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.
Maine 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.
However, you can’t proceed with just any name. Your business name will have certain restrictions based on which business structure you choose. LLC names, for example, must include the words “Limited Liability Company,” “Limited Company,” or an abbreviation like “LLC” or “LC.”
And you can’t use a name that’s already been taken. It must be completely unique and different from every other reserved or registered Maine business name. To find out if your desired name is available, search for it using the Secretary of State’s Corporate Name Search. If it’s free, go ahead and reserve it or use it on your formation documents.
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.
Want to form an LLC for free? ZenBusiness will file all LLC formation paperwork for $0 + state fee. No catch, just savings.
4) Choose a Registered Agent
The Secretary of State 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 Maine 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 Maine, but they must:
- Be an individual Maine resident or a business entity authorized to do business in the state.
- Have a physical address in Maine.
- Have a mailing address in Maine (P.O. boxes are not allowed).
Your registered agent plays an important role in keeping your business compliant, so it’s often wise to choose someone who’s intimately familiar with the particulars of business maintenance. This might be an attorney, manager, co-owner, or another business professional. However, if it’s easier for you to appoint a family member or friend, they’re equally valid options.
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 Secretary of State. If your agent resigns or you appoint a new one, you’ll need to notify them by filing the appropriate documents.
Special Offer: Right now ZenBusiness is offering a discounted rate for just $99 the first year (normally $199) to act as your agent and handle legal responsibilities.
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 Secretary of State.
LLCs: When you’re ready to make your LLC official, you’ll need to file a Certificate of Formation by mail or in person. Just download the paper form, fill it out, and mail or hand-deliver it to the Secretary of State’s office.
Of course, like most government forms, the Certificate of Formation isn’t free. This important Maine LLC filing costs $175, so make sure you include a check or Credit Card Payment Voucher with your form. Your form will be processed in 5-10 business days.
Corporations: The filing process is the same as LLCs, but you’ll use a corporation-specific Articles of Incorporation, which costs $145 instead.
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: What if you already formed your business in another state, and now it’s expanding to Maine? In this case, you’d be considered a “foreign” entity instead of a domestic one, and you’d need to foreign qualify it before doing business. This means filing a “Statement of Foreign Qualification to Conduct Activities” for LLCs or an “Application for Authority to Do Business” for corporations.
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.
Maine doesn’t require “franchise” or “privilege” taxes like some other states, but there are a few other taxes your business may owe depending on its activities and circumstances:
Sales and Use Taxes: Any Maine business that sells goods is subject to Sales and Use Taxes. The rates for these taxes depends on the type of products or services you sell, but you can find a table of all the applicable rates here.
Service Provider Tax: Businesses that provide certain services may be subject to a 6% Service Provider Tax. Some services are exempt from this tax, but you can find a list of taxed services here.
Withholding and Unemployment Taxes: Does your business have any employees? If so, it will owe Withholding Taxes through the Department of Revenue and Unemployment Taxes through the Department of Labor.
Other Taxes: There are a handful of other business taxes that only apply in very specific circumstances, which you can find on this page.
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.
Maine is one of the few states that require an operating agreement. As the state’s LLC Act §1531 states, “a limited liability company agreement must be entered into or otherwise existing” at the time that you file the Certificate of Formation. But this goes beyond a simple legal obligation. Your operating agreement provides a valuable 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 Secretary of State.
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 Maine. This depends on your business activities and location, but here are the main types of required licenses:
General Business Licenses: This all depends on your business’ location. They’re necessary for some counties and municipalities, but not others. Check this page to see your local government’s requirements.
Professional/Occupational Licenses: If your business practices one of the vocations listed on this page, you’ll need to obtain a professional license through the appropriate state board.
For example, plumbers operating in Maine must first apply for a license with the Plumbers Examining Board. If your occupation requires licensure, be sure to acquire it before doing business.
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 Maine 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.
Your business will need to file an Annual Report every year between January 1 and June 1. The filing fee is $85 for domestic entities and $150 for foreign ones. If you don’t file by June 1, you’ll be charged an additional $50 late fee, and if you still haven’t filed by 65 days after that, the state will administratively dissolve your business.
16) Check Out Maine 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.
SBA.gov is a gold mine of small business resources, with everything from loan opportunities to networking events to business development centers. If you’re looking for support, there’s no better place to start than Maines’ SBA district office website, which includes a helpful resource publication. Equipped with the knowledge in this guide and these additional resources, you have everything you need to build a thriving new business.