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How to Register Your Small Business in Four Steps

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: July 21, 2009 Updated: March 16, 2015

How do I register my business?” is one of the most common questions that new small business owners have. The answer, unfortunately, isn’t as simple as “Go here and fill out this form.”

For most new businesses, the process of getting registered involves several steps (and not always in this order):

  • Registering your business name or trade name
  • Registering your business as a legal entity – Limited Liability Corporation (LLC), corporation, etc.
  • Registering with the right tax authorities
  • Registering for the appropriate licenses and permits

Let’s break it down, so that you can see what action is needed on your part one step (and sub-steps) at a time:

1.  Register your business name

If you choose to name your business as anything other than your own name, then you’ll need register that trade name or “doing business as” (DBA) name with your state. For example, a sole proprietor called John Smith might choose to operate his business as “JS Painting.”  Corporations and LLCs can also register alternate names (as long as they are not being used by other businesses in the state).  

There are other factors to consider before you register your trade name, such as trademark infringement. Read more about this and other considerations in SBA’s Choose Your Business Name guide then follow these steps for registering your business name.

2.  Register your business as a legal entity

This step will not be required by all businesses. However, if you do decide that your business could benefit from a formal legal structure, such as an LLC or S Corporation, then you’ll need to register your business and file certain documents (articles of incorporation) with your state government. Read more about the different business entity options available to you in this Choose your Business Structure guide.

Many new and small businesses operate under the most basic form of business type – sole proprietorship. A sole proprietorship is basically an unincorporated business owned and run by one individual (no partners are involved), with no distinction between the business and its owner. If you choose this option, you can skip this step and move on to the next one.

3.  Register your business with the IRS and state revenue office

Take note of the various sub-steps in this section:

If you have employees, any business partnerships, are a corporation or other organization, you'll need to apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN). If you don't need an EIN, you can simply use your Social Security Number to administer your business finances.

You’ll also need to request quarterly estimated tax vouchers from the IRS and your state revenue office. These are filled in and returned with your quarterly payments. You can download the IRS forms (1040-ES) here.

If you expect to collect sales tax from customers (for example if you operate a retail or food-service business), you may also need to apply for a sales tax permit from your state’s revenue office.

4.  Get the right business licenses & permits

All businesses need some form of license or permit in order to operate legally. This often comes as a surprise to new business owners, especially online and home-based businesses.  

From professional licenses (doctors, hair stylists, etc.) to home occupation permits and more, find out what you need in: What to Know about Small Business Licenses and Permits.

If you’re still not sure which licenses apply to your business, contact your local Small Business Development Center, SBA Regional Office or state’s Department of Commerce (they can often connect you with local business resources).

Additional resources

For more detailed information about the steps involved in starting a business, take a look at SBA’s resources including this Starting a Business Guide and blogs.

About the Author:

Caron Beesley


Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

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