How to Get a Wisconsin Business License

Man holding pen while bending over desk and looking at computer monitor.

As a Wisconsinite, you should be proud. Not only does your state produce the finest cheese and beer (and the Packers!), but it also supports small business owners in big ways.

The Wisconsin Small Business Development Center offers counseling and support services to entrepreneurs across the state. This means Wisconsin has its fair share of promising entrepreneurs. If you’re one of them, it’s important that you set up your business correctly.

One of the first steps is getting a Wisconsin business license, if it’s needed for what you do.

This process can sound confusing, and truthfully, there’s a lot of information out there. But I’ve done the hard work for you. Here you’ll find a step-by-step guide to getting your Wisconsin small business license. Plus, I’ll cover the many benefits of becoming official with the state.

Ready to get started? Let’s do it!

Should You Get a Wisconsin Business License?

Good news — not every business owner in Wisconsin needs to secure a license before opening up. It depends on what you do. For example, you’ll probably need a license if you plan to work in the following areas or with these products:

Check with the Wisconsin Department of Revenue first. They may let you know if your business requires a license with the state.

Many workers in healthcare, safety, and natural resources also need a Wisconsin business license. You can find out if your business idea will require one by contacting the Department of Natural Resources and divisions of the Department of Health Services.

I know…it seems like getting a license will be a big hassle. But, trust me, it’s worth the time and effort. You don’t want to get caught working without a business license if it’s required for your job. You could end up owing the state hefty fees, or worse, having your business shut down altogether.

Plus, getting a Wisconsin business license has a lot of benefits. It can:

  • Make your business appear reliable and credible.
  • Give customers confidence in the type of work you do.
  • Support your business’s brand name.
  • Market your business to new customers.
  • And more!

Hopefully, by now, you’re convinced that “doing things the right way,” pays off. Because it does. Now let’s cover how to get your business license in Wisconsin.

How to Get a Business License in Wisconsin

1. Register your business name with the state.

By now, you’ve probably decided if your business is a sole proprietorship, LLC, partnership, or corporation. If not, take some time and determine which model will bring you the most success. Then work with one of Wisconsin’s small business development centers, or a lawyer, to organize your business appropriately.

Once you decide on a format, pick a business name that demonstrates what you do — and why someone should hire you. Business names can vary from simple to complicated and creative, so take time with this step. Finally, once you decide on a name, it’s time to register it with the state. You may want to explore a trademark too.

You can find out more about registering your business’s name by visiting the State of Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions website.

As you get set up, be prepared to present the following documents and information in case it’s required for your specific business. It helps to have the details organized in a folder ahead of time:

  • A Federal Tax ID or EIN
  • Your personal address and phone number
  • The business’s address and phone number
  • Your driver’s license number
  • A Wisconsin seller’s permit number (if you sell goods)
  • A business plan with your expected revenue and expenses
  • A Certificate of Insurance (COI) demonstrating you carry a business insurance policy (Keep in mind this may or may not be required depending on your specific business)

If you’re confused, remember there are free and local resources available to help. Head over to a nearby small business development center or sign up for online training.

2. Secure professional and trade licenses, if needed.

Many Wisconsin small business owners do need a license before working, but again, not everyone does. Check with these state offices to find out if you need a Wisconsin business license before operating. If you do, you’ll need to follow the official process for your profession (and it’s different for everyone).

3. Ask about licenses and permits in your local city or town.

Often you need to get a license with your local city or town too — but not everywhere. It’s worth a trip or phone call to your local municipal office to find out. Start with the City or Town Clerk to inquire.

They also can help you secure permits you may need and follow any zoning requirements.

Wisconsin Business License + Insurance Requirements

As you go about setting up your business you may need to show a Certificate of Insurance (COI). This official document proves that you carry business insurance. Often, business owners will get general liability and professional liability insurance to protect them financially in the event of an accident or injury, or if they face another type of lawsuit.

Unfortunately, it happens more than I like to admit. Small business owners carry tremendous risk, whether it’s with their customers, vendors, or employees. It pays to get business insurance ahead of time, even if it’s not a state or local requirement.

You don’t want to get caught paying for the aftermath of an accident, injury, or another claim. For many small business owners, the costs are exorbitant and enough to put them out of business. Just get a business insurance policy at the get-go, and you’ll feel better knowing your business is protected.

Not sure where to go? Check out Simply Business’s free quote tool. In just 10 minutes or less, you can compare insurance quotes in Wisconsin.

Applying for an WI Business License?

You may need to show proof of business insurance to get your license.

That’s where we come in. Compare free insurance quotes for policies as low as $19.58/month.*

How Much is a Wisconsin Small Business License?

I wish I could say setting up a business in Wisconsin is free, but it’s not. There are some minimal startup costs. But you’ll probably be able to recoup those costs as soon as you’re up and running.

As you write your business plan, try to budget for the following costs:

  • Registering your business’s name in Wisconsin
  • Getting a trademark (if needed)
  • Securing a local business license or permit
  • Purchasing business insurance, including workers compensation if you have employees

The fees can vary based on what you do and where your business is located. It’s always best to ask a counselor at one of your nearby small business development centers or just call the state or your local office directly.

Once you get through this initial administrative work, I promise the fun will begin. You’ll enjoy the benefit of an “official stamp of approval,” and knowing you opened up shop the right way. You’ll also breathe a sigh of relief knowing you’re not at risk for fees or penalties.

Remember, Badgers and all Wisconsinites are hard workers. We work hard, play hard. I can say that because I’m a UW Madison graduate who started my own business too. You can do this — and all the hard work will pay off in the end, even if it’s just knowing you built something from the ground up.

Nothing is more satisfying than rolling up your sleeves, tapping into your own creativity, and building a business that serves your state.

So let’s get to it. On, Wisconsin!

Emily Thompson

I earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin at Madison (go Bucky). After realizing my first job might involve carrying a police scanner at 2 am in pursuit of “newsworthy” crimes, I decided I was better suited for freelance blogging and marketing writing. Since 2010, I’ve owned my freelance writing business, EST Creative. When I’m not penning, doodling ideas, or chatting with clients, you’ll find me hiking with my husband, baby boy, and 2 mischievous mutts.

Emily writes on a number of topics such as entrepreneurship, small business networking, and budgeting.