Hawaii is a popular place to vacation. But many choose to live there, find an ideal job, or run their own business catering to the tourism industry. If you want to begin your journey towards entrepreneurial success by taking the first steps to start your own business, you will shortly discover that registering a business in the Aloha State is pretty straightforward.
There are development centers and business administration offices located within Hawaii, with the sole focus of helping entrepreneurs and those operating small businesses to develop, maintain, and thrive within their local communities and the tourism industry.
Hawaii’s support for small businesses is evident in its approach to encouraging new businesses to register in the state. With an ever-growing and stable economy, thousands of people moving to the state each year, fantastic shopping opportunities, great private schools, and an unmatched laid-back lifestyle, it comes as no little surprise why so many people register a business in Hawaii.
How to Register a Business Name in Hawaii – 7 Easy Steps
The Hawaii Business Express makes it reasonably easy to register your business name and there are three ways you can do this:
- 1. Do it yourself directly on their website.
- 2. Pay a document filing company that can register everything online for you – there is a modest fee for this but it saves a lot of time and ensures it is done correctly.
- 3. Hire an attorney or accountant to file and register your new company – there are higher fees associated with this.
Step 1 – Determine your registered name
Firstly, you must determine that your business name is unique and not being used by someone else. A business registration company can do this research on your behalf or alternatively, you can search directly on the Hawaii Business Express website.
Once you have established your name is available you can register a business name in Hawaii directly on their website if you are comfortable with the process. Or, if you want a company to do this for you that specializes in this, you can use an online registration service to do it.
These document filing companies usually offer a free registered agent service for one year with most of their packages which is often a necessity for new businesses and those being registered by foreigners with no U.S. address.
Before doing any of this, you must decide on the right structure.
Step 2 – Choose the right entity
You need to choose the right type of business to register and the most common options are a limited liability company (LLC) or an incorporated company (Inc.). If you are keeping things really small and simple (one or two people), then you may consider a sole proprietorship or a general partnership.
Even if you plan to be a solopreneur, it is usually more beneficial for you to register a Hawaii LLC to make sure, as the owner, you have limited liability under this structure, and so you can benefit from the pass-through tax advantages.
Here is a quick rundown of the various options and what they might mean to you:
- Limited Liability Company: A Hawaii LLC is often the best route for most entrepreneurs because the structure comes with personal asset protection, no double taxation, is fairly easy to maintain and does not have high registration or annual renewal costs. Through LLC formation you have better tax flexibility and income can be taxed as a pass-through entity like a sole proprietor or partnership, or as a corporation.
- Incorporated Company: A Hawaii Corporation offers personal asset protection and your company can own property, vehicles, incur liabilities, and is responsible for its own debts and can conduct business without the owners risking their personal assets such as their homes, cars, personal savings, retirement, etc. On the flip side, owners of sole proprietorships or partnerships face unlimited liability for both business and personal assets.
Step 3 – Make sure your name is not being used by another company
This may seem obvious, but if you check the Hawaii Business Express website and see that your chosen business name is available, that is all well and good, but that doesn’t mean someone else is not using that same or similar name, particularly in another state.
Many people register an “official business entity name” and trade under a different name. This is called a Hawaii dba, or “doing business as” name or assumed trading name, and needs a separate DBA certificate.
You will want to do a Google search for your official name and your desired trading name (if different) to make sure no one else is using this name. Most importantly, you will want to make sure you can get an easy-to-remember website domain name that is not being used by someone else.
Having an awesome name or trading name for your business can be crucial to your success, so making sure the domain name is available too, and registering it right away, is equally as important.
Finally, if you go to the Hawaii Business Express website and discover that someone else has registered the name you would like, you can search for variations of that name by adding a word before it or after it, or using some other variations until you find a name that is available and acceptable for you.
Step 4 – Request an Employer Identification Number (EIN)
Once you have registered your new business in Hawaii you will need to get an EIN for a number of reasons. These include paying taxes for your business, opening a bank account, obtaining credit cards or lines of credit, establishing terms with vendors and suppliers, hiring employees, and more.
There are only a few instances where you likely won’t need an EIN. More often than not, many business activities are just not possible without having an EIN.
An EIN is the business equivalent of a social security number and is used to track your business dealings. Even if you do not intend to hire employees, you will almost certainly still need an EIN for your Hawaii company and it protects you from having to use your social security number.
An EIN (also known as a federal tax id) is free to obtain from the IRS and you can apply online but if you are not comfortable filling in forms you can use a third-party document filing service to do this for you for a small fee. This ensures you are 100% compliant with the law and they handle everything with the IRS.
Step 5 – Obtain the Required Business Licenses and Permits
To operate your business in Hawaii you must comply with federal, state, and local government regulations. Hawaii law requires a small business owner to have a “general” license to operate.
You will, however, need additional specific permits for specific businesses. For example, if you open a restaurant or similar food-related business you will most likely need a health permit, sales tax permit, facilities permit, and others. If you plan to sell alcohol, you will need a liquor license, essentially it all depends on the type of products and services your business is going to offer.
The business licenses you will need to acquire in order to register a business in Hawaii will also differ depending on the location of the business too.
You must find out how to obtain the necessary Hawaii business licenses and permits. The Hawaii Business Express website has an online license directory where you can search for your type of business to familiarize yourself with the permits and licenses your business may require to operate in Hawaii.
Alternatively, you could hire a professional document filing company to do this for you. It eliminates a lot of time and hassle and ensures you are correctly complying with Hawaii law.
Step 6 – Determine Your Business Employer Requirements
There are several things you need to check regarding your responsibilities as an employer in Hawaii because there are requirements you must meet at the federal and state level.
These could include various workforce commissions, safety, and state tax obligations, as well as labor law requirements including the minimum wage in Hawaii and employee rights and remedies under the Hawaii minimum wage act.
To learn more about Hawaii employer resources take a look at the Hawaii Wage Standards Division website.
Step 7 – Open a Business Bank Account for your Hawaii Company
As a new business owner, you should seriously consider separating your personal and business bank accounts to make it easier to track and account for your income and expenses. For certain business types, such as an LLC or a Corporation, it is essential that you open a separate business bank account to maintain your liability protection.
Once you have your EIN and your company registration documents, coupled with your driver’s license, you are ready to go to the bank and open your checking account.
Don’t worry, this won’t be expensive or leave you burdened with hefty monthly fees to pay – there are many free business bank accounts out there for you to choose from. Each has its different features and benefits, so you can decide what bank and checking account best suits your needs.
Summarizing Registering a Business in Hawaii
Hawaii has established a decent business ecosystem over the years, and it is still improving the business environment and support for small businesses. Hawaii has increased its focus specifically on aiding small businesses over the past few years, with development centers, free support systems, and advisories that are focused on helping out startups and businesses already operating.
Small businesses face challenges in Hawaii and a lot of planning and research is advised to make sure you are setting up the right kind of business in the right area of Hawaii. Each island has its own unique opportunities. To uncover the right ones for your small business idea you should try a combination of online research and hitting the ground locally and talking to people that know the area and what it might be lacking.
The state fee for registering a business in Hawaii is very affordable, especially when compared with other states, $50 for an LLC and $50 for a corporation. The annual filing fee to maintain your company in Hawaii is just $15 for a corporation and the same for an LLC.
The Aloha State is committed to your success and has many resources at your disposal that you can take advantage of.
Resources for Small Businesses in Hawaii
Whether you decided to register as an LLC, Corporation, or simply as a Sole Proprietor in Hawaii you are going to need to tap into the resources available to you to drive your small business forward.
Hawaii has small business development centers that are dedicated to supporting the development and retention of small businesses. The support they provide to entrepreneurs covers everything from crafting business plans to navigating the state’s tax codes. Visit the Hawaii Small Business Development Center website to find out more.
Here are some additional small business resources in Hawaii:
- SCORE Hawaii: Not only are there small business development centers tailored around working with small businesses and startups for growth and development, but SCORE’s volunteer business professionals and expert mentors are readily available and are free to use for those looking to begin their entrepreneurial journey.
- Hawaii SBA: The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) helps small business owners and entrepreneurs pursue the American dream. The SBA is dedicated to small businesses and provides counseling, capital, and contracting expertise as the nation’s only go-to resource and voice for small businesses.
These services are very useful and cost-efficient, and it makes perfect sense to arm yourself with all the help and information you can get.