How to Start a Sole Proprietorship in Hawaii

Last updated: March 13th, 2024
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Starting a sole proprietorship in Hawaii is relatively straightforward but requires consideration and planning. As an aspiring business owner, you must understand the steps involved in establishing a sole proprietorship and its implications on your business. This guide will take you through the essential steps, provide insight, and offer practical tips to help you navigate the process successfully.

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What is a sole proprietorship?

A sole proprietorship is an informal business structure where an individual operates a business as the sole owner. It is the simplest and most common form of business ownership, popular with startups and entrepreneurs. It is characterized by its ease of setup and minimal legal requirements. As a sole proprietor, you have full control and decision-making authority over your business, but you are personally liable for any debts it incurs.

A step-by-step guide to starting your Hawaii sole proprietorship


Choose a business name

Unless you file a “doing business as” (DBA), your sole proprietorship must have the same name as the owner’s legal name. If you wish to use a name, you must file a DBA. This can make your business seem more professional.

Here is how you file a DBA in Hawaii:

  1. Choose a business name: When brainstorming potential names, aim for something memorable and descriptive of your business. A name that describes your products or services can help create a recognizable brand.
  2. Check availability: Before confirming your name and completing your DBA paperwork, check if it is available in Hawaii. Visit the Hawaii Business Registration Division and search for names already in use.

When choosing your trade name, it’s important to ensure it is unique and not already being used by another business in the state. Doing online searches can reveal if competitors have similar names, and checking the US Patent and Trademark Office’s trademark database helps verify that you are not infringing on another company’s intellectual property.

  1. Check online availability: It’s a good idea to check that the associated web domain and social media handles are available for your business; these are useful marketing tools further down the line.
  2. Register the business name: Complete the “Application for Registration of Trade Name” form and return it with a $25 filing fee to the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs (DCCA) Business Registration Division. You can also complete your trade name registration online using the Hawaii Business Express website.

Obtain an (Employer Identification Number) EIN

While obtaining an Employer Identification Number (EIN) is not mandatory for sole proprietors without employees, it is recommended.

An EIN is a nine-digit number issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). It serves as a unique identifier for your business and can provide several benefits:

  • Opens up business banking opportunities: Having an EIN allows you to open a business bank account separate from your accounts. This separation helps you maintain clear financial records and simplifies tax filing.
  • Helps establish business credit: With an EIN, you can start building a separate credit history for your business, which may be beneficial when applying for loans or lines of credit.
  • Eases the hiring process: If you plan to expand your sole proprietorship and hire employees, having an EIN is necessary for payroll tax reporting and other employment-related requirements.
  • Enhances business privacy: Using an EIN instead of your Social Security Number (SSN) on invoices and contracts adds an extra layer of privacy and identity protection.
  • Prepares for business growth: If you have plans to grow your business and potentially convert it into a different business entity, such as a Limited Liability Company (LLC) or a corporation, having an EIN is a crucial step in the transition process.

Register through the IRS website or click here to obtain an EIN.


Obtain Hawaii business licenses, permits, and zoning clearances

When exploring licensing requirements, determine if your business needs state-level licenses based on industry regulations. Then research what licenses or permits the local city or county government mandates for businesses operating in their jurisdiction.

  • There is no need for a general business license in Hawaii. 
  • Hawaii’s Department of Taxation (DOT) requires all new businesses to obtain a general excise tax license. 
  • You can apply for your general excise tax (GET) license online. You can also download and complete the  Basic Business Application and mail it to the DOT.
  • You may also need additional business licenses or permits depending on the nature of your business. Visit the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs page on professional and vocational licensing to find out if you need to apply for additional licenses.
  • Each Hawaiian county has its own requirements for local licenses – contact them for more information. 

Register for taxes

As a sole proprietor in Hawaii, you must register for and pay the General Excise Tax (GET) on your gross business income. The GET is a state tax imposed on business activities.

Additional state and local taxes

In addition to the GET, you may be subject to other state and local taxes depending on your business activities. Research the specific tax obligations that apply to your industry and consult with a tax professional if needed to ensure compliance.

The Hawaii Tax Online website is a simple solution for your business taxes. This website automatically registers you to pay the GET and any other taxes you may incur.

Hawaii Tax Facts 31-1 is also a useful guide on business taxes.

Additional steps

After you’ve secured your EIN, registered for federal taxes, and received the necessary licenses, you’ve completed the essential steps to establish your sole proprietorship.

We suggest a few more tasks to help your small business stay aligned with rules and well-organized.


Open business bank accounts

To maintain clear financial records and separate your personal and business finances, it is essential to open a dedicated business bank account.

Having a separate business bank account offers several advantages, including:

  • Simplified bookkeeping and record-keeping: Separating your personal and business finances allows for easier tracking of income and expenses.
  • Facilitates accurate tax reporting: With a dedicated business bank account, you can easily identify and report business-related transactions on your tax returns.
  • Demonstrates professionalism: Having a separate bank account adds credibility to your business and enhances your professional image when dealing with clients, suppliers, and financial institutions.

Get liability insurance

As a sole proprietor, you shoulder complete responsibility for any business debts or obligations, making insurance an essential part of your business strategy. It safeguards you from unexpected claims or events. Consider exploring the following:

  • General business liability insurance: This coverage handles allegations of property damage, bodily injury, or personal harm tied to your business operations.
  • Professional liability insurance: Particularly vital for service providers, this insurance defends against allegations of perceived negligence, errors, or lapses in your services.

Maintain business records

Keeping records is essential for maximizing tax deductions and organizing your sole proprietorship’s financial matters. Ensure you document the following:

  • Income
  • Expenses
  • Assets and liabilities
  • Inventory
  • Receipts

Utilizing accounting software, spreadsheets, or setting up an organized method can simplify the task of paperwork management.

Sole proprietorship vs. LLC

While a sole proprietorship may seem attractive due to its simplicity and minimal legal requirements, it is important to consider the potential downsides and explore alternative business structures, such as a Limited Liability Company (LLC).

Here are some factors to consider when deciding between a sole proprietorship and an LLC:

  • Liability protection: One of the significant advantages of forming an LLC is its limited liability protection. Sole proprietors are liable for any debts or legal claims against your business, which means your assets are at risk. In contrast, an LLC provides a legal separation between your personal and business assets, shielding your personal assets from business liabilities.
  • Credibility: An LLC may enhance your credibility in the eyes of clients, partners, and potential investors. Forming an LLC demonstrates more professionalism and commitment to your business.
  • Growth potential: If you plan to expand your business or attract external funding, an LLC offers more flexibility and growth potential than a sole proprietorship.
  • Tax flexibility: One of the advantages of a sole proprietorship is its simplicity in taxation. You normally report business income and expenses on your personal tax return through a Schedule C. On the other hand, an LLC also offers tax flexibility, as it can be treated as a sole proprietorship, a general partnership, or a corporation for tax purposes.

It is important to note that forming an LLC involves additional steps and legal requirements, such as filing Articles of Organization and paying filing fees.

Useful resources to help start your sole proprietorship in Hawaii


Do I need to register my sole proprietorship with the state of Hawaii?

No, registering your sole proprietorship with Hawaii is not required. You might need to obtain specific licenses or permits depending on the nature of your business.

What is the difference between a single-member LLC and a sole proprietorship?

A single-member LLC is a separate legal entity. It offers liability protection, tax flexibility, and enhanced credibility. In contrast, a sole proprietorship is not legally separate from the owner, who is personally liable for business obligations, but it’s simpler and less expensive to set up.

Can I have employees as a sole proprietor in Hawaii?

Yes, you can have employees as a sole proprietor in Hawaii. You need an EIN to hire employees and comply with all applicable employment laws and regulations.

Can I convert my sole proprietorship into an LLC in the future?

Yes, but this process involves several steps and legal requirements.

What are the tax obligations for a sole proprietor in Hawaii?

As a sole proprietor in Hawaii, you must pay the General Excise Tax (GET) on your gross business income. Depending on your business activities, you may also have additional state and local tax obligations. 

How do I choose a trade name for my sole proprietorship?

When choosing a trade name for your sole proprietorship, consider a name that is unique, relevant to your business, and not misleading. Conduct a thorough search to ensure that another registered business in Hawaii does not already use the name.

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