Ready to start a business but are stuck because you don’t know what the first step should be? The good news is that you’re in the right place. Our step-by-step guide will help you move from idea to action, covering everything from setting up the business, what licenses you may need, and more..
Steps to Start a Business in Georgia
Step 1: Choose a Business Idea
Not surprisingly, starting a business begins with picking the right business idea. Maybe you’ve already got one, or perhaps you’re still thinking it over. Either way, our list of business ideas is a great place to start. It offers insights into hundreds of industries, including startup costs and practical tips.
Step 2: Write a Business Plan
After you pick your business idea, the next step is writing a business plan. Many people think this is only needed when a small business is looking for money, but it’s much more than that. The business plan is a way to take all of the ideas in your head and put them on paper, so you can refine the idea and work through the logistics of going from idea to opening your doors.
In the plan, you’ll detail your business idea, who you want to sell to (your target market), how you stack up against others (competitive analysis), how your business will be set up (organizational structure), how much money you think you’ll make (financial projections), and how you plan to tell people about your business (marketing strategy). This way, you set clear goals, spot possible bumps in the road, and map out steps to reach your goals.
Don’t just take our word for it. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), businesses with a business plan are more than likely to succeed compared to those without a plan.
Related: How to write a business plan
Step 3: Find the Money
The next step to tackle is making sure you can get to the money that your new business will need.
In almost all cases, entrepreneurs will use their personal savings to fund a portion, if not all, of their business. This method allows the small business owner to keep full control and ownership of their company while avoiding additional debt. However, depending solely on savings can be risky, as it may deplete the owner’s financial safety net.
If personal savings won’t be enough to fund the startup, here are some common outside sources of funds.
- Conventional bank loans: Many Georgia-based banks offer conventional loans to small businesses. Banks generally require a personal investment, a solid business plan, a good credit history, and collateral to secure funding for a new business.
- SBA loan guarantees: The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) provides loan guarantees to approved lenders, reducing the risk for banks and encouraging them to lend to small businesses. These loans can be used for a variety of business purposes, such as working capital, purchasing equipment, and real estate.
- Friends and family: This source of funding tends to be more flexible than a bank loan, but this needs to be handled professionally. To keep your relationships intact, write down the terms and conditions since business can be unpredictable.
- Microloan programs: Microloans are smaller loans, usually up to $150,000, for small businesses that may not be eligible for traditional bank funding. A few active microloan programs in the state include LiftFund, Southwest Georgia United, and Ascendus.
- Investors: Small businesses can seek funding from various types of investors, such as angel investors, venture capitalists, and crowdfunding platforms. Angel investors are typically high-net-worth individuals who invest their personal funds in exchange for equity or debt in a business. Venture capital firms invest in high-growth startups with the potential for significant returns. Crowdfunding platforms, such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo, allow businesses to raise funds from a large number of individuals in exchange for product samples, rewards, or equity.
Step 4: Select a Business Structure
The next step in our process of starting a business in Georgia is to set up a business structure. This is how a business is set up to operate, and this decision impacts the taxation, administrative requirements, and personal liability of the owners.
In Georgia, the most common business entities are sole proprietorships, general partnerships, corporations, and Limited Liability Companies (LLCs).
A sole proprietorship is the simplest and least expensive form of business structure. It’s owned and operated by a single individual, with no legal distinction between the owner and the business. This means that the owner is personally responsible for all debts and liabilities of the business.
General partnerships involve two or more individuals who share ownership and responsibility for the business. Similar to sole proprietorships, general partners are personally liable for the partnership’s debts and obligations.
Sole proprietors and general partnerships wanting to operate a business using a business name that is different from the owner’s name(s), a DBA (Doing Business As) will need to be filed with the County Clerk’s office in the county where the business is located.
Corporations, on the other hand, are separate legal entities owned by shareholders. This structure provides limited liability to the shareholders, who are generally not personally responsible for the corporation’s debts or judgments against the business. Corporations can be subject to double taxation, where profits are taxed at the corporate level and again when distributed as dividends to shareholders.
Related: How to form a Georgia corporation
Finally, Limited Liability Companies (LLCs) offer the best of both worlds, combining the limited liability of a corporation with the ease of operation of a sole proprietorship or partnership. In an LLC, members are protected from personal liability for the company’s debts and obligations. Another benefit of the Limited Liability Company is that it has the most options on how it can be taxed.
Related: How to form a Georgia LLC
Forming a corporation or LLC sounds complicated and expensive, but using an entity formation service guides you through the process so you know it was done right.
Some popular formation services include:
IncFile - Great service and free registered agent the first year.
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ZenBusiness - Easy to use and free registered agent for 1 year!
Step 5: Register the Business
Once the business structure is set up, we need to turn to getting the business registered and legal to operate in the state. The registrations for each business will be different as the requirements will be different depending on what the business will do and where it’s located in Georgia. Here is some basic information on the registrations a Georgia business may need:
- Business licenses: The state of Georgia does not require a general business license. However, many cities and some counties have licensing requirements. These may include zoning permits, building permits, health department permits, and occupational tax certificates (formerly known as a business license).
- Federal Employer Identification Number (EIN): Some businesses will need to obtain an EIN from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for tax reporting and identification purposes. This number is sometimes required by a bank when opening a business bank account or applying for loans and permits.
- Sales tax number: Businesses in Georgia are required to register for state tax purposes, such as sales tax, withholding tax, and unemployment insurance tax. Learn more about registering for a Georgia sales tax number through the Georgia Department of Revenue’s Georgia Tax Center.
- Professional licensing: Some professions and industries require specific licenses or certifications from the relevant state agencies or boards. Examples include contractors, interior designers, accountants, home inspectors, landscapers, and plumbers.
Step 6: Open a Business Bank Account
Once the business is registered, you will have the information needed to open a business bank account. Keeping your business and personal finances in separate bank and credit card accounts makes it easier to track the business’s income and expenses in order to maintain clear, accurate records for tax reporting, financial analysis, and budgeting purposes.
Opening a business bank account in Georgia is a relatively straightforward process. You will need to provide some basic information about yourself and your business, such as name, address, contact information, and tax ID number. You may also need to provide business documents such as a DBA registration or business entity formation documents.
Step 7: Hire Employees
The next stage of starting a business may include hiring employees. There are several responsibilities new employers need to pay attention to. Starting with registrations, you will need to get an Employer Identification Number from the IRS, in addition to a Withholding Tax Number from the Georgia Department of Revenue and an Unemployment Insurance Account Number from the Georgia Department of Labor.
Then, there are several state and federal requirements to be aware of, such as reporting new hires to the state, verifying employees are eligible to work in the U.S., income tax withholding, unemployment insurance, unemployment taxes, and payroll withholding taxes, including Social Security and Medicare.
Step 8: Obtain Business Insurance
Another step in the startup process is checking to see if insurance is needed. Most insurance is optional, but even if not required, insurance policies can protect your business from various risks and potential financial losses, ensuring that your operations can continue even in the face of unforeseen events. Every business has different risks and insurance needs, but some common types of insurance to consider include:
- General liability insurance: This type of insurance helps protect small businesses if someone gets hurt or property gets damaged because of the business. It covers costs from injuries, damaged property, or issues from ads or personal harm claims. It’s especially important for businesses that have a shop or place where they meet with customers and vendors.
- Property insurance: Property insurance is used by businesses that own or lease commercial property, such as office space, retail stores, or warehouses. This coverage protects your business assets, including buildings, equipment, inventory, and furniture, from damage.
- Workers’ compensation insurance: Georgia law requires businesses with three or more employees, including part-time workers, to carry workers’ compensation insurance. This coverage provides medical benefits and wage replacement for employees who suffer work-related injuries or illnesses.
- Commercial auto insurance: If your business owns, leases, or uses vehicles for business purposes (even personally owned vehicles), commercial auto insurance protects against liability and property damage arising from auto accidents involving your vehicles.
- Professional liability insurance: Also known as Errors and Omissions (E&O) insurance, professional liability insurance is essential for businesses that provide professional services, such as consulting, legal, or accounting services. This coverage protects your business from financial losses due to claims of negligence, errors, or omissions in the services provided to clients.
Step 9: Set up an Accounting System
A good bookkeeping system is needed so a business can maintain accurate records and ensure compliance with state and federal tax laws, in addition to tracking their financial performance to make informed decisions about their operations.
The Internal Revenue Service requires businesses to keep detailed records of income and expenses in order to accurately report their taxable income on their annual tax returns. Accurate recordkeeping can help businesses avoid costly mistakes when filing taxes that could lead to penalties or audits from the IRS.
Related: Setting up accounting for a business
Common questions when starting a business in Georgia
What are the steps to starting an LLC in Georgia?
How much does it cost to start an LLC in Georgia?
The cost to file the Articles of Organization with the Corporations Division of the Georgia Secretary of State, which is the paperwork to start an LLC in Georgia, is $100.
Does a sole proprietor need a business license in Georgia?
In Georgia, whether a sole proprietor needs a business license depends on the type of business and where it’s located, not the business structure. Most businesses, including those run by sole proprietors, need some form of business license or permit to legally operate. This can vary from city to city and county to county. It’s not just about the state rules but also about local government requirements.
For example, if you’re running a business from home, you might need a home occupation permit from your local city or county. Additionally, certain professions might require specific licenses or permits to operate legally in Georgia.
Georgia Small Business Resources
There are 1.2 million small businesses in Georgia, which is 99.6% of all businesses in the state,1 and there are 1.7 million people employed by these small businesses.2 Because of the economic impact of small businesses, there are a number of small business resources to help Georgia businesses start and grow. Some of these include:
- Entrepreneur and Small Business Office: The Georgia Department of Economic Development has an office that supports small businesses in Georgia.
- Georgia Corporations Division of the Secretary of State: The First Stop Business Information Center provides a central point of information on state regulatory requirements for small businesses.
- Georgia Small Business Development Center: The Georgia SBDC provides small businesses with tools, training, and resources.
- Georgia Tech Procurement Assistance Center: The GTPAC is a component of the Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2) at Georgia Tech and offers assistance to Georgia businesses in securing government contracts.
- SCORE Georgia: SCORE’s volunteers offer mentoring and training to entrepreneurs.