In my previous article about Virtual Offices, I mentioned that one of the goals many small business owners have is to keep their home address off of their public business paperwork. Virtual Offices are an important part of achieving that goal, but they don't quite get you all the way.
When filing your business organization documents with the Secretary of State (or similar agency) in your state, you'll need to include a Registered Agent, which is the person who is responsible for maintaining the legal status of the company and for receiving any legal filings or paperwork. For a small business, this person defaults to the owner, and you must list your physical address (no virtual address option here). This means your home address may still end up on your public business paperwork.
One option for some companies is to work with an attorney who will take responsibility as the Registered Agent. But this may add unnecessary cost and complexity for businesses with a simple organization and structure. A different option is to find a Registered Agent service to take on this responsibility for you.
Many Registered Agent services will offer a wide variety of other services, which I have also taken advantage of. I've been working with Northwest Registered Agent for the last three years, so I'll tell you specifically what I appreciate about their service and how it's helped me run Andromeda.
I'm not associated with Northwest Registered Agent in any way, just a happy customer telling you about my experience.
This information is specific to businesses operating within the United States, but similar services exist within other countries as well. A quick Google search for "Registered Agent <country>" for different countries found a number of results.
The service will be listed as the Registered Agent on your official filings, so that you don't have to list yourself, your attorney, or your home address on your public paperwork. As your Registered Agent, they will receive any legal paperwork from a court in the state, or related to your business operation. Part of the service involves forwarding that paperwork on to you and contacting you to let you know about paperwork they have received on your behalf.
Setting up a Business
Because I had already registered Andromeda before I knew about registered agent services, I wasn't able to take advantage of this service, but Northwest can perform the LLC filing in your state to help you get your business organized. They also offer the same service for corporations or non-profits, for much less than hiring an attorney and much easier than doing it yourself. In addition to filing with the state, they'll get your EIN (federal tax ID) from the IRS, eliminating yet another step for you to get up and running.
The services Northwest offers to help set up a new business will also help you expand. This will not only help a US-based company to expand across multiple states, but will help an international company establish a presence in the US.
At one point, Andromeda expanded into Colorado, and we had to register with the Secretary of State there. However, because we’re a 100% remote business with no physical location, I don't have an address in Colorado to put on the state paperwork. Northwest provided this for me and made it easy to complete the paperwork. Since rules can vary by state, this means you don't have to know everything for every state in which you do business.
In order to remain a legal entity, you have to file periodic reports (typically annual or bi-annual) to confirm details such as address, owners, registered agent, and the fact that you're still operating. Northwest handles these reports for me, as necessary, across all states I operate in.
Some Registered Agent services (including Northwest) now offer Virtual Office services, so if my last article spoke to you then you may be able to gain both services from a single company. Be sure to evaluate the details of the virtual office service from your Registered Agent to be sure they stack up against what you can get from a dedicated virtual office company.
Registered Agents such as Northwest offer a wide range of business services, from legal forms to virtual telephones, so be sure to check out all their offerings to see how they can help you run your remote office.
Running Your Business
The Registered Agent service is another essential service for Andromeda. While it doesn't exactly help out with the day-to-day operations, it does simplify compliance management and provide some peace of mind. It's also necessary for keeping my business separate from my personal life, which has its own value. Most of the ongoing services start around $10/month, making them very reasonable for a company operating in a single state. In fact, the cost to form a new LLC in my home state of Indiana is just $323 as of this publication, which includes the Registered Agent service and state filing fees.
Next month I'll continue the Small Business Tips series by talking about Accounting Software, and how to make it work for your small business.