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

Step 1: Plan Your Business Idea

Write a Business PlanWhy is professional business planning so important in this world of ours where nothing guarantees success? Well, because we’re at the mercy of the odds in most respects and as Louis Pasteur put it, “In fields of observation [read: business], chance favors only the prepared mind.” Your game plan helps you get the most out of your ideas throughout the business cycle and increases your odds of noticing golden opportunities.

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. We'll guide you step-by-step through the process and help refine all your core fundamentals: marketing, budgeting, milestones, pitch, etc. into a presentation-ready plan.

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 StructureLet’s assume your executive summary is a masterpiece the likes found in the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Next step is threefold: choosing the legal entity you intend on creating, registering, and in the process registering your official brand name with the state. Don’t worry, for most first-time entrepreneurs this part goes down as smoothly as one of Solly’s Butter Burgers.

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 Wisconsin Tax Obligations

Small Business TaxesNow that you’re official your brand can bite into juicy tax incentives, subsidies, credits and kick-backs. And unlike the network of winding slides in America’s waterpark capital, you’ll find their tax code quite friendly relative to location and business structure.

Take Action: Head on over to the Wisconsin Dept. of Revenue website’s Businesses Section which currently sports a free video/webinar showing you how to set up an account and get your Brewers in a row. Also, the Starting a New Business section has online registration options.

Step 4: Obtain Licensing & Permits

Business LicensesIs Wisconsin home to America’s Swiss cheese capital? Yes, it’s in Monroe just west of Janesville. However, because the state’s regulatory system is so modernized there’s very few holes to jump through in terms of licensing or permits. You’ve basically got two options here:

  1. For DIY’ers bookmark the License/Permit/Registrations page through the WI Dept. of Safety and Professional Services.
  2. For help, a Business License Package is excellent. 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 Wisconsin Location

How to Choose a Business LocationThere’s a fair amount of financial incentives to basing operations in Wisconsin but from the stunning lake views of Bayfield in the north, to the bustle of Madison in the south there’s a 1000 reasons to set up a brick and mortar location as well. Furthermore, Wisconsinites know how to back a brand they identify with.

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

How to Finance a BusinessBecause you handled step 5 so brilliantly and your software’s rock solid, now it’s just a matter of raising capital when needed and strategically bootstrapping your way to lovely numbers. The good news is Wisconsin has the entire smorgasbord in terms of credit, grants, VC’s, angel investor funds, and a newer option we like is social lending.

Take Action: The email course we mentioned in Step 1 really comes in handy here because planning and finances go together like tailgating and BBQ sauce. 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 WebsiteHonestly we weren’t originally going to include this step but believe it or not there are still armies of startups who don’t take it as seriously as they should. Not necessarily in terms of marketing potential, which is clearly there in spades, but in terms of establishing a digital presence. What do people find when they investigate your brand?

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 ChannelDid you know the Green Bay Packers are a publicly-owned, nonprofit franchise and it can take years on a wait list to get season tickets? Almost no one does fan-hood like Packers fans. There’s a ton to be learned when it comes to marketing – brand ownership.

Take Action: Look at the ways people are able to get behind and involved with your brand. Listen, this is why CrowdFunding is growing by leaps and bounds. How could you leverage the platform to both market and raise debt-free funds simultaneously? Or are traditional methods more appropriate for your business? Do the research!

Step 10: Continue Learning & Stay Inspired

Sign Up For Entrepreneur InterviewsFantastic! With steps 1 through 9 in the bucket please consider Startup Savant a reliable source of motivation, tools, and valuable insight from fellow change-makers. It’s about riding the learning curve to the good life and staying jazzed-up along the way.

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.

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Continue Learning. Stay Inspired!