Starting a Business in Wisconsin: 8 Essential Steps

The Calatrava designed architecture of the Milwaukee Art Museum in Wisconsin

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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.

Polina Solovyeva
Written by Polina Solovyeva
Written byPolina Solovyeva
Updated November 08, 2023
Edited by Carlos Serrano
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Becoming a small business owner is an exciting step toward more freedom and fulfillment. Wisconsin consistently ranks as one of the top places for entrepreneurs. To help you start a business in Wisconsin, we created a step-by-step guide to walk you through the entire process, from choosing the best idea to incorporating your Wisconsin business.

Start Operating in Wisconsin: Key Points

  • Small businesses make up 99.4% of all companies in Wisconsin, with ample opportunities for new entrepreneurs.[1]  

  • You can register your business entity as a limited liability company, a corporation, or a nonprofit. 

  • Wisconsin doesn’t require a general business license. Still, you may need to apply for licenses and permits specific to your industry or location. 

Set the Stage for Business Success

Easily start your business and remain compliant with our all-in-one tools, guiding you well past the initial setup with the right support and documents.

Start Your Business Journey

Ready to Start a Wisconsin Business?

Setting up a business in Wisconsin doesn’t have to be complicated. Even if you’re a brand new entrepreneur, you can become a small business owner in Wisconsin swiftly if you do your research and stay up-to-date with the necessary regulations. 

You don’t have to go through the incorporation process alone. To help you gather all the information you need to start operating in Wisconsin successfully, we broke the entire process into eight easy steps. 

1. Choose a Business Idea

Every new business starts with a promising business idea. Some entrepreneurs know what kind of business they want to start immediately. Still, it’s normal for this process to take time. Choosing the right business idea is an important step that informs everything that comes after, so give yourself enough room to brainstorm. 

If you’re searching for inspiration, consider doing the following things. 

  • Research Wisconsin economy. It’s much easier to grow a business that’s in demand. Wisconsin’s proximity to fresh water and natural resources makes agriculture and water technology popular business niches. Manufacturing, food and beverage, and IT are also leading drivers of economic growth.[2]

  • Think about your interests. Your business idea should make you feel excited. There’s almost always a way to turn your passions into a successful business. For example, if you care about the environment, consider starting a green small business.

  • Get on social media. Keep up with new trends on social media and figure out a creative way to anticipate the needs of your target market. Whether it’s a new service or a product, the opportunities are almost endless. Here are 13 more places to find inspiration. 

When deciding on a business idea, don’t be afraid to follow your big dreams. Every single successful business started with an ambitious vision. Whether you want to quit your job and become your own boss or start a business in Wisconsin as a recent college grad, many opportunities are waiting out there for you.

2. Draft a Wisconsin Business Plan

A detailed business plan is how you turn your exciting business idea into a booming startup. Writing a business plan is more than just a simple formality. It’s an essential part of setting your new business up for success, so spend some time on this step. 

There’s no required format that every business needs to follow, but consider including the following sections in your business plan: 

  • Executive summary: a concise summary of your business plan that includes your mission statement and the most important things to consider.

  • Market research: a detailed overview of your target audience and main competitors.

  • Services and products: an explanation of the services or products that you’re going to be selling, along with their most essential features and benefits.

  • Financial projections: a breakdown of your anticipated revenue and expenses, funding information, pricing strategy, and other appropriate financial considerations for your new business.

  • Marketing plan: a strategy for marketing your business and an overview of your marketing channels.

  • Operations plan: a summary of how your business is going to function and whether you’re going to hire employees. 

It’s essential to draft a business plan before you go any further into the business formation process. If you start operating in Wisconsin without a business plan, you’ll expose yourself to costly mistakes. For example, you may be unable to anticipate business expenses or effectively manage employees. 

→ The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has helpful business plan templates that you can use. 

3. Select a Business Name

Your business name should be meaningful, unique, and easy to remember. It’s one of the most critical pieces of your brand identity, so generate a few business name options to find the best one. Get creative and tie it back to your business idea. This is also a great time to secure your domain name.  

You have a lot of freedom when deciding what to name your business. However, your business name must comply with Wisconsin naming rules and differ from other companies already registered in the state. If there’s already a “Joe’s Pizza” registered with the Secretary of State, you can’t start a business with the same name. 

To check if your business name is available, do a Wisconsin business search or use our Free Business Name Search tool. When you find an available business name that you like, you can reserve it for 120 days. Name reservation requires a $15 filing fee. It’s an excellent option for entrepreneurs who are thinking about starting a business in Wisconsin but are not ready yet. 

Dane County Farmers- Market in Wisconsin

4. Choose a Business Structure

It’s essential to choose a business structure that aligns with your goals and vision for the future. Your business structure determines how your business will be taxed and whether you’ll be able to sell it in the future, so research the options available before making a decision. 

Many small business owners register their business as a limited liability company. However, forming a corporation, registering a nonprofit organization, or filing for a DBA may be the better choice for some entrepreneurs. 

Sole Proprietorship

If you conduct business activities without a registered business, you’re automatically considered a sole proprietor. Becoming a sole proprietor is easy, and you can report your business revenue and expenses as a part of your personal tax return, but running your business as a sole proprietorship comes with significant downsides.

As a sole proprietor, your business assets and personal finances are the same. If you have business debts or are facing litigation, the court can come after your personal assets, such as your house or car. Sole proprietors are personally liable for their business, which is a significant risk. 

Some sole proprietors apply for a DBA (doing business as) to operate their business under an assumed name instead of their legal name. While a DBA doesn’t give you personal asset protection, it improves your credibility and helps you open a business bank account. Most banks require sole proprietors to have a DBA to open an account. 

Limited Liability Company

A limited liability company (LLC) is a hybrid business structure that offers personal liability protection and a flexible tax structure. It’s an excellent option for small businesses because it allows you to still report your business earnings as a part of your personal income tax. In contrast with a sole proprietorship, an LLC separates your personal assets from your business assets. 


A corporation is a robust legal entity that protects your personal assets and allows you to issue stock. Many big businesses are corporations, but it may be the right choice for startups as well, especially if you want to sell your business one day. You can also apply for an S Corporation tax status to avoid double taxation. 

Nonprofit Organization

A nonprofit organization is a distinct type of business entity that is furthering a social cause without an expectation of financial gain. Charitable organizations, churches, and public schools are examples of nonprofits. Some nonprofit organizations can qualify for a tax-exempt status.

5. File Business Formation Documents

To register your business in Wisconsin, you must file business formation documents with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions. What documents you need to file depends on your chosen business structure. 

Wisconsin LLC Formation Documents

To register an LLC in Wisconsin, you must file your articles of organization with the Department of Financial Institutions. To complete this document, you’ll need to provide important information about your business, such as whether it’ll be member-managed or manager-managed, and appoint your Wisconsin registered agent. 

It would be best if you also considered creating an LLC Operating Agreement. Even though it’s not required by Wisconsin law, it’s highly recommended. 

We can help you file your LLC formation paperwork quickly and accurately. We’ll verify your business name availability, prepare all necessary documents, and file them with the Department of Financial Institutions with a fast turnaround. 

Wisconsin Corporation Formation Documents

To form a Wisconsin corporation, you must file your articles of incorporation with the Department of Financial Institutions. You’ll need to provide basic information about your business and appoint a Wisconsin registered agent to receive essential documents on your behalf. It’s also recommended to draft corporate bylaws.  

We can help you form a Wisconsin corporation online in just a few minutes. Answer a few questions about your business and get personalized customer support. 

6. Apply for Wisconsin Business Licenses and Permits

Wisconsin doesn’t require a general business license. However, your small business may still need an industry-specific or local license to start operating in Wisconsin. Licensing obligations exist at federal, state, and local levels, and it’s essential to research what kind of requirements your startup faces. 

For example, barbers, plumbers, and matchmakers must obtain a business license or certification from the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services.[3] Your city or municipality may have additional requirements. For example, all food businesses in Milwaukee need to obtain an appropriate local license.[4]

You need to have appropriate Wisconsin business licenses in place to avoid high fines or even having to shut down your business. We can research what licenses your business needs at the federal, state, and local levels and file your applications with the proper authorities. 

Dane County Farmers- Market in Madison Wisconsin

7. File and Report Business Taxes

As a small business owner, you’re responsible for paying your business taxes. Federal taxes are payable to the IRS, and the Wisconsin Department of Revenue manages state taxes. It’s essential to research your tax obligations, but you’ll likely have to pay an income tax and a sales tax if you sell physical products or certain types of services. 

If your business is a corporation or an LLC treated as a corporation for tax purposes, you may also need to pay a franchise tax for doing business in Wisconsin.[5]

8. Open a Business Bank Account

A dedicated business bank account protects your personal assets and streamlines your accounting. To open a business account, you’ll need an employer identification number (EIN). It’s a tax identification number issued by the IRS. You can think of it as a social security number for your business. It’s also referred to as a federal employer identification number. 

You can apply for an EIN on the Internal Revenue Service’s website or use our service for a more effortless experience. Business owners should also consider getting a dedicated credit card for their business.   

Take Your First Steps Toward Small Business Ownership

The Badger State has ample opportunities for entrepreneurs, and it’s a great place to turn your business idea into a successful startup. To start a business in Wisconsin, you must choose your business name and type of business structure, file business formation documents with the Department of Financial Institutions, and apply for any necessary business licenses. 

We’re here to help you successfully start a Wisconsin business. Form your LLC, corporation, or nonprofit online with our personalized business formation service and start operating in Wisconsin quickly. 

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.

Begin Your Business Journey

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Wisconsin a good place to start a business?

Wisconsin has a business-friendly climate, a favorable location, and a high quality of life. It also supports entrepreneurs with programs like the Wisconsin Small Business Development Center.  

How much does it cost to start operating in Wisconsin?

It depends on various factors. In addition to filing fees, you should also consider whether you’ll need to invest in any equipment and inventory or hire employees. 

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

It’s highly recommended to draft a business plan before starting a business. It’s going to help you make more accurate projections and better decisions. 

What does Wisconsin require to start a business?

The exact requirements depend on your chosen business structure. You must file formation paperwork with the Department of Financial Institutions, apply for appropriate business licenses, and open a bank account. 

What is the process for starting a business in Wisconsin?

Start with solidifying your business idea, writing a business plan, and choosing a unique business name. Then, decide on the proper business structure for your business and file the appropriate paperwork. To start operating, make sure you have all the necessary business licenses in place, open a business bank account, and stay up-to-date on tax deadlines. 

Why are most LLCs in Delaware?

Delaware is one of the most business-friendly states in the nation that offers unique opportunities to entrepreneurs. Learn more about starting an LLC in Delaware


  1. U.S. Small Business Administration. “2022 Small Business Profile. Wisconsin.” Accessed August 14, 2023. 

  2. Wisconsin Economic Development. “Wisconsin’s Key Industries and Regions Around the State Gear Up to Focus on Export Growth.” Accessed August 14, 2023. 

  3. State of Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services. “A-Z Professions List.” Accessed August 14, 2023. 

  4. City of Milwaukee. “License and Permit Applications.” Accessed August 14, 2023. 

  5. State of Wisconsin Department of Revenue. “General Information.” Accessed August 14, 2023. 

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