Starting a business is an exciting time, but there are some less-thrilling issues you'll need to address before you get too involved with the process. Let's build a checklist for incorporating your business.
You might have an amazing name in mind, but it's wise to check whether it is in use by someone else. Fortunately, the secretary of state's office for each state has a search website that will allow you to quickly see what's in use.
If you're planning operations beyond one state, though, you may need to conduct a wider search. This gets especially complex if there will be international use of the name. Once you get above the state level, it may be best to have a business attorney conduct the search.
Speaking of attorneys, you're going to want to retain counsel. A business lawyer can help you with the paper necessary to incorporate your enterprise. Likewise, they can help you make choices about how your business will operate. They can explain, for example, the differences between an S Corp and an LLC.
For a business to be properly incorporated, there have to be rules in place. These rules are largely yours to determine as the founder, but the government wants to know you're not just making stuff up. Also, when there are disputes down the road, the governing documents will help other parties make sense of what to do long after you're gone.
A big item in the governing documents is establishing a structure. Officers with defined titles and roles will be named. Also, a mechanism must be in place for convening the officers and voting on important matters. How regularly the officers of the company should meet will depend on the size and type of the business, but you should expect this to at least be an annual thing.
Even if there is only one owner of a business, it has to have stakes that are formally issued. Generally, shares are the best way to handle this. If you're the lone owner, then you'll get 100% of the shares. Shares should also be tied to voting power within the business, providing weight in decision-making to whoever holds the most.
Your business attorney will have you sign the appropriate documents, and they will send them to the government. If all is well, the state will send you a certificate confirming that your business now exists for legal purposes.