Starting a business in Massachusetts

Learn about the required steps for starting your business and useful resources available before and after you've started your business.

Depending on your business, you may need to file with the Secretary of the Commonwealth. You may also need to get a business certificate (DBA) to operate in your city or town, get an Employer Identification Number (EIN), and create a MassTaxConnect account to make required state tax payments.

Table of Contents

General guidance for starting a business

Explore these resources before starting your business in Massachusetts.

  • Get free training and counseling. The Massachusetts Small Business Development Center offers several free business advising and training services.
  • Conduct market research. Conduct a competitive analysis to set your business apart from the competition. This means studying your competitors to understand their strengths, weaknesses, and what they offer to attract customers. Visit the U.S. Small Business Administration for market information, statistics, and data about small businesses in your area.
  • Write a business planYou can find business plan templates on the U.S. Small Business Association's website.
  • Learn about local licensing. Check with licensing boards in your city or town to see if your business needs a license to operate. 

Choose your business structure

The business structure you choose affects the steps you need to take to get started, operating responsibilities, tax obligations, and how much of your personal assets are at risk.

Common business structures (sometimes called "business types" or "business subjects") include:

  • Sole proprietorships
  • Partnerships
  • Limited Liability Companies (LLCs)
  • Corporations (for-profit and nonprofit)

You'll want to choose the business structure that gives you the right balance of legal protections and benefits.

Learn about the differences and similarities in common business structures in this chart offered by the Small Business Administration.

Steps to start your business

The following steps provide a general guideline for starting a business but may vary depending on your chosen business structure.

1. Check your business name

The Secretary of the Commonwealth lets you search for a Business Entity to make sure the business name you want is available.

2. File with the Secretary of the Commonwealth

If your business must file with the Secretary of the Commonwealth, visit their Filing by Subject page and follow the steps for the business structure ("subject") you've chosen to complete your filing. Sole proprietors and general partnerships can skip this step.

Note: The Sec. of the Commonwealth's website refers to business types or structures as "subjects."

In most cases, you can choose to file online, by fax, by mail, or in person.


Important

Any business filing with the Secretary of the Commonwealth must also report information to the federal government. Learn more about filing a beneficial ownership information (BOI) report with the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN).


3. Get a business certificate (DBA) from your city or town

Suppose your company name is different than your legal business name. In that case, you need to apply for a business certificate (also called DBA or “doing business as”) with the town or city where your business is located (M.G.L. ch.110 §5). A business certificate creates a public record of the name and address of the owner(s) of a business.

The legal name for a partnership or corporation is the official name used when incorporating your business. If you’re a sole proprietor, your legal name is your legal business name.

Examples:

Partnership or corporation
The owners of “Smith & Sons Accounting Services LLC" filed a business certificate so they can operate under the DBA name "FastTax Solutions" for branding and marketing.

Sole proprietorship
John Smith doesn’t need to file a business certificate to operate “John Smith Designs.” He will have to file a business certificate if he wants to operate under the DBA name “Creative Design Services.”

A business certificate is not a license to do business within the town or city you’re located in. Check your town or city’s website for more details about filing a business certificate and any other required local licenses.

4. Get an EIN

An Employer Identification Number (EIN) is used to identify a business and is issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). It's also called a Federal Tax Identification Number.

A sole proprietorship with no employees is the only business structure that does not have to get an EIN.

5. Register with MassTaxConnect

If your business is responsible for collecting and paying taxes to the state, you'll need to create a MassTaxConnect account. You can pay business taxes to the Department of Revenue through MassTaxConnect.

Next steps after you've started your business

Available business resources and support

After you've started your business, you might still have some questions. The Massachusetts Office of Business Development provides a highly responsive, central point of contact with access to resources, expertise, and incentive programs.

Learn about your business tax responsibilities

As you prepare for your business tax obligations, read this summary of tax information for new businesses in Massachusetts from the state's Department of Revenue. 

Date published: September 29, 2023
Last updated: May 29, 2024

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