First Steps to Establishing Your New Business: The Initial Paperwork

Once you have chosen the best legal structure for your new business, there are a number of forms and other documents you will need to file with state and federal agencies.

How do I secure a name for my business?

Before you begin setting up your website and ordering signs, you should make sure that you are entitled to use the name that you have chosen. To avoid confusion, your local Secretary of State will not allow you to duplicate the same name as another business – trying to use a name already in use may also subject you to a trademark action.

After you complete a search to ensure that your proposed business name is available, you can:

  • File a DBA, or fictitious business name, with your state or county clerk. This is a common practice for sole proprietors.
  • Register a trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. This provides the greatest amount of protection against others who might try to infringe on your right to the use of your name, and is effective in all states.

If you plan to use your personal name for your business, you do not need to register your business name.

What paperwork is required to formally start my company?

The initial filings for your business will notify the state of your intention to operate and outline how your business will be governed.

Articles.If you establish a corporation, you will first need to file Articles of Incorporation with the Secretary of State. If you establish an LLC, you will file Articles of Organization. Your Articles is a single, brief document that includes:

  • The name of the new entity,
  • The structure of the entity,
  • The nature of the business (this is usually general, e.g., “to engage in any lawful activity”),
  • The name and address of the registered agent (a person or company authorized to accept delivery of legal documents on behalf of the business), and
  • The name of the incorporators (corporation) or members (LLC).

Following receipt of your Articles of Incorporation or Articles of Organization, the state will check to make sure that the name you have chosen does not already belong to another business entity. Upon approval, the Articles register your business as a legal entity in your state.

Bylaws/Operating Agreements. Corporate Bylaws (corporations) and Operating Agreements (LLCs) explain how your business will operate, including the responsibilities of the directors and officers, and the rules pertaining to investment in the entity and changes of ownership. Bylaws and Operating Agreements are generally not submitted to the state – they are part of your entity’s internal documents.

Note that the owner of a sole proprietorship does not file formation documents with the California Secretary of State’s office, but other filings may be required for some types of business. General partnerships may – but are not obligated to – file a Statement of Partnership Authority (Form GP-1) with the State.

What tax ID number should I use for my business?

You will need to acquire an employer identification number (EIN) unless you are operating as a sole proprietor without employees, in which case your social security number is sufficient.

Next up are additional filings that new businesses should take into consideration.