How to Start a Business in Missouri (Updated 2024)

From licenses and permits to taxes and insurance, learn what you need to do to start a business in Missouri.

Updated by , Attorney · Penn State Dickinson School of Law
Updated by Amanda Hayes, Attorney · University of North Carolina School of Law

Are you looking to form a Missouri business? If you are, you must complete the appropriate tasks to get your business up and running in the state. Here's an overview of the key steps you'll need to take to start your own business in Missouri.

1. Choose a Business Idea

Your first step is to choose a business idea. Take into consideration your skills, experience, and interests. These initial factors should steer you toward a general business area. For example, if you like to cook and have worked as a chef, you might consider opening a restaurant, bakery, or catering business. You should also think about your current resources and availability. For instance, in keeping with our previous example, if you have more time in the mornings, you could focus on serving brunch or baked goods. If you'd rather work at night, consider marketing yourself as a late-night stop for food.

As you consider your business options, ask yourself questions like:

  • Is there demand in my geographic region for my proposed goods or services?
  • How much competition is already out there? Is the market already saturated or would my business meet an unmet need?
  • What would my startup costs be?
  • Do I have enough capital to sustain my business until I can make it profitable?
  • What's the minimum investment you need to start your business?
  • Which expenses are necessary vs. discretionary?

At this early stage, you should create a business plan. Making a business plan not only helps you identify your optimal idea but also helps you map out your business and marketing strategy. In addition, having a business plan is critical to attracting investors or applying for a business loan.

Check out our section on business financing, loans, and capital for ideas and guidance on funding your small business.

2. Decide on a Business Legal Structure

As you map out the plan for your business, you'll need to compare the various business structures available to you. The types of business structures you can choose from depend on your state, business activities, and ownership. The most common legal structures for your small business are:

Besides the four main business structures, Missouri recognizes limited partnerships, limited liability partnerships (LLPs), and limited liability limited partnerships (LLLPs), which are types of partnerships where some partners have limited liability.

If you provide a qualified professional service, you can create a professional corporation in Missouri. In general, a "professional service" is a service that can be provided by someone licensed under Missouri's licensing laws but can't be provided by a regular Kansas business corporation.

Think about what sort of protections you want with your business and the purpose of forming your business in the first place. 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.

Depending on which business structure you choose, you might be able to elect to become an S corporation, a tax entity. Different types of businesses, such as LLCs and corporations, can elect to be taxed as S corporations but legally remain corporations or LLCs. You can speak with a tax attorney or tax professional to learn more about S corporations.

3. Choose a Name for Your Missouri Business

Choosing a name for your business is an exciting and important step. You should pick a business name that'll fit your business as it grows and that you'll be happy with for years to come. Most importantly, your name should be marketable and unique. A unique name will be memorable to customers and easier to protect legally. A marketable name will help you better advertise your goods and services and shape your company's image.

In Missouri, like in most states, your business name must be distinguishable (different enough) from the names of other business entities already on file with the Missouri Secretary of State (SOS). You can check for available names by doing a business name search on the SOS website.

Entity name designators: In Missouri, you must include certain words that identify your business's entity structure (like including a word such as "LLC" for LLCs or "Company" for corporations). See our article on how to form a Missouri LLC for more information about naming your LLC.

Reserving your business name: You can reserve an available name for 60 days by mailing a completed Application for Reservation of Name (Form BE1) with the SOS. You can also renew your business name reservation for up to 180 days. As of 2024, the filing fee to reserve or renew a name is $25 (or $30 for LLPs).

Registering a fictitious name: If you do business under a name other than you or your business's true name, then you're using a fictitious name (also called a "DBA," "trade name" or "assumed name"). For sole proprietors and general partnerships, their true name is the owners' personal names. For LLCs, corporations, and other registered entities, their true name is the name that's legally registered and on file with the SOS. If you use a fictitious name, you must register it with the SOS. You can register your fictitious name online through the Missouri Online Business Filing System or by mail using the Registration of Fictitious Name form. As of 2024, the filing fee is $7 to register a fictitious name. (See the SOS's fictitious name registration FAQ webpage for more details.)

If you conduct business online, you might want to register your business name as a domain name. Moreover, to avoid trademark infringement issues, you should do a federal and state trademark search to make sure the name you want to use isn't the same as or too similar to a name already in use.

4. Register Your Business Entity With the Missouri Secretary of State

You can register your business online through the SOS's Online Business Filing System. You can also submit the appropriate application form by paper to the SOS. You can find these forms on the fees and forms webpage of the SOS website. Some business types don't require you to file any paperwork.

Here's how to form each type of business:

  • Sole proprietorship: You don't need to file any organizational documents with the state to establish a sole proprietorship in Missouri.
  • General partnership: To create a general partnership in Missouri, you don't need to file any organizational documents with the state. Although not legally required, you should draft a partnership agreement to establish the rules for how your partnership will be managed and how the assets and liabilities will be divided among the partners.
  • Limited partnership: To form a Missouri limited partnership, you must file a Certificate of Limited Partnership with the SOS.
  • Limited liability partnership (LLP): You can form an LLP in Missouri by filing an Application for Registration of a Limited Liability Partnership with the SOS.
  • Limited liability limited partnership (LLLP): A limited partnership can elect to become an LLLP in Missouri by filing an
  • Application for Registration of a Missouri Limited Liability Limited Partnership with the SOS.
  • LLC: To create an LLC in Missouri, you must file Articles of Organization with the SOS. You should also prepare an operating agreement to establish the basic rules for your LLC's operations.
  • Corporation: To create a Missouri corporation, you must file Articles of Incorporation with the SOS. You should also prepare and adopt bylaws for your corporation. A corporation's bylaws, like an LLC's operating agreement, set out your corporation's internal operating rules. You don't need to file your bylaws with the state.
  • Professional corporation: Licensed professionals of qualified services can form a professional corporation in Missouri by filing Articles of Incorporation with the SOS. All professional corporations must also file a Certificate of State Board Registration verifying that the corporation's officers, directors, and shareholders are licensed to practice the services provided by the corporation.

To form some of these businesses, you need to appoint a registered agent in Missouri for service of process. A registered agent agrees to accept legal papers on the company's behalf.

After you form your corporation or other applicable business with the SOS, you can file IRS Form 2553, Election by a Small Business Corporation, with the IRS to elect S corporation tax status.

5. Apply for Missouri Licenses and Permits

You'll probably need to apply for at least one license, permit, or registration for your business. You can find more detailed information in our article on Missouri business licenses.

Tax registration. If you sell taxable goods or services in Missouri, you must register with the Missouri Department of Revenue (DOR) to report and collect sales tax and obtain a retail sales license. If your business has or will have employees, you must register with the DOR for employer withholding taxes. For both types of tax, you can register online at the DOR's Online New Business Registration site or on paper using Form 2643, Missouri Tax Registration Application.

Employer identification number (EIN). If your business has employees or is taxed separately from you, you must obtain an EIN from the IRS. Even if you're not required to get an EIN, there are often business reasons for doing so. For instance, banks often require an EIN to open an account in the business's name and other companies you do business with could require an EIN to process payments. You can get an EIN by completing an online application on the IRS website. There's no filing fee.

Regulatory licenses and permits. You might need to apply for permits or licenses related to health and safety, the environment, building and construction, and specific industries or services. Different departments and agencies oversee various regulatory licensing. For regulatory licenses and permits issued by the state, check the SOS's Steps for Starting a Business webpage. For information about local licenses and permits, check the websites for any cities or counties where you'll do business.

Professional and occupational licenses. The Missouri Division of Professional Registration (DPR) oversees many of the state's regulatory boards and commissions for licensed professions and occupations. The DPR website has links to detailed licensing information about each profession.

6. Pick a Business Location and Check Zoning Regulations

After legally creating your business and taking care of the licensing requirements, it's time to choose a business location. You'll need to consider several factors when picking a spot for your business:

  • Pick an affordable place. Refer back to your business plan to see what you can afford. Remember that you'll need to find somewhere you can afford now, in your company's early months, and in the future. If you're looking to buy, you'll need to budget for a mortgage, utilities, and property taxes. If you're going to lease a commercial space, you'll probably have to pay for rent, a security deposit, utilities, and other potential shared or individual costs. If you lease, negotiate terms that'll work for your business in the long term.
  • Choose the right location and space for your business. Different businesses have different requirements for a business location. Some businesses need plenty of square footage for customers while other businesses don't need any public-facing space. Some companies benefit greatly from a central, walkable location. Other businesses need to be near a highway. Think about what your kind of business needs out of its space and geographic location. Better locations and more space mean a higher rent or sales price. If you want to invest heavily in the right space, make sure your investment will translate into a higher profit.
  • Verify your desired location is properly zoned for your intended business activities. Cities and towns are divided up into different land uses. Zoning can include, for example, residential, mixed residential, commercial, industrial, and agricultural. An area's zoning determines what you can do in that area. Make sure the location you want allows for your business activities. You can usually find zoning regulations for your town or city by reviewing your local ordinances and contacting your town's zoning or planning department.

Do you need a physical location for your business? In general, your business will need a mailing or office address. Oftentimes, an address is legally required. Your address can sometimes be your home address, a P.O. box, or a coworking space, among other options. See our article on whether you need a physical address for your small business to learn more.

Can you run your business out of your home? Home-based businesses are becoming more popular, especially for online businesses. Depending on what kind of business you have and the residential zoning laws, you could be able to run your business out of your home. Look over your lease (if you rent your home) and homeowners association rules (if applicable), either of which might ban some or all home businesses.

7. Register and Report Business Taxes

Missouri taxes every kind of business. Visit the forms and manuals section of the DOR website for downloadable tax forms. You can file returns and pay most taxes through MyTax Missouri.

Sole proprietorships. As a sole proprietor, you'll pay state taxes on business income as part of your personal state income tax returns (Form MO-1040).

Partnerships. Partners pay state taxes on partnership income on personal tax returns. Unless exempt, your partnership must file Form MO-1065, Partnership Return of Income. If your partnership has nonresident individual partners, you must also file Forms MO-1NR and MO-2NR (unless exempt). A Missouri partnership can elect to pay income taxes on behalf of nonresident partners by filing a composite return in addition to Form MO-1065. In Missouri, partnerships can elect to pay a pass-through entity tax on behalf of individual partners' state income who can then claim a tax credit on their personal returns. This pass-through entity election is made by filing form MO-PTE. (See the partnership tax FAQ webpage for more details.)

LLCs. By default, LLCs are considered "pass-through tax entities," meaning members pay state taxes on their share of LLC income on their personal tax returns. In other words, LLCs are taxed as partnerships by default. However, an LLC can elect to be taxed as a corporation by filing Form 8832, Entity Classification Election with the IRS. Depending on how your LLC is taxed, your company must file a separate state tax formeither a partnership return or a corporation return—with the DOR. If taxed as a partnership, your LLC will follow the state's partnership tax laws (as discussed in the previous section). For more, read our article on LLC annual report and tax filing requirements in Missouri.

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 their personal state tax return. Missouri corporations and corporations with Missouri-based income must file Form MO-1120, Corporation Income Tax Return. Read the FAQ section on corporation income tax for more information and guidance. Finally, corporations must file an annual report with the SOS.

If you have employees, you must also deal with state employer taxes.

And, apart from Missouri taxes, there are always federal income and employer taxes. Check IRS Publications 334, Tax Guide for Small Business, and 583, Taxpayers Starting a Business.

8. Obtain Insurance for Your Missouri Business

Regardless of your industry or type of business, you should look into getting insurance coverage for your business. Business insurance can protect your business and your personal assets from unexpected events, such as personal injury lawsuits and natural catastrophes.

An insurance agent can help you explore the different coverage options for your business. You should consider getting general liability insurance to protect your business against claims related to bodily injury or property damage. Your business might also benefit from cyber liability insurance to cover litigation and settlement fees following a data security breach.

For further guidance, see our article on what types of insurance your small business needs.

9. Open a Business Bank Account

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, including LLCs and corporations, a separate bank account is necessary to maintain your liability protection.

Additional Help With Starting Your Missouri Business

When you're looking to start a new business in Missouri, a good place to look is the SOS's Starting a Business webpage. The webpage has an overview of the various business entity types and links to business forms and online business registration. You can also find information about business name requirements and reservations.

The SOS website also provides business services such as:

  • registration reports
  • online services
  • frequently asked questions
  • fees and forms
  • step-by-step registration guides
  • trademarks and service marks
  • Business Outreach Office, and
  • the Missouri Business Portal.

The Business Outreach Office specifically provides a Missouri Small Business Startup Guide and links to various government organizations and agencies.

Find the business structure that fits your business. Take our business formation quiz for help deciding the best structure for your business.

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