Starting a business in California can be an exciting venture, whether you're looking to break into the tech industry in Silicon Valley, make a splash in Hollywood, or establish a local manufacturing or services business. However, navigating the process of establishing your business entity can be complex and time-consuming. To help you get started, we've compiled a step-by-step guide to setting up your California business entity, covering everything from choosing the right structure to understanding state-specific regulations.
1. Choose the Right Business Structure
Before you can establish your business entity in California, you need to decide on the appropriate business structure. The most common types include:
- Sole Proprietorship: A simple structure for a single owner with full control and liability for the business. Sometimes owners record a fictitious business name to give the appearance of an official business, even though it is run as a sole proprietorship.
- Partnership: A business owned by two or more people who share control, profits, and liability. Similar to a partnership is a limited partnership consisting of a general partner and one or more limited partners. Limited partners have their personal liability shielded from creditors and claimants of the partnership, whereas general partners, or regular partners, do not enjoy any shielding of personal liability.
- Corporation: A separate legal entity that protects its owners from personal liability for business debts and obligations. A corporation can be an ordinary corporation, a nonprofit corporation, or a professional corporation. In terms of tax treatment, a corporation can elect to be taxed at the corporation level for income tax recognition (a traditional C corporation) or as a pass-through entity where the shareholders recognize the corporate income as if it were personal income (an S corporation). Both tax elections have no impact on the protection of personal assets from corporate liabilities offered by a corporation.
- Limited Liability Company (LLC): A hybrid structure that combines the limited liability of a corporation with flexibility to elect tax treatment as a sole proprietorship (a so called, disregarded entity), a partnership, an S corporation, or a C corporation. An LLC provides the maximum flexibility with respect to taxation, while maintaining the protection of personal assets of its owners.
Each structure has its own advantages and disadvantages, as well as its own eligibility criteria, so it's essential to research and consult with a business attorney to determine the best fit for your specific needs and goals. Corporations and LLCs are our most common recommended entities due to the added protection of personal liability. Which is best for you depends on a number of factors, including whether the owners are individuals or other entities, whether you plan to raise money from passive investors, whether you plan to offer equity incentives to your key employees, and whether you plan to quickly grow and sell the business or take it public.
2. Register Your Business Name
Once you've chosen your business structure, it's time to register your business name. In California, you'll need to register your business name with the California Secretary of State if you are forming a corporation, LLC or limited partnership. This process includes checking the availability of your desired name and filing the necessary paperwork. Keep in mind that certain business structures, such as corporations and LLCs, have additional naming requirements and restrictions, such as avoiding using existing names and avoiding deceptive names such as “bank” if your business is not a bank. You will also want to consider whether to apply for trademark protection for your business name, or any related branding, and determine whether a fictitious business name filing is appropriate.
3. Obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN)
An EIN is a unique nine-digit number assigned by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to identify your business for tax purposes. You’ll need an EIN if you plan to hire employees, open a business bank account, or file business taxes. You can apply for an EIN online and the process is generally quick and easy.
4. Register for State and Local Taxes
In addition to federal taxes, you'll need to register for state and local taxes in California. This may include sales and use tax, employment tax, and franchise tax, depending on your business structure and activities. You can register for these taxes through the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration and the California Employment Development Department.
5. Obtain Necessary Permits and Licenses
Depending on your industry and location, you may need to obtain various permits and licenses to operate your business legally in California. Some common examples include a local business license, a state seller’s permit, zoning permits, health department permits, and professional licenses. You can use the CalGold website to identify the specific permits and licenses required for your business.
Let Adams Corporate Law, Inc. Help You Establish Your California Business Entity
Establishing a business entity in California can be a complex process, but with the right guidance and support, you can successfully navigate the legal requirements and get your business up and running. We recommend beginning with the end in mind. Understanding the pros and cons of different entities will help minimize your tax burden on a sale, maximize asset protection strategies, and avoid the costs of changing your entity down the road.
At Adams Corporate Law, Inc., we specialize in helping entrepreneurs and businesses across all industries establish their business entities throughout the state of California. We can provide expert advice on choosing the right business structure, registering your business name, and ensuring compliance with state and local regulations. Contact us today at (714) 699-9602 to learn more about our services and how we can help you achieve your business goals in California.