Historic and beautiful Georgia has long been known for its stunning mountain ranges, thriving cities, beautiful beaches, and diverse culture. But it’s also one of the most business-friendly states in the US, with minimal red tape and low corporate tax rates.
440 of the Fortune 500 companies along with 1.1 million small businesses call Georgia home. And with good reason. It was ranked the #1 state for business for eight consecutive years from 2013 to 2020 thanks to its business-friendly policies and diverse economic opportunities.
If you’re itching to start your own service business, then you could do no better than the state of Georgia. Read this guide to learn how to start a business in Georgia in 12 key steps.
How to start a business in Georgia
- Start with a business plan
- Choose a business name
- Check zoning requirements
- Choose a business structure
- Register your business
- Open a business bank account
- Secure small business funding
- Arrange permits and licenses
- Insure your business
- Invest in time-saving business software
- Understand your tax obligations
- Build your team
1. Start with a business plan
Every entrepreneur should start with a business plan when launching a new company. Spending the time to clearly map out your business strategy, startup costs, goals, competition, and growth plan will help set you up for success in the future, and take advantage of opportunities as they come.
A well-written business plan can help you:
- Calculate costs and ongoing business expenses
- Define business goals
- Determine your unique selling proposition (USP)
- Create a growth strategy
- Identify future customers
- Establish a sales and marketing strategy
- Identify additional revenue streams
- Secure funding and attract investments
There is a wealth of information out there to help you create a well-crafted business plan. We recommend the business plan template from the Small Business Association (SBA) to help guide your thinking. The First Stop Business Guide is also a comprehensive list of business resources for entrepreneurs owners in Georgia.
2. Choose a business name
In Georgia, sole proprietors and general partnerships can use their full, legal name(s) as their business name. Other business structures, like limited liability companies and corporations, must choose a name that conforms to Georgia’s Business Name Availability Standards.
How to name a business in Georgia
- Perform a business name search. Check to see if your preferred business name is available using the Georgia Corporations Division business search tool.
- Register your business name. If the name is available, you can claim it while registering your business.
Businesses in Georgia can also opt to use a different name to conduct business, which will require them to file for a Georgia trade name (also known as “doing business as” or “DBA”).
How to reserve a business name in Georgia
You can reserve a business name in Georgia by filing a name reservation submission and paying $25 to the Georgia Corporations Division. This is handy if you’ve found the perfect business name but you’re not quite ready to proceed with business registration just yet.
3. Check zoning requirements
Georgia’s Zoning Procedures Law states that counties and municipalities have the authority to designate their own zoning laws to manage development activities. For example, zoning for the city of Atlanta is different to zoning in Clay County.
Call your city and county clerk’s office to understand—and comply with—the zoning laws that impact your business. You’ll need to revisit this step if you change your business’s location in the future.
4. Choose a business structure
When you register a business in Georgia, you must choose a business structure, sometimes referred to as a business entity, legal structure, or legal entity.
The business structure you select for your business will impact the complexity of your startup process, the size of your business, personal liability protections, business tax registration, and more.
The most common business entity types in Georgia are:
- Sole proprietorship
- Limited liability company (LLC)
- Limited partnership (LP)
Many service providers operate as limited liability companies because of the tax flexibility and personal asset protections that this structure provides.
If you’re not sure which business structure is right for you, read our guide on business structure types and work with a CPA accounting service to make the right choice. The government of Georgia website is also a great resource for information on processes and consideration for selecting a business structure in the state.
5. Register your business
The process for registering your business in Georgia depends on your chosen legal structure.
Sole proprietors, for example, do not need to register with the state of Georgia. They do, however, need to register their business through the county and/or city in which they will operate. Check with your local chamber of commerce for specific instructions.
All limited liability companies, limited partnerships, and corporations that conduct business in Georgia are legally required to register with the Secretary of State’s office.
Here are the key steps to registering a business in Georgia:
- Elect or hire a registered agent. The registered agent can be a person or corporation, must have a physical address in Georgia. They’re responsible for processing all legal notices and government correspondences on behalf of your business. You don’t need a registered agent if you’re a sole proprietor.
- File forms and pay fees. Registration forms and filing fees will change depending on your business type. Georgia.gov has very helpful step-by-step pages for how to register as a limited liability company, a limited partnership, or a corporation.
- Set up a Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN or EIN). You’ll need an EIN (like a social security number for your business) to pay business taxes, open business bank accounts, and hire employees. You can apply for an EIN online.
- Register for Georgia’s sales and use tax. If you plan to sell certain products or real estate in Georgia, you may also need to register for and collect sales and use tax. You can find out more information about tax filing through Georgia’s Department of Revenue.
- Register for Georgia’s withholding tax. Any business that has employees must also register for a withholding payroll number.
How much does it cost to register a business in Georgia?
The cost to register a business in Georgia varies for each formal business structure. The filing fee to register a limited liability company, limited partnership, or corporation in Georgia is $100. There is an additional annual registration fee for corporations that must be paid within 90 days of incorporation. This fee is $50 for profit and professional corporations, and $30 for nonprofit corporations.
6. Open a business bank account
Opening a business bank account is a good idea for almost all entrepreneurs, and is often a requirement for most types of businesses. Doing so helps you keep your personal and business finances separate, and it makes bookkeeping, business accounting, and paying taxes a whole lot easier.
You’ll need an EIN to open a business bank account. You may also need a trade name certification and the owner’s drivers license, depending on your business structure.
A business checking account is perfect for day-to-day transactions, while a business savings account can be used to set aside profits and funds for future tax payments. You can also apply for a business credit card or credit account to help you build a credit score for your company. Just don’t forget to pay it back every month.
7. Arrange permits and licenses
Depending on the products or services you’re offering, you may need to apply for licenses and business permits at the federal, state, and local levels. Which ones you need to apply to will depend on your niche, location, and the nature of your business.
Here’s where to look at each level of government.
- Federal level. Check the SBA’s licenses and permits page.
- State level. The state of Georgia does not require a general business license. Once a business is registered through Georgia’s Secretary of State’s Corporate Division, they are legally entitled to operate anywhere in the state. Depending on your business, you may need specific professional licenses or seller’s permits at the state-level.
- County level. You should also check in with the Chamber of Commerce in your area to learn about specific licenses and permits that may be required in your county.
- Local level. Under Georgia business law, most business licenses and permits are mandated at the municipal level. We recommend checking in with your town hall and local government for information specific to your area.
8. Secure small business funding
Unless you’re fully self-funded (kudos if you are!), your service business will likely need a bit of startup financing. This is where your business plan will come in handy. It will give you an idea of how much money you need to launch your business. And you’ll need it to demonstrate a clear path to profitability when you apply for local, state, and federal loans and grants from the governments and financial institutions.
The Office of the Secretary of State in Georgia does not provide grants for starting small businesses. But, there are a variety of financing opportunities at the local, state, and federal levels, and through private organizations.
At the state level, Georgia’s Department of Economic Development Small Business offers a wealth of information on various business grants and loans available in the state.
You can also secure a private source of funding via:
- Equity partners
- Friend or family loans
- Small business loan
- Financing for business owners
- Angel investors
Only some service business owners can benefit from small business financing. Get in touch with a few local lenders to find out what popular funding options and business loans are available to you.
9. Insure your business
Most service businesses need some kind of business insurance. Depending on the type of work you do, and the number of employees you have, extra insurance might even be a legal requirement.
For example, the state of Georgia requires all employers with three or more employees to carry workers’ compensation coverage. Businesses-owned vehicles in Georgia must also carry automobile insurance. And many licenses, registrations, and permits at the federal, state, and local levels also carry insurance requirements.
10. Invest in business software
There’s nothing better than finding efficiencies early when you start a new business. Automating repetitive and time-consuming tasks will free you up to focus on what’s most impactful for your business and your companies.
There are a wide range of business software applications out there that can help with different areas of your business.
Automate the following back-office tasks with business software:
- Invoicing. Generate and send invoices in seconds with free invoicing software. Accept credit card payments online and save you and your clients time.
- Scheduling. Streamline your appointment booking, tracking, and reminders with tools like Calendly and TidyCal.
- Review management. Generate social proof for your business by soliciting feedback from happy customers. Durable’s review management software can help you automate thereview collection process.
- Customer relationship management. Track your interactions with existing and potential clients so that you can deliver personalization and value at the right time. Durable’s CRM automates many different customer interactions, helping you stay organized and top-of-mind.
11. Understand your tax obligations
Staying on top of your tax obligations is a must for any business. In addition to your personal tax return that you’ll have to file in Georgia, your service business will also have tax obligations at every level of government.
Here are some key business tax obligations in Georgia:
- Sales and use tax. You likely need to collect sales and use tax, and remit it to Georgia’s Department of Revenue.
- Withholding tax. If your business has employees, you’re also subject to withholding tax, which requires you to withhold a portion of your payroll contributions to remit as employee taxes.
- Corporate income and net worth tax. Businesses that operate as a corporation may also have to pay a net worth tax in exchange for the privilege of doing business in Georgia. Corporations with a net worth under $100,000 are not subject to any fees, but must file a tax return.
- Fuel, alcohol, and tobacco taxes. If your business sells and/or produces motor fuel, alcohol or tobacco in Georgia, you will also have to pay taxes on those goods, in addition to holding the appropriate licenses.
Tax codes can be complicated. The best way to make sure you’re meeting all of your tax obligations is to work with a CPA who specializes in your business niche.
12. Build a team
Every business owner needs help sometimes, but hiring full time employees is a big commitment and a significant additional expense. That’s why most service businesses hire independent contractors when they first begin to scale.
When it's time to bring on full- or part-time employees, make sure that your business is compliant with all employer regulations and labor laws at the state and federal levels before you start hiring.
Here are some key employer responsibilities in Georgia:
- Obtain an EIN. You need an EIN to hire employees.
- Understand your obligations. Georgia’s Department of Labor has a detailed web page that breaks down all labor laws and rules governing employers and employer taxes in the state, including things like compensation insurance.
- Verify employee eligibility. You’ll need to verify that your potential hires are eligible to work in the United States by having them fill out this form.
- Report new hires. You are required to report all new hires to your business in Georgia via the State New Hire Reporting System.
Run and grow your Georgia business with Durable
Not only is Georgia a stunningly beautiful and temperate state, it’s also one of the best places in the US to run a business. If you have a great business idea and are ready to make the leap into entrepreneurship, follow the instructions in this step guide to start your business in Georgia.
Once your business is set up, stick around and give Durable a try. Durable is an all-in-one platform with everything you need to start, run, 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!
This guide is to be used for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, business, or tax advice. Each person should consult their own attorney, business advisor, or tax advisor with respect to matters referenced in this post. Durable assumes no liability for actions taken in reliance upon the information contained herein.