New Jersey has the 8th largest state economy in the US and is home to many exciting startups and firms. For companies large and small, it’s a great place to do business. The state boasts excellent education (leading to better employees), a fast startup growth rate, and business-friendly regulations.
Are you interested in starting a New Jersey company of your own? This guide will show you how to start a business in New Jersey, from the initial planning stages to running and growing your new company.
Decide on a business idea
First and foremost, you’ll need to decide what kind of business you want to start. Chances are you already have something in mind, but if not, here are some things to consider:
- What are you talented or naturally skilled at? Could this talent make you well suited to a certain type of business?
- What business does your community need? Have you talked to people to find out?
- What are you interested in? Can you combine any of your passions with a business idea?
- Is this going to be a full time business, or more of a side hustle?
These are questions to ask yourself when deciding on a business idea. Once you have decided, move on to the next step.
Plan your New Jersey business
Now it’s time to start planning. This means coming up with a business plan, naming your business, researching locations, and more. There’s a lot to cover here, so let’s break it down:
Select a business name
Naming your business is the first step – and it’s a very important step, so take your time. You will need to brainstorm and come up with ideas for what you would like to name your business. The name you choose should be memorable for your customers/clients, appropriate for your industry/business type, and unique from other business names.
This last point is quite important: The name you use for your business must be distinguishable/unique from other business names already registered in the state of New Jersey. To see if a name is available, you can conduct a business entity name search online.
Finding a unique name is one of the most important New Jersey business name rules – but it’s not the only one.
There are other important rules to consider, including:
- Names for LLCs need to contain “limited liability company”, or certain approved abbreviations such as “LLC” or “L.L.C.”
- Names for corporations need to contain “corporation”, “incorporated”, or certain approved abbreviations such as “corp” or “inc”
- The use of some financial words or phrases, such as “bank” or “trust”, may require additional written permission
- Other rules may apply. See more information here.
When you find an available name that you would like to use, you can move on to the next steps below. Or, if you want time to think about it, you can reserve the name for 120 days by filing the Application for Reservation of Business Name. This prevents another business from registering the name for 120 days.
New Jersey trade names
While considering how you name your new company, it’s worthwhile to keep in mind the future use of “trade names”, otherwise known as alternate names or DBAs. After your business has been established, you can register additional alternate names, which you can then legally do business under. This offers more flexibility in marketing and branding efforts. Learn more here.
Register a domain name
Once you choose a name, you should immediately register a domain name for your new business. In most cases, getting a .com domain name is ideal, but there are many other extensions (.biz, .net, etc.) that are worth considering.
You can use a tool like Namechk to search for an available domain name and find a great deal on the registration cost. You may find that your desired names are taken, so you may need to get creative.
Complete market research
Once you have an idea, you’ll want to do some market research. You want to gain a better understanding of who your customers – and competitors – are. You can achieve this by conducting online research, running focus groups, sending out surveys, and more. There are also companies that can help you complete market research, for a fee.
Select a business location
Unless you plan to run a remote/virtual business, you will need to find a physical location for your company. Research commercial property in your area, and take note of typical costs. For customer-facing businesses (retail and some services), location is very important, so take your time in selecting the right area for your business.
Create a business plan
You will now need to create a detailed business plan for your new venture. This plan is helpful for your own purposes, and will also be necessary in order to obtain funding from a bank. A good business plan should contain these elements:
- Finances: How much funding does the business need to get started? How many sales does it need each month to break even on expenses?
- Product: What do you plan to sell? Is it a product or a service? What problem does your business solve, and how is it distinct from your competitors?
- Marketing: How will you drive sales? What marketing and sales efforts do you plan to employ? How much money will you set aside to fund marketing efforts?
- Staff & partnerships: How many people will you need to hire, and what skill sets do they need to have? Will you have any partnerships or arrangements with other local businesses?
If you need help, you can find business plan templates online that will help walk you through the steps you need to take to draft a detailed business plan. If you plan to seek funding, you may also wish to call your bank to see what they require in terms of business plans.
Decide on a business structure
Before you form your business as a legal entity, you will need to decide which business structure you will use. There are a few different types of businesses, each with its own pros and cons.
Sole props are single-person operations. Examples include freelancers, gig economy workers, and consultants. A sole proprietorship business is very easy and inexpensive to form, and tax reporting is also fairly simple. As a sole proprietor, your business taxes are reported as part of your personal tax return.
The downsides to a sole prop are that you cannot hire employees, and you don’t have the legal liability shield that something like an LLC or corporation would provide. 100% of the debts and liability of a sole proprietorship go to the sole owner: you.
A general partnership is an unincorporated business structure similar to a sole proprietorship, except with two active owners/participants. Partnerships do not have liability protection.
Limited liability company (LLC)
A limited liability company, or LLC, is a popular choice for business owners because it provides liability protection to the owners. It separates the business from the owners, which means the personal assets of owners will not be at risk if the company gets sued or goes into bankruptcy.
LLCs are also a bit easier to form than corporations. Even so, there is definitely more work involved with an LLC than there is with a sole proprietorship.
A corporation is owned by its shareholders and is a separate entity. There are a few different types of corporations (C-corp, S-corp, etc), with the main differences being the way they are treated tax-wise.
Corporations are more regulated than LLCs, which makes them more attractive to outside investors. For this reason, most large companies are corporations. The downside is that it takes more effort, and more paperwork, to form a corporation.
A nonprofit is a legal entity that is set up with charitable status, meaning that its goal is not to make a profit, but rather to address a certain cause. Nonprofits are funded by donations, rather than investors, and are subject to many regulations. They are exempt from most forms of taxation, although tax returns must still be filed.
Register your business in New Jersey
Now it’s time to actually register your NJ business. To do this, you will need to work with the New Jersey Department of Revenue and Enterprise Services, either online or through the mail.
The broad steps include:
- Naming your company
- Choosing a registered agent, who will be tasked with receiving legal notices on behalf of the company
- Filing paperwork with the state
- Obtaining business licenses and permits if necessary
- Applying for an EIN from the IRS
You can work directly with the NJ Department of Revenue and Enterprise Services to form the business. Or, you can save time by using a paid business formation service.
Formation services make it simple to start a NJ business, because they walk you through each step of the process, and provide useful tips and insights along the way. Some good options include Northwest Registered Agent, ZenBusiness, and Incfile. It is optional to use these services, however, they can help save you a substantial amount of time.
If you don’t use a service, the specific steps you’ll need to take are laid out below (it differs for each business entity type).
Form a New Jersey sole proprietorship
Follow these steps:
- Decide if you will operate under your legal name, or use a trade name
- If you use a name other than your own, you may need to register an alternate name
- Apply for a business license and/or other necessary permits from local governments (city/county)
- More information here
Form a New Jersey LLC
Follow these steps:
- Name your new LLC (see notes above)
- Choose a New Jersey Registered Agent (or use a service such as Northwest Registered Agent). This agent is tasked with receiving legal documents and other important notices on behalf of your company
- File the Business Registration Application, found on page 17 of the formation packet, as well as the Public Records Filing found on page 23. Complete the documents by mail or complete them online, and submit them along with a $125 filing fee
- Register your business for state taxes
- Draft an LLC operating agreement
- Apply for an EIN with the IRS
Form a New Jersey corporation
Follow these steps:
- Decide on your desired corporate tax structure (S corp or C corp)
- Name your new corporation
- Choose a Registered Agent for your business (or use a service)
- Hold an organizational meeting and appoint directors
- File the Public Records Filing, found on page 23 of the formation packet. Complete the documents by mail or complete them online, and submit them along with a $125 filing fee
- File form NJ-REG
- Apply for an EIN from the IRS
Apply for business licenses and permits
Registering your business and forming an LLC or corporation is an important part of starting your business – but in order to operate legally, you will likely also need to obtain certain permits and/or business licenses.
The specifics vary depending on the type of business you are running, as well as your location. For example, restaurants will need health permits, bars will need liquor licenses, and medical service providers will need various professional licenses and federal permits. You will need to research the specifics that relate to your business type.
There are different requirements at each level of government:
- Local: Cities and counties may require certain business licenses or permits. Contact your county clerk for details.
- State: New Jersey may require additional permits and/or licenses in order to operate legally in the state. Check the NJ Licensing and Permit Guide and the Starting a Business guide for more information.
- Federal: Federal permits/licenses may be required for certain regulated industries, such as construction, medicine and legal services. Check the Small Business Administration (SBA) guide for more details.
At this time, you should also apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN). An EIN is a federal tax ID that is required to hire employees. You can apply for an EIN online with the IRS – the application is free and quick.
For most businesses, some startup funding will be necessary in order to get started. In step #2, you should have calculated your funding needs while drafting a business plan. Use this information to determine how much funding you need to raise.
For bootstrapped companies, you may be able to get by with your own personal savings, or some seed investments from friends and family. If your funding needs are small, this is likely your best route.
If your business plan indicates that substantial funding is needed, you will likely need to apply for a loan and/or a grant.
- Small business loans are offered by banks, credit unions and other lenders. They can range from as little as a few thousand to hundreds of thousands. Specifics will depend on your business, as well as your personal creditworthiness. Most small business loans are issued in a lump sum, and paid back on a monthly basis, with interest.
- Small business grants are offered by government agencies and some nonprofits. They are essentially business loans that don’t need to be paid back – but they usually have substantial fine print. It’s worth looking into, however, as there may be grants available, particularly for businesses serving an important social need, or for underprivileged entrepreneurs starting their first business.
Set up your business finances
Beyond securing funding, there are other routine tasks that you need to take care of to get your business’ finances in order. This includes:
- Opening a business checking account. You should have a separate business bank account that you use solely for business purposes. You can open this account at most banks, credit unions and financial institutions. Call ahead to see what documents will be required to open this account.
- Open a business credit card or line of credit. This is not strictly necessary, but most businesses can benefit from having a business credit card, and/or a business line of credit. This can be used for day-to-day expenses and purchases, and may also earn you some rewards.
- Set up your accounting system. As a business owner, you will need to keep very detailed records about all revenue and expenses. To do this, you’ll want to set up the proper foundation from day one. This could be investing in an account software such as QuickBooks or Xero, hiring a bookkeeper, or at the very least establishing a spreadsheet to track everything. If you do not have any accounting experience, it’s wise to hire a professional to help.
- Purchase business insurance. Most businesses should have some form of liability insurance, and potentially other forms of business insurance as well. Insurance policies can help protect your equipment and buildings from costly damage, and help shield your company from liability if a worker or customer is injured or otherwise harmed. Speak with a local business insurance provider to get started.
Create a business website
In this day and age, having a solid web presence for your business is very important. And social media profiles, while important, are no replacement for an actual website. You will want to build a professional business website that you can use to drum up business, inform your customers, and stay connected with your clientele.
The simplest way to build a website is to use a website builder from a web hosting provider. When you register a new domain name, look for a provider that also offers web hosting and a site builder, so that you can purchase everything at once and get your site set up quickly.
Unless you plan to operate a solo business (with you as the only worker), you will likely need to hire employees. To do this, you will need a federal employer identification number (EIN), which is a free tax ID number issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
In addition to the federal requirement to have an EIN, there are additional state-level requirements that you will need to comply with. You will need to report new hires after bringing on any new employee, and you’ll need to register for and pay employer taxes like unemployment insurance tax and withholding tax.
There will likely be additional tax and reporting requirements to comply with. Check with your accountant for details.
At this point, you also should look into setting up your payroll system – whether you handle it yourself, or use a payroll service.
Run and grow your business
Now it’s time to get down to business and engage with the day-to-day activities that are sure to bring your business success. This means marketing your products and services, maintaining good relationships with your return customers, and setting yourself apart from the competition.
New Jersey business FAQs
Still have questions about running a business in New Jersey? Here are some answers to frequently asked questions.
What are some business resources in New Jersey?
NJ entrepreneurs have access to a wide variety of useful resources, both paid and free. A great resource to explore is the NJ Small Business Development Center (SBDC), which provides free business coaching and development services, learning materials, and other beneficial resources. The New Jersey District Office of the Small Business Administration (SBA) is another useful resource and can help connect you to other organizations in your area.
What is the minimum wage in New Jersey?
The New Jersey minimum wage is $12 per hour for most workers, as of 2021. This will increase each year on January 1st, to $13 per hour in 2022, $14 per hour in 2023, and $15 per hour in 2024. Future increases are to be determined. See this chart for details on scheduled increases, and here for frequently asked questions about NJ minimum wage.
There are some exceptions to the minimum wage. Generally speaking, small employers with fewer than 6 employees, and seasonal employers, can pay slightly less than the minimum wage (see chart). Agricultural employers also have their own, slightly lower minimum wage. And finally, there is a cash-tipped wage which allows employers of workers who receive tips to pay a reduced rate, so long as total wages (wages + tips) equal the current minimum wage. This chart has all the details.
Keep in mind that it is possible for individual cities or counties to impose their own minimum wage laws that may exceed New Jersey’s minimum wage. Check with local government officials in your area to ensure your business is compliant with all local rules.
What business taxes does New Jersey have?
There are a variety of NJ business taxes that firms may be subject to. This includes the state sales and use tax, corporation business tax, employer withholding tax, and others. The details depend on the type of business you are running; check with your CPA or the NJ Division of Taxation for details.
How do I dissolve an LLC or Corporation in New Jersey?
To close a NJ company, the owners must “dissolve” it. This involves filing some voluntary dissolution paperwork with the state, like the Certificate of Cancellation for LLCs or the Certificate of Dissolution for corporations. You’ll also need to tackle filing any outstanding tax returns, closing down business tax accounts, and potentially other steps.
The process differs slightly for LLCs compared to corporations. It’s recommended to work with a CPA for this process, as it can be complex.
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