Nebraska boasts the optimal conditions for aspiring entrepreneurs: an affordable cost of living, low income taxes, and a strong economy. Taking this into account, it’s no surprise that CNBC named the Cornhusker State a top ten state for business in 2019.
While the state might offer the most exciting environment for young small business owners, the startup scenes in cities like Omaha and Lincoln are robust and growing. Evidence of this is seen in Nebraska’s new entrepreneurs’ opportunity share of 92.49%, which is the 4th highest in the United States, This stat gives the ratio of entrepreneurs that created a business in the state by choice, rather than necessity.
To help you in your budding business venture, we’ve put together this comprehensive guide to starting a business in Nebraska. You’ll find advice on how to develop your idea into a full-fledged business plan, court investors, and obtain the licenses and permits you’ll need to operate legally in the state.
Nebraska small business statistics at-a-glance
- 172,958 small businesses operate in Nebraska, accounting for 99.1% of businesses in the state.
- 406,745 Nebraskans are employed by small businesses, which is 46.7% of the state’s workforce.
- The healthcare and social assistance is the leading small business employment industry in Nebraska, followed by accommodation and food services, and retail trade.
- Small businesses accounted for 79.3% of the businesses exporting goods out of Nebraska. These small firms generated $1.61 billion in total exports.
- Nebraska’s opportunity share of new entrepreneurs is 92.49%, which trails only three other states.
- 77.35% of Nebraska startups survive their first year of existence.
- Nebraska startups create 4.92 jobs in their first year, on average.
- US News ranks Nebraska 21st in cost of living, and 5th in housing affordability.
Starting a business in Nebraska in 12 steps
1. Develop an idea
Every successful business starts with a good idea. Ask yourself these questions:
- Which product or service can your business provide that doesn’t already exist on the market?
- How does your business idea refine an existing product or service?
Determine your personal strengths and interests: developing an idea that suits your personality and positive traits will provide motivation to put in the long hours necessary in addressing the myriad challenges you’ll face in getting your business off the ground.
Figure out how to market your expertise: if your business idea is not something you totally believe in and can sell effectively, it will be much harder to succeed.
2. Do the research
Once you have an idea, it’s time to put it through the wringer and decide if it’s viable in the market. Conduct market research to arrive at answers to these key questions:
- Is there a demand for your product/service in Nebraska?
- Who is your target market?
- Do existing businesses in Nebraska offer a similar product/service?
- What makes your business unique compared to the competition?
Coming up with satisfactory answers may require refinement, or even a total overhaul, of your original idea. Be patient: you’ll only want to proceed with the next steps after determining that a niche exists in the Nebraska market for your business idea.
3. Draft a business plan
Now it’s time to write the blueprint of your business. A great business plan should chart the path of your company from infancy to success while being able to attract investors to provide financing.
Your business plan ought to include the following sections:
- Executive summary – An overview of your business and why it will be successful
- Description of business – Explain the advantages of your business and the problems it solves
- Market research – Provide research on your industry, target market, and potential competitors
- Organization and staff – Detail the nuts and bolts of your business; how it’s structured and who will run it
- Product or service description – State what you are selling or offering
- Marketing plan – Explain your strategy for attracting customers
- Fundraising – The money you’ll need in the next five years to grow your business and how you’ll spend it
- Financial forecast – Data and balance sheets providing a financial forecast for your business
- Appendix – An optional section with supporting and/or requested documents like resumes, letters of reference, permits, etc.
4. Secure funding
Every business needs money to get off the ground. In fact 82% of businesses that fail do so because of a lack of cash flow, U.S. Bank found in a recent study. Your business plan should include a detailed estimate of the funds you’ll need to cover expenses for at least a year, so now it’s time to acquire the money.
If you aren’t wealthy enough to self-fund your business, you can choose from a number of other funding options. These include a loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration, taking out a loan from a commercial bank, launching an equity crowdfunding campaign, or securing funding from an angel investor or venture capitalist group active in Nebraska.
An angel investor is a wealthy individual who invests their personal finances in a startup, typically in the beginning stages, whereas a VC is a group of investors that will fund a business throughout its existence.
Which route you choose depends on the specifics of your business: angel investors typically invest smaller sums to help get a startup off the ground, while VCs invest larger sums of money in exchange for a greater say in the operations of a business. Smaller startups usually opt to pursue funding from angel investors. Plenty of both types of investors are operating in Nebraska.
Nebraska Angel Investors and VCs
- Nebraska Angels – A thriving network of angel investors based in Lincoln that was founded in 2006. The group typically invests nearly $5M in capital in eight annual deal with Nebraska businesses.
- Linseed Capital LLC – An Omaha firm established by a married couple that are members of the Nebraska Angels, but also make investments independent of the group.
- Dundee Venture Capital – A VC firm founded in 2010 by Nebraska entrepreneurs. To date, Dundee VC has made 45 investments totaling $50M.
Additional Investor Resources
- AngelList: Nebraska Angel Investors – An extensive listing of 4,935 investors seeking funding opportunities in Nebraska.
- Invest Nebraska: Angel and Venture Capital – A directory of Nebraska-based angel investor and VC firms.
5. Decide on a legal business entity
The form of business entity you choose will affect many factors going forward. There are 3 main options to decide from:
- Sole proprietorship – The name for running a business by yourself. Legally, you and your business are one and the same, with no separate legal entity for your business. A partnership is legally identical to a sole proprietorship, except that it comprises two or more people.
- Corporation – A complex legal structure that is a separate entity (providing legal protection to owners) from the owner and comprises directors, officers, and shareholders.
- LLC – AKA “Limited Liability Company”, this is a hybrid entity between a sole proprietorship and a corporation that possesses advantages of both. An LLCs provides the liability protection of a corporation, yet isn’t subject to double taxation as the profits go through your personal tax return.
Nowadays, LLCs are the option of choice for small business owners as they are easy to manage and provide the benefits of a corporation while lacking their complex structure. Taxwise, they operate more like a sole proprietorship.
You may want to consult with an attorney to help decide which entity works best for your business.
6. Register your business
Deciding on the form your business will take means that you are ready to register your business with the state of Nebraska. The steps of this process vary depending on if you’re establishing a sole proprietorship, an LLC, or a corporation.
For sole proprietorships
Sole proprietors are not required to make any special filings with the government, although Nebraska law states that your business name should be distinguishable from existing companies operating in the state. Use the Nebraska Secretary of State Corporate & Business Search tool to confirm that your chosen business name is not already in use.
Filing a trade name, while not a legal requirement in the state, is a good idea for business owners in Nebraska. First, fill out an Application for Registration of Trade Name and submit it to the Secretary of State, either through the mail or in-person. The filing fee is $100.
After submitting your application, you must publish it in a local newspaper, and obtain an affidavit from the publisher. Once you submit this affidavit to the Secretary of State, the filing a trade name process is complete.
For LLCs and corporations
The procedure for forming either of these two entities in Nebraska is similar. First, you must appoint a registered agent to handle process notices and other government correspondence on your business’s behalf. This is a mandatory requirement in all fifty states. Those with a physical address in Nebraska can be their own registered agent, however, hiring a professional is inexpensive and will ensure the process goes smoothly.
After assigning a registered agent, run a search to verify that your business name is free to use in the state, and then go ahead and submit the proper application to register your business.
To form an LLC must file a Certificate of Organization. The SoS does not issue this form, instead, you must produce one yourself and include the following information:
- the LLC’s name and address
- the name and address of the registered agent
- a list of the professional services that LLC members or employees are licensed to perform
The certificate can be submitted through the mail, or signed, scanned and uploaded online. The filing fee is $100 with an additional $5 added for each page of the certificate.
To form a corporation, you must file Articles of Incorporation. The SoS does not make this form available, instead, you must draft one yourself.
Follow this template to make the process easier. The form can be mailed to the SoS office, or signed, scanned, and uploaded online via Corporate Document eDelivery. The Articles of Incorporation filing fee varies depending on the amount of authorized capital stock the corporation has, ranging from $60 for $0 – $10,000, to $300 for $75,000 -$100,000, plus $5 for each page of the document.
7. Acquire federal and state tax IDs
Now you should obtain a Federal Employer Identification Number (EIN), which is like a social security number for a business and allows you to open bank accounts, handle payroll, and file taxes.
Each state has its own laws and taxes regarding businesses. Visit the Nebraska.gov business taxes portal for information on filing requirements for all types of businesses and an alphabetic listing of all state tax forms. The site also links to the Department of Revenue, which has several different electronic payment options for paying state taxes.
8. Open business banking and credit accounts
Opening a bank account for your business is crucial because it allows you to separate company assets from your personal assets, and makes filing taxes a lot easier. This is a recommended step, even if you are operating a sole proprietorship.
It’s also a wise idea to obtain a credit card for your business because it will help you isolate business expenses and build up credit for your company, which may help in securing investment in later stages.
Banks operating in Nebraska good for small businesses
9. Get the necessary licenses and permits
Depending on the type of business you are opening, you may need to apply for a number of permits and licenses to operate legally. For example, a restaurant will need a liquor license, and a pawn shop will need a reseller’s license. The paperwork may prove a hassle, but it’s a necessary ordeal that will protect you from fines, lawsuits, and other legal hazards.
To obtain or renew licenses or permits for a host of professions, head to the Nebraska.gov business licensing portal.
10. Choose a location
Whether you are running an online business or opening a restaurant, location is everything. Be aware of the demographics of the neighborhood or town that you are considering: Are the local residents likely to visit your business? Will nearby competitors take a share of your potential profits?
Omaha, Nebraska’s major urban center, is its best place to start a business. The city’s low cost of living and high wages combine for a spending power that’s 14.9% higher than the national average. The economy is growing fast, too, adding 31K jobs in the past ten years, or double the national average.
11. Get insured
No matter what type of business you form, buying insurance coverage to protect yourself in the case of property damage or legal action is a good idea. In fact, businesses with employees are required by the federal government to have two types of insurance, while others are strongly encouraged, or required at the state level, depending on your business type. Consult with a licensed insurance agent to find out which types of insurance you should get.
Required forms of insurance:
- Workers’ compensation: Covers medical costs and disability benefits if an employee is injured or becomes ill on the job.
- Unemployment insurance: Provides benefits to workers after a loss of job through no personal fault.
Recommended forms of insurance:
- Professional liability insurance: Covers losses as a result of property damage, medical expenses, libel, slander, and negligence claims.
- Commercial property insurance: Covers property damage to business owned properties and possessions as a result of fire, theft, or storm.
- Disability insurance: Provides short-term benefits for employees suffering an illness or injury. Required in certain states such as California, New York, and Hawaii.
12. Develop an internet presence
Establishing an identity on the web is an important investment in a business’s future development. Here are some key steps in the process:
- Register a domain name for a company website (You can use domain.com, Bluehost, GoDaddy.com, Namecheap.com). Design the website and fill it with content.
- Create profiles on the popular social media services (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram)
- Register a Google profile for your business
- Create accounts on review sites such as Yelp, Google Reviews, and TripAdvisor
Nebraska small business resources
- Nebraska Secretary of State: Business Services – Register your business or file a trade name.
- Nebraska.gov: Business Taxes – Learn about state-administered business taxes and set up a tax account and pay online.
- Nebraska.gov: Business Licensing – Apply for or renew specialty licenses for a multitude of professions.
- University of Nebraska Omaha: Nebraska Business Development Center – Offers free business advising and other services to area entrepreneurs.
- Startup LNK – The online nexus of Lincoln’s growing startup scene.
- Omaha Tech Startups – A long list of resources for Omaha and Lincoln tech entrepreneurs.
- Watts Coworking – A coworking space in Omaha that provides desks for $125-$250 a month, along with a long list of other amenities.
- The Startup Collaborative – An Omaha-based tech accelerator program.
Nebraska SCORE chapters
The nation’s leading business mentorship network has several regional chapters based in Nebraska: