Column: Ask SCORE: How do I set up my business for success?


Launching a new venture is one of the most thrilling milestones. However, before you can introduce your new enterprise to the world, you’ll need to tackle a few preliminary steps to set yourself up for success. Here’s a brief overview of what you’ll need to do to make your business dreams a reality.

Choose a Name

What’s in a name? Everything your brand represents.

Besides representing it legally, your business’ name forms the foundation of your brand identity. If you already have a name in mind, the first step is to make sure you’re allowed to use it. Check with your state’s licensing authorities and/or the U.S. Patent Office to be sure.

Don’t have a name in mind? Think about what you’re trying to convey to prospective customers. Does it make sense to incorporate the name of your city or region? Should you make up a word that better explains what you do (like Netflix or YouTube, for example)? Are you closely associated with your brand? In that case, maybe an eponymous name would work.

Next, think about how your name will appear on signs, packaging and/or your website. Is it catchy? Is it easy to spell? Is it authentic? All of these considerations matter.

Choose a Structure

Your business can take several different forms. It can be a sole proprietorship and operate under a “fictitious name” (also known as a DBA, or “Doing Business As”), or if there is more than one person involved, it can be a partnership or a corporation.

Each form has its own advantages and disadvantages. A sole proprietorship, for example, can be the easiest to set up, but it also leaves you personally responsible if your business is sued or owes a debt. On the flip side, a corporation offers personal protection for your assets, but it also can be more costly, since it involves a lot of paperwork and will most likely require an attorney’s help to set up.

If necessary, apply for a tax ID number

Your Social Security number is what the IRS uses to identify you personally. The equivalent for a business is a federal Employer Identification Number, or EIN. When your business files its federal tax return, the EIN is what you’ll use on that return.

Not every business needs an EIN. If your business is a sole proprietorship, and you don’t pay any employees, you don’t need an EIN. You would use your Social Security number instead.

On the other hand, if your business is a partnership or corporation, or you pay employees, you need an EIN. You may also need a tax ID number for your state, as well. Check with your local revenue authorities to see what’s required or work with a mentor to help you through this process.

Obtain necessary licenses and permits

It’s unlikely that you’ll need to get a federal license for your business unless you’re in a regulated industry (selling firearms or alcohol, for example). It’s a different story when it comes to your state and local governments, however.

You’ll most likely need a business license from your city or municipality to begin, and you may need to collect sales tax or obtain a sellers permit if you’re in a state that collects sales taxes. Again, check with your local authorities to see what’s required.

Open a business bank account

Unless you’re a corporation or a partnership, you don’t need to open a separate bank account for your business … but even if you’re a sole proprietor, having a business bank account is almost always a good idea.

The biggest benefit to maintaining different personal and business bank accounts is that it helps keep your personal and company finances separate. This is a huge help come tax time and it can save you hours of bookkeeping frustration.

It also gives you the option to open a line of credit or get a business credit card, both of which can give you cash-flow flexibility.

Have more questions? Reach out to SCORE Indianapolis for free, expert mentoring and resources to guide you through your small business journey. Visit to learn more.