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How to Start a Business

Selecting Your Business Name
Choosing your Business Structure
Applying for a Business License
Creating Legal Documents
Apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN)

 

Selecting Your Business Name
The first item on your checklist is to choose a name for your business. It’s the starting point that enables you to procure your business license and legal documents you will need, establish an account and order equipment.

 Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Keep it simple. Business names that are easy to spell and say are more easily remembered.
  • Make sure it isn’t in use. Select a few different names and use an Internet search engine such as Google or Bing to see if they’re already taken. Checking the yellow page listings in your area and conducting a search of corporation names on the Secretary of State website are also excellent resources for ensuring your chosen business name isn’t already in use.
  • Trademarks. Be careful of trademark or copyright infringements, especially with larger companies. One resource is the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website. Even if you don’t find the company listed on the website, don’t assume it’s free and clear. Do more research and if you see a trademark (™) or registered trademark (®), know that it means the name is not available for use.
  • Be unique! Avoid using names that are similar to others in your line of business or even in the geographical location of your business. That way, your business will stand out and you won’t have to worry about trademark infringement.
  • Domain name. If you’re going to have a website and you want to incorporate your business name into it (a good idea), check to see if the domain name is available. GoDaddy.com is one resource for checking the availability of domain names.
  • Don’t worry about branding—for now. Branding your name or your products will come later, if you decide to brand at all. Just choose a name you like that represents your company well. If you decide to create a brand, you can revisit your business name at that time. If you decide a different name would work better with the branding you have in mind, you can file a DBA under your business name.

Choosing Your Business Structure
The next step in setting up your business is to establish its structure. The following are general overviews of the most popular business structures.

Sole Proprietorship
Sole proprietorships are the most common type of businesses. A sole proprietorship is owned by an individual or a married couple.

  • There is little or no protection of personal assets with this business type.
  • Taxes can be filed with personal taxes.
  • Depending on the nature of your business, you may want to consider purchasing professional liability insurance.

Partnership
A general partnership is comprised of two or more people (usually not a married couple) who agree to contribute money, labor, or skill to a business. Each partner shares the profits, losses and management of the business.

  • Personal assets are typically protected with a partnership. Depending on the type of partnership, you may be liable for your partners’ negligence (in some cases this may be avoided by opening a Limited Liability Partnership).
  • Taxes must be filed separate from personal taxes.
  • Depending on the nature of your business, you may want to consider purchasing professional liability insurance.

Limited Liability Company (LLC)
An LLC is formed by one or more individuals or entities through a special written agreement. The agreement details the organization of the LLC, including provisions for management, assigning of ability of interests and distribution of profits and losses.

  • Personal assets are usually protected with an LLC.
  • Taxes may be filed with personal taxes if you are the sole owner.
  • Depending on the nature of your business, you may want to consider purchasing professional liability insurance.

Corporation
A corporation is a more complex business structure. A corporation has certain rights, privileges and liabilities beyond those of an individual. Doing business as a corporation may yield tax or financial benefits; however, these can be offset by other considerations, such as increased licensing fees or decreased personal control. Corporations may be formed for profit or non-profit purposes.

  • Corporations stand alone and personal assets are protected.
  • Taxes must be filed separately from personal taxes.
  • Depending on the nature of your business, you may want to consider purchasing professional liability insurance.

Non-Profit Corporation
Non-profit corporations have the same structure as for-profit corporations with exception to having a non-profit status. An application for non-profit status must be submitted to the IRS. Upon approval, monies received by the non-profit may be considered a charitable donation and a tax write-off for donors.

  • Corporations stand along and personal assets are protected.
  • Taxes must be filed separately from personal taxes.
  • Depending on the nature of your business, you may want to consider purchasing professional liability insurance.

Applying for a Business License
Once you’ve settled on a business name and established a business mailing address, you’ll need to apply for a business license with the state. There are three ways to apply: online, by mail or in person at any state Business Licensing Service office. Visit the state’s Business Licensing Service website for application and filing instructions, online and mail-in license applications and office locations.

Creating Legal Documents
Certain documents are required for each business structure. Click here to see a list of the documents needed for your business. We strongly suggest using an attorney or qualified professional to assist you in creating the necessary documents. You can also find the documents you’ll need at office supply stores or through an Internet search. If you decide to create the documents yourself, consider having them reviewed by a professional to ensure everything is in order.

Apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN)
The next step is to apply for an EIN. Most businesses require an EIN for tax purposes; sole proprietorships may also have the option of using the owner’s Social Security Number. We suggest consulting your tax adviser.

Click here to apply for an EIN.

Click here for small business resources.

For more information on starting a business, take a look at the State of Washington’s Small Business Guide.

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