Starting a Business in North Dakota

Apr 19, 2022

Written by: Tiffany Ford, ND Small Business Development Centers

So, you’ve decided to start your own business and have no idea where to start.

Don’t worry – you aren’t the only person that feels that way, and you definitely won’t be alone in the journey you have decided to take. First, congratulations! Making this decision takes a lot of thought and consideration of many personal and professional factors, as well as short-term and long-term planning. Now, it’s time to get to work!

  • Get a knowledgeable and experienced partner on your team.

    When you work with a credentialed professional business advisor from any of the eight ND Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) in the state, you don’t even need to pay them! ND SBDC advisors can assist entrepreneurs (and current small business owners) with every step of the start-up process, and can continue to assist later in your journey as you grow, pivot, and eventually sell or exit your business. The ND SBDC has a strong network of partners and will be sure to connect you to each one that is a necessary part of the process in addition to those that might just be a great mentor or offer you something of benefit.

  • Use the "Small Business Resource Guide."

    There is an excellent and comprehensive “Small Business Resource Guide” that you will get when you visit with the ND SBDC. In it, you will find a checklist of items to consider as you plan to get your business off the ground.

    • The very first one is our ND Secretary of State, where you will use the FirstStop functionality to submit business registration and licensing documents.
    • At the same point in the timeline you may need to register with the IRS for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) depending on the legal structure you choose for your business. Your ND SBDC advisor will share the pros and cons of all possible legal structures and you will decide which structure fits your goals. This will depend on where you want to take your business, who you will work with or share ownership with, and also the tax implications of each. It is crucial that this be correct on the front end because it can affect your options as your business grows in later years.
    • And your name… what’s in a name? A LOT! Together, let’s make sure your name stands out and represents your brand and your service or product in the best light.
  • Check additional licensing requirements.

    There may be additional registrations or licenses that you will need to apply for or file with other state, county, or city agencies depending on your business. Your ND SBDC advisor knows the local regulations that are relevant to your business. If you want to do some research on your own, you can check out the ND Tax department to view Sales Tax Permits and State Income Tax Withholding, and your local county and city websites for their specific registration or licensing requirements and zoning ordinances.

    Could your idea, name, or product potentially be intellectual property? Do you need to consider trademark, copyright, patent, or trade secret protection? This really depends, and it might also be a conversation to have later as your business grows.

  • Make a plan for your employees.

    Another item that can be considered at the beginning of your plan, but that might not be implemented until you see the desired growth in your business, is hiring employees. There are a number of steps you will need to complete to be sure that you are compliant with laws:

    • Federal and state taxes
    • Employment eligibility verification
    • Health coverage
    • Workers Compensation (ND Workforce Safety)
    • Labor and wage laws
    • Social Security
    • Unemployment Insurance (ND Job Service)
    • Occupational Safety & Health (OSHA)
    • Child Support Enforcement (ND CSE).

    It seems daunting when you are reading this list, but do not hesitate to bring this up with your ND SBDC advisor who can help answer your questions, find you the right form, or connect you to someone from an agency that can get you more information on what you need.

  • Build a network of professional support.

    Beyond these preliminary steps with the ND SBDC, there are many professional agency options for business owners. Your ND SBDC business advisor will not tell you exactly whom to go to but they will share with you the available options; you will need to choose the provider that is the right fit for you. These professionals are just as important to your journey and your business’s success as the previously mentioned logistics, and these resources include bankers, attorneys, bookkeepers or accountants, insurance agents, and financial advisors.

  • Develop and revise your business plan.

    The really heavy lifting is when you write your business plan. You might hear, at some point in your search for information that the concept of a business plan is outdated and not necessary. This is serious misinformation – especially if you need money to get your business off the ground. Private investors and venture capital groups, not just banks, need to see that you have a plan for how you will grow your business. The business plan also serves other purposes besides being a tool for financing; it is your blueprint to build your business and outline the goals you have for your business. It will include information about your customers and the market for your product or service, where you fit in your industry compared to other businesses like yours, how you will price products, how you will market your products, who you will hire, what skills, education or expertise they will need to be a part of your team, what role they will play, your physical location needs, and many other components.

    With a solid business plan, you will be able to speak to anyone about your business because you did the work needed to know all its nuanced details. Your business plan will and should change over time as your business changes with growth or new products and markets. When changes are needed, that is a great opportunity to check in with your ND SBDC business advisor to make sure you are hitting your goals and to talk through new ideas to see long-lasting success!

There is no need to go it alone in this process. The ND SBDC can help connect the dots between partners (SCORE, Women’s Business Center, and the Veterans Business Outreach Center), economic development organizations, chambers, and other support resources for entrepreneurs and small business owners. We want to see your business ownership dreams become reality, so visit with us, and get started on the right path.

When small businesses thrive, communities thrive… North Dakota thrives.