How to start a business in North Carolina

Editorial Team

5 min read
Outdoor dining area in Charlotte, North Carolina

Ranked as CNBC’s No. 2 state for businesses, North Carolina is a magnet for many of the country’s largest corporations. The Tar Heel State also attracts entrepreneurs, startups, and small business owners of all types.

In fact, North Carolina makes launching a business extremely easy, with helpful resources including the state’s Business Starter Guide and Business Resource Portal.

For a brief summary of how to start a business in North Carolina, use the information below to help guide you through the process.

1. Research your business concept

The first step involves identifying if there’s a ready market for the types of products or services your business will provide. What are the pain points you’re trying to solve for your prospective customers? Is there an existing product or service already out there? If so, how can you make yours better?

2. Write a business plan and acquire funding

The next step involves formalizing your business idea into a written plan. This roadmap should include startup costs, prices, profit margins, and break-even points. Not only can this information guide your decision-making, but it is also technically required when seeking outside funding from banks and investors. With a written business plan, you can demonstrate to yourself and to others that your startup idea has profit potential.

If you’ve never written a business plan, the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC) is a good place to start. It offers detailed steps on how to start a small business in North Carolina – from strategy to funding to marketing.

3. Research business name availability and trademarks

Most states prevent two businesses in the same niche from sharing similar names. To check whether your preferred name is available, visit North Carolina’s Business Name Database. If you plan to register any trademarks, you should also check the U.S. Patent Office’s Trademark Database.

Once you confirm name availability, you’re now ready to start branding your company and deciding on a mission statement, logo, domain name, color palette, and all of the other characteristics that will help define your business.

4. Choose a business structure

All companies in North Carolina must choose a legal structure for their business, with the four most common being:

  • Sole proprietorship: This structure requires the least setup, but also offers minimal legal protection since there is virtually no separation between your personal finances and those of your business.
  • General partnership: This structure is similar to a sole proprietorship, but there are usually multiple partners involved, and it can be formed to provide more liability protection for all parties included.
  • Corporation: This structure requires the most setup and ongoing maintenance, but it offers the most legal protection. It is also more common with larger companies than with smaller startups.
  • Limited liability company (LLC): This corporate structure is favored by many startups because it offers the perfect combination of setup ease and legal protection.

5. Obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN)

Similar to Social Security numbers, EINs allow the IRS to monitor and assess your tax liability every year. You can complete this legal requirement by visiting the IRS’s online EIN Application Form.

6. Acquire licenses and permits

Although there are no statewide licensing requirements when you open a business in North Carolina, certain industries and occupational fields are heavily regulated. For example, lawyers need to pass the bar, massage therapists need certification, and restaurants must pass food safety inspections.

To see what regulatory requirements apply in your situation, visit the North Carolina’s Business and Occupational License Database.

7. Set up employer obligations

As an employer, you’re responsible for the well-being of your staff. This is why North Carolina carefully monitors discrimination, wages, benefits, and employee safety. For a complete list of state-mandated obligations, visit North Carolina’s Employer Responsibilities portal.

8. File appropriate local, state, and federal taxes

Filing taxes as a business is like filing taxes as an individual, except there is a lot more paperwork involved. Hiring a professional accountant or tax adviser may be beneficial and can potentially help you save time, prevent costly errors, and minimize your stress.

9. Get ready to take payments

Whether you plan to interface with customers virtually or in-person, you need a way to securely accept payments. Clover can help small business owners:

You can also take advantage of Clover Rapid Deposit, which gives you access to your funds sooner to better ensure your business has the cash flow it needs.

10. Open a business banking account

Although you could direct all sales into your personal bank account, it’s better to keep finances as separate as possible. For that, you’ll need a dedicated bank account exclusively for your business.

11. Initialize marketing and engage in continued business development

Once your business is officially legal, you’re ready to start pitching it to prospective customers. Check out our resource on how to write a marketing plan that helps bring those initial customers through the door. To keep them coming back for more, consider a customer engagement strategy and set up a loyalty program.

There’s a lot that goes into starting a business in North Carolina. Use the information above to help you get started. To learn more about accepting payments or managing your business with our POS software, contact a Clover Business Consultant today.


This information is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal, financial, or tax advice. Readers should contact their attorneys, financial advisors, or tax professionals to obtain advice with respect to any particular matter.

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