Registering a Company: What Is It?

Registering a company means taking the steps necessary to both form an entity for your business in a state and obtain the permits and licenses needed to operate the business.

Each step in registering a business requires that you consider your options, complete and file the necessary forms and then pay the filing and registration fees. Unless your business structure, ownership and activities are simple, you will need the advice of an accountant and a lawyer to register a company.

Steps for Registering a Company

1. Choose and Reserve a Company Name

You’ll need to choose a name for your company after searching the state’s database of names used by companies formed in the state and companies formed in other states that have qualified to do business there. To avoid confusion, state laws prohibit two companies from having similar names, so think of a few options you are willing to use in case your top choice is unavailable. Depending on the state, corporations may need to have “Incorporated,” “Corporation,” “Inc.” or “Corp.” as part of their names, and LLCs may need to use “LLC” or “Limited”  or something similar in their names.

If you decide to operate under a separate name, you may need to file an “assumed name/fictitious name/doing business as” form with your state and/or local governments.

2. Form a Business Entity

A lawyer can advise you about whether it makes sense to conduct your business as a sole proprietorship, limited partnership (LP), general partnership (GP), limited liability company (LLC) or a corporation. You will need to consider the planned activities of your company, the number of owners and investors, your need for limited liability and whether your company should be taxed as a corporation (taxed on its income separately as an entity) or as a partnership (the company’s income is passed to the owners who each pay individual taxes on their share of the income).

You will also need to decide whether to form your company in the state where the business will be physically located or in another state, like Delaware, where laws are favorable to businesses. (If you choose a state like Delaware with no operating connection to your company, you will need to qualify to do business in the state where your company is physically located. This requires additional filings and registration fees.)

After you settle on your type of business entity, you will then need to file the appropriate formation documents with the state.

3. Obtain a Federal EIN

You’ll need to file a simple form with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to obtain a federal Employer Identification Number (EIN) for your company. This is the business equivalent of a Social Security number to identify your company for federal tax purposes.

4. Know Your State Tax Registrations

If your company will be collecting sales tax from customers or will have employees, you’ll need to obtain tax registrations from the states where you do business and where your employees reside. You must check with your state to see if a state tax identification number is necessary.

5. Get Business Licenses and Tax Permits

Your company may need business permits and/or licenses to operate in the towns and cities in which it has offices, stores or manufacturing or storage facilities, as well as local tax permits if those towns and cities levy business taxes. You may need to have licenses at the federal, state and local levels (depending on what type of business you have).

6. Apply and Register Your Trademark and Business Mark

If appropriate, you should consider protecting your company name, slogans, and logos by applying for a federal trademark. You may also want to consider registering your trademark on a state level which is typically simpler, faster, and less expensive.

7. Perform Annual Filings and Permit Renewals

Most companies are required by state and local laws to file annual reports and to renew their tax and other registrations periodically. Make sure you understand the rules of your state and municipality so that your business remains compliant with all laws that govern.

Support for Business Registrations

If you decide that you need assistance in registering a business in one or more states, post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel screens out 95 percent of lawyers to provide only the best lawyers from top law schools like Harvard Law School or Yale Law School. UpCounsel lawyers have an average of 14 years of experience and have provided legal services to well-known tech companies.