Step 1) Verify & Secure Your Brand Name
Finding the perfect business name is the first step toward forming your Florida corporation. Florida requires your brand name to:
- Be distinguishable from any registered business name in Florida.
- Include one of the following suffixes: Corporation, Company, Incorporated, Corp., Co. or Inc.
- If forming a professional association, instead include: Chartered, Professional Association or P.A.
If you’re concerned about missing any important legal requirements, you can also check out all of Florida’s corporate name statutes yourself! That being said, don’t get so caught up in the legal side of things that you forget to choose a name that’s memorable and beneficial to your brand.
What To Do:
First things first, you’ll want to run a business name search on Florida’s state website to see if your desired name is up for grabs. Keep in mind that Florida doesn’t give corporations the option to reserve their business names.
While you're at it, you can also search GoDaddy to see if there’s a good domain name available for your business. It’s extremely helpful for brand visibility to have a website that’s easy to find. If there’s a decent domain name available, I recommend locking it down now -- even if you’re not planning on creating a website right away.
Quick Note: Before you commit 100% to a name, you may also want to check that there’s a decent URL available for your business. Use WEEBLY to search your options. If there’s a quality domain name for purchase, we advise buying it right away. Even if launching a business website isn’t on your radar right now, it’s going to be soon, and you might as well nail down a domain name that’ll make it easy for customers to find you!
Step 2) Appoint A Registered Agent
Now that you’re getting ready to register your corporation in Florida, you need to choose someone to act as your registered agent.
Your registered agent must be a resident of Florida, or a company that’s authorized to do business in the state. They’ll be responsible for accepting a ton of important documents on your behalf, including tax forms, service of process notices and other legal paperwork.
Legally, Florida does allow business owners to act as their own registered agents, but I highly recommend that you consider appointing a third-party professional for this role. If you do decide to act as your own, you’ll have to:
- Maintain normal (M-F, 9-5) business hours at your home or business address
- Publically link your home address to your business (if you work from home)
- Risk being served in front of customers, friends or family members
Again, it’s totally legal to sign yourself up, but be aware that it’s a considerable commitment.
What To Do:
We encourage you to head over to our registered agent guide if you’re considering taking on this task yourself, or assigning it to a business partner. If you decide that it’s a responsibility you're ready to take on, go ahead and sign yourself up on your Articles of Incorporation.
If acting as your own registered agent doesn’t sound all that appealing, I recommend that you check out IncFile’s registered agent services. They’re an online incorporation provider that offers a free year of registered agent services when you form your corporation with them, which is a pretty great bargain.
Step 3) File Articles Of Incorporation
Filing the Articles of Incorporation is a huge step for your business -- after this, you’ll be a registered Florida corporation!
This document will ask for:
- The name of your corporation, along with the principal street/mailing address
- Your name, address, phone number and email address
- The purpose of your corporation
- The amount of stock your business is authorized to issue
- The name and Florida street address of your registered agent, as well as their signature
- The names, titles and addresses of your initial corporate directors and officers (optional but recommended -- costs $35 to amend the document)
- Incorporator’s name, signature, and address
- The effective date
What To Do:
While Florida does make it fairly easy to take the DIY approach, our belief is that it’s best to hand the reins over to a professional here. Using an online incorporation service is a quick and painless way to incorporate in Florida, and as I mentioned, even get free registered agent services!
Step 4) Obtain An EIN
Now it’s time to obtain an Employer Identification Number, or EIN. You can think of this as a corporate social security number. The federal government will track your business’ financial activity using your EIN, and it’ll be necessary for pretty much every major move you make going forward.
One of the reasons to get an EIN early on is to open a business bank account. Unlike a personal bank account (for which you’d provide your social security number), a business bank account requires your company’s EIN.
What To Do:
The easiest and most efficient way to obtain an EIN is through the IRS website. Their free online application allows you to get your identification number as soon as you’re done filling out all the required fields. That said, there are other ways to get an EIN for free if the online approach doesn’t suit you. (Take a peek at our EIN guide to learn more.)
Step 5) Meet With Directors & Establish Bylaws
Florida only requires corporations to have a minimum of one director on their boards, although you may choose to have more. You may or may not have named them in your Articles of Incorporation. If you have, now’s the time when you’ll get together with them and hold an organizational meeting, during which you’ll:
- Create your corporate bylaws
- Issue shares of stock
- Appoint corporate officers
- Establish the corporation’s fiscal year
- Design a banking resolution
- Record your first meeting minutes
If you haven’t already appointed initial directors, you and your fellow incorporators will do so during this meeting. (If you choose to go this route, don’t forget to return to your Articles of Incorporation and add this new information!)
You should also plan on taking care of any other logistical issues at this time. This is a critical moment for your business, so it’s crucial that you go into this meeting with a solid idea of what needs to be accomplished.
What To Do:
We highly recommend doing a significant amount of research in preparation for this meeting. Scroll through Florida’s corporation statutes and get informed on any topics you’re uncertain about. Take advantage of meeting minute and bylaw templates. Do whatever you’ve got to do to feel confident and well-prepared before you walk through the door!
Step 6) Start A Corporate Records Book
By now you’ve accumulated quite a few important documents, so it’s a good time to start a corporate records book. This is exactly what you’d think: an organized binder or book that keeps all of your business records in one place. This will include documents like your:
- Articles of Incorporation
- Licenses and permits (see step 8)
- Corporate bylaws
- Meeting minutes
- Banking resolution
Your corporate records book may take a variety of forms depending on your preference. You may opt for a simple binder or invest in a full-on corporate kit. Corporate kits typically include custom pieces like an embossing seal, stock certificates, printed meeting minutes and bylaws, and a leather binder with your company’s name engraved in it.
What To Do:
Investing in a corporate kit is a great way to demonstrate your company’s legitimacy. They’re often included in higher-tiered online incorporation packages, so keep an eye out if you're already planning on working with an incorporation service.
If you’re not looking for customized pieces and would prefer a simple binder, you could easily find one at your local office supply store. The most important thing here is to keep everything organized!
Step 7) Open A Business Bank Account
Before making any big financial movies, you need to open up a business bank account. There’s no room to mix your personal and professional expenses here.
Ideally you’ll decide on a bank during your organizational meeting (step 5), hopefully considering:
- Local banks, like First Bank or Central Bank
- Florida credit unions, like Community Credit Union or Peoples Credit Union
- National banks, like Chase or Wells Fargo
Each of these options has its own set of advantages, so you should definitely do some in-depth research before deciding on a bank. That said, it’s also important to work through this process fairly quickly so that you can start properly managing your business finances ASAP.
What To Do:
Check out your local options and see what they have to offer when it comes to customer service, ATM accessibility, minimum account balances, or whatever your priorities are. Then, look into national banks and compare their features -- feel free to start your research with our favorite business bank account reviews.
Once you’ve opened up your bank account, sync it with some accounting software as soon as possible to start monitoring your financials. If you haven’t hired an accountant yet, this step is even more important. We’ve ranked our favorite accounting software tools to help you figure out which program will best suit your needs.
Step 8) Handle Taxes & Licensing Requirements
The last step to check off your to-do list is acquiring any necessary permits/licenses and addressing any required taxes. This will involve quite a bit of research on federal, state and local requirements, so here’s a quick roundup of some of the best resources for each:
- Federal: You can find a ton of information on federal licenses and permits on the Small Business Association website. As far as federal taxes go, head straight to the IRS business taxes page.
- State: The Florida Department of Revenue’s short guide to business taxes is a great place to start your research. Additionally, you can check out the Florida business license portal for information on all the licenses and permits you may need.
- Local: For information on municipal business requirements, contact your local chamber of commerce.
What To Do:
If you find that you’re going to need quite a few permits and licenses to legally conduct business in Florida, you might consider hiring a business license service to make this process a little easier. These companies will take care of all the research for you, so all you’ll need to do is fill out the paperwork!
Need Help Incorporating?
Starting a corporation in Florida is definitely a labor of love, but all of the efforts will be well worth it in the end.
If you need some help incorporating in Florida, there are a handful of ways to lighten your load. We’ve discussed quite a few services throughout the course of this guide, but here are the three we recommend most:
– IncFile ($49 + state fees) = Best Price & Overall Value
– LegalZoom ($149 + state fees) = Most Popular Service
– Harbor Compliance ($499 + state fees) = Better Customer Service