Planning to launch a small business and got Georgia on your mind? Things are pretty peachy for business owners in "The Empire State of the South." In fact, Georgia is frequently named one of the top U.S. states for small businesses largely due to the support received from state leadership:
“Small businesses are the lifeblood of both our individual communities and entire state economy. As a small business owner myself, I know firsthand the hard work, long hours, and dedication that go into such an enterprise, and the quality jobs it creates for others.” — Georgia Governor Brian P. Kemp, 2022
The Georgia Department of Labor says that 99.8% of businesses in the state are small businesses, making it the lifeblood of Georgia's thriving economy. If you're ready for some Southern hospitality, Georgia is here to welcome you. From the bustling heart of Atlanta to the stunning Blue Ridge Mountains, here's everything you need to know about how to start a business in Georgia in 11 steps:
1. Validate Your Idea
No matter your business idea, you're likely to find a home in Georgia. In 2021, Georgia appointed a Director of Small Business Outreach with the goal of continuing to attract small businesses from diverse industries. In 2022, the state's top small businesses included everything from health technology and data storage to skincare and food and beverage.
However, you'll need to do some legwork if you want to get your business off the ground. Conducting some market research will help you determine if your idea and/or product will have ready buyers in the Peach State. Here are some ideas to get started:
- Create a buyer persona, listing out all the details you know about your ideal customer.
- Go straight to the source — find those buyers on social media or in online forums, and listen to what they're saying about products or services like yours.
- Scope the competition. Follow their social platforms, and pay careful attention to how they engage with customers. Be sure to check out their reviews as well.
- Explore the small business section on Georgia's state website to find data on your selected industry and possible incentives.
Once your research is complete, you're ready to move on to the next step.
2. Start With a Business Plan
A solid business plan will lay the best foundation for your Georgia business. While it sounds like a big feat, forming a business plan is well worth the time. Once completed, you'll have a document to serve as a blueprint for starting and operating your business. Even better, a business plan can help you set up your business finances and even secure funding. Wonder what needs to be in your business plan?
The most important elements of your business plan will include the following:
- Executive Summary: Highlights the key information from the report and includes your mission statement and values
- Business Description: Details your industry, product, or service and how you plan to operate the business
- Marketing Plan: Outlines your strategy for attracting and retaining customers in your chosen location
- Financial Projections: Includes your budget, five-year projection, and any supporting data that shows your business will succeed financially
- Management Structure: Lists your business entity type (if one has been chosen) plus any partners or shareholders, plus info on how you'll manage the business
- Supporting Documents: Add an appendix that includes any documents like contracts, patents, permits, etc.
3. Pick a Standout Name
Now comes the fun part: choosing a great name for your Georgia business. There are a few things you need to keep in mind before you finalize your name choice:
- Your business name cannot be in use by another Georgia business.
- The name should be catchy, easy to spell, and memorable.
- It should not use any slang or words that are hard to understand or potentially offensive.
- It cannot be too similar to the name of another business, and it must be distinct from potential competitors.
If you're working on a name and feeling stuck, try our free Business Name Generator. Just enter keywords like the industry, product, or emotion you'd like to evoke in your customers, and you'll get a wide variety of possible name options. Once you've found a name you like, use the Business Name Search tool to make sure it's available in Georgia.
4. File for the Right Entity Type
You may be wondering if you need to file a legal business entity to start a business in Georgia. While it's not a requirement, it's always our recommendation. In Georgia, you can operate the following types of businesses:
Sole Proprietorship: This is a business that has no legal entity. It's the easiest to form, as there is no paperwork or registration required. You simply begin operating your business.
LLC: LLCs are the most common business entity for good reason. They're easy and effective for nearly all types of businesses, and they're cost-efficient.
S Corp: An S Corp is a corporation that comes with a lot of regulations and requirements. However, if you meet those requirements, you can expect major tax savings. You can also form an LLC but designate it as an S Corp for tax purposes.
C Corp: A C Corp is a great option for larger businesses anticipating major growth and/or outside funding. It's a more complex process and is sometimes subject to double taxation.
Georgia LLCs and corporations do one critical thing that a sole proprietorship cannot — they offer liability protection to shield the business owner's personal assets in case of legal action.
5. Get a DBA If You're Not Filing an Entity Type
If you decide to start as a sole proprietor, you can still make sure your business is on the up and up. A DBA, or "Doing Business As," is a legal filing that allows your business to operate under a particular name.
As a sole proprietorship, your business will need to be operated under your given name. You can avoid this and protect your privacy by filing a DBA (also called a trade name or fictitious business name). A DBA will give your business added legitimacy and make your business name official. Remember, a DBA is not a legal entity, and it cannot protect your business or your personal assets from legal liability.
No matter what entity you form, you may still need a DBA in the future if you intend to grow to new markets or expand your product line.
6. Register Your Business
If you've decided to go with a legal business entity, you'll need to get your business registered with the appropriate state agency. In Georgia, you'll go through the Secretary of State's Office, which handles all business formation and legal requirements.
In Georgia, there are three ways you can file:
Online: Complete all the paperwork online, then file digitally.
Online by Paper: Print the formation paperwork, fill it out by hand, then scan and file online.
By Mail: Print out a form from the SoS website, and pay an additional $10 handling fee.
State fees in Georgia are $100 for LLCs and corporations. Processing generally takes around seven days, but you can expedite that for additional fees.
If you don't want to deal with all that paperwork, you can choose a business formation service like Incfile with $0 + state fee business formation. No matter which entity you choose, you can get your business up and running, legally and efficiently, at the best cost.
7. Secure an EIN
An EIN, or Employer Identification Number, acts as a sort of Social Security number for your business. It's a way for the IRS to identify your business, and it can simplify tax filing, hiring employees, and more.
Having your EIN is required in certain situations, but we recommend it for all business owners. It can help you open a business bank account, adding to the legitimacy and credibility of your business.
You can get your EIN from the IRS using Form SS4. The IRS will then mail you your Tax ID number. You can also use an EIN service like Incfile's, which secures your EIN for you and emails it to you in just one hour. You can store your EIN digitally and access it whenever you need.
8. Set Up Your Business Finances
The way you run your finances could make or break your Georgia business. Start planning now so you'll know how you'll handle money, credit, and more when the time comes.
Open a Business Bank Account
Choosing the right business bank account isn't always easy, but our partners at Bank of America have an excellent bank account option for small business owners. This is the first financial step to getting your business up and running.
Grow Your Business Credit
You don't have to have great credit to start a business, but you will want to grow and protect your business credit. Keeping personal and business finances separate is the golden rule, and having a dedicated bank account and credit card is a great way to accomplish that.
Manage Business Accounting and Bookkeeping
How will you track your day-to-day income and expenses? There are many options available to business owners, including using accounting software, working with a CPA or dedicated accountant, or using an accounting and bookkeeping service.
Prepare for Business Taxes
Taxes are no one's idea of fun (unless you're a CPA, perhaps), but they're a necessary part of maintaining your business. Many business owners will need to pay quarterly estimated taxes, but remember that your business entity also influences how/when/how much you pay. It's best to work with a trusted tax expert to ensure you're paying what you owe and keep your business in good standing.
9. Research Business Licenses and Permits
Depending on your industry and business type, you might need a license or permit to operate the business legally. Licenses and permits can be related to your particular profession, or they can be regulated at the local, state, or federal level. In Georgia, you may need a license or permit in certain scenarios.
When in doubt, it's best to check with the government agencies that dictate licensing and permits. In Georgia, that's the Chamber of Commerce and the Municipal Association where your business will be located. You may also choose to use a service like our Business License Research Package, which will tell you exactly what you need to operate legally in the state of Georgia.
10. Build Your Online Presence
Having a website is a must for pretty much any small business, whether you're planning to sell via e-commerce or operate from a brick-and-mortar location. A business website makes your company more trustworthy and — when it's well-designed — gives it a professional appearance. You can use a website design platform like Wix or an e-commerce tool like Shopify to create a low-cost and attractive website for your business.
Don't forget that an online presence also includes social media. Find out where your customers are most likely to spend their time online and be sure you have a major presence on that platform. Create posts that are engaging and shareable. That way, you can build followers and find new customers.
11. Spread the Word
You'll also use both your website and social media platforms to market your business, which is a critical part of helping it grow. Want to know how you can build your business and make it a success through marketing? Here's how:
Pros of Starting a Georgia Business
Why start a business in the Peach State? Here are some of the top reasons to choose Georgia as your business's home base:
- Georgia has consistently been named a top state for small businesses.
- The governor of Georgia is an entrepreneur and committed to helping small businesses.
- Georgia offers many incentives for small businesses in different industries.
- Businesses are flocking to Georgia because of the perks and business-friendly economy.
- In particular, Atlanta has become a business haven and is attracting arts and entertainment entrepreneurs, among many others.
- Startup costs for businesses in Georgia are low, with reasonable state fees and minimal ongoing requirements.
- Georgia has received an A- rating for overall business friendliness.
More Resources for Your Georgia Business
Ready to get going but want to continue your research on how to get started with your Georgia business? Check out these additional resources:
When it's time to start your business in Georgia, we've got all the resources you need. Use the 11 steps listed above to make the process peachy. If you still need help starting your business in Georgia (or anywhere else), check out our in-depth Start a Business Checklist.
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