A person sits at a computer attempting to register a business with a state

Small Business Basics: How to Register Your Business with State and Local Governments

After selecting your business’s name and choosing its structure, you may need to register your business with your state and local governments. In this article, we’ll explain how to get started.

 

Why do I need to register my business?

When you register your business, you show that you have the legal capacity to operate in the state. It's a requirement—a must—for many business owners to register their businesses.

But beyond being a requirement, the process offers some benefits. Namely, it can afford you some protections, including personal liability protection, tax benefits, and an assurance that no other business in the state can operate under your business’s name.

 

Am I required to register my business?

Most states require companies that are organized as partnerships, LLCs, and corporations to register.

Many also require sole proprietors using a doing business as (DBA) name to complete a business name registration process. However, most sole proprietors who run their companies under their personal names do not need to register their businesses.

 

Where will I need to register?

In most cases, you’ll need to register in any state in which you conduct business activities. According to the Small Business Administration, most states define “business activity” in these ways:

  • Your business has an office, facility, or physical presence in the state.
  • You have in-person meetings with customers in the state.
  • A significant portion of your revenue comes from the state.
  • One or more of your employees work in the state.
You’ll file in your home state as a “domestic entity,” and you’ll file in other states as a “foreign entity.”

How do I register with a state?

Most states allow owners to register online. Some may require you to apply in person or complete a mail-in form. It’s important to connect with each state’s Secretary of State office to learn about the requirements you must meet.

Need to know who to contact? This list of Secretary of State offices should help you get started:

Alabama

(334) 242-5324

Hawaii

(808) 586-2744

Michigan

(888) 767-6424

North Carolina

(919) 814-5400

Tennessee

(615) 741-2286

Alaska

(907) 465-2550

Idaho

(208) 334-2300

Minnesota

(877) 551-6767

North Dakota

(800) 352-0867

Texas

(512) 463-5555

Arizona

(602) 542-4285

Illinois

(217) 782-6961

Mississippi

(800) 256-3494

Northern Mariana Islands

(670) 234-6245

U.S. Virgin Islands

(340) 776-8515

Arkansas

(501) 682-1010

Indiana

(800) 457-8283

Missouri

(573) 751-4936

Ohio

(877) 767-6446

Utah

(877) 526-3994

California

(916) 653-6814

Iowa

(888) 767-8683

Montana

(406) 444-2034

Oklahoma

(405) 522-2520

Vermont

(888) 647-4582

Colorado

(303) 894-2200

Kansas

(785) 296-4564

Nebraska

(402) 471-4079

Oregon

(503) 986-2200

Virginia

(866) 722-2551

Connecticut

(860) 509-6200

Kentucky

(502) 564-3490

Nevada

(775) 684-5708

Pennsylvania

(888) 659-9962

Washington

(360) 725-0377

Delaware

(302) 739-3073

Louisiana

(225) 925-4704

New Hampshire

(603) 271-3242

Puerto Rico

(787) 722-2121

Washington, D.C.

(202) 442-4400

Florida

(850) 245-6500

Maine

(207) 624-7736

New Jersey

(800) 537-7397

Rhode Island

(401) 222-3040

West Virginia

(866) 767-8683

Georgia

(404) 656-2817

Maryland

(888) 246-5941

New Mexico

(505) 827-3600

South Carolina

(803) 898-5690

Wisconsin

(608) 261-7577

Guam

(671) 472-8931

Massachusetts

(617) 727-9640

New York

(518) 485-2639

South Dakota

(605) 773-4845

Wyoming

(307) 777-7311

An online incorporator can help you complete this step. Inc. Authority and MyCorporation are two popular choices.

Is there a cost to register my business with my state?

Yes. The fee varies by state and business structure, but often, it amounts to less than $300.

 

How can I learn about local requirements?

Contact your county clerk or city hall to learn about the registration requirements you may need to meet. Local officials can also tell you about the permits and licenses you’ll need to operate in your county or municipality.

 

Do I need to register at the federal level?

If you plan to obtain a federal tax ID number, secure trademark protections, attain tax exemptions, or apply for government contracts, you will need to register your business at the federal level. Visit irs.gov and follow the links above to learn more about the requirements.

You may also want to apply for a DUNS number through Dun & Bradstreet's site. The number you attain is a unique identifier that will enable you to secure deals with creditors and suppliers. Keep in mind that the process can take up to 30 days. Be sure to register for this number long before you need it.

 

What’s next?

There are lots of steps involved in starting a business. We have articles and advice that can help you with every action you need to take. Log into your owner’s portal for a free step-by-step guide to make your venture a success.

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