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

Updated: Sep 11

Are you ready to start your local business in Washington? You'll first need to register your business with the state of Washington, which offers several types of business registrations with important legal and tax differences.

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This beginner's guide only covers business registration at the state level, not at a local level such as a city or county. However, most cities and counties require a business to register at the state level first before any local business registration can be done, such as with a business license or permit.


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 Washington, you can structure your business as a:

  • Sole Proprietorship

  • General Partnership

  • Limited Partnership

  • Limited Liability Partnership

  • Limited Liability Company

  • Professional Limited Liability Company*

  • Profit Corporation

  • Professional Service 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 Limited Liability Company or 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 Guides and Comparison Charts

Learn more about business structures with online guides and comparison charts for beginners from these sites: Washington Secretary of State, Zenbusiness,


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 Washington. 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 Washington 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 that is 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 Washington.


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


Business Name Reservation (Optional)

If your proposed business name is available in Washington, but you are not sure yet which business structure to choose, the state of Washington lets you reserve a business name for a certain time period; 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 small 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 yourself 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.


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

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

  • Providing an eligible registered agent (depending on the business structure)

  • Including certain words or abbreviations in your business name


Sole Proprietorship

The state of Washington does not require a sole proprietorship to register. However, you may need to register your business name as a trade name, also known as a DBA (doing business as), with the Washington State Department of Revenue if your business name does not use your full legal name.

Recommended online filing service: Swyft Filings


General Partnership

The state of Washington does not require a general partnership to register. However, you may need to register your business name as a trade name, also known as a DBA (doing business as), with the Washington State Department of Revenue if your business name does not use the full legal names of the owners/partners.

Recommended online filing service: Swyft Filings



Limited Partnership

To register a Limited Partnership Washington, use the following form:

Certificate of a Limited Partnership

Recommended online filings service: Legalzoom


Limited Liability Partnership

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

Certificate of a Limited Liability Partnership

Recommended online filing service: Legalzoom


Limited Liability Company (LLC)

To register a limited liability company in Washington, use the following form:

Certificate of Formation of a Limited Liability Company

Recommended online filing service: ZenBusiness


Professional Limited Liability Company (PLLC)

To register a professional limited liability company in Washington, use the following form: Certificate of Formation of a Professional Limited Liability Company

Recommended online filing service: MyCorporation


Corporation

To register a corporation in Washington, use the following form:

Articles of Incorporation of a Profit Corporation

Recommended online filing service: ZenBusiness


Professional Service Corporation

To register a professional service corporation in Washington, use the following form:

Articles of Incorporation (Professional Service Corporation)*

Recommended online filing service: CorpNet

*To access this form, you may need to create an online account or do an external online search.