How to Start a Business in Wisconsin

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starting a business in wisconsin

Thinking of starting a business and looking for an ideal location? Look no further than the picturesque state of Wisconsin. Nestled in the heart of the Midwest, Wisconsin offers a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem that fosters innovation, supports small businesses, and provides a high quality of life for its residents. Whether you’re dreaming of opening a cozy café, launching a tech startup, or pursuing any other business venture, Wisconsin has much to offer aspiring entrepreneurs. In this article, we’ll explore the advantages of starting a business in Wisconsin, from its robust economy and favorable business climate to its skilled workforce and strong sense of community.

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Why Wisconsin is an Ideal Place to Start a Small Business

Wisconsin provides a myriad of reasons why it is an excellent place to start a small business. Firstly, the state boasts a diverse and resilient economy, with key industries such as manufacturing, agriculture, healthcare, and information technology driving its growth. This economic diversity ensures that entrepreneurs have access to a broad customer base and numerous business opportunities.

Additionally, Wisconsin is known for its pro-business environment, offering various incentives, tax credits, and grants to help small businesses thrive. The state government actively supports entrepreneurship, providing resources and assistance through organizations like the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), which offers funding, mentorship programs, and networking opportunities to help startups succeed.

With over 440,000 small businesses operating across the state, accounting for 99.4% of all businesses, Wisconsin has established itself as a hub for entrepreneurial endeavors. These small businesses employ nearly 1.2 million people, accounting for 48.8% of the private-sector workforce in Wisconsin.

Steps to Start a Business in Wisconsin

  1. Get a Business Idea That’s a Good Fit For You
  2. Research the Idea and Draft a Business Plan
  3. Get Funding – Venture Capital, Angel Investors, Friends & Family, or Bootstrap It Yourself
  4. Decide on a Legal Business Entity – LLC’s Are Simplest and Offer the Most Protection
  5. Search the Wisconsin Secretary of State for an Available Business Name
  6. Register Your LLC
  7. Find a Wisconsin Registered Agent
  8. Get Your Federal EIN and Wisconsin Tax ID
  9. Open a Business Bank Account and Business Credit Card
  10. Get the Needed Wisconsin Licenses and Permits
  11. Choose a Location
  12. Get Business Insurance
  13. Develop an Internet Presence

Get A Business Idea (That’s a Good Fit For You)

Are you considering starting a business in Wisconsin but struggling to come up with the perfect business idea? Don’t worry, because inspiration is just around the corner. Finding a business idea that aligns with your skills, passions, and the local market is crucial for success. In this article, we’ll explore strategies to help you discover a business idea that’s a perfect fit for you and the vibrant business landscape of Wisconsin.

small business ideas in wisconsin

One effective approach to generating a business idea is to identify your passions and hobbies. Think about the activities you enjoy and the skills you possess. Are you a food enthusiast with a knack for baking? Consider opening a specialty bakery or a food truck showcasing Wisconsin’s famous dairy products. Are you an outdoor enthusiast with a passion for adventure? Explore opportunities in the state’s thriving tourism industry by starting an eco-tourism company, guiding visitors through Wisconsin’s picturesque landscapes and natural attractions.

Another strategy is to analyze the local market and identify gaps or unmet needs. Observe the communities in Wisconsin and take note of what products or services are in demand. Are there particular industries that are growing rapidly? Conduct market research to determine if there are underserved niches or untapped markets that align with your skills and expertise. For instance, if you notice a rising demand for sustainable products and services, you could start an eco-friendly retail store or offer green consulting services.

Lastly, don’t underestimate the power of networking and seeking advice from local entrepreneurs and business associations in Wisconsin. Attend industry events, join business networking groups, and engage with the entrepreneurial community. Talking to experienced professionals can provide valuable insights into emerging trends, untapped opportunities, and potential business ideas that you may not have considered.

Remember, finding the right business idea takes time and exploration. By combining your passions, market research, and local insights, you’ll be well on your way to discovering a business idea that’s not only a good fit for you but also has the potential to thrive in the dynamic business landscape of Wisconsin.

Fueling Your Business Venture: Securing Funding in Wisconsin

When it comes to funding your new business venture in Wisconsin, there are several options available to entrepreneurs. One avenue to explore is local venture capital firms. Wisconsin is home to several venture capital firms that actively invest in promising startups and innovative ideas. Firms such as Venture Investors, Wisconsin Investment Partners, and Rock River Capital Partners have a strong presence in the state and provide funding to early-stage and growth-stage companies. Research these firms, understand their investment criteria, and consider reaching out to pitch your business idea. Building relationships with local venture capital firms can not only provide access to capital but also valuable guidance and connections within the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

wisconsin business funding

In addition to venture capital firms, Wisconsin offers various state resources that can help entrepreneurs secure funding. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) provides programs and initiatives designed to support business growth and innovation. This includes funding options such as grants, loans, and tax incentives.

The WEDC’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation team offers guidance and assistance to entrepreneurs at all stages of their business journey. They can help navigate funding opportunities, connect you with other state resources, and provide access to networks and mentorship programs. Exploring these state resources can significantly enhance your chances of securing funding for your new business venture in Wisconsin.

Furthermore, it’s worth exploring local business competitions and pitch events that are often organized in Wisconsin. These events offer opportunities to showcase your business idea to potential investors, including angel investors and business development organizations. Not only can these events provide exposure for your venture, but they may also lead to funding opportunities and valuable connections. Keep an eye out for startup pitch competitions, entrepreneurship forums, and innovation showcases happening in your area.

By leveraging the local venture capital firms, state resources, and participating in business competitions, entrepreneurs in Wisconsin can increase their chances of securing the funding needed to fuel their new business ventures and take them to the next level.

Choosing the Right Business Structure for Your New Venture in Wisconsin

When starting a new business venture in Wisconsin, it’s important to choose the right business structure that aligns with your goals, liabilities, and taxation preferences. There are several options to consider, including a sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, and limited liability company (LLC).

Sole Proprietorship

A sole proprietorship is the simplest and most common form of business structure. It involves a single individual owning and operating the business. While it offers ease of setup and complete control over decision-making, the owner is personally liable for the business’s debts and legal obligations.


A partnership is a business structure that involves two or more individuals sharing ownership and responsibility. Partnerships can be general partnerships or limited partnerships. In a general partnership, all partners are equally liable for the business’s obligations. In a limited partnership, there are general partners who have unlimited liability and limited partners who have limited liability based on their investment.


A corporation is a separate legal entity from its owners. It offers limited liability protection to its shareholders, meaning their personal assets are generally not at risk for business debts and liabilities. Corporations have more complex administrative and reporting requirements, and they are subject to double taxation—taxes at both the corporate level and individual level on dividends.

Limited Liability Company (LLC)

Now, let’s talk about the highly recommended business structure: the limited liability company (LLC). An LLC combines the liability protection of a corporation with the flexibility and simplicity of a partnership. It offers limited liability to its owners (referred to as members) while allowing for pass-through taxation, where the business’s profits and losses are reported on the members’ personal tax returns. LLCs are relatively easy to set up and maintain, with fewer formalities and administrative requirements compared to corporations. They provide flexibility in terms of management structure, ownership, and profit distribution. Additionally, an LLC can be owned by a single individual or have multiple members, making it suitable for a variety of business ventures.

While the choice of business structure depends on your specific circumstances and goals, forming an LLC is often recommended due to its liability protection, tax advantages, and operational flexibility. However, it’s essential to consult with a legal and financial professional to evaluate your unique situation and determine the best structure for your new venture in Wisconsin.

Registering your Wisconsin LLC

LLC’s are the easiest business structure to start and also to maintain. With fewer headaches than any other business structure, you can simply form an LLC with six easy steps.

  1. Choose a Name For Your LLC
  2. Choose a Registered Agent
  3. File Your LLC With Your State
  4. Complete the State Publication Requirement
  5. Create an LLC Operating Agreement
  6. Receive an EIN

Naming Your Wisconsin LLC

Choosing a compelling and unique name for your Wisconsin LLC is an important step in establishing your brand identity and attracting customers. When selecting a name, consider factors such as relevance to your business, memorability, and legal compliance.

Select a unique and distinguishable name for your LLC that complies with Wisconsin’s naming requirements. The name must include the phrase “Limited Liability Company,” or its abbreviation, “LLC.” Before finalizing your name, you can conduct a search on the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) website to ensure its availability.

wisconsin business name search
Click here to search the Wisconsin Secretary of State to see if your business name is available

When conducting your LLC name search through the WSS’s database, it’s essential to search for both exact matches and variations of your desired name to minimize the risk of confusion. Additionally, consider including a unique element or keyword related to your business to make your LLC name stand out. Once you have determined an available name, it is recommended to reserve it promptly by filing the necessary formation documents with the WSS.

Choosing a Registered Agent in Wisconsin

Choosing a registered agent is a critical decision when forming an LLC in Wisconsin. A registered agent is a designated individual or entity responsible for receiving important legal and official documents on behalf of the LLC, such as tax notices and legal notices. When selecting a registered agent, it is crucial to choose a reliable and trustworthy party that will promptly handle and forward such documents to you. You can opt to act as your own registered agent or enlist the services of a professional registered agent service, which can offer expertise, privacy, and convenience. Examples of reputable registered agent services in Wisconsin include:

  1. Northwest Registered Agent: Known for their reliable and efficient service, Northwest Registered Agent provides registered agent services in Wisconsin and across the United States. They offer a secure online portal, excellent customer support, and a commitment to privacy and compliance.
  2. LegalZoom: As a well-known legal service provider, LegalZoom offers registered agent services in Wisconsin. They have a user-friendly platform, competitive pricing, and a range of additional business formation services to support entrepreneurs.
  3. Incfile: Incfile is another popular choice for registered agent services in Wisconsin. They provide affordable options, fast document processing, and a user-friendly platform with helpful resources for LLC formation and compliance.

Filing an LLC in Wisconsin

Filing an LLC in Wisconsin involves a straightforward process that can be completed through the Wisconsin Secretary of State (WSS). OR, you can use a professional service and get it done for you.

To begin, you need to choose a unique and available name for your LLC and appoint a registered agent. Then, you’ll need to file the Articles of Organization with the WSS, providing essential details about your LLC, such as its name, purpose, registered agent, and management structure. There is a filing fee associated with the Articles of Organization.

Once your LLC is approved and registered by the WSS, it is important to fulfill any additional requirements, such as obtaining necessary licenses and permits, creating an operating agreement, and meeting ongoing compliance obligations. The WSS website provides comprehensive resources and forms to guide you through the LLC formation process, ensuring that you establish your business entity in compliance with Wisconsin laws and regulations.

Creating an LLC Operating Agreement in Wisconsin

While Wisconsin law does not require an LLC operating agreement, having one in place is highly recommended. This document outlines the rights, responsibilities, and relationships among LLC members, establishes rules for decision-making, profit distribution, and member withdrawals or additions.

It helps prevent disputes and provides clarity in operating procedures, ensuring smooth operations and protecting the interests of all members. When drafting an operating agreement, consider consulting with legal professionals to tailor it to your specific needs, address any unique circumstances, and ensure compliance with Wisconsin laws.

Getting an EIN in Wisconsin

An EIN is a unique nine-digit number assigned to businesses for tax purposes. Wisconsin-based businesses can apply for an EIN online through the IRS website or by mail or fax using Form SS-4. The EIN is required for various purposes, including hiring employees, opening business bank accounts, and filing taxes.

When applying, be prepared to provide information about your business, such as its legal structure, the reason for applying, and the responsible party’s details. Obtaining an EIN is free of charge, and the online application process typically provides an instant EIN upon completion.

Set up Business Banking, Credit Cards, and Accounting in Wisconsin

Opening a Business Bank Account

Opening a dedicated business bank account is a fundamental step in managing your business finances effectively. By separating your personal and business funds, you ensure accurate bookkeeping and streamline financial transactions.

To open a business bank account, start by researching different banks and credit unions in Wisconsin to find one that suits your business needs. Prepare the necessary documentation, such as your business formation documents, EIN, and identification proofs. Visit the bank branch or complete an online application, providing the required information.

Once your account is open, you can deposit business income, pay bills, and easily track your business expenses, improving financial organization and simplifying tax reporting.

Getting a Business Credit Card

Obtaining a business credit card offers several advantages for your Wisconsin-based business. It allows for separate tracking of business expenses, helps build a credit history for your company, and provides a convenient means of making purchases.

Start by researching credit card options specifically designed for businesses, comparing features, rewards programs, and interest rates. Submit an application, providing the necessary business and personal information. The issuer may evaluate your creditworthiness and may require a personal guarantee, especially for new businesses. Once approved, use your business credit card responsibly, making timely payments and keeping track of expenses.

By utilizing a business credit card, you can better manage cash flow, earn rewards, and establish a credit profile that may be beneficial for future financing needs.

Setting up Business Accounting

Proper business accounting is essential for tracking income, expenses, and overall financial health. Establishing a system to manage your business’s financial records helps ensure compliance with tax regulations and provides valuable insights into your company’s performance.

Consider using accounting software or hiring an accountant to help set up your business accounting system. Track revenue and expenses, reconcile bank statements, and categorize transactions accurately. Keep all relevant documents and receipts organized for easy reference during tax season. Regularly review your financial statements, such as profit and loss statements and balance sheets, to gain a comprehensive understanding of your business’s financial standing.

By maintaining accurate and up-to-date accounting records, you can make informed business decisions, identify areas for improvement, and demonstrate financial stability to potential investors or lenders.

Get Business Insurance

Getting business insurance is a critical step in protecting your Wisconsin-based business from potential risks and liabilities. Business insurance provides coverage for various scenarios, including property damage, liability claims, and business interruption.

To secure the right insurance coverage, begin by assessing your business’s specific needs and potential risks. Research insurance providers in Wisconsin that specialize in business insurance and compare policies, coverage options, and premiums. Consult with an insurance agent or broker who can help tailor a policy to your business’s unique requirements.

By obtaining appropriate business insurance, you can safeguard your assets, mitigate financial risks, and have peace of mind as you navigate the entrepreneurial landscape in Wisconsin.

Get Necessary Permits and Licenses

The specific licenses and permits required depend on the nature of your business and its location. To ensure compliance with state and local regulations, research the licenses and permits relevant to your industry and operations.

The Wisconsin Department of Revenue and the Wisconsin Secretary of State’s Office are valuable resources for identifying the required licenses and permits. Contact the appropriate government agencies or visit their websites to understand the application process and any associated fees.

By securing the necessary licenses and permits, you can operate your business legally, avoid potential penalties, and build a solid foundation for success in the vibrant business environment of Wisconsin.

Hire Employees

When growing your new business in Wisconsin, hiring employees can be a significant milestone. Before bringing on staff, it’s important to understand the legal obligations and requirements involved.

Familiarize yourself with federal and state labor laws, including minimum wage and employment eligibility verification. Craft comprehensive job descriptions, create an effective recruitment strategy, and establish fair employment practices. When hiring, consider conducting background checks, completing necessary paperwork such as Form I-9 and Form W-4, and enrolling in workers’ compensation insurance.

By adhering to proper hiring procedures and staying compliant with employment regulations, you can build a talented and legally compliant workforce for your Wisconsin business.

Build Your Web Presence

Building a strong web presence is crucial for your new business in Wisconsin to reach a wider audience and attract customers.

Start by creating a professional website that reflects your brand and showcases your products or services. Optimize your website for search engines using relevant keywords and quality content. Leverage social media platforms to engage with your target audience and build a community around your brand. Claim your business listings on online directories and review sites to enhance visibility. Consider investing in online advertising to drive targeted traffic to your website. Regularly update your web presence with fresh content and respond to customer inquiries promptly.

By establishing a robust online presence, you can establish credibility, expand your reach, and effectively market your business to the digital-savvy consumers of Wisconsin and beyond.

Promote and Market Your Business

Promoting and marketing your new business in Wisconsin is essential for creating awareness, attracting customers, and establishing a strong foothold in the market. By utilizing various marketing channels and strategies, you can effectively reach your target audience and drive business growth. Here are some key areas to focus on:

Press Releases

Crafting and distributing press releases can help generate media coverage and increase brand visibility for your Wisconsin business. Develop newsworthy stories about your company, such as product launches, milestones, or community involvement, and send them to local newspapers, industry-specific publications, and online news platforms. A well-written press release can create buzz and generate valuable publicity, driving traffic to your website and enhancing your business’s reputation.


Facebook is a powerful social media platform for promoting your Wisconsin business. Create a business page and engage with your audience by sharing informative and engaging content, including updates, offers, and behind-the-scenes glimpses. Utilize Facebook’s advertising tools to target specific demographics and locations in Wisconsin, maximizing the reach of your marketing efforts. Encourage customer reviews and testimonials to build trust and credibility, and actively participate in relevant Facebook groups and communities to expand your network and reach new potential customers.


Utilizing video marketing through YouTube can be a highly effective way to showcase your products or services and engage with your audience. Create informative and engaging videos that highlight the unique aspects of your Wisconsin business. These could include tutorials, product demonstrations, or behind-the-scenes footage. Optimize your videos for search engines by using relevant keywords in titles, descriptions, and tags. Engage with your audience through comments and encourage them to subscribe to your channel, building a loyal community around your brand.

Google My Business

Claiming and optimizing your Google My Business (GMB) listing is crucial for local visibility and attracting customers in Wisconsin. Complete your profile with accurate and up-to-date information, including business hours, contact details, and website links. Encourage customers to leave reviews on your GMB listing, as positive reviews can enhance your online reputation and improve your local search rankings. Regularly post updates, events, and special offers on your GMB profile to keep it fresh and engaging. Utilize GMB’s Insights to gain valuable data on how customers are finding and interacting with your business.

In addition to these channels, consider other digital marketing strategies such as search engine optimization (SEO), email marketing, and paid online advertising. Tailor your marketing approach to your target audience, measure the effectiveness of your campaigns through analytics, and continually refine your strategies to maximize results. By implementing a comprehensive and strategic marketing plan, you can effectively promote your Wisconsin business, attract customers, and achieve long-term success.