Starting a Business in Washington – A Comprehensive Guide

How to Start a Business Washington

Staring a business in Washington (the state) is a truly exciting prospect. If you have a business idea, Washington is an excellent place to bring it to life. In this blog, we will provide a comprehensive guide on how to get your startup running in this vibrant region, helping you navigate the process and understand the unique advantages and challenges you might encounter. This resource is designed to be an invaluable tool for anyone looking to dive into entrepreneurship in Washington, brimming with facts, figures, and essential tips specific to the state.

The state of Washington is home to many startup businessesTop Two Benefits of Starting a Business in Washington

  1. Business-friendly environment: Washington State is known for its robust business environment. It has a diverse economy and is home to major corporations like Amazon, Microsoft, and Starbucks, reflecting a successful culture of entrepreneurship. Additionally, Washington doesn’t impose corporate or personal income tax, which can be a significant financial advantage for new businesses.
  2. Access to Talent and Innovation: Being a technological and innovation hub, Washington provides access to a highly skilled and educated workforce. The state’s strong connection to prestigious universities and research centers like the University of Washington ensures a steady flow of innovative ideas and talent.

Top Two Challenges When Starting a Business in Washington

  1. High Cost of Living: One challenge to starting a business in Washington can be the state’s relatively high cost of living, particularly in cities like Seattle. This can impact labor and operational expenses, which should be considered when creating a business plan.
  2. Regulatory Environment: While Washington provides a business-friendly climate, it also has a complex regulatory environment. Entrepreneurs must be prepared to navigate various state-specific laws, permits, and regulations. Compliance can be time-consuming and costly, so it’s essential to understand these requirements from the start.

Regulatory Factors and Taxes in Washington

Starting a business in Washington State presents unique advantages in terms of taxation. Notably, the state does not impose a corporate income tax. This means businesses aren’t taxed on their net income, a policy that can provide substantial financial benefits to companies, whether starting or already well-established.

Instead of a corporate income tax, Washington levies a Business and Occupation (B&O) tax. The B&O tax is calculated on gross income from activities conducted within the state, and the rate differs based on the type of business. For instance, the B&O tax rate for retailing businesses is 0.471%, whereas for services and other activities, the rate is 1.5%.

Additionally, entrepreneurs should know the state sales tax when starting a business in Washington. The base state sales tax rate is 6.5%. However, this rate can be higher in certain locations due to added local sales taxes. These local rates can vary by city and county, so it’s crucial to research the specific rates in your intended business location.

Washington also imposes property taxes determined by the county and the property’s assessed value. Some businesses may be subject to additional taxes, such as the state’s unemployment insurance tax. The rates for this tax can vary depending on the nature of the business and its history of unemployment claims.

Remember, tax laws and rates can change over time, so it’s crucial to consult with a tax professional or the state’s Department of Revenue to get the most accurate and current information.

How do I Choose a Business Structure?

There are five primary types of businesses. Each type of business entity is described below.

Sole Proprietorship

A business owned and operated by one individual with no legal distinction between the business and the owner. The owner is personally responsible for all debts and liabilities of the business. Most small business owners in  Washington use this business type.

Limited Liability Company (LLC)

A flexible business organization that combines the liability protection of a corporation with the tax benefits and simplicity of a partnership. Owners of an LLC are called members, and their assets are typically protected from the debts and liabilities of the business. You have the flexibility to define many aspects of how your business will work in your Articles of Organization.


A type of corporation allows for pass-through taxation, meaning that profits and losses are passed through to the shareholders and reported on their tax returns. S-Corporations are limited to 100 shareholders and must meet specific eligibility requirements. An S-Corp can be particularly advantageous if the founders or investors have other income. If the business doesn’t generate a profit in any year, the shareholders can use the losses from a tax perspective.


A separate legal entity from its owners (shareholders) means that the corporation can enter into contracts, own assets, and sue or be sued. C-Corporations are subject to double taxation, meaning that the corporation and the shareholders are taxed on profits.

A Note About S-Corps and C-Corps

For both S-Corporations and C-Corporations, your business formation documents will include Articles of Incorporation, sometimes called a Corporate Charter.  The specific requirements and format of Articles of Incorporation can vary by jurisdiction. It is advisable to consult with a business attorney or online legal service such as Legal Zoom to ensure compliance with local laws and regulations when drafting and filing these documents.

Limited Liability Partnership (LLP)

A partnership that limits the personal liability of its partners. LLPs are typically used by professional service providers such as lawyers, accountants, and architects. Each partner is protected from the other partners’ wrongful acts, omissions, and negligence, but they may still be personally liable for their actions.

Distribution of Businesses

Business Type Percent of Businesses in  Washington
Sole Proprietorship 50-55%
Limited Liability Company (LLC) 20-25%
S-Corporation 10-15%
C-Corporation 5-7%
Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) 3-5%

The distribution of the resources varies depending on the industry and location within the state. To obtain the latest and most reliable information, it is advisable to consult a legal counselor or a local business specialist.

What is an Employer Identification Number – EIN?

Definition of an EIN or Employer Identification Number

An Employer Identification Number (EIN) is a unique identifier consisting of nine digits the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) assigns to businesses operating in the United States. This number is crucial for business owners as it simplifies tax administration and is also commonly referred to as the Federal Tax Identification Number or the Federal Employer Identification Number.

Do I Need One to Start a Business in Washington?

Obtaining an EIN is essential to start a business in Washington. This vital number is required when establishing a business entity, hiring employees, obtaining business licenses, or opening a business bank account in Washington. Failure to obtain an EIN can result in significant financial penalties and legal ramifications.

How Do I Get One?

To secure an EIN, you can visit the IRS website and complete the application process online. This method is quick and convenient, providing you with the number immediately after completing the application. Alternatively, you can submit Form SS-4 to the IRS via mail or fax. If you need additional assistance or require more information, you can reach out to the IRS at 1-800-829-4933 or visit their website at . It is important to note that an EIN’s application process is free of charge.

How to Start a Business in Washington – Important Registrations

The State Capitol building of Washington is where programs to support starting a business are administeredRegistering My Business Name

Getting your business off the ground in Washington necessitates registering your business name with the Secretary of State’s office. This critical step establishes your business’s legal presence within the state. You can contact the office at (360) 725-0377 or visit their website at .

Registering a DBA (Doing Business As) If Relevant

If your business operates under a name different from its legal name, it’s crucial to register a DBA or “Doing Business As” with the Washington Secretary of State’s office. Washington comprises 39 counties, each with its local government services and regulations. The state government’s website, , can offer valuable insight into local rules and requirements.

Registering for Payroll, State Payroll Taxes, and Unemployment Insurance

Handling payroll taxes and unemployment insurance in Washington requires setting up an account with the Washington State Department of Employment Security. You can find them at  or contact them at (800) 318-6022.

Registering for Worker’s Compensation Insurance

Washington businesses are also required to secure worker’s compensation insurance. This coverage can be procured from a licensed provider. If you use a  payroll service , they should also be able to provide worker’s comp.

Registering for Collecting Sales Tax

Businesses in Washington must register for sales tax collection, which can be done through the Washington State Department of Revenue’s website: . They can be reached at (800) 647-7706 for further information.

Registering for Income Tax

Unlike many states, Washington does not impose a state corporate income tax. Instead, they levy a Business and Occupation Tax (B&O). For more information about filing and payments, visit the Department of Revenue’s website at .

Registering to Pay Property Tax

You should contact your local county assessor’s office for inquiries about property tax in Washington. Additional information can be found on the Washington State Department of Revenue’s website at . Navigate to the Property Tax section at  for more specifics.

Permits for Starting a Business in Washington

Do I Need a Business Permit to Operate a Business in  Washington?

At the State Level:  Depending on the nature of your business, you may need specific permits to operate in Washington state. The State of Washington’s Business Licensing Service is a one-stop resource for business licensing. Their website, , provides detailed information on various licenses, permits, and registrations. For further inquiries, you can contact them at 1-800-451-7985.

Check With Your City:  Each city in Washington may have its requirements for business permits and licenses. It’s essential to check with your local city clerk’s office or city business license department for the specific requirements in your area. For example, if you’re in Seattle, visit the Seattle Department of Finance and Administrative Services’ website at . For other cities, a quick online search for “[city name] business licenses” should point you in the right direction.

Check Federal Requirements.  Certain businesses may require federal licenses or permits. For example, if you’re involved in activities regulated by a federal agency – such as selling alcohol, firearms, or wildlife – you will likely need a federal license. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) provides a guide to federal business licenses at .

Check With Your County:  Your county may require specific permits or licenses. Check with your county’s business license department for information. For instance, in King County, you can visit their website at . Again, a quick online search for “[county name] business licenses” should help you find the correct resources.

How do I learn about any special permits I need for my business?

Washington State provides several resources to help you determine if your business needs special permits. One notable tool is the Washington State Department of Revenue’s Business Licensing Guide at . This guide lets you enter your business information and see a list of potential licenses or permits you may need.

If you’re in a specialized industry, your industry’s state regulatory board can also be a useful resource. For instance, if you’re starting a restaurant, you’d want to contact the Washington State Department of Health’s Food Safety Program at .

Another resource is the Washington Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at . They offer advice and guidance for small businesses, including information about necessary permits and licenses. You can also contact local business associations or chambers of commerce for advice and information about your area.

Financing Options for Entrepreneurs in Washington

Starting a new venture can be exhilarating, but entrepreneurs often need significant financial resources to bring their ideas to life. While personal assets and credit cards may be the first resources entrepreneurs consider, looking into other financing options is important. Utilizing personal assets can be risky, and credit cards often come with high-interest rates, making them less than ideal for long-term financing.

Financing a New Business

Finding credible funding sources is vital in starting a new business. Beyond the entrepreneur’s resources, many other financing options, such as grants and investments from venture capitalists or angel investors, are available. These sources provide the necessary capital and offer industry expertise and valuable business networks. It’s crucial to conduct thorough research to understand all available options and choose the best fit for your business’s unique needs and goals.

SBA Loans and Microloans

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is pivotal in helping small businesses secure financing. One of its offerings is the microloan program, which provides small, short-term loans that offer immediate funds for small businesses. This can be an excellent option for startups or expanding businesses needing a small capital boost. More details about this program can be found on the  SBA’s website .

SBA Microlenders in Washington

Picture of university in Washington State. Washington's higher education, business community and funding sources make for a great place to start a business. Below are some SBA microlenders specific to Washington:

Here are some SBA Microlenders in Washington:

Business Impact NW

1437 S. Jackson St, Seattle, WA 98144

Phone: (206) 324-4330



203 Howerton Way SE, Ilwaco, WA 98624

Phone: (888) 231-2170


Mercy Corps Northwest

509 3rd Avenue, Seattle, WA 98104

Phone: (206) 547-5212


Northwest Access Fund

1437 S. Jackson St, Seattle, WA 98144

Phone: (206) 328-5116


State and Local Grants and Incentives

In the business world, securing adequate financing is often as essential as having a solid business plan. To this end, the state of Washington offers an array of grants and incentives designed to assist small businesses and encourage economic growth. The Washington State Department of Commerce is a pivotal resource in this regard. With a diverse array of grants and incentives, this organization works tirelessly to help businesses expand, innovate, and contribute positively to the state’s economy. Their website is a veritable trove of information, containing everything from grant application processes to tips for securing various types of financial aid.

In addition to state resources, local entities like the City of Seattle also play a crucial role in supporting businesses. Seattle offers various grants and incentives to bolster its vibrant small business community. Programs vary widely, with options to suit diverse business types and needs. The city’s official website offers a comprehensive overview of these resources, providing invaluable assistance for entrepreneurs looking to launch or grow a business in Seattle.

Angel Investor Groups

Angel investor groups represent another crucial facet of the funding landscape. In Washington, such groups are known not just for providing much-needed capital but also for their unique ability to offer industry knowledge, business acumen, and extensive networks. These groups typically comprise seasoned entrepreneurs or business executives passionate about supporting the next generation of innovative companies.

Notably, Washington hosts many well-respected angel investor groups. Among these are the Alliance of Angels and the Bellingham Angel Investors, both of which have a track record of nurturing successful startups. These groups provide funding and mentorship, offering a holistic support system that can greatly increase a business’s chance of success.

Cultivating a relationship with angel investors can be a transformative step for a business. This is especially true in a dynamic, competitive environment like Washington, where access to resources can make all the difference. With thoughtful planning and strategic outreach, entrepreneurs can leverage the power of angel investment to propel their business into its next growth phase.

Benefits of a Well-Structured Business Plan

The Benefits of a Well-Structured Business Plan in Washington

In Washington’s vibrant and competitive economic landscape, a well-structured business plan is the foundation of a successful enterprise. It provides a clear roadmap, delineating company goals, strategies, target markets, and financial projections. It is crucial in attracting investments, navigating regulatory requirements, and maintaining adaptability in a dynamic marketplace.

A cogent and compelling business plan can open the doors to much-needed capital in Washington. Home to a diverse pool of investors, from angel groups to venture capitalists, as well as state and local grant programs, Washington provides ample funding opportunities. However, these investors and programs often require a comprehensive business plan that showcases the entrepreneur’s vision, the potential return on investment, and a pathway to profitability. A meticulously designed plan can make a significant difference in securing financial backing.

Washington is also renowned for its robust regulatory environment. Given the state’s diverse industries, each with its unique set of regulations, it is crucial for businesses to incorporate these regulatory considerations into their business plan. This ensures compliance and sends a clear message to potential investors that the entrepreneurs understand their industry’s landscape.

In the ever-evolving economy of Washington, marked by rapid advances in sectors like technology, aerospace, and clean energy, a well-structured business plan offers an anchor. It provides clear objectives and establishes success metrics, which can guide businesses through change and uncertainty. A living document, the business plan should be regularly reviewed and updated, enabling businesses to stay agile and competitive in their market.

To develop and execute a well-structured business plan, businesses should tap into local resources like the Washington State Small Business Development Center. With their range of tools and consulting services, they can guide entrepreneurs through creating an effective business plan, a pivotal step towards success in Washington’s dynamic economy.

Meeting Lender and Investor Expectations

Meeting the expectations of lenders and investors is a critical element of securing funding for your business. These financial stakeholders are typically looking for promising returns on their investments and want to ensure that their money goes into a venture with a clear vision, a solid business plan, and the potential for financial success. In Washington’s competitive business environment, impressing investors and lenders can make all the difference in obtaining the capital needed to start or grow your business.

To meet lender and investor expectations, businesses must display a solid understanding of their market, a well-structured business plan, and strong financial management. This starts with demonstrating a deep understanding of the market you’re targeting, including the needs of your potential customers, the competitive landscape, and industry trends. Your business plan should outline your business’s goals and strategies and provide realistic financial projections and a clear roadmap for profitability.

Strong financial management is also crucial. Lenders and investors will want to see that you have a strong handle on your financial situation, including your revenue streams, operating costs, and cash flow. They will be interested in your strategies for managing financial risk and how you plan to use the investment to grow your business.

Lastly, clear and regular communication is key. Keeping lenders and investors informed about your progress, challenges, and successes builds trust and shows them that you value their input and support. By meeting and exceeding these expectations, businesses can secure the funding they need and build lasting relationships with their financial stakeholders, setting the stage for long-term success in Washington’s vibrant economy.

Where Can I Find a Mentor to Help Me Succeed?

Seasoned mentors are invaluable for their wellspring of experience, offering industry insights, practical strategies, and advice tailored to Washington’s business landscape. Thankfully, Washington offers a robust network of organizations fostering entrepreneurial success. Here are several noteworthy options:

Washington SCORE:  Affiliated with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), Washington SCORE is a premier source of free business mentoring. They also offer economical workshops and an array of tools and resources to aid businesses at every stage of development.

Phone: (206) 553-7320


Washington SBDC:  The Washington Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) provide various services, including assistance with business plan creation and financial analysis, making them a beneficial resource for new and existing businesses.

Phone: (509) 358-7765


Washington Center for Women in Business (WCWB):  This specialized organization equips women entrepreneurs with practical business development training, personalized counseling, and networking opportunities.



GeekWire:  A Seattle-based technology news site and community, GeekWire hosts various programs and events designed to inspire, equip, and unite entrepreneurs.



By leveraging these resources, entrepreneurs can gain the essential knowledge and support required to successfully navigate Washington’s unique business environment.

The Economy of Washington

The economic landscape of a state plays a significant role when starting a business. This becomes particularly important in Washington, given the state’s unique combination of industries and socioeconomic factors. Understanding these can help a business strategize effectively and identify potential growth opportunities.

Economic Overview

Average Household Income

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income in Washington is approximately $82,400. This figure positions Washington among the states with a higher median income, signifying a considerable potential consumer base with disposable income. For new businesses, this could mean better chances of customer acquisition and the potential for higher sales volumes.

Average Level of Education

According to the U.S. Census Bureau data, around 91.3% of the Washington population aged 25 and over have completed high school. Further, about 35.3% of the population holds a bachelor’s degree or higher. These figures indicate a highly educated workforce, a strong asset for businesses looking for skilled employees. Moreover, a more educated population often translates into sophisticated consumer demands, creating opportunities for businesses with innovative or high-quality offerings.

Consumer Spending per Capita

The Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that Washington’s consumer spending per capita is about $46,041. This figure signifies a strong consumer market with significant purchasing power. Comparatively, Washington ranks higher in consumer spending than many other states, indicating robust economic activity and potentially lucrative business market opportunities.

Being aware of these factors provides valuable insights into the economic fabric of Washington. They help identify market opportunities, formulate business strategies, and make informed decisions that could prove pivotal to the success of a new business in the state.

Top Industries in Washington:

Washington State boasts a diverse economic landscape with several strong industries contributing significantly to its economic growth. The largest industry by gross business income is the retail trade, which accounted for 18.6% of the state’s gross business income, according to the Washington State Department of Revenue. This robust retail sector can be attributed to the state’s higher-than-average household income and consumer spending, which stimulate demand for a wide range of retail goods and services.

The manufacturing sector is another pillar of the state’s economy, particularly in the aerospace industry. Washington is home to major aerospace companies like Boeing, and according to the Aerospace Futures Alliance, the industry generated $70 billion in economic activity in 2020. This industry creates thousands of high-paying jobs and stimulates growth in other sectors, including logistics and professional services.

The technology sector is also a major player in Washington’s economy. The state is home to tech giants like Microsoft and Amazon, making it a hub for innovation and tech-driven businesses. According to the Cyberstates report, the tech industry in Washington represents 15.8% of the state’s overall economy and employs around 370,000 tech professionals.

Washington’s economy also benefits from its strong agricultural sector. According to the Washington State Department of Agriculture, Washington is the nation’s leading producer of apples, cherries, and pears, and the industry contributes about $10.6 billion to the state’s economy annually.

Looking forward, Washington’s economic landscape continues to evolve. One of the emerging industries in the state is the clean energy sector. According to Clean Energy Economy, Washington ranked 10th nationwide for clean energy jobs before the COVID-19 pandemic. With ongoing investments and state support, this industry holds substantial promise for the future. In summary, the outlook for business in Washington is bright, with diverse established industries and emerging sectors poised to drive economic growth in the years ahead.

Network Your Way to Success When Starting a Business

Networking is a skill that most successful business owners have as one of their top talents. You can do it too! Networking is a great way to improve your success and grow your personal and business reputation. Here are a few ways to get started.

Identify Complementary Businesses:  In the complex ecosystem of business, identifying complementary businesses can significantly aid growth and expansion in Washington. It allows your business to tap into existing networks, fostering collaboration and innovation. For example, a new software development firm can benefit from forming alliances with local technology hardware companies or digital marketing agencies. These mutually beneficial relationships can lead to shared customer bases, joint marketing initiatives, and collaborative product or service development.

Leverage Workforce Talent:   Washington has a highly educated workforce, with a significant percentage of the population holding bachelor’s degrees or higher. Businesses in the state can leverage this talent pool to drive innovation and productivity. For instance, tech startups can benefit from the state’s wealth of engineers and programmers, while manufacturing firms can find skilled workers with experience in high-tech production methods. Additionally, the state’s universities and colleges continually produce graduates in various fields, ensuring a steady flow of talent into the job market.

Collaborate with Industry Leaders:  Engaging with industry leaders in Washington can provide invaluable insights and open doors to new opportunities. This can involve attending industry conferences, participating in business associations, or forming partnerships with established companies. Collaboration can lead to mentorship, shared resources, and increased visibility for your business. For example, a young aerospace firm could greatly benefit from a partnership with an industry giant like Boeing regarding technical knowledge and industry recognition.

Workforce and Talent

Understanding your operational region’s demographics, workforce, and talent can significantly impact your business success in Washington. These aspects are crucial in determining your potential employee pool, customer preferences, and suitable business sectors to venture into.

Unemployment Rate

As of the latest data, Washington’s unemployment rate is 4.10%. This rate indicates a fair availability of workers, which could benefit new businesses setting up and looking for employees. However, it’s essential to note that the talent pool’s competitiveness can vary depending on the specific industry and the qualifications required.

Minimum Wage

The minimum wage in Washington is $15.74 per hour as of 2023. This figure is one of the highest in the nation, reflecting the state’s commitment to workers’ rights. Businesses should consider this when planning labor costs, as it may influence pricing strategies, profitability, and the company’s overall business model.

Average Age and Demographics

Washington’s median age is approximately 37.7 years, with a fairly even split of 49.9% males and 50.1% females. This balanced demographic presents diverse opportunities for businesses in various sectors. Understanding these statistics aids in creating targeted marketing campaigns and developing products or services tailored to the state’s diverse population.

Breakdown of People with Various Levels of Education

Educational attainment among North Carolinians aged 25 and above is as follows:

  • Approximately 36.7% hold a bachelor’s degree or higher.
  • Around 91.3% have a high school education.
  • About 8.7% have no high school diploma.

Considering all the mentioned factors, understanding Washington’s workforce, demographics, and talent pool is critical when formulating a business plan. Businesses can leverage this information to effectively tap into the local market, hire skilled labor, and align their products or services with the needs and preferences of Washington’s diverse population. This insight can provide a competitive advantage, aiding in the sustainability and growth of a business in the vibrant Washington economy.

Top Areas of Skilled Workers for Residents of Washington

In Washington, residents exhibit high skills in several key areas, providing businesses with diverse opportunities across various sectors. The state is well-known for its thriving Information Technology sector, housing tech giants like Microsoft and Amazon. This robust presence of tech businesses has cultivated a vast pool of skilled IT professionals, providing ample opportunities for startups and companies needing tech talent, particularly those specializing in software development, cybersecurity, data analytics, and cloud services.

On the other hand, Washington’s Aerospace industry, prominently featuring Boeing, is another critical sector with a highly skilled workforce. Businesses operating within this industry or those related to its supply chains can find a readily available, talented pool of professionals specializing in areas like aircraft manufacturing and aerospace engineering.

Thanks to institutions like the University of Washington’s esteemed medical school and numerous high-quality hospitals, Washington also boasts an acclaimed healthcare sector. These facilities have led to a significant presence of skilled healthcare workers, creating excellent opportunities for businesses in healthcare or those seeking partnerships in healthcare technology.

In addition to these sectors, Washington is home to several highly respected educational institutions, including the University of Washington and Washington State University. These establishments contribute to a highly educated workforce skilled in academic research and teaching, paving the way for businesses in educational technology, scientific research, and related fields.

Moreover, as a leading producer of apples, hops, and several other agricultural products, Washington has a significant workforce proficient in farming and related industries. This provides opportunities for businesses engaged in food production, distribution, agricultural technology, and sustainable farming practices.

Lastly, with its focus on sustainable living and innovation, Washington is becoming a hub for the clean energy sector. This growth fosters a skilled workforce in this sector, opening avenues for businesses focusing on renewable energy, energy efficiency solutions, and sustainability consulting.

Washington’s diverse and skilled workforce across various sectors presents many business opportunities. The rich resources, knowledge, and expertise available in the state provide a fertile ground for businesses to grow and innovate. Moreover, the state’s diverse industries encourage cross-industry collaborations, fostering a vibrant and interconnected business ecosystem.

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