How To Start A Business In Tennessee (2023 Guide)
Starting a business in Tennessee is straightforward and similar to starting a business in any other state. You must file formation papers with the state if you are beginning any business that is not a sole proprietorship or general partnership. You’ll need to name your business, choose a type of business entity, register the business online, get tax ID numbers and apply for necessary licenses or permits.
Tennessee’s online business resources and registration through the Secretary of State make it simple to get your business officially up and running. In this guide, we include answers to a few questions you might have along the way, and you might want to consult a business attorney to confirm the right moves for your company.
You have to register your business under one specific name, so start by choosing a name for your business. This could be a brand name you want to use publicly or just a name you’ll use officially for the business entity.
You can choose almost any name you want for your business in Tennessee, as long as it:
Your registered business name is required to include ending words or abbreviations that indicate the structure of the business, including:
Beyond these requirements, consider the following when choosing a business name:
If you want to create a business entity that can hold other brands, you can use a DBA (called an “assumed name” in Tennessee) for those other brands that’s in line with how you present them publicly and makes it easy to treat each as its own asset within your company.
If you know the name you want to use for your business but aren’t ready to register the business yet, you can apply to reserve a business name for a $20 fee.
The business entity you choose for your company depends mainly on the structure of ownership in the business, as well as the potential future of the business.
You can register a business in Tennessee online through the Secretary of State’s office. When you register a business in Tennessee, you file your articles of organization or a charter to form your company.
A registered agent is the person or business designated to receive and file legal and financial documents for your business with the state. You can list yourself or another member of the business’s management, or you can work with a professional Tennessee registered agent who handles legal documents for a fee.
You have to note whether your business is member-managed or manager-managed if you register an LLC. “Managed” in this case refers to control over business operations (as opposed to lower-level “management” positions). Here’s the difference between member-managed and manager-managed businesses:
Member-managed means all the LLC’s members (owners) automatically operate the company. It’s the most common operational structure for a small business.
Manager-managed means you designate managers of the company. They can be members or not, and not all members need to be managers. This structure works best for a company that wants to attract silent investors, has a lot of owners and wants to consolidate leadership among a small number or needs to hire an experienced operator who isn’t an owner of the business.
Once your business is registered, you can apply for an EIN, an employer identification number, with the IRS. This is the tax ID number for the business entity, and you’ll use it for the business in most of the same places you use a Social Security number for yourself: opening financial accounts, filing taxes, W-9 forms, etc.
Single-member LLCs are not required to obtain an EIN unless they have employees, although one may be necessary to open a business bank account.
Applying for an EIN is free, and you should receive the number immediately when you apply online.
After you form your business with the state, you might receive a letter that says you’re required to register for a state tax ID, as well. If you are, you can .
You don’t need a general business license in the state of Tennessee, but you’ll have to apply for a standard business tax license from your county or city clerk if your business earns more than $10,000 in annual revenue. If you earn less than that but more than $3,000, you can apply for a minimal activity license instead.
You need to apply for specific business licenses and permits if you operate in an industry that requires it. For example, you need to apply for a federal license or permit if you work in a field regulated by a federal agency, such as:
You need a professional license with the state if you’re conducting regulated business, such as real estate, law, construction or engineering. And you need state or local permits to conduct a regulated activity, including selling alcohol or operating a restaurant.
Fees for licenses and permits vary by industry and location, and you might have to get licenses from multiple agencies that regulate various types of business activities.
No law or regulation requires you to use a business bank account for your finances if you’re the owner of an LLC. But opening a bank account and other financial products in your business’s name and using them for all business-related finances is the simplest way to keep your accounting straight and ensure your personal assets are protected from business liabilities.
The most basic type of account you need is a business checking account. You could open an account for your business at a legacy institution where you already do your personal banking or choose an online bank with features designed to cater to small businesses.
The best bank for your business depends on your financial circumstances and business needs.
Once you open a checking account and, if applicable, a savings account, credit cards or loans in your business’s name, use them exclusively for business income and expenses. You can usually link your accounts directly to accounting software such as QuickBooks to make tracking and tax filing easy.
Depending on your industry and structure, you might be required to buy business insurance for your company. Even if it’s not required, insurance can protect your business in case of liabilities.
General liability coverage is the most common type of business insurance. It covers you in case customers claim your business is responsible for bodily injury or property damage (think: slip-and-fall lawsuits).
Once you’ve made it official, it’s time to start growing your business! Your marketing efforts will vary depending on the kind of business you run, but most businesses at least need an online presence and a way to organize information about inventory and/or clients.
Marketing might also include other efforts, such as buying digital and print ads, hosting events, attending networking meetings and creating promotions and discounts.
You can register a business in Tennessee with relative ease and low cost, with total startup costs depending on the type of business you want to operate. You’ll come across some terms and questions in the process that you might not have considered, but by following this guide and consulting an attorney about your situation, you will be prepared with everything you need to get your business up and running in The Volunteer State.
The fee to register a new LLC in Tennessee is $50 per member, with a minimum of $300 and a maximum of $3,000. You’ll also pay $15 to get a business tax license in your county or municipality. You might have additional startup and licensing costs, which can vary significantly depending on your industry and the type of business you want to run.
To start an LLC in Tennessee, you’ll need at minimum a business name, a minimum $300 registration fee, a $15 local business license, an EIN and a state tax ID. Requirements could be more complex depending on the kind of business you run; you might need to buy business insurance, open a business bank account, learn how to hire employees, buy property and more.
Anyone can start a business. Determine a business concept based on your expertise and interests, research competitors and make a business plan. Once you know the kind of business you want to run, you can determine the structure and costs you have to plan for to get the business up and running.
Along with most states, Tennessee doesn’t require a general business operating license, regardless of whether you’re a sole proprietor or own a registered business. You need to get a business tax license from your county or municipality, and you might need to get various licenses or permits from local, state and federal government agencies that regulate the types of business activities you want to engage in. Those could include permits to sell alcohol or run a restaurant, or licensing to practice law, medicine or architecture, for example.
Dana Miranda is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance® and founder of Healthy Rich, a platform for inclusive, budget-free financial education. She’s written about work and money for publications including Forbes, The New York Times, CNBC, NextAdvisor, Insider and Inc. Magazine.
Kelly is an SMB Editor specializing in starting and marketing new ventures. Before joining the team, she was a Content Producer at Fit Small Business where she served as an editor and strategist covering small business marketing content. She is a former Google Tech Entrepreneur and she holds an MSc in International Marketing from Edinburgh Napier University. Additionally, she manages a column at Inc. Magazine.