You’re about to embark on a long and exciting journey, one full of hard work and rewards: starting a new business.
With wide eyes and big dreams, you’re about to enter the world of business ownership.
But beyond the initial thrill of the startup decision, there’s a lot to consider. In fact, if you’ve never done it before, starting a business can seem like an intimidating mountain of work. Out of all your responsibilities and tasks, you might not even know where to start.
But have no fear. The good news is that once you have everything planned out and understand the process, the formation process is smooth sailing. And this is your go-to guide.
Everything you’ve been wondering about, everything you need to do, every question you have – it’s all right here. By the time you’re through these 16 steps, you’ll be a bonafide business owner who’s prepared for sustained success.
Hawaii Entrepreneur Hack
When you form a business through business formation services (Example: ZenBusiness and LegalZoom), they’ll register your business with the state and help you check off most of the startup-steps in this list. They assist you with everything from building a website to opening a business bank account.
If you’d like to cut through the clutter and compare the best LLC services, see our comparison of the top 7 deals.
1) Write a Business Plan
Jumping into this endeavor without goals, directives, or a sense of direction can lead to a scattered, unproductive business.
A business plan lays the groundwork for your future success. It helps you analyze key elements of your business and forge pathways to achieve your goals. Here are a few things you should consider including in your business plan:
- Executive Summary (a separate document that gives a complete overview of your business’ purpose, plans, goals, competition, opportunities, etc.)
- Company description
- Market Analysis (opportunities, competition, etc.)
- Managerial or organizational structure
- Products and/or services
- Marketing strategies
- Funding goals
- Financial projections
Business plans aren’t just great for internal operations, but they give your business legitimacy in front of potential investors, customers, partners, and more. Need help? Check out this guide from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
2) Decide on a Business Name
You might’ve come up with the perfect name right away. If so, consider yourself lucky.
Sometimes, deciding on a business can be difficult, requiring brainstorming meetings and late-night rap sessions. That’s because your name is your business’ identity and reputation. It should be something that’s unique and memorable but also defines your business purpose.
You’ll need to comply with specific naming requirements based on the business structure you choose. LLCs, for example, must include the words “Limited Liability Company” or an abbreviation like “L.L.C.,” or “LLC,” in their names.
Additionally, you can’t reserve or register a name that’s already in use. Before filing any paperwork with your desired name, perform a name search to determine if it’s available. If so, claim it as your own by reserving it or using it on your Articles of Organization.
IMPORTANT: To properly brand your business, you’ll want to acquire the domain name so nobody else can use it. Search for and find the perfect one through GoDaddy.
3) Decide on a Legal Structure
There are only a few types of business structures, but each one dictates some important parts of how your business will run.
The most popular types are the sole proprietorship, general partnership, limited liability company (LLC), S corporation, and C corporation. Most small businesses go with the LLC because of its unique blend of flexibility and personal asset protection.
However, you shouldn’t make this decision without reading up on all of your options. We’ve done plenty of research on each business type and developed side-by-side comparisons. Check out our LLC vs. Corporation and LLC vs. Sole Proprietorship comparison guides for a closer look.
4) Choose a Registered Agent
The Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs (DCCA) needs a point of contact for your business, someone who will be available at your registered office address during typical business hours – 9am to 5pm.
This person is called a registered agent, and they serve as an intermediary with the state, receiving all of your company’s important legal communications and relaying them on to you. The Hawaii registered agent ensures that no important state documents, deadlines, or payments fall through the cracks, so you’ll want to choose a person or company you trust.
You can choose either an individual or a business entity as your registered agent in Hawaii, but they must:
- Be an individual Hawaii resident or a business entity authorized to do business in the state.
- Have a physical address in Hawaii.
- Have a mailing address in Hawaii (not a P.O. box).
If you’d like to appoint an individual registered agent, you might consider someone who’s familiar with LLC maintenance and operations, like an attorney, consultant, or one of your LLC members. Friends and family members, however, are also viable options. You can even appoint yourself if you meet the requirements.
Or, you can choose a registered agent service instead. These companies take care of all your registered agent responsibilities, and some will even handle your business formation and annual reporting as well.
Important: You must continuously maintain a registered agent on file with the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. If your agent resigns or you appoint a new one, you’ll need to notify them by filing the appropriate documents.
5) Register Your Business
This is the big one, the step that officially creates your business. No matter which business type you choose, you’ll need to register it with the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.
LLCs: Make your LLC official by filing an Articles of Organization with the state. The DCCA provides a variety of submission methods, including online (through the Hawaii Business Express portal), by mail, by fax, or in-person at a Business Action Center.
This Hawaii LLC filing costs $50 and will be processed in 3-5 business days, but if you need it done sooner, you can pay an extra $25 for expedited processing (1-3 business days).
Corporations: The filing process itself is fairly similar for corporations, but instead of an Articles of Organization, you’ll file an Articles of Incorporation.
Sole Proprietorship/General Partnership: There are no official forms or fees to register as a sole proprietor or general partnership. Simply start doing business and that’s it! While this is obviously faster and easier, we recommend incorporating your business because of the personal asset protection LLCs and corporations provide.
Foreign Entities: Bringing your already-established LLC to Hawaii from another state requires different procedures. You won’t need to file an Articles of Organization or Articles of Incorporation. Rather, you will have to foreign qualify by filing an Application for Certificate of Authority either online or with a hard copy, which costs $50. Don’t attempt to conduct business in Hawaii before foreign qualifying your business or you could face some severe consequences.
6) Get an EIN
The Employer Identification Number (EIN) is your ticket to doing state and federal taxes. It’s a nine-digit number, much like a Social Security Number, that identifies your business on tax documents.
If you’re forming an LLC, it will be considered a “pass-through” entity, so the business itself won’t pay federal income taxes. Instead, you and the other members will report income and losses on your personal tax returns.
But this doesn’t mean you can go without an EIN. If your LLC pays any type of business taxes – like Sales, Use, or Unemployment Taxes – or hires employees, you’ll need to get one.
Unsure if you need one? The IRS provides a useful “Do I need an EIN?” link on this page, where you can also apply for an EIN. If you go through the online application process, you’ll receive your number immediately.
Otherwise, you can submit a Form SS-4 by fax to (855) 641-6935 or by mail to :
Internal Revenue Service Operation
Attn: EIN Operation
Cincinnati, OH 45999
7) Open a Business Bank Account
LLC and corporation owners are required to keep their personal and business finances completely separate, or they risk losing their personal asset protection. To do so, you’ll need a business bank account.
The good news is that opening a business bank account is pretty simple. Just pay a visit to your bank’s local branch and sit down with one of the bankers there. You will need to present your formation documents, an EIN number, and some personal information. Then, you can direct all of your business income and expenses to that account instead of a personal one.
It doesn’t really matter which bank you choose, whether it’s a national giant like Chase or Bank of America or a small, local bank. However, it’s usually easiest to go with the one where you have existing accounts.
8) Handle Any Tax Obligations
Ah, taxes. They’re always part of the picture, especially when you run a business.
Familiarizing yourself with your business’ tax requirements will help you establish a solid financial plan going forward. LLCs don’t need to file a corporate tax return and pay federal income taxes, so you’ll handle these taxes as part of your personal return.
Corporations, on the other hand, will need to file a Corporate Income Tax Return, while sole proprietorships/general partnerships will need to pay self-employment taxes.
There are a few other taxes your business may owe in Hawaii, depending on your circumstances:
General Excise Tax (GET): Every business operating in Hawaii is responsible for paying a General Excise Tax, which is based on gross business income. Your LLC will need to apply for a General Excise Tax License. If you formed your business through the Hawaii Business Express website, this was part of the process. But if you filed a hard copy Articles of Organization, you’ll also need to submit this form.
Use Taxes: According to Hawaii’s Use Tax brochure, this is a tax on goods and services “purchased from unlicensed sellers and imported for use in Hawaii.” If you sell goods and services in the state, they will each be subject to the General Excise Tax OR Use Tax, but not both. Hawaii doesn’t have a Sales Tax.
Withholding and Unemployment Taxes: These taxes are necessary if your business hires any employees. Withholding taxes are through the Department of Taxation while the Unemployment Insurance taxes are through the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.
All Hawaii businesses are required to register with the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs and obtain a Tax Identification Number through the Department of Taxation. Any business that maintains employees must also register with the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. You can register with all three departments through the Hawaii Business Express portal.
9) Find an Accountant
Sometimes it’s easier to hand off your financial responsibilities to a professional. Not only will an accountant ensures that your taxes are filed and paid correctly, but they might also find a few ways to save your business money.
Bookkeeping and tax procedures are time-consuming and require some specialized knowledge. Balance sheets, financial reports, cash flow, audits, and much more – an accountant can ensure that your company operates smoothly and streamlines its expenses.
This can be expensive depending on the complexity of your finances, but the benefits an accountant offers can be well worth it.
10) Create an Operating Agreement
An operating agreement constructs a framework of procedures and standards for your business. This is where you can lay out processes for member conduct, asset allocation, compensation policies, voting procedures, dissolution, and much more.
While operating agreements aren’t technically required in Hawaii, they are essential to your business’ stability and success. They provide a safety net in legal disputes and legitimacy in front of banks, courts, government agencies, and other businesses.
You can either draft one yourself using an online template, or you can hire an attorney or an incorporation service to take care of it for you.
Once you’ve drafted your agreement, it must be approved by each of your LLC’s members, then filed with the rest of your business documents. You do not need to submit it to the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.
11) Acquire the Necessary Licenses
After filing your formation documents, your business is legitimate, but it might still need specific licenses before opening its doors in Hawaii. This depends entirely on your business type and purpose, but there are a few taxes you should know:
General Excise Tax (GET) License: Any business that earns income from their activities in Hawaii must apply for a General Excise Tax License (outlined in the tax section above).
Professional/Occupational Licenses: Certain vocations and business types need to obtain specific licenses before opening their doors in Hawaii. For example, if you want to start a new auto dealership, you would need licensure through the Motor Vehicle Industry Licensing Board. Don’t know if you need to apply for a professional license? Take a look at the Professional & Vocational Licensing Division website for a full list of licensed business types.
Local Licenses: Your specific city, county, or municipality might have its own licensure requirements. Take a look at your local government’s website to find out.
12) Consider Business Insurance
Even though it’s not pleasant to consider, there’s always a chance that unforeseen events might take a toll on your assets.
While forming an LLC or corporation offers some personal asset protection, additional business insurance can also protect your business assets in cases of lawsuits, damages, etc. You can acquire insurance for your business products, vehicles, specific occupations and much more.
If you hire employees, you’ll also need to get workers’ compensation insurance. SBA.gov has a useful guide for determining which forms of insurance your new business might need.
13) Build a Website
Your company’s digital presence is just as important as its physical one. Like it or not, most potential customers will find your business online, and if you don’t exist online, you’re missing out.
But don’t worry, you don’t need to be an HTML or web design expert to build a website. Sites like WordPress and Squarespace make it easy to construct an elegant and responsive website, no coding necessary. But if you’re not comfortable or confident doing it on your own, you can always hire a professional web designer to take care of it for you.
14) Launch Social Media Accounts
Making your mark on the digital landscape doesn’t start and end with your website. Most successful businesses also have a robust social media presence on multiple platforms. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are all great ways to connect organically with potential customers and develop your brand voice.
Just don’t forget to publish consistent social media content, or you’ll have trouble building a base of followers.
15) Understand Ongoing Hawaii Requirements
After you’ve launched your business, things will likely be moving at 100 miles per hour as you evolve and grow. But in all of the excitement, you can’t forget your state’s ongoing compliance requirements. Every state has its own annual or biennial business requirements.
Hawaii businesses must submit an Annual Report every year during the quarter that the business was formed. If you originally formed your business during Q1 (January 1 – March 31), for example, your Annual Report will be due by March 31. Fail to do so and you will be charged with a $10 late fee and your business will lose its good standing.
16) Check Out Hawaii Small Business Resources
You’re not on this journey alone. There are plenty of free resources available to make starting and growing your business a smoother, easier process.There’s a ton of support available for Hawaii small businesses, from consulting to networking to loans and grants.
But it’s tough to find these resources if you don’t know where to look. Fortunately, SBA.gov can make these connections for you. Check out Hawaii’s district office webpage and this exhaustive guide on Hawaii’s small business resources, which contains just a wealth of great information.