Get all of the information you need to start and run a small business.
Here's an overview of the key steps you'll need to take to start your own business in Iowa.
Take some time to explore and research ideas for your business. At this stage, consider your own interests, skills, resources, availability, and the reasons you want to form a business. You should also consider the likelihood of success based on the interests and needs of your community. Read our article for more tips on how to evaluate business ideas.
After you select an idea, consider drafting a business plan to evaluate your chances of making a profit. When you create a plan, you will have a better idea of the startup costs, your competition, and strategies for making money. Typically, investors and lenders will ask to review your business plan before providing financial assistance. To learn more about the benefits of business plans and how to create one for your enterprise see Why You Need to Write a Business Plan.
The most common legal structures for a small business are:
There also are special versions of some of these structures, such as limited partnerships and S corporations. You'll want to consider which business entity structure offers the type of liability protection you want and the best tax, financing, and financial benefits for you and your business. Read our article for information on how to choose the best ownership structure for your business.
For LLCs and corporations, you will need to check that your name is distinguishable from the names of other business entities already on file with the Iowa Secretary of State (SOS). You can check for available names by doing a business entities search on the SOS website. You can reserve an available name for 120 days by filing an Application for Reservation of Name. You can also renew a name reservation before it expires. There are certain name requirements for LLCs and corporations (like including a word such as "LLC" for LLCs or "Company" for corporations). See How to Form an LLC in Iowa and How to Form a Corporation in Iowa for more information.
Is your business a sole proprietorship or partnership that uses a business name that is different from the legal name of the business owner (for a sole proprietorship) or surnames of the individual partners (for a partnership)? If so, you must file a trade name form with the county recorder in the county where your business is located. Check the website for the relevant county for forms and additional information.
If you plan on doing business online, you may want to register your business name as a domain name. See Choose and Register a Domain Name for more information. In addition, to avoid trademark infringement issues, you should do a federal and state trademark check to make sure the name you want to use is not the same as or too similar to a name already in use. See How to Do a Trademark Search for more information.
Tax Registration. If you will be selling goods in Iowa, you must register with the Department of Revenue (DOR) to collect sales tax. If your business will have employees, you must register with the DOR for employer withholding taxes. You can register for both types of tax and other business taxes, either online or on paper using Form 78-005, Iowa Business Tax Permit Registration.
EIN. If your business has employees or is taxed separately from you, you must obtain a federal Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS. Even if you are not required to obtain an EIN, there are often business reasons for doing so. Banks often require an EIN to open an account in the business's name and other companies you do business with may require an EIN to process payments. You can get an EIN by completing an online application. There is no filing fee.
Regulatory licenses and permits. These cover areas such as:
Ultimately, however, there is a vast number of regulatory licenses and permits. For help figuring out which regulatory licenses and permits may apply to your particular business, check IASourceLink's Business License Information Center (IASourceLink is part of the Iowa Economic Development Authority). For information about local licenses and permits, check the websites for any cities or counties where you will do business.
Professional and occupational licenses. These cover people who work in various fields. The Iowa Professional Licensing Bureau oversees the regulatory boards and licensing for about a half dozen professions. Other professional and occupational licenses are handled by other state agencies. For example, the Iowa Department of Public Health's Bureau of Professional Licensure handles licensing for roughly 20 health-related professions, such as Chiropractic, Dietetics, Optometry, and Podiatry.
You'll need to pick a location for your business and check local zoning regulations. Before you commit to a location, take time to calculate the costs of running your business in the desired spot, including rent and utilities. You can refer back to your business plan to evaluate whether you can afford your desired location during your company's early months.
It is important to verify that the spot is zoned for your type of business. You might find zoning regulations for your town or city by reviewing your local ordinances and contacting your town's zoning or planning department. Read our article for more tips on picking a location.
One alternative to opening your business at a new location is running your company out of your home. If you decide to run a home-based business, again check your local zoning laws. In addition, review your lease (if you rent your home) and homeowners association rules (if applicable), either of which might ban some or all home businesses.
Iowa taxes every kind of business. See Iowa State Business Income Tax for more information on state business taxes in Iowa.
Sole proprietorships. Pay state taxes on business income as part of their personal state income tax returns (Form IA 1040).
Partnerships. Partners pay state taxes on partnership income on personal tax returns. In addition, Iowa partnerships must file Form IA 1065, Partnership Return of Income.
LLCs. Members pay state taxes on their share of LLC income on personal tax returns. In addition, LLCs themselves have to file an additional state tax form — either a partnership return or a corporation return. The specific form used will depend on how the LLC is classified for federal tax purposes. Iowa LLCs also are required to file a biennial report with the Iowa SOS. See Iowa LLC Annual Filing Requirements for more information.
Corporations. Shareholders must pay state taxes on their dividends from the corporation. A shareholder-employee with a salary also must pay state income tax on his or her personal state tax return. Moreover, the corporation itself is subject to Iowa corporation taxes. And, finally, corporations must file a biennial report with the Iowa SOS.
If you have employees, you must also deal with state employer taxes.
Business insurance can protect your company and your personal assets from the fallout of unexpected disasters, such as personal injury lawsuits or natural catastrophes. An insurance agent can help you explore the different coverage options, which might include general liability insurance to protect your business against claims relating to bodily injury or property damage. To learn more, see Nolo's article, What Types of Insurances Does Your Small Business Need?
No matter the type of business you form, you should consider opening a separate business account to make it easier to track your income and expenses. For some business types, like LLCs and corporations, a separate bank account is necessary to maintain your liability protection. To learn more, see Opening a Business Bank Account.