Start a Business

Congratulations on deciding to start a business! You're about to turn your dream into reality.

Here is a simple guide that will help you think through the steps you'll need to take to set your business in motion.

10 Steps to Starting a Business

Prior to starting a business, increase your chance of success by spending time planning and preparing. Plenty of resources are available for entrepreneurs seeking general information about what goes into starting and operating a business.

The Seattle Public Library provides electronic and print resources that entrepreneurs can use to start and grow a business. Resources include trade journals, market research information, demographic tools, business directories, general how-to guides, and much more. Access the resources online with your library card number and PIN. You're welcome to ask questions in person at a local branch, by phone (206) 386-4636, or online through the Ask a Librarian service.

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has created a series of online resources available for entrepreneurs. The Small Business Resource Guide includes pages of ideas, references, and suggestions covering issues related to starting a business, and it provides a listing of financing options available through SBA. Contact the SBA's Seattle office:

SBA Seattle District Office
2401 Fourth Avenue, Suite 450
Seattle, WA 98121
(206) 553-7310
Monday-Friday 8:00 am-4:30 pm

Doing Business in Washington State

Washington BusinessHub is a robust and user-friendly website that covers all aspects of operating a business in WA. On the homepage you'll find printable small business guides available in multiple languages.

Other Washington state resources for businesses:

Department of Revenue (DOR)

Office of the Secretary of State (SOS) 

Governor's Office of Regulatory Innovation and Assistance

Develop a Business Plan

Taking the time to prepare a business plan could mean the difference between success and failure for your business. Additionally, most banks require a business plan prior to lending. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) offers a comprehensive guide for building your business plan. Below is an overview to get you started.


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DO YOUR RESEARCH

Use our Business Decision Engine to help build your plan. Make sure you understand your industry - learn about about customers, competition, future opportunities, key location factors, and much more.



Once you're familiar with the industry you're entering, get started by drafting a basic business plan:

  1. Define your vision
    What will be the main outcome of your business? Whether you write a paragraph or a whole page, the vision should describe the kind of future you will create as you carry out the mission of your business.
  2. Define your mission
    If the vision is your "what", the mission is your "why". Write a very brief mission statement explaining the reason your company exists. Keep it concise.
  3. Define your objectives
    What will you need to do to achieve your mission and vision? Make a list of your goals.
  4. Outline your basic strategies
    How are you going to accomplish the goals you just listed? Who will you ask for help or expert advice?
  5. Write a simple action plan
    Make a list of the tasks that need to get done to achieve your objectives.


Two critical elements of your business plan:

Determine the Legal Structure of the Business

Determining the form for your business will impact the organization's tax status, the number of tax returns to file, owners' liability protection, and earnings distribution. In Washington, entrepreneurs have seven general options, and should consider the advantages and disadvantages of each in connection with the venture:

  • Sole Proprietorship
  • Partnership (General or Limited)
  • Corporations (Type S or Type C)
  • Limited Liability Corporations (LLCs)
  • Limited Liability Partnerships (LLPs)

Learn more about each type of business structure. It's best to consult with a business, financial, or legal advisor to determine what structure is right for your business.

Determine the Business Name

The Washington Business Hub is a helpful resource for understanding what to consider when naming your business.

You'll want to make sure no one else is already using the legal business name you want to use. A business' legal name is filed with the Washington Secretary of State's office. The Secretary of State's office ensures each registered business in Washington exists with an exclusive legal name - use their search feature to see what names are already in use. You may also search via the state's Dept. of Licensing (DOL), Dept. of Revenue (DOR). The City also maintains a searchable database of Seattle businesses.

Securing financing is key to starting your business. Start with an estimate of how much you'll need in order to purchase equipment and cover other startup costs.

The Washington Business Hub is a good resource to help you understand how to develop a financing plan.

Refer to our Financing page for information about non-traditional lenders and other financial assistance options.

The Washington Secretary of State is the chief corporations officer in Washington state. Prior to obtaining any license, an entrepreneur should register with the corporate division of the Secretary of State's office. Corporate organizing documents must be approved before the organization's legal existence may begin. A summary of registration and business renewal requirements as well as registration forms are available on the Secretary of State's online Information Center.

The Department of Revenue also has information about registering a business. DOR also provides instructions for registering out-of-state businesses.

The Washington Business Hub can help you understand if you need to register your business.

Apply for a Washington state business license via the state's Business Licensing Service website.

The BLS application can be used to obtain a Unified Business Identifier (UBI) number and to register trade names.

Find out more about state licenses on our Rules & Regulations page.

In addition to state licensing requirements, entrepreneurs may need to comply with city and/or county licensing requirements for each operation. Businesses operating in Seattle come under the jurisdiction of King County and City of Seattle regulations.

King County

King County does not require a general business license. However, if a business is located in unincorporated King County (i.e., outside of city limits) and engages in regulated activity, the business must obtain a regulatory license. Learn more.

City of Seattle

Each business engaging in business activities in Seattle must obtain and annually renew a city business license unless the business activity is specifically exempted from licensing and taxes. The City regulates some business activities, requiring a regulatory endorsement in addition to the business license. Direct questions to tax@seattle.gov or call (206) 684-8484.

More details on licensing can be found on our Rules & Regulations page.

A number of City agencies are charged with ensuring compliance with City regulations by businesses and residents.

Most commercial related permits are issued by the Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections (SDCI), which is responsible for developing, administering, and enforcing standards for land use, design, construction, and housing within city limits. However, depending on the industry and intended business activities, entrepreneurs may need to obtain permits from other city agencies, such as the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), Seattle Public Utilities (SPU), or the Seattle Fire Department (SFD).

SDCI provides entrepreneurs with comprehensive information on how to obtain permits from various City departments and it is essential that entrepreneurs consult with SDCI early in the process.


Details about permits can be found on our Rules & Regulations page.

Businesses are subject to various federal, state, and local taxes. While businesses are likely to encounter all of the common taxes listed below, entrepreneurs are encouraged to consult a tax advisor and, depending upon the jurisdiction, relevant statutes.


Federal Visit the Small Business Tax Center on the IRS website for information about federal taxes and tax incentive programs, or contact the Seattle office of the IRS: (206) 220-6015; 915 Second Avenue, Seattle, WA 98174.

State Learn about state taxes on the Washington Business Hub website. The state's Department of Revenue (DOR) also has information online about filing and paying taxes, and you may contact their office at 1-800-647-7706.

King County All businesses in King County are required to file a personal property tax affidavit. For questions about the personal property tax valuation and process contact the King County Assessor's Office at (206) 296-7300.

City of Seattle For city tax information visit the City's Business License Tax page or call (206) 684-8484.

For more information on the above taxes, visit our Rules & Regulations page.

Having the right staff on your team can help ensure the success of your business.

If you choose to hire employees, you'll have additional responsibilities and requirements to uphold. Employers should consider federal, state, and local regulations.

The Seattle Office of Labor Standards provides information on the following city ordinances:

The Washington Business Hub connects you to resources to help find and train employees and comply with regulations.

The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries website helps you understand what L&I requirements apply to your business.

Find out what the IRS requires for businesses with employees.

The Office of Economic Development's small business development team is here to help you and your business connect with the resources you need. The small business team members offer technical assistance to help your business grow and compete, whether to identify financial assistance for business expansion, increase management capacity to better position you for growth, or assist your business to expand your product markets. Contact members of the business development team at the Office of Economic Development at 206-684-8090 or oed@seattle.gov.

Learn about available resources like business consulting and training opportunities on our Resources & Support page.

Industry-Focused Resources

If your business is a restaurant, food truck, or tech startup we've got these industry-specific guides for you:

RESTAURANT SUCCESS

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Follow our guide to starting or growing your restaurant or mobile food business

STARTUP SEATTLE

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Find out how to launch your tech startup and explore local resources and events