Starting a business in Hawaii is easy, just follow these 11 steps:
Step 1: Make A Plan For Your Business
Great new businesses might seem a bit chaotic on the surface, but once you dig a bit deeper you find structure; game plans. There's always some sort of planning in place. The question is whether it's helping to spur your growth through realistic milestones and good management, or whether it's hindering due to lack of specifics and wasting resources. Good news is that today you don't need an MBA to create a great initial plan.
Take Action: Check out 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.
Don’t know what kind of business to start?
Our friends over at howtostartanllc.com have compiled a massive list of business ideas, ranging from personal styling to axe-throwing businesses.
If you’re having trouble finding the perfect business idea for you, we encourage you to check them out!
Step 2: Register Your Hawaii Business
Your next major task is going to be registering your business with the state of Hawaii. Before you can do that, though, you have to figure out what type of business structure you want to form: an LLC, S Corp, C Corp, or Sole Proprietorship. Then, you can read our detailed guide on naming your business. Let’s take a quick look at each of the business structures:
Most entrepreneurs form an LLC because it harnesses all the benefits of a Corporation without taking on any of its disadvantages like double taxation, board of directors or corporate officers. However if you're trying to take your company public via an IPO or raise substantial outside capital, consider forming 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: Determine Your Tax Obligations
Hawaii has an interesting set of tax advantages. And we won’t sugarcoat it, tax-wise and in terms of doing business in Hawaii, it’s a tough market across the board. The folks who go through the hoops typically in-part do so because they’re in love with island lifestyle.
Take Action: Cruise on over to eHawaii.gov and use their savvy Hawai’i Business Express (HBE) to file a single application to register a new business with the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. There’s also the HCE for compliance matters.
Step 4: Obtain Necessary Business Licenses And Permits
Because of limited land and things like volcanoes, if you’re brick and mortar, which you’ll likely be there are licensing and permits to handle. 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.
- For the DIY’ers use the Professional Licensing page through Hawaii that provides access to all the relevant info.
- If you need help with this step, a Business License Service is what we recommend. They determine everything required on Federal, State, County and Municipal levels, get the forms, and provide step-by-step filing instructions.
Step 5: Separate Your Personal and Business Assets
Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.
Now that you’ve made it through registering and setting up taxes and licensing for your business, you’ll need to take steps to protect your personal assets and establish your business as an independent entity.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
You can go a long way in protecting your assets with these five steps:
- Open a business bank account.
A business bank account separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection. A designated business bank account also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
To open up a bank account for your business, you’ll need to obtain an EIN (Employer Identification Number). You’ll use your EIN in place of your social security number so that this account is completely separate from your personal finances. After this, start doing your research on various business bank accounts. Local options and national banks, like Chase, both have their perks.
Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Startups and Entrepreneurs review to find the best online bank, eCommerce banks, the best for tech startups, real estate investment banks, and more.
- Get a business credit card.
A business credit card helps you separate personal and business expenses. A business credit card will also build your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise capital later on.
- Designate an authorized representative.
Make sure all documents are signed by a representative of your LLC and not by you (or other LLC members) directly. This will help separate you from liability incurred by the LLC.
- Keep your accounting and bookkeeping up to date
Make sure to sync up your banking and credit card accounts with accounting software like QuickBooks as soon as you get the chance. It’s never too soon to start organizing your business’ finances!
A good business credit score will help establish your business’s fundability. It can help with many things, including credit cards that are issued in your business’s name and score instead of depending on your personal credit score, better interest rates on loans, higher lines of credit, and more.
Step 6: Choose A Location For your Business
Firstly, if you aren’t familiar, you should know each island has two identities – one's very localized and the other's as a part of the greater Hawaiian island chain/culture. When you first set up shop, building relationships is going to be absolutely essential with locals, local businesses and local politicians. And, understand it's going to take time to prove you're going to be around a while rather than another fly-by-night operation.
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: Fund Your Business
Again, another double-sided coin of doing business in the 21st century – funding in Hawaii can be a challenge to get, but there is a thriving startup-friendly support network once you arrive and get situated in your area. Keep your options open, especially non-conventional ones like Online Social Lending and CrowdFunding.
Take Action: The email course we mentioned in Step 1 really comes in handy here because planning and finances go together like traditional Lū‘au’s and yellow hibiscus tattoos. You can also browse our guide on How to Finance a Business to start generating ideas.
Step 8: Create Your Business Website
These days it’s relatively easy and far less expensive to get a business website designed and published that’s as stilling as a Hawaiian waterfall. Why? Well, because they’re a necessity. No matter what kind of business you’re in this step simply cannot be skipped, or even skimped if you want your brand to be taken seriously.
Take Action: The first step is finding the right platform, which thankfully there are some very good options. If you’d like our recommendation, grab a free trial to GoDaddy or Weebly. They’re the easiest to use and have the best prices. No previous tech-skills required.
Step 9: Market Your Business
On the one hand, digital marketing is so mind-blowingly complex. But on the other, getting out on the island and reaching people isn’t as tough. Find a good blend of the two because the people of Hawaii, both locals and travelers/tourists alike have a ton to offer.
Take Action: Figure out right now what you can (this comes up in your business plan as well) and cannot do yourself, and what you’re best at in terms of helping the business grow. Whatever is outside your core skillset, outsource!
Step 10: Build Your Business’s Brand
Now that you’ve taken care of all the essentials above, it’s time to work on building your brand!
There are an abundance of factors that impact your brand image, but two of the significant ones are your business logo and website. When you're ready to design your brand logo, keep the following ideas in mind:
- Capture the essence of your business. When thinking about a design, you should choose something that reflects the nature or mission of your company.
- Differentiate yourself. Check out the colors and shapes used by your direct competitors and consider heading a different direction to help you stand out in the market.
- Make it memorable. Select a sleek, bold design that will leave a lasting impression in people’s minds.
- Hire a professional. This is a very important step for your business, so it’s worth investing a few bucks to get your logo professionally done. (Sites like Fiverr can be great for this.)
You can also use our free logo maker tool to make one yourself! No design experience necessary!
Another hugely important aspect of your brand image is your business website -- but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to build a website from the ground up. A simple way to craft a professional, inviting website is to use an existing web-building platform. These services can save you a ton of time and money involved in building a website from scratch.
Step 11: Continue Learning And Stay Inspired
No one learns to surf in a month. Almost no businesses see any real sales in the very beginning. What keeps you chugging along is enjoying the learning process and embracing the countless lessons that just keep streaming your way as a change-maker.