Starting a business can be a very tricky and confusing process. Making sure you do everything in the correct order can save you time, money and headaches down the road. Here’s a basic step-by-step guide from the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center to help you along the way.

1. The first step of starting a business should always be completing your business plan. This is essential for determining if you have a market to sell to and if you will make any money. Once you have determined people will buying your goods or services and there is adequate profit, you can then move on to legal and compliance issues.

2. Deciding on your legal entity is very important if you want any liability protection for your business. Liability protection means the state regards your business assets and your personal assets as separate so your personal assets aren’t at risk if someone sues your business. The legal structures consist of sole proprietorships, partnerships, LLCs, and corporations. It is important to remember that sole proprietorships and partnerships carry no legal protection, so adequate liability insurance becomes very important. Consult an attorney before deciding your legal structure because each one will affect your business and taxes differently.

3. Your business may need to be registered at both the state and local level. Any legal entity except for a sole proprietorship must register a business name with the Georgia Secretary of State. To make sure your business name isn’t already taken, call the Secretary of State’s office at (404) 656-2817 or conduct a search on its website, at, and search the website of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office at Ofttimes, a good start is a simple Google search for your business name. Once you determine your business name is available, you can then submit all the appropriate documents with the Secretary of State.

Attorneys suggest against startup businesses applying for a DBA (doing business as) designation. Instead you should register your business name exactly how you want it to appear in all signage and advertisements. You can file a DBA later on if you want to change your name or rebrand as it is much easier to file a DBA locally than it is to resubmit paperwork to the Secretary of State’s office.

4. On a local level, you must register your business in every county you do business. For example, if you have a traveling food truck you will need a business license in each county in which you sell food. Contact the local county office or city hall to find out its business license requirements. If you plan to have a storefront or home office, check with your local planning and zoning department to make sure the area is properly zoned.

5. All business structures should register for a Federal Tax Employer ID Number (EIN number). This is the number the IRS assigns you to submit your federal taxes. You can do this at no cost online at You also need to submit a state tax registration application with the State of Georgia to register your business for a Georgia sales and withholding tax number. For state tax assistance, visit or contact the Georgia Department of Revenue regional office in Athens at the Georgia Square Mall or call it at (706) 389-6977.

6. Keeping good financial records is a must for your business. You should always keep your business and personal finances separate. In order to keep everything separate and organized, it’s recommended to open a bank account in the name of your business. To do this, you will need to provide proof that your business has been registered with city, county, or state.

All of these recommendations are general procedures for starting your business. Athens-Clarke County, and most of the larger surrounding counties, provides its residents with a detailed “Start Me Up Guide” explaining the steps to starting a business in their county. Check online with your local county government or chamber of commerce. The local SBDC also hosts a regular “Starting Your Own Business” class to help get a business up and running.

• Katie Murray is the program coordinator at the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center. For questions, contact her at or (706) 542-7436.