Choosing a Business Structure
Choosing a business structure for your small business is one of the most important decisions you will make.
The factors you should consider when choosing a business structure will depend on your needs and wants for personal liability protection, tax liabilities, and paperwork to keep the company in compliance.
This guide covers how to register a business name for the following business structures in South Carolina: sole proprietorships, general partnerships, limited liability companies (LLCs), and corporations.
Recommended: We typically recommend forming an LLC to most entrepreneurs because this structure comes with personal asset protection, has no double taxation, and is pretty easy to maintain.
Steps to Register a Business in South Carolina:
Registering a business name in South Carolina depends on the type of business structure you already have or want to form. Sole proprietorships and partnerships are simpler than LLCs and corporations, but all of these business types have specific rules to follow in South Carolina. They will have different filing requirements, naming rules, and processes to register or change names.
These are the steps to register a business name in South Carolina:
- Make sure your business name is unique
- Determine your business structure’s naming needs
- Address additional naming requirements
This guide assumes you have a name in mind for your business.
If you don’t have a business name in mind or find that another business already took the one you had in mind, check out our How to Name a Business guide to learn what makes a good name.
You also can use our Business Name Generator to get some help brainstorming your business’ new name.
Step 1: Make Sure Your Business Name is Unique
The first step in registering a business name is to make sure it's unique, meaning that it’s not trademarked and no one else in your state formed a company with it, reserved it, or has control of it online as a domain name or on social media platforms. You can do this by conducting the following searches:
Federal Trademark Search
First, a quick search of the Trademark Electronic Search System on the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website will tell you if someone else already trademarked your desired business name. This means that someone registered the business name with the federal government.
To do this search:
- Go to theUSPTO.
- Click the Trademarks link in the menu.
- Then click the Search trademarks option.
- On this page, click the Search our trademark database (TESS) button.
- Choose the Basic Word Mark Search, which is enough to find name availability.
- Enter the name you want to use.
Once you have the list of results, check to see if it includes any live trademarks using that name — or something close to it — as well as what the use of that trademark is in the Goods and Services section of the search results.
To learn more about trademarks and the steps you must take to get one, read our How to Trademark Your Business Name article.
South Carolina Business Name Search
Next, use the South Carolina business name search tool. This is an important step in the process because your filing will be denied if you try to file for a name already in use.
Search requirements can vary depending on your business needs. For example, a unique and available name is required to:
- File for formal business structures like LLCs and corporations.
- Reserve a name for an LLC or corporation before filing.
A state-level name search isn’t required for informal business structures like sole proprietorships or general partnerships in South Carolina.
Domain Name Search
We strongly recommend that you also check to see if your business name is available as a web domain (URL). Even if you don't plan to create a business website today, you may want to buy the web address to prevent others from acquiring that domain name. It’s a free search.
Web and Social Media Search
Finally, when doing your research, it’s a good idea to check what else comes up when you search for your prospective business name online on sites like Google, Bing, Yahoo, Yelp, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and more.
Doing this will show you who else with a similar business name appears on these platforms, if they have a large online presence, and how tough they may be to compete with while you build your brand.
It’s also smart to see if anyone else in your industry already has a similar name to the one you want to use. You can do this by looking up some search terms related to your industry and brand. You may decide on a different business name to make yourself stand out.
Recommended: If you find out that the social media accounts for your brand are available, register them as quickly as possible. It’s free and stops others from acquiring them before you have a chance to form your business.
Step 2: Determine Your Business Structure's Naming Needs
Now that you’ve found a unique name for your business, you’ll need to register it to start doing business. This guide covers the naming needs of informal business structures, including sole proprietorships and general partnerships, as well as two of the most common formal business structures: LLCs and corporations.
Sole Proprietorships and General Partnerships
A sole proprietorship only has one owner. It’s an informal business structure that doesn’t provide personal asset protection or require you to file formation documents with the state.
A general partnership has two or more owners. You must file formation documents with the state of South Carolina for this type of business using a Statement of Partnership Authority.
By default, sole proprietorships operate as the same name as the owner while general partnerships must include the surnames of all the partners.
Limited Liability Companies (LLCs) and Corporations
Registering a legal business name is part of both the LLC and corporation filing processes. Once you file to form your LLC or C corporation (C corp) with the state, that process also registers your business name.
A C corp is a separate legal entity from its owners with a basic operational structure consisting of shareholders, officers, directors, and employees. A C corp business structure also protects your personal assets.
Both LLCs and corporations require unique names in South Carolina that must follow certain naming requirements:
A name reservation isn’t required to open a new company in South Carolina.
Filing a South Carolina name reservation can, however, prove beneficial like if you find a unique name for your business, but don’t want to form your LLC or corporation right away.
You can file for a South Carolina name reservation by either:
- Mailing an Application to Reserve a Corporate Name or an Application to Reserve a Limited Liability Company Name to the Secretary of State along with the applicable filing fee.
- Or by filling the same forms out online via the South Carolina Secretary of State’s website.
Once filed, your business name will be reserved in South Carolina for 120 days. You can’t renew a business name reservation in South Carolina once it expires.
How to Change the Name of a South Carolina Business
Changing the name of a business in South Carolina can be done by submitting an amendment to the legal name of an existing business. Here are links to forms for both options:
Both must be mailed with the $110 filing fee.
Step 3: Address Additional State and Federal Business Name Registration Requirements
After you form a new company, you’ll need to register your business — and its name — in a few more ways so you can pay taxes, conduct business, hire employees, and protect your business from others trying to use its name.
Get an Employer Identification Number (EIN)
After forming a business, you’ll need to get an EIN for a number of reasons. These include paying taxes for your business, opening a bank account, obtaining credit cards, hiring employees, and more.
Many business activities just aren’t possible without an EIN.
Get the Right Business Licenses and Permits
To operate your business in South Carolina you must comply with federal, state, and local government regulations. For example, restaurants likely need health permits, building permits, signage permits, etc.
The requirements for business licenses and permits vary by state. Make sure you read carefully. In some cases, you may need to take classes in order to obtain a specific business license.
Fees for business licenses and permits also vary, depending on the sort of license or permit you want to obtain.
Find out how to obtain necessary South Carolina business licenses and permits for your business or have a professional service do it for you.
Protect Your Business Name with a Trademark (Optional)
Once you confirm the availability of your business name and secure it, you can choose to apply for a trademark for your business. This typically costs around $225 to $400 plus any attorney fees as well as a renewal fee every 10 years.
While this cost can be high for a start-up or fledgling business, it will give your company nationwide protection backed by federal law. That means if others try to do business with the same — or a similar — name as yours, you’ll have legal precedent on your side.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is a business license required in South Carolina?
There’s no statewide business license in South Carolina. But, depending on your location, you may need to apply for local business licenses.
How much does it cost to start an LLC in South Carolina?
Forming an LLC in South Carolina costs $110 to file your Articles of Organization with the Secretary of State.
How do I register for business taxes in South Carolina?
You can register your business for tax purposes online via the South Carolina Department of Revenue website.
Where can I get a business license in South Carolina?
Visit the South Carolina Business One Stop site for a list of licenses by county. To determine if your business requires an occupational license, contact the South Carolina Department of Labor, License, and Regulation.