Register a Business

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How to Register a Business

When you start a new business, you’ll likely need to register it as well. Keep reading to discover how to register a business, including tips for staying compliant and answers to commonly asked questions.

Step 1: Choose a business structure

Before you can register your business, you’ll need to choose a business structure. 

Sole Proprietorship

One of the simplest entity types is a sole proprietorship. If you are the only person who owns, operates, and works in your business, this might be the right option for you.

Partnership

If you are starting a company with at least one other person, you can form a partnership. A partnership allows for a company’s profits to be passed through to the owners. This means taxes are reported on the individual tax returns only.

Types of Partnerships

There are three types of partnerships:

LLC

One of the most popular business structures is a limited liability company or LLC.

An LLC is set up as its own legal entity, but its profits pass through to the owners or members and are taxed only on their individual tax returns. There are no shareholders and no stock.

Note: In some states, professional partnerships are not eligible to form an LLC. These businesses must instead form a limited liability partnership (LLP) or a professional limited liability company (PLLC). Professional partnerships are businesses like doctor’s offices or law firms.

Corporation

Corporations are owned by shareholders who elect a board of directors. The board leads the decision-making. Corporations are a separate entity from the owners, protecting their liability. However, with a corporation, the business will be taxed, and then the individual shareholders will be taxed on the income they receive (known as “double taxation”).

Note: Corporations can elect to be taxed as C corporations, S Corporations, or B Corporations. Learn more about the distinctions

LLC – Limited Liability Co

The simplest and most flexible business structure to protect your personal assets.

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From $49 + state fees

Corporation (C-Corp)

This more complex structure can issue shares or take the business public.

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From $49 + state fees

LLC with S-Corp Election

This tax designation avoids double taxation when your LLC is profitable.

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From $49 + state fees

Step 2: Choose and register your business name

Once you’ve determined your business structure, it’s time to choose and register your business name. 

Pick a business name

Naming your business starts with figuring out whether the name you want is available. You also need to make sure your business name adheres to the rules in your state. There are different naming guidelines for different types of business structures. For instance, if you’re forming a corporation, your name will need to include a corporate identifier, such as “Inc.,” “Incorporated,” “Corp.,” etc. And if you’re forming a limited liability company, you’ll need an LLC designator (such as LLC, L.L.C., Limited, etc.). 

Check with the Secretary of State in the state where you plan to do business for all naming guidelines. You can also do a quick search on our state-specific business entity search pages. For instance, if you’re starting a business in California, use our California Business Entity Search page to see if your desired name is already being used by another business in the state. 

Register Business Name 

Once you’ve landed on the perfect name and determined that it’s available, you can register your business name. This prevents other businesses from using or reserving the name you want.

Wondering how to register a business name? Business name registration is as simple as following the complete process to register your business (in other words, form your business). That means, once you’ve finished all the steps in this guide, you will have registered your business name. 

How to reserve a name for a business

Have you found the ideal name for your business, but aren’t quite ready to form yet? You can reserve your name instead. That way, no other businesses in your state can snag your desired name before you’re officially registered. 

Many states allow you to reserve a business name for up to 120 days. Need some help? We can help you reserve your business name quickly and easily. 

DBAs and Trademarks

If you want to operate under a name that’s different from your legal business name, you’ll also need to register your DBA name (for instance, if your legal name is “ABC Corp.,” and you want to sell online as “ABC Puzzles”). 

You can also go a step further to ensure you are in the clear to use the name you want. This involves searching at the state and federal level to make sure your desired name isn’t already trademarked.

You can check at the state level by consulting the Secretary of State’s Office. Then, check the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) database to make sure the name isn’t federally trademarked. If it isn’t, you can apply to trademark it for yourself. 

Note: Registering a trademark only applies within the state in which you register it. Trademarks also do not last forever. You’ll need to follow deadlines and requirements to keep your trademark current. 

Step 3: Choose a business location

Next up, you need to decide on a business location. What state will your business be based in? Will you operate your business out of your home, or will you need to set up a physical office/store space? 

Step 4: Register documents and pay filing fees

Depending on your business type, the next step is to file the appropriate formation documents and pay your state filing fees. Learn more about LLC state filing fees.

Documents Needed

The documents you need to file are based on the type of business entity you’re forming.

LLC: Articles of Organization

If you’re forming a limited liability company (LLC), you’ll need to file Articles of Organization (or your state’s equivalent).

Corporation: Articles of Incorporation

Conversely, if you’re forming a corporation, you’ll need to file Articles of Incorporation

Sole Proprietorships and General Partnerships

Sole proprietors or those forming a general partnership need not take this step. 

How to file

To form an LLC or corporation, you’ll file your formation paperwork with the Secretary of State in the state where your business will be based. You will also need to pay your state filing fees when filing your formation documents. These fees vary by state. 

While the exact process can also vary, the Secretary of State’s business registration division in most states allows filing via mail, online, and in person. 

Registered Agent

When filing your formation documents, you’ll also need to appoint a registered agent. A registered agent is a person or business who is the point of contact between your company and the state. This entity will receive all legal and business communications on behalf of your business, and will ensure you are made aware of any correspondence within a timely manner.

Can I serve as my own registered agent?

All states allow you to serve as your own registered agent. That may seem like a simple solution, but there are disadvantages. A registered agent must be available during business hours. Running your business and being in one location all day can be difficult. It can also be inconvenient to be served with legal documents while meeting with a potential client.

Benefits of Using a Registered Agent Service

Hiring an outside registered agent service can make your life a lot easier. A few advantages include:

Step 5: Get a tax ID

One of the most important steps for a new business owner is to follow all federal, state, and local tax laws. This often involves acquiring a tax identification number for your business. 

EIN

Most businesses apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN). This number is also often referred to as a Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN). A business is required to obtain an EIN when: 

Even if you aren’t required by law to obtain an EIN, it is usually a good idea to do so. For example, banks often require an EIN in order to open a business bank account. You may also need one to avoid having to use your social security number for business purposes. 

Step 6: Apply for licenses and permits

Next, it’s time to apply for any licenses or permits you need to effectively conduct business. This may be an industry-specific business license or state or local permit. 

Common Permit and Business License Types

A few of the most common types of permits and licenses include: 

What you need to obtain may differ depending on your industry, state, locality, and other factors. Be sure to conduct thorough research so you can be compliant with all laws. 

Step 7: Stay compliant with registration requirements

The last major step to registering your business is to remain in compliance with all laws and requirements. This involves checking with the Secretary of State in your state and making sure you have completed every necessary step and paid every required fee. 

Additional documentation

You may also need to complete some additional documentation.

LLCs: Operating Agreement

For instance, if you’re starting an LLC, you’ll want to create an operating agreement. An operating agreement is a document that lays out:

Corporations: Corporate Bylaws

On the other hand, if you’re starting a corporation, you’ll need to fill out your corporate bylaws.

Corporate bylaws are legal documents written and adopted by the owners and board of directors when a corporation is incorporated or formed. Although these bylaws may vary from corporation to corporation, here are some of the basic components:

Business Plan

Another document any business will need is a business plan. A good business plan will typically have the following sections: 

Taxes

It’s also important to keep up with your tax requirements. Look into what taxes are required at the federal, state, and local levels so you can stay on top of things.

Different types of businesses may be required to pay different taxes. Some of the most common taxes include:

Annual Report

Depending on your state and business type, you may also need to adhere to annual report filing requirements. Many states require LLCs and corporations to file annual, biennial, or decennial reports in order to stay in good standing. This is another task we can handle for you.

We can help

Ready to start and register a new business? As you can see, there are a lot of steps to keep up with. Luckily, you don’t have to do this alone. We’re here to walk you through the entire process, all the way from formation to compliance.

And our worry-free services mean you can breathe easy knowing nothing will fall through the cracks. Reach out to us today. We can’t wait to help you make your dream business a reality! 

Disclaimer: The content on this page is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal, tax, or accounting advice. If you have specific questions about any of these topics, seek the counsel of a licensed professional.

Registering a Business FAQs

  • How much does it cost to register a business? 

    Business registration costs depend on your state and formation type. Check with the Secretary of State in your state for a current list of filing fees.

  • Can I run a business without registering it? 

    That depends on your business type. You can run a sole proprietorship or general partnership without registering. However, if you’re starting an LLC or corporation, you’ll need to file the appropriate formation paperwork and register.

  • Do I need to register a business to sell online? 

    Again, that depends on the type of business you’re forming.

  • What are the consequences of not registering a business? 

    If you run a business type that requires registration, the consequences could mean being deemed as out of compliance with the Secretary of State. Being out of compliance can result in anything from penalties to forced business closure.

  • Should I register my business before starting the work? 

    If you’re forming an LLC or corporation, yes, you should register your business before starting work.

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