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Oregon may be home to some of the world’s biggest brands—Nike, Pendleton, and Columbia Sportswear are all headquartered in the Beaver State—but it also boasts a vibrant community of small business owners, so it’s the perfect place for you to start your business. According to the SBA, small businesses made up 99.4% of all Oregon businesses in 2018. If all those entrepreneurs succeeded in starting a business in Oregon, there’s no reason why you can’t too.
In this guide, we’ll take you through the seven steps to tick off before you can make starting a business in Oregon official—from coming up with a killer business name to securing startup cash. Along the way, we’ll provide you with all the additional resources you need to launch your Oregonian venture. Let’s get started.
Before we get into our step-by-step guide on starting a business in Oregon, we should say that the real first step in starting any business is to write a business plan.
Don’t be daunted by that prospect: Your preliminary business plan is a living document, which you can revisit and flesh out once your business gains traction. But at the very least, your first business plan should reflect your business’s purpose, goals, target customer base, competition, current and projected finances, and a basic marketing plan.
There are lots of guides on how to write a business plan (including ours!) if you need some guidance. You can also visit your local SBA office for personalized support, either in fulfilling this or any other step when it comes to starting your business in Oregon.
Once your business plan is ready, you can move on to fulfilling the following seven steps to lock in your Oregon business.
The first official step in starting a business in Oregon is to choose your business name and business structure. You’ll need both of these elements in order to register your business with the Secretary of State in Step 2.
Choosing a business name can be one of the most creative aspects of starting your business, but if you’re struggling to get the wheels turning, take a look at our comprehensive guide on how to come up with a business name. In this guide, we give you tips and advice on choosing a strong, scalable business name that truly reflects your business’s core values. We also give you a few exercises and brainstorming techniques to help you generate your dream business name.
But once you have come up with that perfect business name, you’ll need to check that it’s actually available for use, or if another Oregonian is already doing business under that moniker. First, search the name on Google for an unofficial sweep, then see if your domain name is available—and if it is, buy it after you complete your name search so you can build your business website and create a Gmail for business account. Importantly, search your business name on the Oregon Secretary of State’s Business Registry Database to find out whether there’s another registered business in the state operating under your potential name.
Once you’ve made sure your business name is available, you can choose a business structure. Among other factors, the type of business entity you choose will determine your business’s legal protection, ownership and management structure, and how it’s taxed. The main types of business structures for Oregon businesses are sole proprietorships, corporations, nonprofits, LLCs, limited partnerships, general partnerships, limited liability partnerships, and nonprofit corporations.
There are positives and negatives to each type of business structure, but those advantages and drawbacks are entirely relative to your business’s needs. For example, if you choose to register as a corporation, you’ll take on less personal liability, but you’ll also have to contend with more formalities, such as holding regular meetings and submitting annual reports. So, it’s best to consult a professional to help you determine which type of business structure makes the most sense for your business, whether that’s an attorney, accountant, an advisor at one of the state’s Small Business Development Centers, or the appropriate state licensing or regulatory agencies.
In Oregon, sole proprietorships and general partnerships don’t need to file any paperwork, except for registering an Assumed Business Name, otherwise known as a DBA, if they plan to do business under a name that’s different from their own. To register as an LLC, business corporation, or nonprofit, you’ll have to file either Articles of Organization or Articles of Incorporation, as well as provide annual reports. We’d recommend taking a look at the Oregon Secretary of State’s guide to business structures for an overview of each type of structure’s registration process, liability, ownership, and other key information.
Once you’ve nailed down your business name and structure, you can move on to registering your business with the Oregon Secretary of State’s Corporation Division. You can either file your business online, or you can download, print, and mail in the appropriate forms.
Keep in mind that Oregon businesses have ongoing registration requirements, too. You’ll need to file reports and renew your registration information annually; the Secretary of State will mail payment coupons 45 days before you need to submit this information. You can renew your information online. If you’re a nonprofit organization, you’ll need to file your annual reports with the Oregon Department of Justice, Charitable Activities Section, and with the IRS.
At this point, you should apply for an EIN, which only takes a few minutes if you apply on the IRS website. You’ll need this identification number to file your business’s income tax return and payroll tax return with the IRS. You’ll likely need it for non-tax purposes too, like opening a business bank account, hiring employees, and applying for a business loan. If you plan on hiring employees, you’ll also need to obtain a Business Identification Number (BIN) through the Oregon Business Registry.
When it comes to small business taxes, the business entity you chose earlier will affect what’s required of you. You can read up on Oregon business taxes on the Oregon Department of Revenue website, and your federal income tax requirements for businesses through the IRS. But here again, we’d highly recommend consulting an attorney, accountant, or other professional so you can thoroughly understand your business’s tax requirements—this isn’t an area you want to skimp on.
If you’re doing business in a regulated field, then you may need an occupational or business license, permit, or certification to legally operate. You can head over to the state’s License Directory, where you can search for information on acquiring and maintaining over 1,100 licenses, permits, and certifications. If you can’t find your particular field in this directory, you can contact Oregon’s Office of Small Business Assistance for personalized help.
Also keep in mind that your occupational or business license may require annual renewal, so check with the appropriate licensing agency for information about your ongoing requirements. Additionally, you may need to get a license or permit from your county or city. Get in touch with your city or county clerk’s office to find out about your local license, permit, and zoning requirements.
If you plan on hiring a staff, you’ll need to understand your employer requirements, too. When you’re starting your business in Oregon, depending on the amount of employees you have and the type of business you’re starting, you’ll be required by the state to post certain posters that alert workers to things such as minimum wage, equal pay, and protections in place for victims of domestic violence. You’ll also be required to report new hires, or anyone who has filled out a W-4 form, to the Oregon DOJ Division of Child Support within 20 days—this includes temporary staff.
If you’re going to employ workers, we’d also recommend familiarizing yourself with employment eligibility verification, and how to determine an independent contractor vs. an employee.
Although we do our utmost to avoid them, accidents do happen—so it’s in your best interest to get the type of small business insurance that will cover potential damages, accidents, malpractice, and other suits attendant to your industry when starting a business in Oregon state.
Take a look at our guide to small business insurance to learn about the types of coverage that make sense for your particular enterprise. The nine common types of small business insurance we explain in this guide cover a range of specific liabilities, from property damage to wrongful termination claims. But if you’re seeking a fairly universal form of coverage, we’d recommend buying general liability insurance.
Also, state licensing boards might require that businesses in their fields carry certain types of insurance. If you’re in a regulated field, you should check with the appropriate licensing and permitting board to find out whether you require a specific type of coverage. The state of Oregon also requires that almost all employers carry workers’ compensation insurance. Take a look at the Small Business Ombudsman page on workers’ comp to find out if you need coverage for your employees.
An important step in this “how to start a business in Oregon” guide is maintaining a separation between your personal and business finances. With your personal assets and business assets remaining firmly in their own camps, you’re ensuring that the former are protected in case your business is sued. And depending on the type of business entity you’ve chosen to file for, it may actually be legally required for you to keep your personal and business assets from intermingling. Regardless of your chosen entity, this separation will make your bookkeeping processes much simpler, which you’ll thank yourself for come tax season.
The two ways you can maintain that separation are by opening a business bank account and signing up for a business credit card.
Start out by opening a business checking account, into which you’ll deposit your earnings and from which you’ll pay your vendors and suppliers. We’d recommend opening your business checking account with the bank that holds your personal accounts; but if you’re not happy with your current bank, or if you’re simply curious about your alternatives, consult our guide on the best business checking accounts for small business.
You can apply for a business credit card as soon as you’ve registered your business. If you apply online, this should only take you a matter of minutes. Business credit cards are the most efficient way to pay for your business’s smaller, daily expenses, and if you spend responsibly, you’ll help build and boost your business’s credit score—a crucial factor in getting approved for more substantial business funding down the line. We’d recommend signing up for a credit card with perks attached, like cash back, rewards points, or a long 0% intro APR period. That way, you’re truly getting more bang for your buck every time you use your card. Just be sure that you read the fine print if you choose to go with a 0% introductory period APR card, though. After your interest-free months are up, the rate that sets in will vary with the market.
Although you may be tempted to approach your bank or an online lender for a startup loan when starting a business in Oregon, this may not be the best use of your time. Both traditional and alternative lenders need hard proof that an applying business is financially solvent enough to repay their debt—and often, that proof comes in the form of several years’ worth of financial documents and an established credit score, which just-launched businesses simply don’t yet have.
For that reason, startup funding often involves a combination of alternative financing methods that don’t involve business loan applications. Many business owners use a portion of their personal savings to start their businesses and bootstrap from there. Others may tap supportive family and friends for a loan, or seek angel investors or another type of equity financing. You can also consider approaching your bank for a personal loan and using those funds toward your business. Crowdfunding is an excellent option for projects that require less substantial funding, and Kiva loans can provide funding opportunities for business owners who are typically excluded from the traditional lending space.
It’s always a good idea to look to your home state for financing opportunities, too. Take a look at the Oregon Business Xpress financing guide, where you’ll find details about both state and federal loans, incentives, and resources that can help businesses (including startups) secure the financing they need.
Once you’ve completed the seven steps on this list, you’ve officially figured out how to start a business in Oregon. Congratulations!
Now comes the fun part: marketing your business. You don’t need to implement the entire small business marketing plan you outlined in your preliminary business plans, especially if you’re low on funds or bandwidth (which most small businesses are).
So at the start, keep it simple by building your business website, creating an active and high-quality business social media presence, networking, and introducing yourself to fellow small business owners in your neighborhood. All of these strategies are low-cost, relatively low-lift ways to get the word out to your community-slash-future-customers about your new venture.