Check the availability of your desired company name

Use Trademarkia to determine if the corporate name you want to use is already trademarked.

If the exact name as yours or a similar one exists, you may still be able to use it.  Business names are registered on a state-by-state basis, so you could be OK using the same or similar name, assuming it will only be used in the state in which you incorporate.

However, you may run into intellectual property issues—especially if you decide to brand your firm nationwide or expand beyond your state.

Double check names on the official U.S. Patent & Trademark site. 

Also search the business names section of the Secretary of State's website in the state you plan to incorporate. 

Do a Google search of your desired name and note if any similar businesses appear. Gauge if your name will be confusing or hard to market vs. any existing companies with similar names.

Another good thing to check is domain name availability.

This could indicate whether someone may have secured the name/URL in advance of formally registering it as a business entity.

Use iwantmyname to check your desired name.

Along with checking for domain names, research to see if your name is available to register on top social sites using KnowEm.

Consult with an intellectual property attorney if you are still uncertain about whether you should use a specific name. 

Form your corporation

Decide on the type of corporate entity you want to form.

See the Ultimate Guide To Incorporating for a description of the most common corporate entities.

Make sure all parties who will initially be part of the corporation are available during the setup process.

Designate your Registered Agent.

In the United States, a registered agent, also known as a resident agent or statutory agent, is a business or individual designated to receive official information from state and federal services. These may include:

  • Service of process (SOP) when a business is a party in a legal action 
  • Paperwork for the yearly renewal of the business entity's charter

The registered agent for a business may be an individual member of the company, or more often a third party, such as the organization's lawyer or a service company such as Northwest Registered Agent.

Decide whether you want to incorporate on your own, use a service like LegalZoom or hire an attorney to file the necessary paperwork for you.

It will cost more to hire an attorney and is overkill unless your business structure will be complicated or involve a lot of partners and/or investors.

If you prefer to do it yourself, go through the steps listed in Secretary of State department's website (for the state in which you will incorporate)

To streamline the incorporation process, consider using a reputable service. Two good ones include:

Get your EIN number

After forming your official corporate entity, you will need to apply for a federal Employer Identification Number (EIN).

Also known as a Federal Tax Identification Number, it is used to identify a business entity. Think of it like a social security number for your business.

When you are small (no employees), you may not need an EIN. However, you may need it to set up a business bank account. 

Read more about EINs here.

You can apply for an EIN on the Internal Revenue Service's website. This is a free service.

You also have the option to apply for an EIN through a paid service like LegalZoom or Northwest Registered Agent.

You should also check with your state to see if you need a state number or charter.

Check your local and state requirements

As part of the incorporation process, check for any other requirements such as licensing and permits with your local tax office and state's Secretary of State.

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