How to Register a Small Business in California: A Beginner's Guide

Updated: Sep 12

Are you ready to start your local business in California? You'll first need to register your business with the state of California, which offers several types of business registrations. Get started with this important legal step!

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This beginner's guide only covers business registration at the state level, not local, such as with a city or county. Most cities and counties require a business to first register at the state level before any local business registration can proceed, such as with local business licenses and permits.


In addition, business registrations of non-profits and other less common business structures are not covered in this beginner's guide.


Step 1: Choose a Business Structure

To start a small business, you first need to choose a business structure which is a government classification for legal and tax purposes. In California, you can structure your business as a:

  • Sole Proprietorship

  • General Partnership

  • Limited Partnership

  • Limited Liability Partnership

  • Limited Liability Company

  • Corporation

  • Professional Corporation*

Each business structure has important legal and tax differences that may or may not be optimal for your small business.


*Only certain professions can form a Professional Service Corporation.



Helpful Resources to Help You Decide

Use the following resources to help your choose the right business structure:


Book/eBook

Read Nolo's latest edition book/ebook called Legal Guide for Starting & Running a Small Business, which provides an excellent and easy-to-understand overview of business structures and other important small business topics.


Online Business Quiz

Answer a few business questions with an online quiz and get a suggested business structure. Compare results with these online quizzes created by professional online filing services: CorpNet, Legalzoom, and MyCoporation.


Online Legal Advice

Consult a lawyer with RocketLawyer for a reasonable fee. Get advice on which business structure you should choose and have your legal questions answered by a real lawyer. Rocket Lawyer is a leading and top-rated online platform that provides online legal services.


 

Step 2: Check Business Name Availability

Once you have chosen a business structure, the next step is to check if your proposed business name is available in the state of California. You can avoid filing delays or rejection by ensuring your proposed business name is not the same or similar to another registered business name.


Do a quick business name search on the California Secretary of State's website:


Federal Trademark Business Name Search

For extra precaution, you should also check the United States Patent and Trademark Office's (USPTO) website for business names registered as federal trademarks. A business name registered as a federal trademark gives that business nationwide legal protection from other similar businesses from using that name, even if that business does not do business in California.


Avoid using a business name that is the same or similar to a business name registered as a federal trademark. Start your online search:


Business Name Reservation (Optional)

If your proposed business name is available in California, but you are not sure yet which business structure to choose, the state of California lets you reserve a business name for a limited time; however, this only applies to certain business structures/entities (see form).


To reserve a business name, you must file a Name Reservation Form and pay a state filing fee.


 

Step 3: File State Paperwork

Once you have selected a business structure and found an available business name, you're ready to make your business official. You can register your business or do what many small business owners do and use a professional online filing service.


Using an online filing service is an excellent option if you find it too complicated to do it yourself or you find it too expensive to hire a local professional to do it for you. Online filing services also offer an important business service called a registered agent, which is required for most business structures.


If you register your business yourself, read carefully the instructions on how to complete the form correctly. Look out for details such as:

  • Providing a proper address (on some lines/sections, a PO BOX or Personal Mailbox will not be accepted)

  • Providing an eligible registered agent (there are specific qualifications a registered agent must have)

  • Including certain words or abbreviations in your business name


Sole Proprietorship

The state of California does not require a sole proprietorship to register at the state level.

No recommended online filing service


General Partnership

The state of California does not require a general partnership to register at the state level, but it is optional. To register a general partnership in California, use the following form:

Statement of Partnership Authority

No recommended online filing service


Limited Partnership

To register a domestic Limited Partnership in California, use the following form:

Certificate of Limited Partnership

Recommended online filings service: Legalzoom


Limited Liability Partnership (LLP)

To register a domestic Limited Liability Partnership in California, use the following form:

Application to Register a Limited Liability Partnership

Recommended online filing service: Legalzoom


Limited Liability Company (LLC)

To register a domestic Limited Liability Company in California, use the following form:

Articles of Organization-Limited Liability Company

Recommended online filing service: ZenBusiness


Corporation

To register a domestic corporation in California, use the following form:

Articles of Incorporation-General Stock

Recommended online filing service: ZenBusiness


Professional Corporation

To register a domestic professional corporation in California, use the following form:

Articles of Incorporation-Professional

Recommended online filing service: CorpNet