When your state is home to both Budweiser and barbeque, it’s tough to be known for anything else. But Missouri is trying its best—with a low corporate tax rate and the seventh lowest cost of living in the country, the gateway to the south is an excellent choice if you want to start a small business.
Whether you prefer to paddle the Ozarks or float down the Mississippi, all you have to do to start a business in Missouri is follow our step-by-step guide.
Checklist: start a business in Missouri
- Create a business plan
- Name your business
- Check zoning requirements
- Choose a business structure
- Register your business
- Open business bank accounts
- Get startup funding
- Acquire licenses and permits
- Choose business insurance
- Invest in business software
- Understand your tax obligations
- Grow your team
How to start a business in Missouri
1. Create a business plan
Careful planning is the best way to stay focused on your goals as your service business takes off. Starting a business can get hectic, so a business plan is essential to keeping your startup operation on track.
Your business plan will allow you to:
- Validate your business idea
- Calculate your startup costs
- Define short- and long-term business goals
- Assess your competition
- Conceive growth strategies
- Define your potential customers
- Develop a marketing plan
- Identify additional revenue streams
- Secure investment funding
While writing your business plan is not a complicated task, it can be helpful to have a template that keeps you heading in the right direction. You can find a free business plan template and other business resources from MOSourceLink and the Small Business Administration (SBA).
2. Name your business
Sole proprietorships and general partnerships in Missouri can operate under the legal name(s) of the business owner(s). Different business structures, such as limited liability companies(LLCs) and corporations, need to register a unique business name that conforms to the Missouri entity naming requirements.
No matter what your business structure is, if you’d like to do business under a name other than your registered name, you can apply for a fictitious name (also known as a “doing business as” (DBA) or “trade name” in some states).Read the complete guide to fictitious name registration.
How to name a business in Missouri
- Run a name search. Check if the business name is available using the Missouri Business Entity Search.
- Register the name. If the name is available, claim it when you register your business with the Secretary of State.
How to reserve a business name in Missouri
You can reserve a business name in Missouri for up to 180 days by following the instructions in the Starting a New Business guide. This is a good option if you’ve found the perfect business name but you’re not ready to move ahead with the registration process just yet.
3. Check zoning requirements
Zoning laws are almost certain to affect your business location and what kinds of work can be done at any given physical address. Even mobile businesses and home-based businesses can be impacted by zoning. Zoning keeps harmful or disruptive industries away from residential and commercial areas, so it’s important that you understand the zoning that applies to your business’s physical address and how it might affect your operation.
In Missouri, zoning is administered by municipalities and counties—the state government does not control zoning. You will need to check with your local governments to acquire the appropriate zoning information. For example, if your business address is in Kansas City, you will need to consult the City of Kansas Zoning and Development Code.
4. Choose a business structure
Every business in Missouri has to choose a legal structure that governs how the organization is managed and taxed, how profits are shared, and more. In some states, this is called a business structure, legal structure, or legal entity.
A comprehensive guide to business entities in Missouri is available from the Secretary of State, so read up before talking to a CPA or business attorney for help deciding which one is best for you.
Missouri offers these business entities:
- Sole proprietorship
- General partnership
- Subchapter-S corporation status
- Close corporation
- Professional corporation
- Limited liability company (LLC)
- Limited partnership (LP)
- Limited liability partnership (LLP)
- Limited liability limited partnership (LLLP)
For more information on business entities, check out our guide to business structure types.
5. Register your business
For a complete look at what it takes to start a business in Missouri, work through the Missouri Small Business Startup Guide.
Here are the steps you can expect to take:
- Elect or hire a registered agent. This is an individual or corporation who is responsible for receiving and distributing legal communications on behalf of your business. Learn more about registered agents from the Missouri Secretary of State.
- File registration forms and pay the filing fee. Depending on your chosen business entity, you can likely complete this step via the Missouri Secretary of State’s online registration portal.
- Apply for a Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN or EIN). This is a federal tax registration number that you can obtain from the IRS. An EIN allows you to pay taxes, set up business bank accounts, and hire employees.
- Business tax registration. You’ll need to register with the Missouri Department of Revenue to pay business taxes.
- Employment registration. If you intend to hire employees you will need to register with the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations Divison of Employment Security.
Business formation is a tricky process that involves plenty of paperwork, legal documents, and confusing jargon. Unless you really know what you’re doing, it’s a good idea to hire a CPA or business registration service to help you.
How much does it cost to register a business in Missouri?
Business registration fees in Missouri start at $25 and vary depending on the type of business you want to set up. For a comprehensive list of business registration fees in Missouri, check the fee schedule from the Missouri Secretary of State.
6. Open business bank accounts
Most business owners are legally required to keep personal assets and business assets separate. You can do that by managing your business finances in business bank accounts.
Although sole proprietors and general partners can manage business finance in their personal bank account, it’s still a good idea to manage business expenses in dedicated business accounts—it’ll save you plenty of headaches come tax time.
To open a business bank account, you’ll need the EIN you got from the IRS, which works like a social security number for your business.
Be sure to open a business checking account for day-to-day transactions and a business savings account to set aside profits or save for tax time. A business credit card can also help you build your business’s credit score over time. Just make sure to pay off your credit accounts on time every month and avoid credit-card related business debts where possible.
7. Get startup funding
Depending on your niche, your startup and ongoing business costs may be very low—or extremely high. If you have enough cash to cover your registration and business startup costs, you’re well on your way to becoming a business owner. But if you need a little extra funding to get the ball rolling, there are options available to you.
Consider the following small business funding in Missouri:
- Equity partners
- Friend or family loan
- Small business bank loan
- Missouri small business loan
- Missouri Small Business Grant Program
- Special grants like the Amber Grant for Women
- SBA loan or grant
- Angel investment
Don’t forget to calculate your capital requirements when you are writing your business plan so that you’re ready to act on funding opportunities whenever and wherever they arise.
8. Acquire licenses and permits
Missouri does not require business owners to obtain a state business license, as licensing has been replaced by business tax registration. However, you probably need a business license from your city or county government, so always check with your county or city clerk. Your local government may also require additional licenses or permits depending on your industry.
For example, if your business is agricultural, licensing and permits are handled by the Missouri Department of Agriculture. Professionals such as accountants, cosmetologists, and veterinarians require a license from the Missouri Divison of Professional Registration.
For federal regulation, check the SBA’s licenses and permits page.
9. Choose business insurance
Even if your new business will have nothing to steal or damage, you still need insurance to protect you from legal liability. Your business entity may provide you with some personal asset protection and personal liability protection, but adequate business insurance is the only way to be sure you are covered.
You are likely to require one or more of these insurance policies:
- Worker’s compensation coverage. Required if you intend to hire employees.
- Property insurance. Make sure your place of business is covered.
- Automobile insurance. If you drive your own commercial vehicle for work, it needs to be appropriately insured.
- Professional liability insurance. Liability protection is generally a great idea for service providers. Protect your personal assets and professional assets in case of claims of negligence, copyright infringement, personal injury, malpractice, and other unexpected legal action.
Work with a business insurance broker to determine which types of insurance are best for your business type.
The Missouri Department of Insurance provides a convenient home for insurance information related to small businesses. You can also read more about insurance in our guide to business insurance.
10. Invest in business software
Even the most hands-on work can benefit from software to automate business processes, keep cash flowing, and build toward future success.
Software can streamline many aspects of your service business:
- Invoicing. Automate the invoice process and and accept credit card payments online with Durable’s free invoice maker. It’s more convenient for you and your clients.
- Accounting and payroll. Business accounting software can save you, your bookkeeper, and your CPA a huge amount of time and headaches. Ditch the shoebox and manage your books in Xero (paid) or Wave (free).
- Review management. Durable’s review management tool will help you build a good name for your business by sourcing positive reviews and dealing with customer issues before they can become problematic.
- Customer relation management. Knowing your customers’ needs is one of the keys to your success. Durable’s customer relationship management (CRM) platform lets you track your client interactions so you can deliver whatever they need, whenever they need it, automatically. Best of all, it’s free.
- Scheduling. If your business depends on booking appointments and prompt attendance, you know that scheduling is essential. Take the human errors out of scheduling with an automated tool like Calendly or MeetFox.
Also, remember that your business is special and may have a specific business function that can be improved with software—don’t hesitate to look online, because there’s a good chance someone has created a tool that can help.
11. Understand your tax obligations
If you’re not an accountant, you should work with a CPA to understand the taxes that you’ll need to collect and remit to the appropriate levels of Missouri government. Professional expertise is likely to pay off in the long run.
Here are some key business tax obligations in Missouri:
- Income tax. The corporate income tax rate in Missouri is 4%.
- Sales tax. It’s part of the business registration process, but don’t forget that you need to pay business tax.
- Employer withholding tax. You must withhold income tax from your employees if you have them.
- Local tax. Many cities and local governments levy additional taxes, such as the 1% earnings tax in St. Louis. Be sure to check with your local tax office.
- Product tax. If you plan to sell products, note that some products are accompanied by an additional tax, such as the liquor tax administered by the Department of Public Safety Alcohol & Tobacco Control.
12. Grow your team
As your small business finds success, you may want to expand your operation by adding to your team. Since hiring part- or full-time employees can be complicated, it may suit your needs to work with independent contractors at first.
Once you’ve decided that you do need employees, make sure you have the appropriate registrations set up before you start hiring and ensure that you’re compliant with all employment laws and labor laws at state and federal levels.
Here are some key employer responsibilities in Missouri:
- Obtain an EIN. As part of the registration process, you are likely to have covered this already but don’t forget that you must have an EIN from the federal government to hire employees.
- Work through the Quick Guide for New Employers. The Missouri Department of Labor & Industrial Relations provides a guide for new employers that outlines everything you need to do before hiring your first employee.
- Verify employee eligibility. When you get close to hiring, you’ll need to verify that potential employees are eligible to work in the United States by having them fill out this form.
This list is not exhaustive. Work with a business attorney or CPA to make sure you have everything in order before you hire your first employee.
Once your Missouri business is set up, stick around and give Durable a try. Durable is a free platform with everything you need to start and grow a service business. Build your business website in minutes, and make invoicing, customer management, and review management a breeze.
Try Durable today—it’s free!