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With more than one million small businesses based there, Georgia is a vibrant, dynamic market to start your small business in. However, with that vibrancy comes some complexities for entrepreneurs looking to start a business locally. This step-by-step guide will walk you through starting a business in the state of Georgia.
1. Choose a business idea
Choosing a workable business idea isn’t just about deciding what products to sell or what services to provide. There are other considerations you’ll have to weigh before settling on an idea for your small business in Georgia.
- Who is your customer? The best business ideas are rooted in a clear understanding of who you’re selling to. To cultivate this understanding, you can conduct a competitive analysis of other businesses in the same market, analyze marketplaces where similar products or services are sold, survey prospective customers, and research industry trends.
- What is your projected profitability? Determine the profitability of your idea by looking at pricing, distribution opportunities, business models, and the costs you’ll incur building your business and making your product. What’s your break-even point? How many products or services must you sell to at least cover your costs?
2. Name your business
Naming your Georgia business is one of the most crucial decisions you’ll make as an entrepreneur. It factors into branding, marketing, and even customer retention. A name can make or break your business. Here are a few considerations when choosing a business name:
- Is it unique in Georgia? All business names in Georgia must be unique—you can conduct a search using the Georgia Secretary of State’s “Business Entity Search” feature.
- Is the domain name available? The uniqueness of your business name will come into play when building your website, too. You’ll want to check whether a marketable domain name is available that adequately aligns with your chosen business name. If nothing like that is available, you may want to reconsider your name choice.
- Is it memorable? In general, a good business name is one that effectively communicates your entity’s function in a catchy, memorable way. It should also reflect your business’ mission.
- Does it include the required suffix? If you form an LLC in Georgia, your company name must contain the phrase “Limited Liability Company,” or its abbreviation (LLC or L.L.C.).
Using a DBA in Georgia
If you want to apply a DBA—“doing business as,” or an alias for your company, otherwise known as a trade name—to your business in Georgia you’ll need to register with the Clerk of the Superior Court in whatever Georgia county your business is operating out of. Procedures will vary county to county, but will likely require you to fill out an application form and pay a filing fee. You will also have to publish a copy of your trade name in a local newspaper at least once a week for two consecutive weeks, and such newspapers must be one the county sheriff’s office uses for legal advertisements.
3. Create a business plan
A comprehensive business plan is a necessary component of any business. A good one will include the following sections:
- Executive summary
- Detailed company description
- Market analysis
- Outline of organizational and managerial structure
- List of products and/or services
- Customer segmentation report
- Marketing plan
- Logistics and operations plan
- Financial plan
A free business plan template is a great place to start—you can always build off it and make it your own.
4. Choose a business structure to get started
Just when you thought you were done making essential choices about your business comes perhaps one of the most essential choices of all: your business structure. Business structure determines how your company is taxed, how easily you can secure investments, and a number of other factors.
Types of business structures available to you in Georgia include sole proprietorships, owned and run by one person; partnerships, which have two or more owners; corporations, which are legal entities separate from owners; and limited liability companies, which are like hybrids of corporations and partnerships.
- Sole proprietorships are default settings for all businesses that don’t formally incorporate and don’t have a partnership agreement—that is, they’re businesses owned and operated by a single person. Like partnerships and most LLCs, they’re taxed at the personal income of ownership one time instead of once on corporate income and once on personal income.
- LLCs are a very popular choice of business structure because they offer many of the benefits of running simpler business entities like a sole proprietorship or partnership, which offer many of the legal insulations afforded to larger corporations. With an LLC, owners’ personal assets have a level of protection against creditors and legal judgments.
- C corporations offer that same degree of personal asset protection but are generally more work to incorporate and maintain. There’s significantly more paperwork because the business is formed as an entity entirely separate from business owners at every level. With that said, it can be a good deal easier to raise capital for corporations through the issuance of stock.
Corporate structure is important because it often determines how your business is taxed. Businesses in Georgia are no exception to this rule. All corporations in Georgia regardless of type (C corporation, S corporation, or LLCs that elect to be taxed as either) are subject to 5.75% corporate income tax.
If you run a retail operation in Georgia, you will also have to take into account the state’s 4% sales tax on non-excised goods (those are goods that aren’t subject to special regulation or tax, like alcohol and tobacco). Excise goods will still be subject to sales tax, but will have an additional good-specific tax tacked on. (The excise tax for tobacco products, for example, is 10%).
For more information on what taxes your Georgia business might be subject to, you can visit the Georgia Department of Revenue’s website.
Obtaining an EIN
Once you’ve decided what form your Georgia business is going to take, you’ll have to apply for an employer identification number (EIN). This is a nine-digit number assigned by the IRS to new organizations for tax purposes. It functions similarly to an individual's Social Security number. Georgia state tax authorities will identify your business by its EIN. Having an EIN not only makes it easier to file taxes both at the federal and state levels, but it can also help you secure lines of credit and business credit cards.
Incorporating in Georgia
Obtaining an EIN in Georgia is part of the overall incorporation process. To incorporate your business in Georgia, you’ll need to file articles of incorporation with the Secretary of State’s office to register the company, which must include at minimum:
- Your business’s name or a valid name reservation number
- The name and address of the person filing on behalf of the business
- A valid email address for the business
- The mailing address of the business’ principal place of business
- The name and address of its registered agent (who must have an address in Georgia)
- The name and address of each incorporator
- The number of authorized shares, if you’ve decided to issue any at the outset
Within 90 days of incorporation, you must also file an initial annual registration that lists three head officers, and pay a fee of $50 for for-profit ventures and $30 for non-profit ventures.
5. Obtain a business license and permits
Your Georgia business will need to have a general business license provided by the city or county in which it operates. If your business deals in certain industries, such as the sale of liquor, firearms, or tobacco, you may need additional licensing and permits. To find out who regulates industry-specific business licenses in the county or city where you’ve set up your Georgia LLC, you can contact the Georgia Chamber of Commerce or use the Georgia Municipal Association’s handy search tool.
6. Examine insurance options in Georgia
Business insurance helps protect your Georgia business and assets in the event of an unforeseen loss. The Georgia Office of the Commissioner of Insurance and Fire Safety offers resources for determining what your business may need. Popular kinds of business insurance in Georgia include:
- Liability insurance. Covers your business for any legal actions resulting from accidents, injuries, or negligence.
- Commercial property insurance. Protects your business from costs associated with fire, weather damage, or theft.
- Professional liability insurance. Protext manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors, and retailers from liability in connection with unsafe products.
- Cyber liability insurance. Protects businesses from costs associated with suffering a data breach.
- Umbrella insurance. Helps cover anything that may exceed policy limits on other insurance plans.
The only two kinds of insurance that are required of businesses in Georgia are workers’ compensation insurance, should your business employ at least three people, and commercial auto insurance for any vehicles used in connection with your business.
7. Understand financial considerations
In addition to purchasing insurance, you will likely also have to make other investments to get your Georgia business off and running. This could include rent toward a brick-and-mortar retail space, or costs toward a professionally designed website, ad placements, equipment or software. You may also want to hire one or more lawyers, accountants, or other professionals. These costs can add up. Luckily, there exist accessible, fast options to obtain startup funding of this sort.
8. Market your business
A solid marketing strategy for your Georgia small business will include several key elements:
- Market research. Market research is needed to better understand your company’s target customer.
- Advertising and promotion. Get the word out about your product through paid advertising. You can do this yourself, or hire an agency to do this on your behalf.
- Social media. The world turns on social media these days; promoting your products and services on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and the like is a necessary ingredient for success.
- Public relations. Identify and cultivate relationships with media outlets that can increase your visibility organically.
- New business and customer retention. Build genuine relationships with customers that keeps them coming back for more, and spreading the word to friends, family, and colleagues.
Following these steps lays the foundation to building a successful business in Georgia’s growing market. But before setting up shop in the Peach State, you’ll want to give careful thought to whether your business goals align with what the state has to offer. Research state demographics, business laws, and infrastructure to ensure your venture can fit seamlessly into its ecosystem, so that you benefit from the energetic business community already in place.