Do you have a great business idea, but you’re not quite sure how to get from the idea phase into owning and operating your own business in Iowa? You’ve come to the right place! There are many important aspects to running a company, and like any other state, Iowa has its own rules and regulations to consider.
In this guide to starting a business in Iowa, we’ll discuss all the relevant details to business ownership in this state. By the time you’re done reading, we think you’ll have a strong grasp on the necessary steps involved.
How to Start a Business in Iowa (in 10 Steps)
1) Create a Business Plan
The first step to creating any business in any state is to plan what products and services you’ll sell, set your operational budget, and figure out how you want to market your company.
Your business plan doesn’t have to be fancy at all, you just need to make sure you spend enough time considering these important aspects before you actually launch your business. To get started, SBA.gov has a great free tool.
2) Choose a Name
The name of your business is an extremely important attribute because it’s often how you make your first impression to potential customers.
Depending on whether you choose to form a corporation or a limited liability company, there are some legal aspects as well (for example, an LLC must include “LLC” or “limited liability company” in the business name, and a corporation must include “incorporated,” “corporation,” “Inc.,” or “Corp.”).
Beyond the basic legalities, you should focus on clearly identifying what your company does in your business name. You can also consider incorporating your values into your business name, like using the word “green” to denote environmental friendliness.
Something You Love
Finally, choose a name that you personally like and take pride in, and one that both sounds good when spoken aloud and looks good on paper.
One big piece of advice we have for naming a business is that you shouldn’t get too focused on one idea until you either form your company or reserve the name.
You can search for existing business names in Iowa via the Secretary of State’s website. Once you have determined that your desired name is available, you can file an Application for Reservation of Name. This one-page form will only require the nature of your business, the applicant’s name and address, and a signature. The reservation is valid for 120 days from the date it is filed. You can mail the finished form to the Secretary of State at the following address:
Secretary of State
Business Services Division
Lucas Building, 1st Floor
Des Moines, Iowa 50319
3) Decide on a Registered Agent
According to the Iowa Secretary of State, “The registered agent may be an Iowa resident, an Iowa profit or nonprofit corporation, or a foreign profit or nonprofit corporation qualified to do business in Iowa. Most business organizations that transact business in the state of Iowa are required to have a registered agent for service of process. In certain instances as provided by law, the Iowa Secretary of State acts as an agent for service of process.”
This position is vital to any Iowa business because without a registered agent, you could lose your good standing with the state, see your business dissolved by the state, or even remain unaware of a lawsuit progressing against your company.
Though the Secretary of State does not provide a comprehensive list of registered agents in Iowa, there are registered agent companies operating throughout the state. If for any reason you need to change your registered agent or registered office, you can access the necessary form here.
4) Choose a Structure and Form Your Business
If you’re just operating a sole proprietorship or general partnership, you don’t need this step (or several of the others in this guide, including selecting a registered agent), because those business structures don’t require any sort of formal formation process.
This leaves two main options: the corporation and the limited liability company.
The LLC is the more common option, partially because it’s much simpler. There’s not much paperwork involved, and the maintenance requirements basically amount to an annual report. Furthermore, LLC owners still receive the personal asset protection that makes a corporation so attractive as a business type in the first place. For more specific information about starting an LLC, check out our full article on the topic.
For some entrepreneurs, the corporation is the better choice. There’s far more effort involved both in forming one and in maintaining it with the state of Iowa, but for larger businesses they’re usually the better option, as they allow for more growth and investment than LLCs generally do.
If you would like to know more, check out our “LLC vs Corporation: What Is the Difference?” article. No matter which business structure you choose to form, you can find all the relevant forms on the Iowa Secretary of State’s website or have a professional business formation website do it for you.
5) Develop a Business Website
In this day and age, even strictly local businesses should have a website, because the internet is your first point of contact for many of your customers. Your site doesn’t need to be fancy, but you should put some thought into your domain name, and make sure it’s something memorable and easy to type without misspellings.
If you’re not comfortable designing a site yourself ― and if you also don’t have the budget to hire a professional designer ― there are plenty of website builder tools that can help you put together a solid website. GoDaddy is very easy to use. All you have to do is get the domain (below) and then you’ll have the option to build the business website whenever you’re ready.
6) Take Care of Tax Obligations
The vast majority of businesses operating in Iowa will need a federal tax ID number (EIN), which can be acquired from the IRS.
On the state level, there are a variety of tax registration requirements that may or may not apply to your company, depending on the nature of your business. These include taxes like sales tax, use tax, automobile rental tax, withholding tax, corporation tax, partnership tax, etc.
Certain business types may need to register for special tax permits. To find more information on the kind of permit your business needs, consult this link. For most businesses, tax registration is an easy process that can be done online through the Iowa Department of Revenue website.
Keep in mind that your city and/or county may have taxation requirements as well, so make sure to check with them to make sure you aren’t missing anything.
Here’s some business resources for each of the largest cities in Iowa:
7) Acquire Business Licenses and Permits
Some states have statewide business licenses that every company needs to acquire, but Iowa does not.
Still, there are hundreds of state-level, industry-specific licenses and permits that may apply to your company depending on the nature of your business. In order to find out which licenses your business needs, you will need to contact your local county clerk’s office. Check out this database to find the county clerk serving your area.
Much like with taxation issues, there’s also the matter of local licenses to consider. You can learn more about county-level occupational licenses right here.
8) Obtain Required Insurance Policies
In order to operate a business with employees in the state of Iowa, you are legally required to obtain two essential insurance policies: unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation insurance. Some businesses can also file an application with the Insurance Commissioner to be self-insured rather than purchasing an insurance plan. For more information about self-insurance, consult this link.
You can learn more about these insurance types and how they apply to Iowa businesses by visiting the Iowa Workforce Development website.
It is the employer’s responsibility to get these policies to protect your employees, regardless of what line of business you’re in. Of course, it’s probably a good idea to acquire industry-specific policies to protect your company in other ways, but unemployment and workers’ comp are the ones strictly required by law.
9) Open a Business Bank Account
Whether you start a limited liability company or a corporation, you’ll need to keep your business and personal assets separated.
This is where opening a business bank account comes in. While having a separate checking account for your company isn’t a legal requirement, it makes separating your assets considerably easier, and we always advise that any business owner does so.
10) Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
If you run into problems with any of the steps outlined in this guide, remember that you can always find help.
In this state, the Iowa Small Business Development Center exists solely to (in their own words) “support the collaborative economic development of Iowa by providing entrepreneurs and businesses with individual consultation and educational resources necessary to assist their businesses to succeed.” With 15 locations across Iowa, the SBDC is ready and willing to help if you need assistance.
Another excellent resource is the Iowa chapter of the U.S. Small Business Administration. Their website has information regarding small business events, business resources, press releases, SBA programs, and more.
While there are several vital steps in the process of starting a business in Iowa, taken individually these steps aren’t terribly complex.
It can seem overwhelming if you consider the entire process all at once, but if you break down these steps and take care of them one at a time, they’re all quite manageable. Keep in mind that you don’t need to go it alone with the DIY option ― if this process becomes overwhelming, or if you simply don’t have the time and energy to devote to these steps ― assistance is available.