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The Complete Guide to Starting a Business in Columbus in 2020




So, you’re tired of working for someone else and you’ve got the bug to become an entrepreneur. Well, let’s help you out with that. This complete guide to starting your business in 2020 in Columbus includes all the basics and beyond. Bookmark this page so you can use it throughout your startup journey, it has the added benefit of saving paper too. (Brace yourself, this is a long one!)

Along the way, we’ll highlight the key marketing opportunities that you can incorporate in order to create buzz and build momentum as you complete each phase of this process.

Research That Sh*t 

Know Thyself

It goes without saying that not everyone makes a great entrepreneur or a boss for that matter. Start by being clear with your answer to this question: Why do I want to start my own business? Depending on the answer to that question, dig deeper to understand what skills you have and what skills you need to acquire, test yourself with one or more of the top personality tests to truly understand how you work best, and understand what you want your life to look like. 

  • Are you prepared for entrepreneurship? This great read from is a great reality check. 

  • To better understand what you do best, take the CliftonStrengths assessment. We can’t recommend this one enough. 

  • By better understanding your personality, you’ll also get a great picture of how you view the world, build rapport, and reduce conflict through the Enneagram Personality Test.

Vet Your Idea

Have an idea that you think will be the next Facebook or Uber? Have you ever Googled your idea to see if anyone else is already doing it? Try it…we’ll wait.

Did you go past the first page of results, maybe 10 pages deep even? Keep going…we’ll still be here.

It’s incredibly important to really dig into your idea to get a complete picture of your competition, fully understand how your offering will be special, and to question if there is even a market for your idea. If there is no competition, is there even a market? Do your research to find out. Rev1 Ventures offers a couple of really good tools on its website for entrepreneurs, check them out here

Test the Market, Ask for (& Evaluate) Feedback

Validate that a market for your offering exists. We’re talking surveys, questionnaires, interviews, and even more research. Know what the total market looks like and what you can reasonably expect to enjoy once you start carving out a slice of the pie for yourself. This article is a great one to help you dig into how to conduct the best research and avoid the top three mistakes:

  • Using only secondary research.

  • Using only online resources.

  • Surveying only the people you know.

Marketing Tip: While you’re digging into all of your research and validating your idea, use this information to define your target customer and learn everything you possibly can about them. Who are they? What do they care about? What is their willingness to pay? How will they find you? Get into their heads and find out as much as you possibly can. This will help you make so many decisions later and really help you get a handle on what will matter most to the people who matter most. 

Nuts, Bolts & Brass Tacks

Where will you operate your business?

Once you’ve done the research, you have a ton of the information you need in order to select your location. It’s time to start making some calculations based on your research. We assume that since you landed on our page that you are looking to start your business in Columbus, but this list will apply just about anywhere. The links will just give you an idea of what to look for in your area. Things to take into consideration when selecting your location are: 

  • Where are your target customers?

  • Do you have business partners and where are they located?

  • What are your personal preferences? 

  • Estimate your startup costs. Many can vary by location and type of business.  

  • What are the regional specific expenses that will impact your business like standard salaries, minimum wage laws, property values, rental rates, business insurance rates, utilities, and government licenses and fees?

  • Familiarize yourself with the local zoning ordinances. Zoning laws are typically controlled at the local level, so check with your department of city planning, or similar office, to find out about the zoning laws that will impact you.

  • What are the state and local taxes like?

  • Visit local SBA Offices, Small Business Development Centers, Women’s Business Centers to find out whether there are state or local incentives that you could take advantage of in the area. Incentive programs are often related to job creation, energy efficiency, urban redevelopment, and technology.

The decision you make on where to locate will impact your taxes, legal requirements, and most certainly your revenue, so don’t jump to conclusions here.  (Great Resource: Ohio Business Roadmap)


When selecting your corporate structure keep the big picture in mind, including fundraising goals. Here’s a link to an article in Forbes that describes how to make this choice in a much better way than we could.

Choosing a Great Name

Maybe you’ve been thinking about one for ages or maybe you still haven’t narrowed it down yet, but in either case, you are going to have to file your articles with the state and it will need to be distinguishable from other corporations, so you can check to see if your name(s) is available by doing a search of the Ohio Secretary of State’s website.

If you haven’t had a clue what to name your business, you can take a page from our Haven playbook and start by describing who or what you are providing in as much detail as possible, including how you want people who interact with your business to feel and take away from it, then pull out the thesaurus and dig into all the words that fit the word cloud that you created. Sparks are bound to fly!

Marketing Tip: While you are choosing the name of your business, also check to see if the domain is available for your website as well as the social media handles you will want to use. It can help to do all of that research together to ensure that all of your branding will line up.


Once you’ve chosen a name and structure, it’s time to register with the Ohio Secretary of State. Use this link.

Tax ID

It’s free to apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN), so beware of online services that charge you. Here’s the link for applying.

Licenses and Permits

Your business may have many or few licenses and/or permits in order to conduct business. Many small businesses need a combination of licenses and permits from both federal and state agencies, and since the requirements — and fees — vary based on your business activities, location, and government rules. 

Bank Account

You’ll need your Tax ID to open your business bank account, but once you have that it will streamline everything you’re doing for your business in a much better way than trying to remember every expense and payment through a personal account. And we promise it will be an essential come tax season.

Plan It Out 

You Need a Plan

A business plan will help you think through and answer the questions you’ve possibly overlooked. We know, eye roll, but trust us, you’re going to want to do this exercise. It’ll help you test profitability, understand your financial needs, and give you a roadmap for bringing your business to life and growing it. It‘ll tell you what you need to be financially viable.

This living, breathing document will morph and change as your business does. Investors may never read the plan. You may not reference it as often as you think you will. But, a dream without a plan is just a wish as they say. So, put in the time to make a plan but don’t let it bog you down or hold you back from taking the next step.

Here’s a great one-page business plan template that can fit the bill. The City of Columbus has some helpful links for local resources too. 

Marketing Tip: As you prepare your plan, spend some time planning the channels you will use for marketing your product or service as well as the distribution of your marketing messages. Where are your target customers going to see you? Consider all of your options from traditional media to digital marketing. Do you have the skills necessary to market via the channels? How will you acquire those skills? Challenge yourself to see if you can get creative with less. Is there a grassroots option that can get your audience more engaged with your brand that will cost less but may take more time?

This list might spark some ideas for you. For classes on blogging or social media, check out Eryn Gilson Consulting.

Seek Advice

Apply for any number of local accelerator programs across the city.

Fund Your Dream

There are a million and two ways to get the resources you need to start your business. Start by taking a good long look at all the work you’ve already put into this process and consider your own resources, circumstances and life state to figure out which one of the following works best for you.

  • Fund your own business. Bootstrapping might take longer, but you’ll be in complete control of your own destiny (and equity).

  • Share your needs with friends and family. Sometimes it can be hard to separate business from personal relationships, but if you’re considering asking for a loan, your friends and family can be exceptional resources because they believe in you.

  • Request a small-business grant. Head over to, the searchable, online directory of more than 1,000 federal grant programs. Sometimes this process is long and cumbersome, but it won’t cost you any equity, so it’s worth a search.

  • Start a crowdfunding campaign online. There is power in numbers, and every dollar can add up. Especially if your network of family and friends is large and you don’t feel comfortable going the loan route. Your business could be a great candidate for a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign. Check out Kiva as well!

  • Apply to local angel investor groups. Online platforms like Gust and AngelList and local networking can help you find potential investors who relate to your industry and passion. Rev1 Ventures is another great organization you can check in with if you think raising capital is your path forward.

  • Pitch venture capital investors. Many people think that working with venture capitalists is their only way forward. This is definitely a path that is not for the faint of heart. Your business must meet a very particular set of criteria. Is your business a good fit for VCs? Ask yourself if the opportunity is one where investors could potentially make ten times their money back, is your team a proven one with loads of experience, and do you need more than a million to get going? Know your opportunity backward and forward. Check out VentureOhio.

  • Seek a bank loan or line of credit. ECDI is a great place to start looking into this option. You can also talk to the local SBA office to fully understand what you’ll be asked when applying.

Marketing Tip: How much will your ideal marketing plan cost to execute well? Take all of your ideas into account and include them as you consider your funding options.

Getting your business started is one thing, making sure people can find you and make a purchase is another beast altogether. Here’s a good template to get you started.

Develop Your Product or Service

After all this work you’ve been doing to go out on your own, you’re surely excited to see your vision come to life. Depending on the type of product or service you’re creating, there is a bit more of an action plan tailored to you, just follow the links:

Marketing Tip: Digging into the design and copy that will tell your brand story and get people excited and engaged is so much fun!

Our friends at The Wonder Jam have a great course on branding on a budget that we highly recommend.

We also think Mkg Dept is a fabulous resource for understanding how to incorporate visual storytelling into your marketing. 

Build Your Team

By now, you’ve probably started a list of the people you need to build your dream business. It likely includes technical team members, customer service support, marketing experts, lawyers, accountants, etc. So, it’s time to either learn the skills you need to do it all yourself or start hiring where you need the most help. Here, the SBA helps you to understand the differences between employees and independent contractors, which will come in handy.  

Marketing tip: Your team will be visible representations of your brand and they will interact with your target customers, so seek out people who can do more than just the job at hand and keep your business culture in mind. 

What do you think?

Shoot us an email to let us know what you’re working on and how we can support you in your endeavor. We love hearing about new businesses and sharing what you’re creating with our community. 

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