How to start a business in Hawaii (10 Simple Steps)

A jumping businessman in front of an outline of Hawaii

Step 1: Plan Your Business Idea

Write a Business PlanGreat 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.

Business Ideas: Find the Idea That Fits You Image

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: Choose Business Structure & Register

How to Choose a Business StructureThe next step is to come to terms with the type business structure you intend on forming. Once you’ve made your decision get the ball rolling on registration so that you can protect your personal assets (house, car, etc) and secure your brand name.

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: Tackle Hawaii Tax Obligations

Small Business TaxesHawaii 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 Licensing/Permits

Business LicensesBecause 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.

  1. For the DIY’ers use the Professional Licensing page through Hawaii that provides access to all the relevant info.
  2. 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

Best Business Bank AccountUsing 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 three steps:

  1. 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.

Get $200 when you open a business checking account with Chase. Learn more

  1. 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.

Learn about the best small business credit cards here.

  1. 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.

  1. Keep your accounting and bookkeeping up to date

Make sure to sync up your banking and credit card accounts with an accounting software like QuickBooks as soon as you get the chance. It’s never too soon to start organizing your business’ finances!

Step 6: Pick A Stellar Hawaii Location

How to Choose a Business LocationFirstly, 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 Startup

How to Finance a BusinessAgain, 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: Build A Business Website

Build a Business WebsiteThese 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 Wix or Weebly. They’re the easiest to use and have the best prices. No previous tech-skills required.

 

Step 9: Market Your Business

Social Media ChannelOn 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: Continue Learning & Stay Inspired

Sign Up For Entrepreneur InterviewsNo 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.

Take Action: Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to tap into our daily feed filled with tips, tricks, lessons, and inspiring stories directly from entrepreneurs like you.

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Continue Learning. Stay Inspired!