORMATION:

418 Wisconsin St
Eau Claire, WI 54703
715-836-7511 ext. 171
kari.rubenzer@wdeoc.org

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Eau Claire Resources

Green Bay Local Resources

Wisconsin SBDC at UW-Green Bay

Here are the Principle Service Areas:

  • Mentoring
  • Business Planning
  • Financial

Offers Free Service

Description

The greatest strength of the SBDC is their free, confidential, 1-on-1 business mentoring for anyone who seeks it. Sometimes in order to be considered for mentoring from one of their professional business advisors, you may have to attend a class/workshop or at least present your business plan. SBDC's are located all throughout the state and you should use the SBDC closest to your location if possible, but you can often transfer to a different location if they do not fit your needs.

CONTACT INFORMATION:

2701 Larsen Road
Green Bay, WI 54303

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Green Bay Resources

La Crosse Local Resources

Coulee Region Business Center

Here are the Principle Service Areas:

  • Coworking
  • Product Development

Description

The Coulee Region Business Center is a multi use facility offering office space, a commercial kitchen, 3D printing, and conference rooms. The center is a non profit organization where member companies share overhead costs and resources. As an incubator, the center also serves as a funding and knowledge hub, attracting investors and other entrepreneurs who share information about the local Eau Claire business environment.

CONTACT INFORMATION:

1100 Kane St
La Crosse, WI 54603
608-782-8020
office@crbc.biz

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La Crosse Resources

Madison Local Resources

Door County Business Development Center

Here are the Principle Service Areas:

  • Mentoring
  • Business Planning
  • Coworking

Description

This 32,000 square foot business incubator offers shared offices and light industrial space for assembly or distribution. Amenities include conferences rooms and high-speed internet access, while the manufacturing space offers loading bays and material handling equipment. The average company stays in this facility for 3-5 years, throughout this time tenants have access to mentoring, workshops, and technical advisors.

CONTACT INFORMATION:

185 E Walnut St
Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235
920-743-3113 x 202
paula@doorcountybusiness.com

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Madison Resources

Milwaukee Local Resources

BizStarts

Here are the Principle Service Areas:

  • Mentoring
  • Networking

Offers Free Service

Description

BizStarts is an entrepreneurial hub located in Milwaukee and servicing southeast Wisconsin. They offer one-on-one mentoring, market assessments, and other startup services that work to bolster the local entrepreneurial community. Beyond in-person assistance, their website also provides a wealth of information and lists of small business resources in Wisconsin.

CONTACT INFORMATION:

1555 N. River Center Drive , Suite 210
Milwaukee, WI 53212
414-973-2334

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Milwaukee Resources

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