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How to Register a Business in Washington – Expert Guide 2024

How to Register a Business in Washington
(Last Updated On: January 2, 2024)

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Commencing a business can be an exciting and fulfilling venture, but the process of registering your business can be overwhelming, especially if you’re new to entrepreneurship. However, with the right guidance and resources, registering your business in Washington can be a straightforward and hassle-free process.

In this comprehensive blog post, we will provide you with an expert guide to assist you in registering your business in Washington with ease. Furthermore, we will share useful tips and resources that will simplify the process for you. Whether you’re starting a new business or registering an existing one, this guide will take you through the process in 7 simple steps.

We understand that business registration can still pose challenges, which is why we have compiled a list of exemplary business registration services, such as ZenBusiness, that can help you with the process. So, let’s delve into the details and ensure a seamless registration experience for your business in Washington!

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How to Register Your Business in Washington in 7 Simple Steps

Setting up a business in Washington becomes easier when you’re aware of the required procedures. Take note of these 7 important steps to efficiently register your Washington-based business and expedite the initiation of your commercial activities.

Step 1: Choose Your Business Structure

The most suitable business structure for your venture depends on the type of business you intend to start and your expansion plans. In Washington, there are different options available for incorporated and unincorporated businesses. Let’s delve into each of these options and understand how they operate.

Please keep in mind that you will only need to register your business with the Washington Secretary of State if you opt for a structure that requires incorporation, such as the following:

Sole Proprietorship

In Washington, a sole proprietorship represents the simplest form of business structure, where the owner and the business are legally considered the same entity. This means that the owner assumes personal responsibility for the business’s debts and liabilities. 

Setting up a sole proprietorship is straightforward and involves minimal legal and administrative requirements. While registering your sole proprietorship with the state isn’t mandatory in Washington, you may need to acquire local permits or licenses.

General Partnership

A general partnership is a business owned by two or more individuals who share in the profits and losses. Each partner is personally liable for the business’s debts and legal obligations. In Washington, you do not need to register a general partnership with the state, but filing a “Washington Trade Name Registration” (DBA) in the county where your business operates may be necessary.

Limited Partnership (LP)

In Washington, a limited partnership consists of one or more general partners who manage the business and have unlimited personal liability, as well as one or more limited partners who contribute capital but have limited liability. To establish an LP in Washington, you must file a “Certificate of Limited Partnership” with the Washington Secretary of State.

Limited Liability Company (LLC)

An LLC is a flexible business structure that combines the liability protection of a corporation with the tax benefits and simplicity of a partnership. In Washington, you need to file a “Certificate of Formation – Limited Liability Company” with the Washington Secretary of State and create an Operating Agreement to outline the company’s management and ownership structure.

Corporation

A corporation is a legal entity separate from its owners (shareholders), providing limited liability protection. In Washington, there are two types of corporations:

  • C-corporations
  • S-corporations

To establish a corporation in Washington, you must file an “Articles of Incorporation – For-Profit Corporation” or “Articles of Incorporation – Nonprofit Corporation” with the Washington Secretary of State, depending on the nature of your business. Corporations involve additional formalities, such as creating bylaws, issuing stock, and holding regular board and shareholder meetings.

Choose the business structure in Washington that best suits your needs, considering factors such as liability protection, taxation, and management requirements. If you require assistance in making this decision, consult with a legal or business professional.

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Step 2: Select a Unique Business Name

In Washington, there are several ways to name your business. You can register a legal entity name, secure a trademark, or operate under a different name while registering a legal one. The naming rules and regulations vary from state to state, so it’s important to familiarize yourself with Washington’s requirements.

Similar to incorporating your business, the naming route you choose in Washington will depend on the unique needs and circumstances of your entity.

While it’s not mandatory, you may choose to pursue all three options to ensure comprehensive protection for your name. Alternatively, you can simply choose one of the three alternatives. However, using the same name for all registration methods is generally recommended.

Let’s examine each naming option in Washington more closely:

In Washington, businesses must register a legal entity name, which serves as the state’s identifier for the company. The entity name must be unique, preventing any potential conflicts with other businesses.

Washington’s naming laws include guidelines regarding company suffixes (e.g., LLC, LP, or Corp) and require the name to accurately reflect the type of business being registered. You can check name availability by utilizing the Washington Secretary of State’s Corporations and Charities Filing System.

Trademark

Obtaining a trademark in Washington provides intellectual property protection for your business name or logo at a national level. To safeguard your name or logo, conducting a thorough search in the USPTO database is crucial to ensure that it’s not already registered.

Once your trademark is registered, it prevents others from using the same or similar name or logo for similar goods or services, offering nationwide protection. However, obtaining a trademark does not automatically grant unlimited rights to use the name or logo in all circumstances.

Doing Business As (DBA)

In Washington, you have the option to register your business under an official name while operating under a different name, known as a Doing Business As (DBA) name. To do so, you need to file a DBA registration with the county auditor’s office in the county where your business is located. These names are subject to federal trademark laws, but there is no requirement for a DBA to be unique at the state level.

By understanding and carefully considering these naming options, you can successfully register your business name in Washington and protect your brand identity.

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Step 3: Consider Taxes and Other Costs in Washington

Here are the taxes that a Washington LLC may be subject to:

  • Business and Occupation (B&O) Tax: Washington LLCs are subject to a B&O tax on their net income. The B&O tax rate is based on the type of business activity and the gross receipts generated by the business.
  • Sales Tax: Washington LLCs that sell tangible personal property in Washington are required to collect sales tax from their customers. The sales tax rate is 6.5%.
  • Use Tax: Washington LLCs that purchase tangible personal property for use in Washington are required to pay use tax on the purchase price of the property. The use tax rate is the same as the sales tax rate.
  • Corporate Income Tax: Washington LLCs that are classified as corporations for federal tax purposes are also subject to the Washington corporate income tax. The corporate income tax rate is 9.6%.
  • Franchise Tax: Washington LLCs that are registered with the Secretary of State are required to pay a franchise tax. The franchise tax rate is $250.
  • Property Tax: Washington LLCs that own real property in Washington are subject to property tax. The property tax rate is based on the assessed value of the property.
  • Employer Withholding Taxes: Washington LLCs that have employees are required to withhold federal, state, and local taxes from their employee’s wages. The amount of taxes withheld is based on the employee’s income and filing status.
  • Employer Unemployment Taxes: Washington LLCs that have employees are required to pay unemployment taxes to the state. The unemployment tax rate is based on the number of employees and the amount of wages paid.
  • Workers Compensation Insurance: Washington LLCs that have employees are required to purchase workers’ compensation insurance. Workers’ compensation insurance covers employees who are injured or become ill as a result of their job.

The specific taxes that a Washington LLC is subject to will depend on the type of business activity, the amount of income, and the number of employees. For more information on Washington LLC taxes, please visit the Washington Department of Revenue website.

Simplifying the registration process for entrepreneurs in Washington, online services like ZenBusiness offer valuable assistance. ZenBusiness provides an extensive suite of solutions to aid business owners in registering their enterprises, including the submission of necessary filings with the Secretary of State, obtaining an Employer Identification Number (EIN), and establishing an operating agreement. Additionally, they offer ongoing compliance support to help businesses adhere to state regulations and maintain a favorable standing.

Step 4: Register and Acquire Licenses and Permits in Washington

Here are the key requirements you need to follow to register and acquire licenses and permits in Washington:

Tax Registration: If you plan to sell goods in Washington, you must register with the Department of Revenue (DOR) to collect sales tax. You can complete this process by filing a Business License Application online, by mail, or in person with the BLS.

EIN (Employer Identification Number): If your business has employees or is taxed separately from you, you will need to obtain an EIN from the IRS. Even if it’s not mandatory, having an EIN can be beneficial for business purposes, such as opening a business bank account or processing payments with other companies. You can apply for an EIN online without any filing fee.

Regulatory Licenses and Permits: These licenses and permits are required for various areas such as health and safety, the environment, building and construction, and specific industries or services. You can refer to the List of Licenses section on the BLS’s Business & Professional Licenses webpage for guidance on state licenses. Some state-issued business-related licenses can be obtained by completing the BLS’s Business License Application. However, many licenses are issued at the city or county level. Therefore, it’s important to check the BLS webpage for the list of Washington cities that work with the BLS to issue local licenses. Additionally, visit the website of the specific city or county where you will conduct your business to ensure compliance.

Professional and Occupational Licenses: These licenses are required for individuals working in various fields. The BLS handles many of these licenses, so you should consult both the Professions section and the List of Licenses section on the BLS’s Business & Professional Licenses webpage for more information.

Remember to thoroughly research and understand the specific licenses and permits your business may require at the state, city, and county levels to ensure compliance with all necessary regulations.

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Step 5: Open a Bank Account For Your Business in Washington

Upon obtaining your EIN, it’s essential to proceed with opening a business bank account in Washington.

In Washington, the legal requirements governing LLPs, LLCs, and corporations necessitate the establishment of a dedicated business bank account. However, sole proprietors and unincorporated partnerships do not have an obligation to maintain separate personal and business bank accounts.

The process of opening a business account in Washington is convenient and involves visiting your local bank to complete the necessary paperwork. It’s recommended to explore different banking options and carefully assess the rates and benefits offered by various institutions before making a final selection.

Even if you operate as a sole proprietor or unincorporated partnership in Washington, it’s wise to maintain a designated business bank account to ensure a clear separation between your personal and business finances. By taking this proactive step, you can avoid future complications if you choose to incorporate your business.

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Step 6: Protect Your Intellectual Property in Washington

When starting a business in Washington, it’s essential to prioritize the preservation of your valuable intellectual property (IP). Depending on the nature of your company, you may possess assets such as your business name, logo, product designs, or creative works (e.g., writing, designs, music) that require safeguarding.

Fortunately, Washington provides several avenues to achieve this objective. Initiating the application processes promptly is advisable to prevent unauthorized use of your IP by others.

File a Trademark with Bizee

Trademark

In Washington, a trademark refers to a recognizable symbol, phrase, word, or design of a product or service from similar offerings in the market.

To ensure legal protection, trademarks must be registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The registration process typically takes four to six months to complete. Once registered, the trademark is safeguarded nationwide, empowering businesses to take legal action against any unauthorized usage.

Registering trademarks with the USPTO in Washington not only protects your brand and reputation but also provides legal recourse against infringement.

Washington’s copyright law safeguards original works of authorship, including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and various other intellectual creations. This encompasses written content, software, web materials, films, sound recordings, images, and other forms of creative expression.

Upon creating a new work in Washington, copyright protection is automatically granted to the creator. As the owner of exclusive rights to distribute, reproduce, create derivative works, and sell your intellectual property, you have the legal authority to control its use.

However, registering your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office provides additional legal protection and serves as evidence of ownership. By registering your copyright in Washington, you strengthen protection against infringement and establish a means to enforce your rights in court, if necessary.

Patent

Inventors in Washington seeking to protect a new product or piece of machinery should consider obtaining a patent. A patent grants exclusive rights to the item, preventing others from making, selling, or importing it for a specified period.

The patent process is complex and can take up to five years to complete. Thus, it’s advisable to commence the process promptly, especially if your invention is unique and warrants protection. Patent applications are submitted to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

By safeguarding your intellectual property in Washington, you secure your brand, products, and creations, ensuring your business maintains a competitive edge and fosters growth.

File a Trademark with Bizee

Step 7: Set Up Your Payment Infrastructure in Washington

To ensure that your Washington-based business is ready to promptly serve customers upon registration, it’s crucial to establish a seamless and convenient payment acceptance system.

Several payment processing services are available, offering user-friendly interfaces and effortless integration with your website or point-of-sale (POS) system. Notable options include Square, Stripe, and PayPal. These systems are flexible and easy to set up, allowing for customization according to your business objectives.

These payment processors enable you to accept a wide range of payment methods, such as credit and debit cards, ACH transfers, digital wallets like Apple Pay and Google Pay, and more. By selecting a reliable payment processing service, you can provide your customers with the flexibility to pay using their preferred methods through a secure platform, ensuring a smooth and satisfactory transaction experience for both your business and clients.

In addition to selecting a payment processor, it’s crucial to establish compliance with Washington’s sales tax regulations. This involves obtaining a Washington State Business License from the Washington State Department of Revenue, enabling you to collect sales tax on taxable goods and services.

Once your payment infrastructure is established, your Washington-based business will be well-prepared to efficiently and securely serve customers, generating revenue effectively.

By following these steps, you will be on your way to establishing a legally compliant business in Washington.

Top 5 Business Registration Services for Entrepreneurs in Washington

Entrepreneurs and small business owners in Washington have access to various business registration services to assist them in registering their businesses. These services offer comprehensive solutions to help businesses establish themselves and maintain compliance with state and federal regulations. Here are some of the top business registration services available in Washington:

ZenBusiness

Zenbusiness logo

ZenBusiness is an online business registration service that specializes in business formation, annual report filing, registered agent services, and more. They provide affordable pricing and packages that include personalized support and resources, simplifying the business registration process for entrepreneurs in Washington.

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Swyft Filings

Swyft Filings logo

Swyft Filings is a well-known business registration service that offers fast and convenient business formation services, including LLC formation, incorporation, and compliance. They offer personalized support and resources to help Washington entrepreneurs navigate the formation process and stay compliant with state and federal regulations. Swyft Filings’ user-friendly website and affordable pricing make it easy for entrepreneurs to register their businesses.

Start Using Swyft Filings

Tailor Brands

Tailor Brands is an online branding and design service that helps businesses create a professional and cohesive brand identity. They offer a range of branding packages, including logo design, business card design, and social media branding. While not a traditional business registration service, Tailor Brands can assist Washington entrepreneurs in establishing a strong brand image to attract customers.

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Northwest Registered Agent

Northwest Registered Agent is an online LLc registration service that specializes in registered agent services, compliance management, and document filing. They have a strong reputation for providing quality services and exceptional customer support. Washington entrepreneurs can rely on Northwest Registered Agent for comprehensive business formation services, catering to LLCs, corporations, and nonprofits.

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Bizee (Previously Incfile)

Bizee is an online business registration service that offers fast and affordable business formation services. Their packages include registered agent services, compliance management, and document filing. With a user-friendly and streamlined platform, bizee simplifies the business registration process for entrepreneurs in Washington. They also provide ongoing support and resources to facilitate business growth.

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By researching and comparing these business registration services, entrepreneurs in Washington can find the most suitable option that meets their specific needs, ensuring a smooth and efficient registration process.

Business Registration Laws in Washington

In Washington, business registration is governed by the Washington State Department of Licensing (DOL) and the Washington Secretary of State. Here are the key points regarding business registration laws in Washington:

  • Choose a Business Structure: Before registering your business, you’ll need to determine its legal structure. Washington recognizes various business entities, including sole proprietorships, partnerships, Limited Liability Companies (LLCs), and corporations. Each structure has its own advantages and requirements.
  • Select a Business Name: Choose a unique and distinguishable name for your business. Ensure that the name you select complies with Washington’s naming requirements. You can conduct a name search on the Washington Secretary of State’s website to check for name availability.
  • Register With the Secretary of State: Most businesses in Washington must register with the Washington Secretary of State. The Secretary of State’s office oversees business registration and maintains the state’s corporate records. You can register your business online or by mail, submitting the necessary forms and paying the required fees.
  • Obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN): An EIN is a federal tax identification number issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). If your business has employees or is structured as a partnership or corporation, you will likely need an EIN. You can apply for an EIN directly with the IRS.
  • Register for State Taxes: Depending on your business activities, you may need to register for state taxes in Washington. This includes sales tax, business, and occupation tax (B&O), and other taxes applicable to your specific industry. You can register for state taxes through the Washington State Department of Revenue.
  • UBI Number: Upon registration, your business will be assigned a unique identifier called a Unified Business Identifier (UBI) number by the Washington Secretary of State. This number is used for tax purposes and other official filings.
  • Obtain Licenses and Permits: Certain businesses in Washington require specific licenses or permits to operate legally. The type of licenses you need will depend on your business activities and industry. You can find information about required licenses and permits on the Washington State Business Licensing Service website.
  • Local Requirements: In addition to state-level requirements, your business may need to comply with local regulations and zoning ordinances and obtain local permits. Contact the city or county where your business will be located to inquire about any local requirements.

It’s important to note that the specific requirements and steps may vary depending on the nature of your business and other factors. To ensure compliance, it’s recommended to consult with a qualified attorney or utilize the resources provided by the Washington Secretary of State’s office and other relevant government agencies.

Alternative Business Registration Methods in Washington

In Washington, businesses can be registered through the traditional method of filing the necessary documents with the Washington Secretary of State’s office. However, there are also alternative business registration methods available in the state. Here are a few options:

Online Registration

The Washington Secretary of State’s office provides an online registration system called the “Business Licensing Service” (BLS). It allows businesses to register, renew licenses, and complete other related tasks online. The BLS streamlines the registration process and makes it more convenient for business owners.

Washington Business Hub 

The Washington Business Hub is a comprehensive resource that offers a variety of services for businesses, including registration. It provides an online portal where businesses can register and manage their licenses and permits. The hub also offers additional tools and information to help businesses navigate the regulatory landscape in Washington.

Expedited Services 

The Washington Secretary of State’s office offers expedited processing services for business registration. This option allows businesses to have their registration documents processed faster than the standard processing time. Expedited services typically involve an additional fee, but they can be useful for businesses that need to start operating quickly.

Business Licensing Wizard 

The Washington State Department of Revenue provides a Business Licensing Wizard on its website. This tool helps businesses determine which licenses and permits they need based on their specific activities and location. It can be a helpful resource for businesses to ensure they have all the necessary registrations in place.

It’s important to note that while these alternative methods can streamline the registration process, they may still require businesses to comply with specific requirements and regulations set by the state of Washington. It’s advisable to consult with the appropriate government agencies or seek legal advice to ensure full compliance with all necessary registration procedures.

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Benefits of Registering Your Business in Washington

Registering your business in Washington State offers several benefits. Here are some of the key advantages:

  • Legal Protection: Registering your business as a legal entity, such as a corporation or a Limited Liability Company (LLC), provides liability protection. It separates your personal assets from your business liabilities, which means that your personal assets generally cannot be used to satisfy business debts or legal obligations.
  • Credibility and Professionalism: Registering your business shows potential customers, clients, and partners that you’re serious about your business and are committed to operating within the legal framework. It adds a level of professionalism and credibility to your brand, which can help attract customers and business opportunities.
  • Access to Business Resources: Registering your business in Washington opens up opportunities to access various resources and services offered by the state and local government. These resources may include funding programs, grants, business development services, and networking events that can help you grow and expand your business.
  • Tax Benefits: Washington has a favorable tax environment for businesses. It does not have a personal or corporate income tax, which can be advantageous for businesses operating in the state. However, Washington does have a business and occupation (B&O) tax based on gross receipts. Registering your business allows you to comply with tax obligations and take advantage of any applicable tax deductions or credits.
  • Ability to Conduct Business: Registering your business in Washington grants you the legal authority to conduct business within the state. It ensures that you comply with state laws and regulations related to licensing, permits, and other requirements specific to your industry.
  • Partnerships and Contracts: Registering your business allows you to enter into partnerships, contracts, and agreements with other businesses, customers, or suppliers. It provides a formal structure to engage in business transactions and protects the rights and obligations of all parties involved.
  • Brand Protection: Registering your business name and logo as trademarks or service marks with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) provides legal protection for your intellectual property. It prevents others from using your brand identity or creating confusion in the marketplace.

It’s important to note that the specific benefits and requirements may vary based on the type of business entity you choose and the nature of your business. Consulting with a lawyer or business advisor can provide you with detailed guidance tailored to your specific circumstances.

Is Business Registration Required in Washington? Find Out Here

Indeed, in Washington, the majority of businesses are required to complete registration procedures with the state. The specific registration requirements may differ based on the business entity type, the nature of operations, and other pertinent factors. Common registration processes include obtaining a Washington Sales and Use Tax Permit, registering a Washington Limited Liability Company (LLC) or Corporation, and obtaining professional licenses or permits tailored to specific industries.

Conducting comprehensive research on the specific requirements applicable to your business and ensuring full compliance with all registration obligations is crucial to avoid any potential legal or financial repercussions.

How to Register Your Business in Washington – Frequently Asked Questions

What Do I Need to Register a Business in Washington?

In Washington, the process of registering a business involves selecting a business name, determining its legal structure, and submitting the required paperwork to the Washington Secretary of State. The specific requirements may vary depending on the type of business, but generally, you will be required to file a Certificate of Formation, appoint a registered agent, and obtain any mandatory licenses or permits.

How Much Does It Cost to Register a Company in Washington?

Registering a company in Washington entails different costs depending on the legal structure and filing type selected. The filing fee for an LLC’s Certificate of Formation is $200, whereas for a corporation, the fee is $180. It’s important to acknowledge that additional fees might be incurred for other mandatory filings and permits related to your business activities.

Can a Foreigner Start a Business in Washington?

Foreign nationals are allowed to commence business in Washington, contingent upon meeting the prescribed legal obligations. Non-resident entrepreneurs may be required to secure appropriate visas or work permits and complete the necessary registration formalities with relevant state and federal agencies.

Do I Need to Register My Online Business in Washington?

When conducting an online business in Washington, it’s advisable to assess the registration obligations that pertain to your particular business and online activities. While sole proprietorships and partnerships might not have to register, corporations and LLCs are typically required to do so. Moreover, you might need to obtain specific permits and licenses, such as a business license and a reseller permit from the Washington State Department of Revenue. 

Seeking guidance from a competent attorney or accountant is crucial to ensure compliance with the applicable laws and regulations, as they can provide tailored advice based on your business needs in Washington.

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Bottom Line on How to Register Your Business in Washington

In Washington, registering your business is a fundamental requirement to ensure compliance with state laws and regulations. By adhering to the necessary steps and meeting the requirements, you can establish a solid base for your operation. 

It’s crucial to choose a business name and legal structure that align with the guidelines set by the Washington Secretary of State. Complete and submit all the required paperwork, and obtain any industry-specific licenses and permits relevant to your location. Simplify the process and ensure compliance by utilizing a trusted business registration service like ZenBusiness.

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Read about how to register a business in any US state:

About the author

Dr. Gabriel O'Neill, Esq., a distinguished legal scholar with a business law degree and a Doctor of Juridical Science, is a leading expert in business registration and diverse business departments. Renowned for his academic excellence and practical insights, Dr. O'Neill guides businesses through legal complexities, offering invaluable expertise in compliance, corporate governance, and registration processes.

As an accomplished author, his forthcoming book is anticipated to be a comprehensive guide for navigating the dynamic intersection of law and business, providing clarity and practical wisdom for entrepreneurs and legal professionals alike. With a commitment to legal excellence, Dr. Gabriel O'Neill, Esq., is a trusted authority dedicated to empowering businesses within the ever-evolving legal landscape.