Step 1: Choose a Business Structure
The type of business structure you choose to form will determine how you register the business with the state. Use our how to choose a business structure guide to help choose which business structure is best for you, whether it’s sole proprietorships, general partnerships, limited liability companies (LLCs), and corporations.
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.
Sole Proprietorships and General Partnerships
By default, sole proprietorships operate as the same name as the owner while general partnerships must include the surnames of all the partners.
LLCs and Corporations
Both LLCs and corporations require unique names in Wisconsin that must follow certain naming requirements:
Step 2: Check Name Availability
When registering a business name, it's important to make sure it's unique and no one else in your state formed a company with it or has control of it online as a domain name.
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. If the web domain is available then it’s likely the name will also be available in a business search.
Wisconsin Business Name Search
Next, search the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions corporate records 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.
- File a DBA name for any business structure.
A state-level name search isn’t required for informal business structures like sole proprietorships or general partnerships in Wisconsin. But, if you decide to register a trade name or DBA name, you’ll need to search the database to see if your desired name is unique and available.
Step 3: Form Your Business With the State of Wisconsin
Once you have selected your business structure and name, you will need to file your formation documents with the state, which will register your business with the State of Wisconsin.
To register your Wisconsin LLC, you'll need to file the Articles of Organization with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions. You can apply online or by mail. Read our Form an LLC in Wisconsin guide for details.
To register your Wisconsin corporation, you’ll need to file the Articles of Incorporation with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions. Read our Form a Wisconsin Corporation guide to learn more.
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 brand 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. For most small businesses, this really isn't necessary unless they are thinking of going national.
How to Change the Name of a Wisconsin Business
Changing the name of a business in Wisconsin can be done in two ways: by filing for a trade name or by submitting an amendment to the legal name of an existing business.
The first method, filing for a trade name (also known as a DBA name), is the easiest way to operate your business using a different name without needing to change its legal name.
A DBA name is the only way for sole proprietorships and general partnerships to have a different business name. It’s also the easiest method for LLCs and corporations to follow because it allows them to avoid filing an amendment or complicating their business operations while enabling them to operate with brand names that don’t include the necessary LLC or Inc. suffix required in a legal name.
If you want to change the legal name of your LLC or corporation, however, filing an amendment to the legal name of an existing business is your best option. Here are links to forms for both options:
You may submit both by mail along with the $40 filing fee.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do you need a business license in Wisconsin?
While Wisconsin doesn’t offer a general business license, many cities within the state require businesses to obtain certain licensing to operate.
How do I register a business in Wisconsin?
To register your business in Wisconsin, either register it separately with the state’s Department of Revenue and Department of Financial Institutions or register for all applicable departments at once by using the Wisconsin One Stop Business Registration Portal.
How do I get a state tax ID in Wisconsin?
To register for Wisconsin state taxes, you must register your business with the state’s Department of Revenue after you register it with the Department of Financial Institutions and obtain your Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS.
How much does it cost to start an LLC in Wisconsin?
Forming an LLC in Wisconsin costs $130 to file your Articles of Organization with the state’s Department of Financial Institutions.