Starting a Business in Hawaii: 8 Essential Steps

Panorama view of Cityscape and Tantalus Hill in Waikiki, Honolulu, Oahu Island, Hawaii

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Swyft Filings is committed to providing accurate, reliable information to help you make informed decisions for your business. That's why our content is written and edited by professional editors, writers, and subject matter experts. Learn more about how Swyft Filings works, our editorial team and standards, what our customers think of us, and more on our trust page.

Kevin McGrath
Written by Kevin McGrath
Written byKevin McGrath
Updated November 08, 2023
Edited by Carlos Serrano
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If you’ve ever dreamed of entrepreneurial independence, setting up a business in Hawaii could be your ticket to professional freedom. As a testament to this, the U.S. Small Business Administration reported that small businesses represented 99.3% of all Hawaii businesses.[1] Incorporating your small business in Hawaii can be done successfully with proper planning and guidance.

Start Operating in Hawaii: Key Points

  1. Drafting a comprehensive business plan is crucial to starting a business in Hawaii. This should include an industry analysis specific to the Hawaiian market, well-defined business objectives, revenue and expense projections, and a marketing strategy.

  2. Picking an appropriate business structure is essential as it influences your operations, taxation, and liability. Understanding the state's unique tax system, the General Excise Tax (GET), is crucial for compliance and financial planning.

  3. It's essential to open a dedicated business bank account to keep personal and business finances separate. This offers better financial tracking, makes accounting easier, and adds a level of professionalism to your business.

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Ready to Start a Hawaii Business?

Has the vision of operating your own small business in Hawaii begun to captivate your entrepreneurial spirit? Embracing the role of a business owner in the Aloha State is an adventure in itself, but one that requires careful planning and understanding. 

Although setting up a business in Hawaii may seem daunting, especially for novice entrepreneurs, it can be an achievable goal. Hawaii, with its unique blend of cultures and vibrant economy, provides a stimulating environment for fresh ideas and ventures to flourish. 

However, a successful journey to business ownership requires more than just a promising idea. You will need a good understanding of crucial stages like incorporation and acquiring necessary permits and licenses.

1. Choose a Business Idea

Whether you already have your business idea or are still in the quest for one, this is a critical step that sets the stage for your entrepreneurial journey. Honing a solid concept or a profound passion into a viable business is often the cornerstone of lasting success.

For those still in search of that breakthrough concept, don’t worry. Finding a rewarding business idea often involves introspection, market awareness, and an eye for opportunity. 

There are many paths to explore, whether it’s finding sparks of entrepreneurial inspiration, embracing the growing wave of eco-conscious business ventures, or targeting services for the emerging college graduate demographic. These explorations could lead you to your dream business in Hawaii.

To begin, here are some questions to help you explore your interests, skills, and the market needs:

  1. What skills or talents do I possess that others may find valuable?

  2. Are there any problems in my community that I am uniquely qualified to solve?

  3. What trends in Hawaii could influence a new business?

  4. What products or services do I wish existed?

  5. How can my passions intersect with market needs?

  6. How much time can I realistically dedicate to this business venture?

  7. What unique angle can I bring to an existing market?

  8. Is there a specific target audience who would benefit most from my business idea?

  9. Can this business idea withstand changes in the economy or technology?

  10. What would it take to start the business on a small scale?

2. Draft a Hawaii Business Plan

Starting a new business in Hawaii calls for more than just an idea. It necessitates a meticulously prepared business plan. This crucial document will pave the way for your business needs, help you navigate the startup process, and facilitate a smooth business formation. Entrepreneurs who overlook this stage often find themselves facing unnecessary obstacles. 

Here are the basic steps to help you kickstart your Hawaii business plan:

Perform An Industry Analysis

Conducting an industry analysis is the cornerstone of a successful business plan. It enables you to grasp the nuances of the Hawaiian market, such as customer preferences, competition, and regulations unique to the region. 

Start by gathering data on the size of the market, your potential competitors, and the needs and behaviors of the consumers. Collect information on local culture and environment to identify market gaps your business can fill using resources like industry reports, surveys, and observations.

Define Your Business Objectives

Defining the objectives for your business is crucial for guiding your operations and attracting investors and partners. Start by articulating your mission statement; it should summarize what your company does, who it serves, and why it exists. After establishing the mission, break it down into achievable short-term and long-term goals. These could range from revenue milestones to expanding product lines or entering new markets within Hawaii. 

Project Revenue & Expenses

A crucial part of any business plan is a financial forecast that includes projected revenues, expenses, and cash flow. Utilize historical data, market research, and educated assumptions to create a realistic yet ambitious financial model for your business. Consider startup costs, operating expenses, and revenue streams unique to Hawaii. It’s often helpful to prepare several scenarios (e.g., conservative, expected, and optimistic) to give yourself and potential investors a comprehensive financial picture.

Map Out Your Marketing Strategy

A comprehensive marketing strategy is essential for customer engagement and business growth, especially in a competitive market like Hawaii. Identify your target customer demographics and consider how best to reach them — be it through social media, local partnerships, or traditional advertising channels. Lay out strategies for customer acquisition, retention, and loyalty programs. 

Discuss how you plan to differentiate yourself from competitors and the unique selling propositions that make your business stand out. Also, consider seasonality and tourism trends in Hawaii, as these could significantly affect your marketing plan.

By adhering to these steps, you'll be well on your way to creating a comprehensive plan for your business, setting yourself up for success in the Hawaiian market.

Shoppers choose fresh produce at the white white canopied stall at the Kona Farmer's Market in Hawaii

3. Select a Business Name

Choosing a compelling business name is a pivotal part of establishing your new venture in Hawaii. The name will be the initial point of contact for potential customers. Therefore, it's crucial to get it right. 

Here's a quick guide on selecting a fitting name:

  • Choose a name that is distinctive and resonates with the essence of your business.

  • Your business name should be easy to spell and pronounce.

  • Your business name should reflect the nature of your operations or your mission.

After brainstorming a list of potential business names, it’s crucial to verify the availability of your preferred name. To do this, consult the Hawaii Department of Commerce & Consumer Affairs’ Business Name Search database.[2] This will help you confirm that another entity hasn’t already registered the name you’re considering in the state. For a quick and straightforward search experience, you can also use our Free Business Name Search tool

Securing your chosen name is an essential step in establishing your business identity. Once you’ve verified that your desired name is available, it’s wise to reserve it as soon as possible. This will protect it from being snapped up by other entrepreneurs while you finalize your business plans.

4. Choose a Business Structure

Deciding on the appropriate business structure is a crucial part of starting a business in Hawaii. Your choice will significantly affect your business operations, the taxes you pay, and your personal liability level.

  • Limited Liability Company (LLC): An LLC is an appealing option for many due to its flexibility in operation and the protection it offers between personal assets and business liabilities.

  • C Corporation: Ideal for larger businesses planning to scale, a C Corporation supports an unlimited number of shareholders, enhancing the company's potential for expansion.

  • DBA ('Doing Business As'): While not a separate legal entity, a DBA permits your business to operate under a unique trade name, aiding in brand visibility and recognition.

  • Nonprofit: If your venture's primary focus is public benefit and seeking tax-exempt status, you might want to form a nonprofit.

  • S Corporation: The S Corporation is not an actual business structure but rather a tax status. Businesses that meet specific IRS criteria can opt for this status to avail of pass-through taxation.

Each structure provides distinct advantages. Entrepreneurs must conduct comprehensive research to understand which option best aligns with their business goals and operational needs in Hawaii.

5. File Business Formation Documents

Starting a business in Hawaii involves filing specific business formation documents, depending on your chosen structure. These can range from a Certificate of Incorporation for a corporation to a Certificate of Formation for an LLC, alongside necessary agreements or bylaws. 

Not adhering to the precise instructions from the IRS or the Hawaii Secretary of State can lead to complications or legal consequences. It's often beneficial to partner with professional services like Swyft Filings, ensuring accurate and timely filing of documents. 

Remember, having a Hawaii registered agent is mandatory as they are your primary contact for handling legal documents and processes within the state. We offer Registered Agent Services for small business owners who may not reside full-time on the island.  

6. Apply for Hawaii Business Licenses and Permits

When starting a small business in Hawaii, it's vital to secure the appropriate licenses and permits. In certain industries, you may require specific permits, such as a liquor license for a bar, or general ones, such as a business license. Failure to obtain these essential licenses and permits can result in penalties, such as fines or suspension of business operations.

To ensure you’re fully compliant with Hawaii’s rules and regulations, consider our Business Licenses and Research service, which can significantly simplify the process for startups planning to incorporate and operate in Hawaii.

Cityscape of Honolulu city and Waikiki beach in Hawaii

7. File and Report Business Taxes

In Hawaii, navigating the tax landscape is a crucial aspect of running a successful business. The state imposes a General Excise Tax (GET) on all business activities.[3]

In Hawaii, instead of the typical sales tax system found in most US states, businesses operate under a General Excise Tax (GET) system. This is a multi-level tax imposed on gross income at various stages of economic production, including the wholesale and retail levels. The GET is broader than a sales tax and is levied on the seller rather than the consumer. However, it’s common practice for businesses to pass this cost on to consumers, making it appear similar to a sales tax. 

Understanding the GET system is crucial for any business structure in Hawaii, as it affects pricing, accounting, and tax compliance.

Furthermore, corporations doing business in Hawaii are subject to corporate income tax.

Here are some general tips to remain compliant with your small business taxes while doing business in Hawaii:

  • Staying updated with IRS tax obligations: The IRS provides comprehensive business resources.

  • Understanding Hawaii’s General Excise Tax: Unlike most states with sales tax, Hawaii uses a GET system.

  • Following tax deadlines: Ensure to meet federal and state deadlines to avoid penalties.

  • Keeping detailed records: This helps during tax filing and in case of audits.

Being aware of these tax obligations and adhering to them is vital to avoid legal issues and penalties, so keep a diligent eye on all tax-related matters.

8. Open a Business Bank Account

As an entrepreneur in Hawaii, it is crucial to open a dedicated business bank account. This step offers various benefits that can positively impact your business. Separating your personal and business finances leads to better financial organization and clarity.

This separation makes it easier to track business expenses, revenue, and profits, simplifying your accounting and bookkeeping processes. Moreover, having a business bank account adds professionalism to your business, enhancing your credibility with customers, suppliers, and partners.

To open a business bank account in Hawaii, you will need an Employer Identification Number (EIN) or Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN) issued by the IRS. This unique identifier is essential for tax reporting and other business transactions. 

We offer a convenient and reliable EIN service that can help you obtain this crucial number with ease. 

Take Your First Steps Toward Small Business Ownership

You’ve sifted through countless business ideas, honed in on your passion, and are ready to embark on your entrepreneurial journey. Starting a business in Hawaii has never been more exciting or achievable. From deciding on the perfect business structure that aligns with your vision to navigating the unique General Excise Tax system, you’re making critical decisions that will define your venture. 

But you don’t have to do it alone.

Imagine how reassuring it would be to have a trusted guide helping you through each phase of your business formation. That’s where we come into the picture. Specializing in helping startups like yours, we streamline the process of getting your business off the ground. 

Whether you’re trying to secure your unique business name or need assistance understanding the tax obligations, we have you covered.

Take the first step today to transform your business idea into a thriving enterprise in Hawaii’s bustling market.

Your Dream, Our Mission: Partnering for Success
  • Your Perfect Fit: Whether you're looking at a simple LLC or a dedicated nonprofit, we'll help you identify the best structure for your dream business.

  • Continued Support: Your entrepreneurial journey doesn’t stop at formation. Our key management services help ensure your business thrives. 

  • Tailored Affordability: Get value-packed options suited to your business needs, starting at just $0 + state fees.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ): Starting a Business in Hawaii

Is Hawaii a good place to start a business?

Entrepreneurs can take advantage of Hawaii’s unique opportunities, thanks to its tourism-driven economy, diverse population, and emphasis on sustainability. However, the cost of living and doing business here is considerably higher compared to other states. Therefore, while the state has potential, especially for companies in the tourism, hospitality, and eco-friendly sectors, you’ll need a solid financial strategy to cope with high operational costs.

How much does it cost to start operating in Hawaii?

The cost to start a business in Hawaii can vary significantly depending on the business type, location, and scale. Basic costs could include a $50 filing fee for Articles of Organization if you're starting an LLC and potential business name reservation fees of $10. However, Hawaii's General Excise Tax (GET) also impacts operational costs, as does the high price of rent and utilities. Initial costs could range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.

Can I start a business in Hawaii without a business plan?

While it's legally possible to start a business without a business plan, doing so is highly discouraged. A well-crafted business plan serves as a roadmap, outlining your business objectives, market research, financial projections, and marketing strategies. Given Hawaii's unique market conditions and high costs, a business plan is almost a necessity for securing funding and navigating the competitive landscape effectively.

What does Hawaii require to start a business?

Starting a business in Hawaii requires several key steps, including:

  • Solidify your business idea and conduct market research.

  • Choose a legal structure such as an LLC, C Corporation, or sole proprietorship.

  • Reserve and register your business name after confirming its availability.

  • Obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS for tax purposes.

  • Register with the Hawaii Department of Commerce & Consumer Affairs and obtain any required permits or licenses.

  • Register for Hawaii's GET and, if necessary, obtain a Tax Identification Number (TIN).

Additional requirements may be needed depending on the specific location, industry, and services of your particular business. 

What is the process for starting a business in Hawaii?

Here are the general steps you will need to follow when starting a business in the state of Hawaii: 

  1. Idea Validation: Start by validating your business idea through market research to identify your target audience and market size.

  2. Business Plan: Create a comprehensive business plan that includes financial projections, a marketing strategy, and an operational plan.

  3. Choose a Business Structure: Decide on the appropriate legal structure, such as an LLC or a C Corporation, based on your needs.

  4. Register Business Name: Conduct a name search and, if available, register or reserve your business name.

  5. Federal and State IDs: Apply for an EIN from the IRS and fulfill state-specific identification requirements.

  6. State Registration: Register your business with the Hawaii Department of Commerce & Consumer Affairs.

  7. Licenses and Permits: Acquire all necessary licenses, permits, and zoning clearances.

  8. Open a Business Account: Open a bank account specifically for your business operations.

  9. GET and Other Taxes: Register for Hawaii's GET and understand your tax obligations both federally and locally.


  1. U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy. "Small Business Economic Profile: Hawaii." Accessed September 17, 2023.

  2. Hawaii Department of Commerce & Consumer Affairs. "Business Name Search." Accessed September 17, 2023.

  3. Hawaii Department of Taxation. "General Excise Tax (GET) Information." Accessed September 17, 2023.

Originally published on November 08, 2023, and last edited on November 08, 2023.
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