Small Business Tips

Do I Have to Register My Business?

Manasa Reddigari

Business registration is one of the many steps you can take to make your business known to the world. But many business owners have doubts about when, how and why they should register their venture.

Keep reading for an answer to the often-asked question, "Do I have to register my business?"

What does it mean to register a business?

Business registration can refer to one of many actions taken to establish a business in a formal way. For example, it could mean registering a business name in the record of a government agency. It could also mean getting a permit to do business in a given town.

You can register a business with federal, state and/or local agencies.  Each level offers different ways to register.

Do I have to register my business?

The answer to the question "Do I have to register my business?" depends on your business structure, location and industry.

Complex structures ask for more registration tasks in general. For example, sole proprietors may only need to file a "doing business as" (DBA) form, if that. Partnerships may need to get a DBA and an Employee ID Number (EIN). LLCs or corporations may have to take those steps and file articles of incorporation.

The steps you take to register at the state and/or local level also depend on the state where you run your business. For example, in Oklahoma, you don't need a business license just to do business there. But you do in Nevada.

Your specific industry may also call on you to get a trade-specific license to operate in a given locale. For example, architects need a special license to do business in the state of Alaska. Certain food businesses must register at the federal level with the USDA.

The best way to find out whether you have to register a business at the federal level is to check with the FTC. You can find out if your business needs an EIN with an IRS survey. At the state level or lower, check with your department of state or city or county registrar.

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When do I have to register my business?

It is common to register a business as early as possible once you have a firm idea of your business concept. But the agency in charge of a registration task will often spell out a deadline for taking a step. For example, you would need to get a business license by day one if you're in a state where you need the license to do business.

In other cases, not taking one step may prevent you from taking another. For example, getting a business bank account may depend on getting a DBA form. In this case, you would need to get a DBA form before you open the business bank account.

Why would I want to register my business?

Registering a business comes with many advantages: 

  • It keeps you compliant with federal, state and/or local laws
  • It can protect your brand identity. Filing for a trademark can protect a unique business logo from infringement
  • It can prevent legal hassles. Registering a business name keeps competitors from using the same name
  • It allows you to dictate how the government sees your business. The government may view your business as a sole proprietorship by default if you do not register it.  

How to register my business

Now that you know the answer to the question, "Do I have to register my business?" proceed to register it. 

At the federal level, registering a business can involve doing or more of the following: 

  • Getting an EIN with the IRS
  • Registering a business name as a trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
  • Registering a non-profit business as a tax-exempt entity with the IRS 
  • Registering certain businesses with federal agencies like the USDA.

At the state and local level, registering a business can involve one doing or more of the following: 

  • Filing articles of incorporation with the department of state 
  • Registering a fictitious (a.k.a "doing business as") business name with the department of state or the city 
  • Applying for a general business license with the department of state or the city 
  • Getting trade-specific business licenses with the state, city or county
  • Applying for health, safety and zoning permits with the city or county.

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