STARTING A BUSINESS IN COLUMBIA COUNTY & WASHINGTON STATE IN 10 SIMPLE STEPS . . .
STEP 1: WRITE A BUSINESS PLAN – There are many printed and online resources for writing a business plan. For example, the U.S. Small Business Association (SBA) has excellent business plan information and guidance on their website.
STEP 2: GET BUSINESS TRAINING & ASSISTANCE – There are numerous free and/or low cost resources for support for your business
- Port of Columbia – Located in Dayton, Washington, the Port is the lead economic development organization of Columbia County. In addition to managing their own assets (Rock Hill Industrial Park, Blue Mountain Station Food & Beverage Park, Lyons Ferry Marina and the Columbia Walla Walla Railroad), the Port manages a contract with the Washington State Department of Commerce for business support countywide. The Port employs a full-time Economic Development Coordinator who offers business assistance and resources.
- Dayton Chamber of Commerce – The Chamber is a membership-based organization which strives to create a more prosperous business environment. The Chamber sponsors, on their own or in conjunction with the Port of Columbia, many business related workshops and special events.
- Washington Small Business Development Center – The WSBDC is a network of business advisors, trainers, and support staff who operate from Washington State University, Western Washington University, several of the state’s community and technical colleges, and selected economic development agencies. Regional organizations, including the Port of Columbia, subsidize the expense of an SBDC director to support our communities. Paul Bowen is the Walla Walla SBDC business advisor.
- SCORE – SCORE is a nonprofit association dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground, grow and achieve their goals through education and mentorship. Their work is supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), and relies on over 10,000 volunteers nationally to deliver their services at no charge. They can provide assistance in person, via email or by video. They offer free business tools online and inexpensive or free workshop and webinars. Mid-Columbia Tri-Cities SCORE is the closest chapter.
- SEWEDA – SEWEDA is a federally-recognized four-state economic development district encompassing Columbia, Garfield, Asotin and Whitman counties. The Port of Columbia is the agency which offers support on behalf of SEWEDA.
- The SBA has many free training and counseling services available, from preparing a business plan and securing financing, to expanding or relocating a business. However, there are number of organizations in the region who offer business services at no or low cost.
- The State of Washington Department of Commerce has an online Small Business Portal with information about programs, education and training to business loans, export assistance and crisis planning.
STEP 3: CHOOSE A BUSINESS LOCATION – Get advice on how to select a customer-friendly location and comply with zoning laws.
- The City of Dayton has a full-time planner who is able to offer assistance within the city limits.
- The Columbia County Planning Department has a dedicated staff to offer assistance in Columbia County outside of city limits.
- The Port of Columbia maintains a county-wide database of available commercial spaces including their own Rock Hill Industrial Park and Blue Mountain Station Food Park. General assistance with zoning compliance is also available.
- For a list of area realtors, click here.
STEP 4: FINANCE YOUR BUSINESS
Most small businesses begin with capital from personal assets, friends, family, investors, etc. Sometimes you can find government backed loans, venture capital and research grants to help you get started. Here is a link to some loan programs through the SBA. Once a business is more established, there are other opportunities for traditional and non-traditional funding sources to help your business move to the next step.
STEP 5: DETERMINE THE LEGAL STRUCTURE OF YOUR BUSINESS
Decide which form of ownership is best for you: sole proprietorship, partnership, Limited Liability Company (LLC), corporation, S corporation, nonprofit or cooperative. Which structure you choose will affect taxes, limitation of personal liability, ease of transferability and admission of new owners and investor opportunities. Communicate with an attorney or a business assistance resource individual to help determine which structure is best for you and your company.
STEP 6: REGISTER A BUSINESS NAME (“DOING BUSINESS AS”)
First, make sure that the name you have chosen isn’t already taken. Search in the following locations:
- Search business licenses. If your search result is “No matches were found for your search,” try spelling the name differently or leave out abbreviations or punctuation such as Inc, LLC, etc.
- Department of Revenue — All trade names may not be included.
- Secretary of State Corporations Registration Data Search — Corporation and limited liability company names.
- U.S. Patent and Trademark Commission — Search for federally registered names.
To register a trade name, or “doing business as” name with the State of Washington, click here. Note that registering your name does not protect the name from use by others.
Learn which tax identification number you’ll need to obtain from the IRS and your state revenue agency.
STEP 7: REGISTER FOR STATE & LOCAL TAXES
Register with your state to obtain a tax identification number, workers’ compensation, unemployment and disability insurance. When you file a business license in Washington State, you will automatically register for State and Local taxes.
STEP 8: OBTAIN BUSINESS LICENSES & PERMITS
- The City of Dayton does not require a business license
- Columbia County does not require a business license
- You must apply for a state business license through the State of Washington’s Business Licensing Service through the Department of Revenue. Upon doing so, you will receive a state business license and UBI (Unified Business Identifier) number. You may also soon receive packets of information from some or all of the following state agencies: Employment Security Department, Department of Labor & Industries and the Department of Revenue.
- Based on the nature of your business, you may require other licensing, permits or endorsements. Click here to review specialty endorsements.
STEP 9: UNDERSTAND EMPLOYER RESPONSIBILITIES
It is important to learn the legal steps you need to take to hire employees. All employers must sign up for Workmen’s Compensation and Unemployment Insurance. To learn more, click here.
STEP 10: KNOW ABOUT WASHINGTON BUSINESS INSURANCE REQUIREMENTS
Commercial Liability Insurance is not mandatory for businesses operating in Washington. Washington is a pure comparative fault state. Yet, accidents and lawsuits (legitimate and frivolous) do happen in Washington. If you own property or other valuable assets you would be wise to invest in sufficient commercial general liability coverage for your small businesses. How much liability insurance you carry is unique to each situation and the risk associated with your business. Note that if you operate out of your home, your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance has limited coverage for business liability and loss.