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

A businessman in front of an outline of Tennessee

Step 1: Plan Your Business Idea

Write a Business PlanLike a finely aged bottle of Tennessee Jack or Moonshine, or an amazing show at the Grand Ole Opry, successful companies are the result of time, organization and very serious planning. There’s a fair amount of moving parts, so a central defining game plan is necessary to ensure everything goes off without too many hitches.

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 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 StructureOnce you’ve got an initial plan growing, the next step is to choose which business entity best serves your ambitions. Doing so protects your personal assets (house, car, etc) and secures your brand name in the process.

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: Sync With The Tennessee Tax Code

Small Business TaxesIs navigating the tax code as fun as a day at Hollywood? Hmm, it’s debatable. Honestly, tons of people are excited to find out how startup-friendly Tennessee can be and what sorts of credits, incentives, programs, and kickbacks apply to their platforms. Many of these little micro-steps are required to get proper permits and licensing later on. Just be sure to do your homework.

Take Action: Bookmark this Tennessee Business Tax Guide which is a free PDF published online through the TN Dept. of Revenue. It lays out the whole 9 yards.

Step 4: Obtain Proper Licensing & Permits

Business LicensesIf you represent a startup natural gas or oil company that’s one thing, you’re going to have some serious regulatory hoops to jump through. For most other small businesses wanting to set up shop in the state it’s fairly easy to get the proper licenses and permits.

If you need help, don't be afraid to get it because you can't afford any mishaps or mistakes when it comes to the regulatory side of starting a business - could mean fines, extra fees, or even time in court.

For help finding the licenses you’ll need, a Business License Service is what we highly recommend looking into. 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 Account

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 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 Tennessee Location

How to Choose a Business LocationFrom Jackson to Knoxville there’s history and culture wherever you look, but choosing a location should be taken VERY seriously. The two really serious aspects to the process are:

  1. Finding a location that has enough resources withing about 1-5 miles of your office/store to help you grow and expand.
  2. Finding a location that will help you manage the company better - shorter commutes, local talent, business services nearby, etc.

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 Your Business

How to Finance a BusinessThe #1 question is, “Well, how much money is my business going to need to be successful?” And while no one’s got a crystal ball, chances are it’s going to be more than you’re expecting. Starting a business in Tennessee is expensive in most cases! Thankfully you have a great business plan (from Step 1) that includes reasonable/promising financial forecasts and a sane budget.

Take Action: The email course we mentioned in Step 1 really comes in handy here because planning and finances go together like hang-gliding and The Smokies. 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 WebsiteBusiness requires websites the way horses require spurs at times to get their butts in gear. Question is, what kind of website will work best for your brand? There are basically two components to consider here: investigation and navigation. Your website should first and foremost work like a digital business card that provides info on your brand and what it’s about. Secondly, it should be VERY easy to use.

Take Action: The first step is finding the right platform, which thankfully there are a couple fantastic business website builders. Our favorites are Wix and Weebly. No matter which website builder you end up choosing, you’ll be in good hands since each one offers free support.

Step 9: Market Your Business

Social Media ChannelWant to know the formula to successful marketing campaigns? There actually is one, the trick’s understanding that within each part of the formula there really are no objective rules other than free market forces.

Here it is: identify your core value/pitch, define your customers/users/clients, segment them into groups, research them heavily, then identify your competition and do “it” better. Make sense? That's really all there is to it when you get down to brass tacks.

Take Action: In the beginning, ideally you should bootstrap marketing and keep it close to home - personal/professional networks. Then, when you find marketing that causes genuine engagement, hop on it like there's no tomorrow.

Step 10: Continue Learning & Stay Inspired

Sign Up For Entrepreneur InterviewsTo cap this guide off we want to humbly ask you keep Startup Savant in your Rolodex of useful resources. Around here we publish content regarding savvy tools, interviews from fellow business owners, and reviews concerning entrepreneur friendly software - for free. All meant to help you bring your idea to life.

Take Action: Join the tribe by following us on Facebook and Twitter to tap into our daily feed filled with tips, lessons, and inspiring stories directly from entrepreneurs like you.

Join 1000's of entrepreneurs by following us today

Continue Learning. Stay Inspired!