STEP 1) VERIFY & SECURE BRAND NAME

Choose a Business Name

The very first thing to do is ensure that the name you’d like isn’t already taken, doesn’t contain restricted words, or is too similar to another name under the eyes of state law. Before doing anything else, use the Wisconsin Business Entity Search system to check, and if there are potential trademark issues conduct another quick search using the TESS System through the U.S. Patent Office.

Keep in mind your brand name should contain words like “Corporation”, “Incorporated”, “Company”, or “Limited,” or their abbreviations “Corp.”, “Inc.,” “Co.” or “Ltd.” If needed, you can also file a Name Reservation Application form with the WI Dept. of Financial Institutions that’s good for 120 days.

Filing Fee: $15

STEP 2) APPOINT A REGISTERED AGENT

Choose a Registered AgentEvery company in the state must have a Wisconsin Registered Agent to represent their brand; to receive and help to handle/process legal paperwork like all state filings & important business forms, legal notices, etc.

Basic requirements are that this agent be a WI resident/registered business entity with a non-P.O. Box physical street address and available M-F during all regular business hours. That said, you can hire an outside professional and pay up to $160/year, or get a qualified agent free of charge when you incorporate with IncFile or CorpNet.

STEP 3) FILE ARTICLES OF INCORPORATION

Register an LLCTo legally form your Wisconsin corporation, you need to officially file Articles of Incorporation with the WI Secretary of State (can be filed online). Some of the basic information that will be disclosed for the public record includes:

  • Corporate name and address,
  • Name and address of Wisconsin Registered Agent,
  • Number of shares the corporation is authorized to issue,
  • Name and address of every incorporator,
  • Effective date of your Articles of Incorporation.

Filing Fee: $100 with expedited options

STEP 4) MAINTAIN A CORPORATE RECORDS BOOK

File Annual Reports & Publication Requirements

Think of this as the hard copy record book where all critical corporate documents are kept like the Articles of Incorporation, Bylaws, meeting minutes, stock certificate ledger, stock certificates, stock certificate stubs, stock transfer documents, etc. It’s the ultimate company binder! They’re very common and while not necessary having one is highly recommended for all serious business entities.

You can find them at nearby office supply stores or on Amazon, but we’re huge fans of Corporate Kits which include gorgeous records books/binders you can brand for as little as $99.

STEP 5) ELECT DIRECTOR, MEET, DISCUSS BYLAWS

Hold a Meeting with Your Board of Directors

Appoint at least 1 initial Director who among other things will oversee the Wisconsin corporation until the first shareholder meeting where new directors will be voted in. Prepare an “Incorporator Statement” with complete names and addresses of each director and keep it in your records book. Once elected, an initial meeting should:

  • Appoint officers & discuss/create Corporate Bylaws.
  • Choose a bank & approve the issuance of stock certificates.
  • Agree on corporate seal and adopt official stock certificate form.
  • Approve s-corp (opt.). Record Minutes of Meeting, have directors sign, then add to records book.

STEP 6) SETUP A CORPORATE BANK ACCOUNT

Best Business Bank Account

As discussed in your initial meeting, now’s the time to set up your brand’s financial groundwork (or have your CFO do it). And this isn’t personal banking, so if you’re new to this then shop around. Look at an assortment of local, state, and national banks as well as credit unions. There’s plenty of great deals, perks, incentives and kickbacks to be leveraged.

The other big important thing to remember is to completely separate your brand’s financials from other data streams and bank accounts of any kind. Here’s a quick breakdown article of Business Checking Accounts from some of the biggest banks to begin the research process.

STEP 7) HANDLE TAXATION & LICENSING/PERMITS

Business Licenses

As a legally operating Wisconsin corporation, you’re required to be 100% compliant with all relevant local/state/federal agencies. Ideally you should have an attorney or at least be working with a professional filing service. Otherwise, here are four resources to get started:

  1. Get a free EIN, or Employer Identification Number, quickly through the IRS website.
  2. Bookmark the Milwaukee Small Business Administration and the state’s SBDC platform.
  3. To form an S-Corp, submit Form 2553 with the IRS and be sure all board of directors have signed it.
  4. Consider professional business license research packages that handle the legwork for you.

OPTIONAL) WRITE A BUSINESS PLAN

Write a Business Plan

Corporation’s aren’t pet projects. There should be a real vision on the table, so start seriously planning out the core fundamentals: marketing approach, competitive analysis, budgeting, milestones & metrics, problem & solution, etc. And no, you don’t have to have an MBA or be a seasoned entrepreneur to get this done and initially set up.

These days it’s all about software. Sleek, step-by-step, and beginner-friendly, you end up with presentation-ready plans you can optimize over time and when needed show to VCs, lending institutions, potential partners and stakeholders, and so on. Learn more through our free resources below.

QUICK LINKS TO BUSINESS PLANNING

  • Our guide to Business Planning Software breaks down the best user-friendly solutions to help you strategize. We highly recommend LivePlan, but there are other great options too.

OPTIONAL) PUBLISH A COMPANY WEBSITE

Build a Business Website

Listen, if you have this part all taken care of because you have a fabulous team then that’s great! We added this step because tons of new startups we bump into have most everything else in this article in the works by the time we meet, but their websites are in shabby condition or extremely basic/non-existent.

Why? We don’t know. With platforms like Wix, SquareSpace and Jimdo out there, there’s no reason not to have a great responsive, functional and branded website. All three are affordable and very easy to use.

Need Help Forming Your Corporation?

Have a reliable incorporation service like IncFile or LegalZoom do the work for you. Just answer a few questions about your business and they’ll take care of the paperwork.

Although both offer virtually the same service, IncFile is $100 less and our top pick. Enjoy!

Visit IncFile Or Visit LegalZoom

Note that this article on how to form a Wisconsin Corporation isn’t a legal document or legal advice. It’s for informational purposes and the information above is subject to change. For specific legal questions regarding how to form a Wisconsin Corporation or business in general, please consult with a lawyer or other accredited professional.