In a state with such a high cost of living, it’s not uncommon for Hawaii residents to delve into some form of self-employment. Some have a “side business” to supplement their day job. For others, running their business is their full-time day job. Whether you’re looking to supplement your income, work from home, set your own hours, be your own boss, or become a self-made millionaire, self-employment may be a good option to try.

Somewhat Self-Employed In Hawaii

Some people are able to enjoy certain benefits of self-employment — like having a flexible work schedule or telecommuting from home — but are still accountable to another employer. For example, during my research for the Job Listings Roundup post, I was suprised to discover that one of Hawaii’s larger employers is Avon, a company whose products are sold by individual sales representatives who set their own hours and work out of their home. If this type of work arrangement interests you, there are many other companies who “employ” independent sales reps to sell their products and services. For instance, my friend Gladys in Mililani sells women’s clothes through CAbi (Carol Anderson By Invitation).


Another group of workers who tend to be self-managing are real estate agents and brokers. While agents and brokers usually work for a real estate agency or firm, they can often set their own work hours and spend a lot of time away from the office. Other agents and brokers are fully self-employed: They work for themselves, running their own real estate business. If you’re interested in working in Hawaii’s real estate industry, the state government has info on the necessary licensing and education. Hawaii’s local Realtor associations are another good place to start:

  • Hawaii Association of Realtors: Statewide organization made up of six local chapters (below).
  • Honolulu Board of Realtors. Covers the island of Oahu.
  • Realtors Association of Maui
  • Hawaii Island Board of Realtors: Based in Hilo on the Big Island.
  • West Hawaii Association of Realtors: Based in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island.
  • Kauai Board of Realtors
  • Molokai Board of Realtors

Working as a freelancer or  contractor is another way to be “somewhat self-employed.” You get to call the shots on which projects you’ll accept, how much you’ll charge, what your work hours will be, and when you’ll take time off between jobs. But the project itself (and its deadline) are defined by an employer. If you’re new to freelance or contract work, creating a profile on sites like Elance, Guru, or vWorker can help you connect with employers who are seeking your skills. And many of the job listing websites in my “Roundup” post list not only permanent positions, but freelance, contract, and temporary jobs openings as well.

Buy A Business In Hawaii

If you want to be fully self-employed but don’t want all the work and risk of starting a brand-new business, consider buying an existing business or franchise. Pacific Business News lists Hawaii businesses for sale, and BizBuySell has a tool that allows you to search by U.S. state for franchises for sale.

Start Your Own Business In Hawaii

If you don’t want to work for anyone but yourself and have an entreprenuerial spirit, you can join the thousands who’ve started their own business in Hawaii, or who have moved or expanded their business to the state. Hawaii has several tax credits and incentives for business owners and investors who meet certain criteria:

  • High Technology Business Investment Tax Credit: A nonrefundable 100% tax credit for those who invest in a qualifying high-tech company located in Hawaii.
  • Motion Picture, Digital Media & Film Production Income Tax Credit: A refundable 15-20% tax credit based on expenditures in Hawaii while producing a film, TV show, commercial, or digital media product. This tax credit is expected to increase to 35-40% in 2012.
  • Hawaii Enterprise Zone Partnership Program: For businesses that move into areas of Hawaii that could benefit from job growth. Qualifying locations are in areas of Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island.
  • Hawaii’s Foreign Trade Zone Program: In an effort to stimulate job growth, this program helps international import-export businesses reduce their operating costs in Hawaii.
  • HUBZone Program: The U.S. Small Business Administration has designated Hawaii as a “Historically Underused Business” (HUB) Zone, so qualifying small businesses in the state are eligible for federal contracting opportunities.

Having just started my own business this year (that would be the blog you’re reading right now!), I can honestly say that it’s required a lot more time and self-education than I thought it would, but it’s been worth it. I love being my own boss, scheduling my own work hours, seeing direct results from my labor, and most of all, writing about a topic that’s interesting and meaningful to me. If you’re interested in setting up your own blogging business, here are the 10 free online video tutorials that got me started. I highly recommend the entire Become A Blogger program, especially if you’re an absolute beginner.

Downside Of Self-Employment In Hawaii

For Hawaii business owners, hiring employees is expensive. A state law requires all employers to provide health care insurance for all employees who work more than 20 hours per week. (Employees pay either half the cost of the insurance or 1.5% of their salary, whichever is the lesser.) For business owners, this compensation can translate to having to pay most of their employees an additional $4-5 an hour .

Then there’s Hawaii’s GE Tax. Anyone who is self-employed must pay a General Excise (GE) Tax equaling 0.15-4.5% of their gross income. The percentage depends on the type of business being conducted, with most businesses falling in the 4.5% category. This GE Tax must be paid in addition to regular state income tax, federal income tax, and federal Self-Employment Tax (15.3% of net profit). Ouch.

Resources On Self-Employment In Hawaii

Did that section on taxes scare you off? If not, these resources will help you get started as a self-employee in Hawaii:

Business Action Center (State of Hawaii): Find out the steps to starting a business in Hawaii, register a business or trademark online, get a GE Tax license, and more. Offices on Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island.

Dept. of Business, Economic Development & Tourism (State of Hawaii): Online resources on starting and building a business in Hawaii.

Hawaii Small Business Development Center Network: Counseling centers on Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island that offer free one-on-one counseling, in-class workshops, and online training. Also includes Hawaii Business Research Library on Maui.

Hawaii Pacific Export Council: This organization counsels businesses on Hawaii’s exporting process and and conducts trade education programs, including their new Export University seminar series, which teaches business owners about exporting and helps them come up with a global strategy for their business.

SCORE Of Hawaii: Honolulu-based state chapter of the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), which offers mentoring, workshops, and counseling to business owners.

U.S. Small Business Administration: Resources on starting and managing a small business.

High Technology Development Corporation: Offers services for tech startups in Hawaii, including office space, teleconferencing equipment, funding assistance, and workshops. They also work with existing manufacturing businesses to make them more profitable and competitive.

Hawaii Venture Capital Association (HVCA): This business club works with the state legislature to develop bills and policies that will encourage entrepreneurship and technological development in Hawaii. It holds a monthly luncheon meeting that’s open to the public, where entrepreneurs, investors, and other business people can network and listen to keynote speakers. HVCA has a collection of videos on its site from past meetings and special events.

TechHui: If you’re interested in starting up a tech venture in Hawaii, this online forum will help you network with other techies, find employees and contractors, promote your start-up, and keep abreast of the tech scene in Hawaii.

HireNet Hawaii’s Employer Services (State of Hawaii): Post jobs, find job candidates, locate training programs, and get labor market info.

Maui County Business Resource Center: A resource center located in Maui Mall in Kahului that offers workshops, a resource library, business forms, and info on starting your own business in Maui County.

Molokai Kuha’o Business Center: An offshoot of the Maui County Business Resource Center (see above) located on the island of Molokai.

High Tech Maui: If you’re looking to start a high-tech business on Maui, this project of the Maui Economic Development Board offers workshops, networking events, info on business incentives, a directory of current high-tech businesses on Maui, and more.

How To Start A Small Business On Kauai: Downloadable booklet published by the County of Kauai.

Smart Business Hawaii: Oahu-based association of small-business owners that offers its members a resource center in Honolulu, consulting services, a monthly newsletter, member referral services, networking opportunities, workshops, conferences, and more.

Retail Merchants Of Hawaii: Nonprofit membership organization that provides networking opportunities, workshops, and political representation for Hawaii business owners in the retail industry.

Hawaii Business Magazine: Download their free guide to Oahu office properties and read up on Hawaii’s local industries.

Pacific Business News’ Book Of Lists: Purchase to find out the names of the hottest competitors and key contacts in your industry for the Honolulu metro area. Individual lists are also for sale.

Self-Made In Hawaii: Watch full episodes online of this locally produced TV show that features success stories of Hawaii entrepreneurs and offers tips to make your own small business a success.