Guide Small Business

How to Start a Business in Tennessee

May 27, 2024 8 min
How to Start a Business in Tennessee

How to Start a Business in Tennessee

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Setting sail on the entrepreneurial journey to start a business in Tennessee presents loads of opportunities, ranging from the vibrant urban hustle of Nashville to the natural settings of Chattanooga.

Known for its business-friendly environment and thriving economic sectors like healthcare, manufacturing, and entertainment, the Volunteer State, as it is popularly known, is usually recommended as the ideal place to kick off entrepreneurial dreams.

Whether you envision a tech startup in the heart of Music City or a quaint boutique in a charming small town, this guide will walk you through the essential steps to start your business in Tennessee.

Let’s explore what Tennessee offers, from legal requirements and financial planning to market strategies and local resources.

Table of Contents:

Overview of Tennessee’s Business Environment

Tennessee has a vibrant business environment characterized by a combination of strategic geographic location, a diverse and growing economy, and a supportive regulatory framework that attracts entrepreneurs and established companies alike.

The state’s central position in the United States makes it a logistical hub for transportation and distribution, significantly benefiting manufacturing, retail, and e-commerce sectors.

According to recent data, Tennessee’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) showcases the state’s economic growth and development, reflecting contributions from various sectors, including automotive manufacturing, healthcare, information technology, and entertainment, particularly in cities like Nashville, Memphis, and Chattanooga.

Tennessee earns its reputation as a haven for entrepreneurs and established companies alike. Here’s why:

  • No personal income tax on wages: This puts more money in your pocket, fostering a pro-business atmosphere.
  • Low tax burden overall: According to the Tax Foundation, Tennessee has the 4th lowest state and – local tax burden per capita in the US. This means more capital stays with growth businesses, not government coffers.
  • Business creation: Tennessee has over 800,000 small businesses, employing nearly half the state’s workforce. It ranks among the top states for new business creation and entrepreneurial activity.
  • Fiscally responsible: The state boasts a AAA bond rating from all major agencies, indicating financial stability that’s attractive to investors.
  • Strong job growth: Employment has been growing steadily, with 1913.9% growth in the last 5 years, according to IBISWorld.
  • Business-friendly regulations: While protecting consumers, the state is known for streamlining processes and avoiding overly burdensome red tape that stifles innovation.

Now, let’s get into what you need to start a business in Tennessee.

Choose a Business Idea and Structure

So, you are excited to start a business in Tennessee. Choosing a business idea and structure ensures a smooth process.

Let’s say you already have a skill set or service you offer. Translating that into a formal business requires some fine-tuning.

Start with…

Market research: Starting a Business in Tennessee

Market Research

Aspiring entrepreneurs are often driven by their passion but overlook important details.

Don’t just rely on what you’re good at; ensure that when you want to start a business, there’s demand for your product or service in Tennessee. Use online tools, talk to potential clients, and see if similar businesses are thriving.

For example, manufacturing, wholesale, real estate/rental services, and professional, scientific, and technical services are some of the common sectors that contribute the highest to Tennessee’s GDP.

You may want to align your business ideas or work around services or products that complement these sectors.

Niche Down

If you are a creative person, it would be beneficial to specialize in a specific niche instead of pursuing a broad market.

For instance, you could focus on becoming a grant proposal writer for nonprofit organizations or a web designer for eco-conscious businesses.

Specializing in a niche allows you to distinguish yourself in the market and will enable you to command higher rates for your specialized skills.


Consider the long-term potential of your business idea. Could it evolve into a larger operation?

Would you eventually need to hire other freelancers, create educational courses, or develop complementary products related to your service?

Remember that this forward-thinking approach will influence the structure you choose for your business.

Competition Analysis

Thoroughly examine your potential competitors and gain a deep understanding of their products or services, pricing, target audience, and marketing strategies.

This analysis will help you identify your unique selling proposition (USP) and find a niche market that sets you apart.

You could also discover valuable insights to help refine your business strategy and stand out in the market.

Choosing a Business Structure

Your business structure determines your legal and tax obligations. So, it’s important to give this valuable thinking time before deciding. The common options are:

  • Sole Proprietorship: It is the simplest and cheapest to set up. You are the sole owner and have full control. However, you are personally liable for all business debts and obligations.
  • Partnership: A partnership might be suitable if you’re starting a business with others. There are different types (general, limited, etc.), each with varying levels of liability and control.
  • Limited Liability Company (LLC): This is a popular choice for small businesses, offering limited liability protection (your personal assets are generally shielded) and flexibility in management and taxation.
  • S Corporation (S Corp): This can offer tax benefits by allowing profits to pass through to your income, avoiding double taxation. However, it comes with stricter requirements and regulations.

After deciding on a business structure, it’s time to…

Register Your Interchange

Registering your business is an essential step to establish its legal presence. Here’s a simplified guide to help you through the process.

Choose and Register Your Business Name

  • Check Availability: Ensure the name is unique and not already registered by another business in Tennessee. You can search the Tennessee Secretary of State’s business name database online.
  • Register: Once you’ve confirmed availability, register your business name with the Tennessee Secretary of State. You can do this online through their business services portal.

Obtain a Federal Employer Identification Number (EIN)

  • – Even if you don’t plan to hire employees immediately, an EIN is required for tax purposes and opening a business bank account. You can apply for an EIN online through the IRS website for free.

Register Your Business Structure and Obtain Licenses/Permits

  • – Register Your Business Structure with the Tennessee Secretary of State
  • State Licenses: You may need state-level licenses depending on your business type. Check with the Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance for specific requirements.
  • Local Licenses and Permits: Check with your city or county clerk’s office for any local business licenses, permits, or zoning regulations that may apply to your business.

Taxes and Financial Considerations

Now it’s time to tackle the financial aspects, including taxes and record-keeping.

Taxes in Tennessee

  • No State Income Tax on Wages and Salaries: This is a major advantage for Tennessee businesses, as it leaves more money in your pocket. However, note that investment income from stocks and bonds may be subject to the state’s Hall income tax.
  • Sales Tax: Tennessee applies a statewide sales tax rate of 7%. In addition, local counties and municipalities have the authority to impose their own sales tax rates. The maximum additional rate that can be added locally is 2.75%. This means that in some areas of Tennessee, the total sales tax can reach as high as 9.75%.
  • Business Tax: You may be liable for business tax depending on your business structure and activities. This tax applies to the net earnings of most businesses operating in Tennessee.
  • Franchise and Excise Tax: Corporations and certain other business entities are subject to franchise and excise tax based on the business’s net worth and earnings.
  • Federal Taxes: You’ll still need to pay federal income tax and other applicable federal taxes like self-employment tax if you’re a sole proprietor or a partner in a partnership.

Financial Record Keeping

  • Separate Business Bank Account: Maintain a separate bank account for your business transactions to keep your personal and business finances distinct. This simplifies accounting and tax preparation.
  • Bookkeeping: Track all your income and expenses meticulously. You can use accounting software or hire a bookkeeper to help you maintain accurate records. Akaunting offers a comprehensive financial management solution that simplifies accurate bookkeeping.
  • Tax Deadlines: Stay on top of tax deadlines and file your returns on time to avoid penalties. You can find the tax deadlines for different types of taxes on the Tennessee Department of Revenue website.

Check out: Tax Deduction Cheat Sheet For Small Business 2024

Finding Funding for Your Business

There is a range of resources to assist entrepreneurs and business owners, whether starting a new business or looking to expand an existing one.

Funding for your business

From self-funding using savings or loans from friends and family to traditional bank loans and SBA-backed options. Each option has advantages and disadvantages regarding cost, accessibility, and requirements.

In addition to loans, grants are available from both federal and state levels, targeting specific industries or needs. Tennessee’s Department of Economic and Community Development is a valuable resource.

Furthermore, depending on your growth stage and risk appetite, you can consider equity financing through angel investors, venture capital, or crowdfunding.

Check out: How to Find Investors for Your Small Business

Marketing and Promoting Your Business

After setting up your business, it’s crucial to focus on effectively marketing your services to potential customers. There are numerous options for promoting and marketing your business.

Know Your Target Audience

Who are your ideal customers? What are their demographics, interests, and pain points? Where do they spend their time online and offline? What platforms do they use?

Tailor your message and marketing efforts to resonate with your specific audience.

Build a Strong Brand Identity

  • – Create a logo and consistent visual branding across all channels.
  • – Develop a unique brand voice and messaging that reflects your values and personality.
  • – Craft a compelling brand story that connects with your audience emotionally. Answer the who, why, and what of your business.

Optimize Your Online Presence

  • Website: Create a user-friendly website with clear information about your products/services and contact details.
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Optimize your website and content to rank higher in search engine results for relevant keywords. Perform keyword research to discover what your potential customers are searching for online.
  • Social Media: Utilize social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, TikTok, and LinkedIn to connect with potential customers and establish a credible brand. Platforms like YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram have features that optimize small business promotion.
  • Online Directories: You can list your business in online directories like Google My Business, Yelp, and industry-specific directories.

Resources and Support

It’s crucial to tap into the state’s wealth of resources and support available. Here are the key organizations you need to know:

State-Level Resources:

  • Tennessee Small Business Development Centers (TSBDC): A network of centers across the state offering free business counseling, training, and resources. They can assist with business plans, financial projections, marketing strategies, and more.
  • Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (ECD): Provides various resources, including financial assistance programs, export assistance, and information on business incentives.
  • – SCORE: A nonprofit organization offering free mentoring and counseling from experienced business professionals.
  • LaunchTN: A public-private partnership that fosters entrepreneurship and innovation, connecting startups with mentors, investors, and resources.
  • Small Business Incubators and Accelerators: These programs offer mentorship, office space, and resources to help startups grow.
  • Business Resource Center: A comprehensive online resource with information on business licenses, permits, taxes, and regulations.
  • Tennessee Business Enterprise Resource Office (BERO): This office offers a wealth of business information and services, including market research data and export assistance.

What’s Next: Start A Business in Tennessee

As you can see, Tennessee provides a unique blend of opportunities for entrepreneurs looking to start a business. The state boasts a strategic location, a vibrant economy, a supportive regulatory environment, and the absence of personal income tax.

Choosing a business idea aligned with market demands, structuring your business for growth, and navigating the essentials of registration, taxes, and funding sets the stage for success.

Remember, marketing and continuous learning about your industry and the local business landscape are crucial for long-term sustainability. Here’s to your success as you realize your entrepreneurial dreams in Tennessee.

Akaunting provides a simple yet comprehensive accounting and business management solution to assist you in handling your day-to-day business operations. Send unlimited invoices, track your income and expenses, and reconcile bank transactions, all from one dashboard. Try Akaunting for your business.