CREATING A BUSINESS IN WISCONSIN
By Timothy S. Jacobson
Economic Development Director for Boscobel, Wis.
CEO of Visjonaer Consulting
“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
— Henry David Thoreau
You have an idea for a business, and you’re excited about launching it and charting your own course through the business world. Congratulations!
However, unless you have done this before, you’re probably frustrated about how to get started. You’re dreading the legal issues, accounting issues, licensing, regulatory issues, etc. You just want to start offering your product or service and connecting with happy customers, right?
If you go online to find out how to start a business, you’re likely to be overwhelmed by a deluge of information and agencies there to help you get started. You’ll be drowning in alphabet soup as you wade through websites of the SBA, WEDC, WEDA, WWBIC, SBDC, DATCP, WDFI, IRS, etc. Who should you start with?
And chances are, you’re already stretched thin when it comes to time. You may already have a full-time job, and you’re hoping to launch the new business and break away from punching someone else’s clock. You likely have family obligations, too. How can you possibly get up to speed with regulations, licensing, taxes, accounting, incorporation, and marketing, let alone pursuing the core of your business opportunity? Does this sound like you?
I wish I could tell you that none of these details matter and that you can simply jump right into business without giving consideration to these issues. But you can’t. Starting a business usually is not easy. But it can be immensely rewarding in so many ways. And your entrepreneurial spirit is what drives our country and our economy. You should be commended for having a dream and pursuing it! To quote Nelson Mandela, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
You need a plan of action. Good planning goes a long ways toward being prepared for dealing with inevitable roadblocks. As Yogi Berra once said, “If you don't know where you are going, you'll end up someplace else.” Or as Seneca put it, “Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind.”
The good news is that there is an abundance of helpful resources to get you started down the right path. There are trusted, reputable business advisors available who can assist you for little cost, and sometimes for free!
Who to Talk To
Don’t go it alone. If you’re serious about launching a new business, having the right advisors can make a huge difference, and it can take a lot of pressure off of you if you know you have competent professionals guiding you through legal, accounting and regulatory and licensing matters.
Start with a no-cost or low-cost business advisor who can help you with the big picture. Here are some great options:
· Your local economic development director and/or your chamber of commerce can be a source of information.
· Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) are housed on or near 13 of the University of Wisconsin campuses. The SBDCs are designed to deliver up-to-date counseling, training, and technical assistance in all aspects of small business management.
· Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) is staffed by working and retired executives and business owners who volunteer their time and expertise to provide confidential counseling and mentoring free of charge.
· Wisconsin Community Action Program Association (WISCAP) provides technical assistance to low-income entrepreneurs who have sound ideas for establishing a small business but who lack the expertise and knowledge to succeed.
· Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation (WWBIC) provides quality business education, technical assistance and access to capital for entrepreneurs, with an emphasis on serving women, people of color, and those of lower incomes. Men can get assistance, too.
These folks can get you and your business off on the right foot, help you develop business and marketing plans, explain financing issues, etc.
If you will need to borrow money to launch the business, one of your early visits may be with your local business banker. Your banker can advise you about loans and perhaps can point you in the right direction for legal and accounting assistance. If you don’t qualify for a business loan at the bank, you may want to speak to a Rural Small Business Consultant at WWBIC, a nonprofit organization that provides loans and online classes.
Unless you are skilled with business bookkeeping and tax matters, make sure you talk to an accountant. Typically, the first consultation is free.
Next, meet with a business attorney to ensure you have the most appropriate business entity in place, appropriate contracts negotiated, etc. People often worry about how expensive legal fees can be, but business startup services may be much less expensive than you think, and it can save you from big headaches and liabilities down the road.
But before you place your first phone call or send an e-mail to a business advisor, banker, accountant or lawyer, you probably want to get at least a basic understanding of the range of issues you need to contend with. If you have a checklist of what needs to get done, it can make the process seem much more manageable.
Basic Checklist for Starting a Business
· Develop at least a basic business plan (see www.entrepreneur.com/article/38308 and www.sba.gov/writing-business-plan, or work with one of the categories of business advisors listed above)
· Choose a business name
· File a trade name, or create a corporation or limited liability company (LLC) (get advice from a lawyer regarding this)
· Obtain licenses, permits, and zoning clearance
· Obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS
· Set up a system of bookkeeping (talk to an accountant)
· Open a business bank account and line up funding to get started (talk to your banker)
· Obtain general liability insurance (get a referral for a good business insurance agency)
· Launch your business! (This is the part you’ve been waiting for)
· Market your goods and/or services, and have a marketing plan and budget
· Report and pay taxes
Make sure that you write out you own, much more detailed checklist with the particulars of your specific business and your community. If you plan to sell goods, you will need a list of suppliers and know their financial terms, for example, as well as a sellers permit from the State of Wisconsin. If you are going to start a restaurant, you will need a health department inspection. If you are starting a salon, you likely need licensing.
What form of business entity should you operate?
Early on, you will need to decide whether to operate a sole proprietorship, a partnership, or an incorporated entity. There are liability and tax implications to this decision, for which you should consult with an attorney. Incorporating your business, whether as a corporation or as a limited liability company (LLC), has many benefits. It’s a way to:
· Clarify your structure
· Set up a business identity to open bank and credit accounts
· Limit personal liability for unintended outcomes of the business’ operations
· Help ensure that the organization has staying power into the future
Some people decide to operate as a sole proprietor just because it seems simpler and less expensive to get started. In general, that’s a bad idea. It’s fairly easy to start a corporation or limited liability company, it doesn’t really cost that much, and it’s probably the cheapest form of liability “insurance” that you can find. Wisconsin allows the formation of single-member LLCs, so even if the business doesn’t employ anybody but you, you still can set up an LLC to protect yourself, your family, and your home from certain types of liability that may arise from the business.
Now it is time to take those crucial first steps toward realizing your dream of owning a business. And don’t give up when difficulties arise. As Samuel Johnson said, “Great works are performed not by strength, but perseverance.”
Following is a more detailed list of new business resources in Wisconsin.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANCE ORGANIZATIONS
Wisconsin provides extensive economic development assistance services through its state and local governments, educational institutions, private organizations and public-private partnerships.
Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation (WWBIC). Start or grow your own business, finance your business (loans, assistance, resources), improve your financial health – for men & women. www.wwbic.com
The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) is the lead state agency for firms already located in Wisconsin that are considering expansion or seeking business assistance. Access their full array of services at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation or contact the Regional Account Managers in your geographic area who can provide customized services. http://inwisconsin.com/funding-opportunities-and-business-assistance-in-wisconsin/
Regional and County Economic Development Organizations offer hands-on business start-up, expansion, recruitment and financial assistance.
Wisconsin Chambers of Commerce work hand-in-hand with local businesses to help them grow and prosper.
The Wisconsin Economic Development Association (WEDA) is a statewide non-profit organization dedicated to expanding the state’s economy. www.weda.org
Tools for Financing Your Wisconsin Business
Learn about the financial assistance programs, grant and loan programs, development funds, incentive programs and other resources that can help meet your business financing needs in Wisconsin.
Tools for Wisconsin Online Business Tax Registration
Apply online for a Wisconsin Seller’s Permit, Use Tax Certificate, Wisconsin Employer Identification Number, and other types of business accounts in one simple step.
Tools for Starting a Business in Wisconsin - http://witoolkit.com/getting-started/
The Entrepreneur’s Toolkit provides business start-up information and assistance, networking contacts and technical resources. The information caters to individuals interested in starting any type of business including retail, service or technology companies.
Tools for Wisconsin Employers
Complete information for Wisconsin employers including finding workers, employment standards and laws, worker’s compensation and unemployment compensation guides, and a directory of employer resources and links.
Tools for Wisconsin Small Businesses - www.wisconsinsbdc.org
The Wisconsin Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Network educates state entrepreneurs - beginners and veterans alike - through an array of low-cost classes and no-cost confidential counseling. Services can be accessed through the state at 13 University of Wisconsin centers and two specialty centers - the Wisconsin Innovation Service Center and the Center for Innovation and Development.
Tools to establish a Sole Proprietorship or a Corporation in Wisconsin
Tools for Wisconsin Ag-Related Businesses
This resource was assembled by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) as a tool to help small businesses develop and grow their value-added business using money, information, and technical assistance from outside their organization. http://datcp.wi.gov/uploads/Business/pdf/GotMoola.pdf
Check out the author's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Visjonaer and find him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TimoJacobson.
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Tim Jacobson is CEO of Visjonær Consulting, Economic Development Director for Boscobel, Wis., president of the Grant County Economic Development Corporation, vice president of the Grant County Tourism Council, and president of Sustainable Driftless, Inc. He has launched and/or run a variety of businesses and nonprofits over the past two decades. He's author of the book Explosive Marketing for Nonprofits: Trajectory for Success, expected to be released in 2017, the executive producer of the Emmy Award-winning documentary film, Mysteries of the Driftless, broadcast on PBS, and author of Amazon best-selling thriller The Kurchatov Penetration. He has been featured countless times by TV and radio stations, magazines and newspapers for his organizational consulting, filmmaking, writing, conservation and legal work and for his exploration of international justice and peace issues.
This article is copyright (c) 2015, Timothy S. Jacobson. All rights reserved.