How to start a business in California

10 Simple Steps

Step 1: Plan Your Business Idea

Write a Business PlanWith over 3.5 million small businesses employing twice as many employees, founding a company in California without a professional business plan is like braving rush hour traffic outside San Francisco without a clear route to your destination. Be sure you build a solid map for your business idea.

Take Action: Seize upon our 100% free Business Planning Guide designed to get you from A-to-Z as pleasantly as possible. Plus, we provide access to tons of other great tools along the way.

Step 2: Choose Business Structure & Register

How to Choose a Business StructureThe next step is to decide which business entity is right for you and then register it with the state. Regardless of the type, once registered you and your brand will be protected and gain a variety of tax breaks. Most importantly, your personal assets (house, personal bank account, etc) will be protected.

Most entrepreneurs form an LLC because it has all the benefits of a Corporation without the disadvantages like double taxation, board of directors or corporate officers. However if you’re trying to take your company public or raise substantial outside capital, you should probably form a Corporation.

Take Action: Since this step is so important and expensive if it’s not done correctly, we highly recommend investing 10 minutes to go over your options through our business structure comparison guide. You’ll get a better idea of the advantages and disadvantages of each while building a solid legal foundation for your business.

Step 3: Tackle California Tax Obligations

Small Business TaxesFirst and foremost, there’s the California Competes Tax Credit which has worked wonders to attract business like yours into the warm golden hills of CA. Then there’s a plethora of other state-level subsidies, incentives and credits you can leverage once you get the regulatory side of your red tape homework out of the way. Be sure to do your research and understand what your obligations are as a California entrepreneur.

Take Action: Hop on over to the Doing Business in California page on through the tax service center. This should give you more than enough to get started.

Step 4: Obtain Licensing/Permits

Business LicensesDepending on the kind of business you’re starting, you may need different permits and or a simple business license. Like taxes and company registration, get this out of the way as close to conception as possible to ensure you don’t get in any trouble down the road.

  1. For DIY’ers bookmark the Filing for Local Licenses and Permits page through the California Business Portal.
  2. If you need help, a Business License Service can be a massive time-saver. They determine everything required on Federal, State, County and Municipal levels, get the forms, and provide step-by-step filing instructions.

Step 5: Open A Business Bank Account

Best Business Bank AccountYour company needs its own official business bank account to leverage the many benefits (depending on the institution you bank with) and to ensure your business financials are all in one place. This keeps your personal and business assets separate so you’re fully protected as a business owner.

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Step 6: Pick A Stellar California Location

How to Choose a Business LocationWhich zip code has your name written on it? Which micro-culture fits your brand? Are you more the Bakersfield-type or Monterey? Santa Barbara or Bridgeport inland? Whether you’re entirely online or going with brick and mortar real estate, there are 1000 options for your business location.

Take Action: We know picking a spot can be tough if it doesn’t somehow happen naturally through your personal/professional networks. If you’d like to brush up on everything that goes into making this decision, refer to our friendly guide on How to Choose the Perfect Location.

Step 7: Finance Or Bootstrap Your Idea

How to Finance a BusinessTwo words, Silicon Valley. Again, NO ONE commands a bigger slice of the startup era than California. It’s famous across the globe. Grants, VCs galore, angel investor networks, mammoth CrowdFunding and Social Lending communities…dig in!

Take Action: The email course we mentioned in Step 1 really comes in handy here because planning and finances go together like swim suits and organic veggies. You can also browse our guide on How to Finance a Business to start generating ideas.

Step 8: Design & Publish A Business Website

Build a Business Website

As we approach 2020 the process of designing, building, and publishing a professional business website gets easier and easier, not to mention somewhat cheaper. What matters is that you have one, at the very minimum a responsive one-pager that lets potential clients and customers investigate your brand.

Take Action: Unless you’re a 100% ecommerce company (in which case we’d recommend Shopify), check out a business website builder like Wix or Weebly. They are all extremely easy to use and out-of-the-box. At the end of the day you’ll have a professional business website without pulling any hair out.

Step 9: Market Your Business

Social Media ChannelIt’s true, marketing a product or service anywhere, let alone in California, is challenging. But if there was one almighty bit of advice we could give you it would be to NOT focus exclusively on digital marketing. The good news is that there’s more than enough room for your brand to spread its wings with the help of Californians.

Take Action: The key is really getting out and engaging with your niche in a transparent and ultra-human way. Even if you’re completely online, everything you could possible need to gain an edge on modern consumerism is within probably about 5-20 miles of where you set up shop. No joke.

Step 10: Continue Learning & Stay Inspired

Sign Up For Entrepreneur InterviewsAfter steps 1 through 9 are in full swing and you’re really feeling the California Love, consider Startup Savant (which got its start in CA as well) as a powerhouse-resource for not only tools but up close and personal stories from fellow change-makers.

Take Action: Follow our Facebook and Twitter filled with tips, tricks, lessons, and inspiring stories directly from ambitious professionals like you. Stay motivated daily.

California Startup Toolkit

Out of all the resources available to help you start a business in California, here are the two we believe in most. With an incorporation service and business plan software, you'll take the first steps toward bringing your idea to life and having a solid plan behind it.

Incorporation services register your business with the state and handle all paperwork. For as low as $49, they'll bring your business to life by registering your LLC or Corporation in record time.

See The Top 7 Options

One of the most important aspects of starting a business can also be the most tedious: the business plan. A business plan software will walk you through the entire process in half the time.

See The Top 7 Options