Washington state was ranked as the second-best state to start a business in the United States in 2022. The state collects no income tax, corporate tax, or franchise tax, making it an attractive place to start any business. However, if you have never created a business, you may wonder how to start. This guide will walk you through every step to successfully starting your first company in Washington.
This article will teach you how to choose a business idea, pick a name, register your business, set up your finances, and much more.
Step 1: Choose Your Idea
The first step to starting your Washington business is to choose an idea. This idea forms the foundations of your business, and your business, like a building, will crumble without it.
To help you start formulating a business idea or to test if the idea will work, answer the following questions:
- What are my favorite hobbies, skills, and passions?
- Can any of these hobbies, skills, and passions be turned into a profitable business?
- Is there a need for my business?
- Will I enjoy running the business?
- Do I have the skills to run a business?
- What consumer problem does my solve?
- Are there any businesses similar to mine already out there?
- How does my business differ from others?
Your answers to these questions should be able to tell you if your business idea works, what you need to change or work on, or if you need a new idea altogether. You should also ask your friends and family for help. They’ll help to steer you in the right direction.
Step 2: Pick a Name
Once you have an idea, you must pick a name for your business. You should choose a name you are pleased with, as changing the name once your business is already established can be detrimental to your business from a marketing standpoint.
If you are struggling to come up with some ideas for names, try out these methods to get your creative juices flowing:
- Use a free online name generator. These create randomized names that can jumpstart your creativity in picking a name for your business.
- Hold a brainstorming session with friends and family.
- Create a poll on your social media, like on Facebook or Instagram. Never underestimate the value of your fellow consumers’ opinions!
Your chosen name should be relevant to your business’s industry and give consumers an idea of what products or services you are offering.
Finally, your chosen name should be unique from other businesses. In fact, the state of Washington does not allow companies to register a name if it has already been registered with the state. To check if the name you want to use is available, search the business entity database on the Washington Secretary of State website.
Step 3: Write a Business Plan
Now that you have picked an idea and a name, you’ll need to flesh out your business by writing a business plan. Every business should have a business plan as this is like a guide to the business; without it, one can easily get lost. Your business plan will include all research and planning, product information, how the business is run on a daily basis, and all relevant financial information.
Make your business plan as thorough as possible, as you can also use this in your application for funding. If someone is going to give you money, they will want to see how it is going to be spent.
In Washington state, business plans are not a requirement, so there are no rules about what needs to be included in your business plan. However, it is a good idea to try to answer the following questions:
- What services will your business offer?
- Why have you started the company?
- Who is your target audience?
- How do you plan on turning your target audience into paying customers?
- What are your marketing techniques?
- What are the startup costs involved?
- Do you have the money, or will you need funding?
- How do you plan on getting funding?
- How much do you need to earn to break even?
- Are there any other financial details that are important to the business? What are they?
- What skills are needed to run the business?
- What roles will be available in the business, and how do you plan on filling them?
Writing a business plan can be hard work. If you’re stuck, there are plenty of templates you can download off the internet for free or for a small fee.
Step 4: Get Funding
Starting a business is costly. You will need money for all sorts of things, including rent, employees, supplies, and the initial registration of the business. If you cannot afford to do this out of pocket, you will need to get funding from elsewhere. You can do this through a loan, grant, or investor.
The Washington Department of Commerce has several grants and loans available for businesses within the state. You can visit the website to see if your business qualifies for these funding options. Alternatively, if you do not qualify, you can go the private route and get a loan from a bank or an acquaintance.
Just make sure to read the fine print when receiving a loan and ensure you understand the terms. And if you choose to get a loan from a friend or family member, make sure you write the agreement down.
If you do not mind splitting the business ownership, another great option is to have an investor pay for the startup costs in exchange for shares or profits in the company.
Step 5: Choose a Business Structure
Next, you will need to choose a business structure for your new business. Each business structure has its own benefits, so choose the right one for you and your business! Here are the different structures to choose from.
A sole proprietorship is an informal business structure with no separation of assets between the business and the owner. In other words, the sole owner is liable for the business. This structure is typically used for low-risk companies that start as hobbies.
Similar to sole proprietorships, partnerships have no separation between business and owner assets. The difference between the two business structures is that a partnership is used for businesses with more than one owner, all with equal shares in the company.
Limited Liability Company
The business structure known as a limited liability company, or an LLC, is most commonly used for small businesses. This popular structure combines two different business structures, offering the best of both worlds. An LLC provides the simplicity and ease of a sole proprietorship or partnership with the added liability protection of a corporation.
A corporation is a formal business structure used by large companies with multiple shareholders. A corporation is an entirely separate entity from the business owners. There are also some tax benefits to registering a corporation.
Step 6: Register the Business
Some business structures may need to be registered with the state of Washington before trading.
Sole proprietorships do not need to be officially registered with the state. However, you will need to register your business name if you operate under a different one than your personal legal name. You can do this on the Washington Department of Revenue website.
Partnerships don’t need to be registered with the state, either. As with sole proprietorships, partnerships can file an assumed name with the Department of Revenue, if applicable.
In addition, it is highly recommended that all owners of the business draft and sign a partnership agreement. However, there is no legal requirement to submit this to the state. This agreement should purely be in the company’s records in case any disputes arise in the future.
Limited Liability Company
You will need to register your LLC with the state of Washington before you can begin trading. To do this, you must complete the Certificate of Formation and submit this to the Washington Secretary of State website. The fee to register your business online is $200.
To register your Washington corporation, you must complete the Articles of Incorporation and submit these on the Secretary of State website. The fee to register your corporation is $200.
Step 7: Set Up Finances & Accounting
Set up your finances and accounting before you officially open the business. To do so, you will need to apply for a bank account for the company, a credit card, and set up a payment method for your customers to use. If you have employees, install payroll software as well.
Consider hiring an accountant to assist you with the finances and your business’s books. An accountant can help you avoid costly mistakes and overpaying taxes too. You will be especially thankful for the help when tax season rolls around!
Step 8: Get Business Insurance
Business insurance is not a requirement for companies in Washington. However, Running a business without insurance is risky as you never know when disaster may strike or how much it will cost. For this reason, having at least a general liability insurance policy is recommended. This broad type of policy provides coverage from damage or injury and everything you will need when running a business on a day-to-day basis.
Other insurance policies that you can choose from include:
- Professional liability insurance
- Commercial property insurance
- Workers compensation insurance
- Commercial auto insurance
- Limited liability company insurance
Speak with an insurance broker for professional advice on what is best suited for your needs.
Step 9: Obtain Any Permits or Licenses Needed
All businesses in Washington must have a state business license before they can begin trading. To get your license, you must register with the Department of Revenue and pay the $90 fee. Both informal and formal business structures need a business license to remain compliant. After applying, you will receive a Unified Business Identifier within ten business days.
You may need to apply for additional permits or licenses depending on the nature of your business. Check to see what you may need on the Business Licensing Wizard.
Finally, if you need a sales tax permit, you can apply for one with the Department of Revenue.
Step 10: Build a Website
Having a website for your business is an excellent way to market your business and build a following. You can sell products directly from your website using a platform like Shopify. Whether you have chosen to build the website or pay someone to do it, there are some things you need to make sure are done:
- Check that your desired domain name is still available.
- Ensure that your business name is clear and easy to find.
- Ensure all font is neat and is a good size that is easy to read.
- Avoid cluttering the website with images, graphics, videos, and GIFs, as this can slow the loading times of your webpage.
- Make sure all images are your own or are copyright-free.
- Make sure that your webpage is compatible with mobile browsers.
- Include a good call to action or “contact us” button.
Step 11: Hire Employees (If Any)
If you need to hire employees to care for and help with some aspects of your business, you must draft a job post. Post this advertisement on job boards and read all applications. Narrow them down to your preferred candidates and interview them. Offer the job to the candidate that best suits the role!
You must report all new hires to the Division of Child Support within 20 days from the hire date. There is no fee to report new hires.
Step 12: Market Your Business
The final thing you need to do when starting a business is to market the business. You must market your business to build a following and create interest in your products. Here are just some of the different ways to market your business:
- Advertise and engage with people on your business website.
- Create interest and advertise for free on social media like Facebook, Instagram, and even TikTok.
- Create a Google Business Profile and advertise on Google.
- Attend local events and business conventions.
- Hold competitions.
- Advertise on your local radio or television stations.
- Attend local networking events.
- Host a launch or opening event.
- Create flyers.
Don’t hesitate to contact us if you have more questions.