How to Start an LLC

In 2023, nearly 5.5 million small businesses were established in the United States, marking the highest number of new business openings in a single year in the nation's history. This unprecedented surge can be largely attributed to the ease of forming a Limited Liability Company (LLC).

This article will guide you through the process of opening an LLC in five straightforward steps, ensuring you have a clear and concise path to follow. Additionally, we will compare the LLC to the sole proprietorship business structure and offer valuable insights to support you in navigating the complexities of establishing your business.

Understanding the Advantages and Drawbacks of an LLC

Like any other business entity, an LLC has benefits and limitations that can impact your business. This means that although it may be the right choice for many, not all businesses will find it suitable. Before we get into the specifics of this business structure, let’s first explore its core features and understand how they might align with your business needs.

What Is an LLC?

A Limited Liability Company, or an LLC, is a business structure that combines the liability protection of a corporation with the flexibility of a partnership or sole proprietorship. It is a legal entity that can own property, incur debt, and engage in business transactions while offering limited liability to its owners.

In other words, running a business as an LLC will allow you to protect your personal assets from business liabilities, while enjoying the flexibility of managing your business operations without the formalities required of a corporation.

In the US, an LLC is a very popular business structure among business owners who want to minimize personal risk and simplify tax obligations due to the liability protection and tax flexibility it provides. It appeals to a wide range of business owners, and it is the ideal choice for those looking to secure their personal assets while managing their business efficiently.

Benefits of Forming an LLC

An LLC is a versatile business structure that can provide several advantages to business owners. Whether it is protecting personal assets or simplifying tax obligations, an LLC can help you operate more securely and efficiently.

Some of the key benefits that make so LLCs appealing include:

  • Personal Asset Protection: Members of an LLC are not personally responsible for the company’s debts and liabilities, ensuring their personal assets are protected in case of legal issues or financial troubles faced by the business.
  • Tax Advantages: LLCs offer flexible tax options, allowing them to be taxed as a pass-through entity where profits and losses are reported on the members' personal tax returns, or as a corporation, depending on what is most beneficial for the business.
  • Ease of Formation and Maintenance: Forming and maintaining an LLC is relatively simple and cost-effective compared to a corporation. There are fewer formalities, such as no requirement for a board of directors or annual meetings, which simplifies ongoing compliance and administrative tasks.

With its ability to shield personal assets, provide tax flexibility, and reduce bureaucratic overhead, an LLC stands out as a practical choice for many businesses aiming to thrive in a competitive market.

Disadvantages of Creating an LLC

While savvy business owners can certainly make the most of an LLC business structure and leverage their benefits, an LLC may not be the best choice for everyone as there are complexities and potential drawbacks to consider.

To begin with, LLCs are significantly more complex business structures to establish and maintain than sole proprietorships. If simplicity and minimal regulatory compliance are your priorities, then, you might want to reconsider and opt for a simpler business model.

In addition, you must keep in mind that an LLC, as its name suggests, will provide you with limited liability protection, which means it is not absolute. Some of the limitations of this protection include:

  • Piercing the Corporate Veil: If courts find that the LLC structure is being used to perpetrate fraud or if certain corporate formalities are not maintained, they may hold members personally liable.
  • Professional Liability: Members may still be personally liable for their own professional malpractice, regardless of the LLC’s liability protection.
  • Employment-Related Claims: Personal liability may still arise in cases involving employment taxes or claims related to illegal acts committed by the LLC or its employees.

All things considered, an LLC can definitely offer numerous benefits like liability protection and tax flexibility, but it also demands careful management and adherence to legal and regulatory requirements.

Business owners should weigh these factors against their own needs for simplicity, risk tolerance, and long-term business goals to determine if an LLC is the right choice for their venture.

LLCs vs Other Business Structures

As you may be aware, in addition to an LLC, there are several other business structures that entrepreneurs can choose from. One of the most popular alternatives is a sole proprietorship, which offers simplicity and direct control over business decisions without the need for formal registration or compliance with the complex regulations that govern the more structured entities.

LLC vs. Corporation vs. Sole Proprietorship

To help you get a better sense of things and make more informed decisions, we made a direct comparison between an LLC and a sole proprietorship and focused on their advantages and disadvantages. This will help get a better understanding of each option and help you decide which business structure is the best fit for your business.

Feature LLC Sole Proprietorship
Formation and Cost Moderate cost, some paperwork required Low cost, minimal paperwork required
Liability Limited liability protection Unlimited personal liability
Taxation Pass-through or corporate taxation Pass-through taxation
Management Flexible management Directly managed by the owner
Regulatory Burden Annual reports, varying by state Minimal regulation
Best For Small to medium-sized businesses Individual entrepreneurs or very small businesses

LLCs are flexible and protective business structures. They provide limited liability protection and allow for pass-through or corporate taxation options. With fewer formalities than corporations and more security than sole proprietorships, LLCs are best utilized by small to medium-sized businesses or startups that seek legal protection without the complexities of a corporation.

On the other hand, sole proprietorships are straightforward and cost-effective, with minimal paperwork and regulatory requirements. They directly expose the owner to business liabilities and are taxed on the owner’s personal income tax return. As such, these business entities are best suited for individual entrepreneurs or very small businesses operating with low risk.

Key Considerations for Choosing a Structure

Although we already outlined the basic differences between LLCs and sole proprietorships, let’s have a closer look at the key considerations for choosing a business structure and briefly explain the key decision-making factors that should guide your selection.

  • Legal Liability: Consider how much personal liability protection you need based on the potential risks associated with your business activities.
  • Taxation: Evaluate which tax structure will be most advantageous for your financial situation, whether it’s pass-through taxation or corporate taxation.
  • Funding Needs: Assess how you plan to fund your business, as some structures are more conducive to raising capital through investors or selling shares.
  • Operational Flexibility: Determine whether you need a flexible management structure or a formal hierarchy for your business operations.
  • Compliance and Paperwork: Consider the level of regulatory compliance and paperwork you are prepared to handle.
  • Future Goals: Reflect on your long-term business goals, including plans for expansion, hiring employees, and possibly selling the business.

Each of these considerations can significantly impact the effectiveness and suitability of the chosen business structure for your specific circumstances and goals, so be sure to carefully evaluate each factor in relation to your business's unique requirements.

Start Your LLC in 5 Simple Steps

If you have done your research and decided to start an LLC, you may need help with the paperwork and formalities. Our comprehensive five-step guide can provide detailed assistance and walk you through the process step-by-step.

Step 1: Select a Business Name and Registered Agent

The process of establishing an LLC begins with choosing the right name for your business. Although it appears mundane, selecting the appropriate name is actually very important because it not only sets the tone for your brand but also impacts how easily potential customers can discover and remember your business.

A unique name distinguishes your business from competitors, avoids legal complications that can arise from trademark issues, and ensures compliance with state regulations.

Once the perfect name is chosen, you must designate a registered agent for your LLC. The role of the registered agent is essential as they are the party responsible for receiving all legal and tax documents on behalf of the business. This includes anything from lawsuit notifications to compliance filings, making it vital that the agent is reliable and available during business hours.

A dependable registered agent will ensure your business maintains good legal standing, never missing important communications that could affect its operations and legal responsibilities.

Step 2: Prepare and File LLC Formation Paperwork

After choosing the name and agent, it is time to formally establish your LLC by preparing and submitting the necessary documents to your state's business filing agency.

These foundational documents, known as the articles of organization, encapsulate essential details such as your LLC's official name, its purpose, and the contact information for your designated registered agent.

Additionally, a new requirement in many states is the submission of the beneficial ownership information report, which demands transparency by disclosing the names of individuals with significant control or ownership interests in the LLC.

As you navigate this process, note that the procedures and fees for filing these documents can vary significantly by state. To ensure compliance and avoid potential pitfalls, consult with your local secretary of state or equivalent regulatory body.

This will help you meet all legal requirements and establish a solid legal foundation for your business's future activities.

Step 3: Create an Operating Agreement and Obtain Licenses

Once you file the initial paperwork, you can move on to drafting an LLC operating agreement and obtain the necessary licenses and permits for operating your business. The operating agreement is a critical internal document that details your LLC’s ownership structure and operating procedures, which is essential for preventing conflicts among members in the future.

Although not legally required in every state, having an operating agreement is highly advisable as it establishes clear guidelines and expectations for all parties involved.

In addition, depending on your business type and location, you may need to secure additional licenses and permits. These can range from a general business license to specific permits that pertain to your products or services.

To ensure full compliance, it’s crucial to thoroughly research and adhere to all applicable local and federal regulations. This step is not only necessary for legal operation but also vital in building your business's credibility and legitimacy.

Step 4: Obtain an EIN and Open a Business Bank Account

After securing the necessary licenses and permits, you can apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN). This is a unique nine-digit number assigned by the IRS that functions as a federal tax ID for your business. It's essential for tax filing and reporting, hiring employees, and setting up payroll systems.

Applying for an EIN is a relatively straightforward process that can be completed online at no cost through the IRS website.

In addition to the EIN, you will also need to open a business bank account to separate your personal finances from your business transactions. A business bank account is a vital tool that can help you manage finances more efficiently, enhance your business’s credibility, and simplify accounting processes.

By maintaining this separation, you ensure clearer financial oversight, which is crucial for accurate bookkeeping and easier tax preparation.

Step 5: Register to Do Business in Other States (Optional)

Having obtained your EIN and opened a business bank account, you can now finally consider expanding your business operations beyond your home state. If you plan to operate your LLC across state lines, you must register as a foreign LLC in those additional states.

Registering as a foreign LLC not only ensures that your business adheres to local regulations but also opens up greater opportunities for market expansion and operational flexibility. This process is essential to ensure compliance with local laws and can significantly broaden your business's operational scope.

Understanding when and where this registration is required can be complex, as it often involves considerations of your business’s physical presence, revenue generation, and employee locations in each state.

Additionally, keep in mind that each state has its own specific rules and associated fees for foreign LLC registration, and you will typically need to provide a certificate of good standing from your home state.

Maintaining Compliance and Good Standing

While establishing your LLC sets the foundation for your business, you must maintain compliance with ongoing state and federal regulations to ensure its longevity and operational legality. Furthermore, you also need to adhere to ethical business practices and stand as a good example of corporate responsibility within your community.

Filing Annual Reports and Tax Returns

One of the most critical ongoing responsibilities for your LLC is the timely filing of annual reports and tax returns. These documents are essential for keeping your business in good legal standing with state authorities such as the secretary of state or similar regulatory bodies.

Annual reports provide updates on your company’s management structure, operating address, and registered agent. Failure to submit these reports can result in penalties, fines, or even the administrative dissolution of your LLC, effectively ceasing its legal existence.

Similarly, accurate and timely tax returns are crucial, not only for compliance with the IRS but also for potential audits. Ensuring that these obligations are met will prevent legal complications and maintain your business's credibility.

Obtaining Business Insurance

Another important aspect of maintaining your LLC's good standing and protecting its operations is obtaining appropriate business insurance. This can range from:

  • General Liability Insurance: Covers claims of bodily injury, property damage, and advertising injuries to third parties.
  • Professional Liability Insurance: Also known as errors and omissions insurance this coverage protects your business against claims of professional mistakes or negligence.
  • Product Liability Insurance: Essential for businesses that manufacture or sell physical products, covers damages caused by products.
  • Commercial Property Insurance: Protects your business's physical assets from fire, theft, and natural disasters.
  • Workers' Compensation Insurance: Mandatory in most states if you have employees, covers medical costs and disability benefits for work-related injuries or illnesses.
  • Cyber Liability Insurance: Increasingly important in the digital age, it covers data breaches and other cyber security issues.

Business insurance not only safeguards your company's financial health against unforeseen events but also demonstrates to clients, employees, and partners that you are a responsible and reliable business owner. Investing in the right insurance policies is a proactive measure that can mitigate risks and enhance your business’s stability and reputation.

Keeping Your LLC Active and Compliant

Beyond the initial setup and filing of foundational documents, it is equally important to focus on the ongoing responsibilities that keep your LLC active and compliant.

Regularly updating your business information with state agencies, timely tax filings, and renewing licenses and permits are crucial tasks that cannot be overlooked.

Additionally, keeping detailed records of all business transactions and maintaining a clear distinction between personal and business finances are essential practices to safeguard your company’s legal and financial standing.

These steps ensure that your LLC remains in good standing with both state and federal regulations, preventing potential legal issues and facilitating smooth business operations.

Staying proactive in these areas will help your LLC adapt to changes in the law and industry standards, contributing to long-term success and stability.

Key Takeaways

  • Choose a unique and legally compliant business name. Appoint a reliable registered agent available during business hours to handle important legal and tax documents.
  • Complete and file the necessary formation documents, such as the articles of organization, with your state's business filing agency. If required by your state, include a beneficial ownership information report.
  • Draft an operating agreement to outline the management and operational structure of the LLC. Also, secure any necessary local, state, or federal licenses and permits.
  • Apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS, and establish a separate business banking account to manage finances effectively and maintain financial integrity.
  • If operating across state lines, register as a foreign LLC in those states, ensuring compliance with local regulations and expanding your business’s legal footprint.


There are a few considerable drawbacks to forming an LLC. One is the varying state-level fees and compliance requirements, which can be complex and costly. Additionally, LLCs face "pass-through" taxation, where business income is taxed on individual members' tax returns, potentially leading to higher personal taxes. Furthermore, raising capital can be more challenging since LLCs cannot issue stock.

Starting an LLC for your side hustle can provide legal protection and credibility. It separates your personal assets from business liabilities and reduces personal risk. However, consider the costs and administrative responsibilities involved. If your side hustle is growing and you want to protect yourself legally, an LLC is a good choice.

The cost to start an LLC varies by state, involving filing fees typically ranging from $50 to $500. Additionally, you might incur costs for a registered agent, annual report fees, and legal assistance for drafting an operating agreement. It's essential to budget for these expenses to ensure proper legal and financial setup.