One of the first steps to take when starting a Wisconsin business is to perform a Wisconsin Business Search. 

The Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions keeps an organized log of Wisconsin business entities that exist or have dissolved.  

The database is free to use and makes it easy to find existing businesses or look to see if a business name may be available.

How to search Wisconsin business names

The www.wdfi.org site maintains a database of corporations that are registered in the state of Wisconsin. The database maintains a list of active and expired corporate records that is free for the public to search.

The Corporations database is easy to navigate with the following business entity search options:

  • Legal Entity Name
  • Effective Date
  • Entity Type
  • Registered Agent
  • Current Status

Legal entity name

The most popular search method for Corporations and LLCs is to perform an entity name search. To perform a search, simply follow the steps below to check for name availability:

  1. Enter in the name of the desired business name 
  2. Select “Search.”

There is no need to Enter LLC, Corp, or any other entity type into the search field, and the database does not generate results for Sole Proprietorships or Partnerships.

Effective date

To search by an effective date select the “Advanced Search” filter and scroll down to the bottom of the page.

  1. Enter the date range
  2. Select “Search” 

The Database will generate results for any entity registered within the intended date selected.

Entity type

To search by entity type select the “Advanced Search” filter and select the desired entity type.

Registered Agent

Searching by a registered agent is very similar process:

  1. Select the “Advanced Search” filter
  2. Enter in the registered agent name
  3. Enter first or last name and select “Search”

Certificate of Status

If a business is struggling to think of a good business name, one way to generate ideas is to look through the search results list to see if any expired names could fit the business. 

To search by old names that are not in use go to the detailed page and select “Old Names” and enter in a search term to check for old business names

For example, if someone wanted to open up a new BBQ restaurant, they could enter “BBQ” into the search bar and generate a list of ideas that are available based on the business status results:

If an expired business name in the search records is of interest, confirming that it is available is recommended by calling the Wisconsin Secretary of State in Madison at phone number 608-266-8888.

Trademark search

One thing to remember is that even though the desired business name may be available, it could have a registered trademark.

Performing a trademark search through the Trademark Electronic Search System before selecting a business name could prevent headaches in the future.

Next steps

1. Check if the domain name is available

  • Many of the .com domain names with six or fewer letters are already taken, so getting creative may be necessary. Websites like Namechk and GoDaddy can help filter available domain names and suggest alternatives that may be a good fit.
  • While a .com is the most familiar domain extension used, extensions like .co, .net, and .io are becoming more commonly used as the internet ages and can be a good fit once a business name is selected.

2. Check if the social media name is available

In the digital age, it is essential to have a solid social media presence. Customers will often check sites like Yelp and Google Reviews to gauge what others think about a business. Some other tips on social media for a Wisconsin business entity:

  • Having a strong social media presence for small businesses is an excellent way to boost organic presence on the web, impress customers, and build awareness.
  • Unfortunately, like domain names, social media handles are often hoarded. Make sure to check sites like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest to ensure the handle is not being used.
  • If the handle is available, lock the username in place to make sure it is not taken.
  • Software platforms like SocialPilot can help simplify managing various social media platforms.

3. Register Wisconsin business entity

Wisconsin businesses can be registered through the onestop.wi.gov site. 

Another option is to file with companies like Northwest Registered AgentIncfile, or ZenBusiness, which can take care of the filings for as little as $0 plus state filing fees

For further step-by-step instructions on how to file your LLC check out this Wisconsin LLC guide.

4. Register TAX ID/EIN with the IRS

An EIN is a nine-digit number that identifies a business for tax purposes. Think of it as a social security number for businesses. Filing your EIN for a limited liability company (LLC) is straightforward and can be done online. Alaska corporations can register for a Tax ID for $79 with Swyft Filings.

5. Create a logo

Similar to selecting a good business name, businesses with a great logo impress customers, help distinguish themselves from the competition, and create a positive visual memory of your unique business services for customers.

With the emergence of freelance marketplaces, it is easy to get a logo done on Fiverr in 24 hours or less.

6. Write a business plan

Writing a business plan can help organize business owners’ ideas and create a pathway for businesses to follow. Having a professionally written business plan also impresses investors and helps create accountability.

Liveplan.com is a business plan software that can help make the process easy as they have over 500 sample plans to choose from.

Businesses that form partnerships should consider having a professional operating agreement

7. Open a business bank account

Having a business bank account is required for businesses as it helps keep business and personal finances separate. It also helps build business credibility in the event business loans are needed to grow the business in the future. 

Businesses must have a business mailing address in order to open a business bank account and are not allowed to use a po box as their primary mailing address.

Lili and Novo are online banks that specialize in working with freelancers and entrepreneurs.

We recommend Novo Bank

Built for small business owners, entrepreneurs, and freelancers.

8. Setup an email account

Google Workspace can help set up an @yourcompany email address for as little as $6 per month.

Plan on running your business well

Google Workspace helps with email addresses, team collaboration, productivity, and more.

9. Register a Trademark

One of the easiest ways to file a trademark is through LegalZoom. They have options to file by themselves or pay an additional fee to have an attorney take care of the filings.

Wisconsin business structure naming considerations

When selecting a Wisconsin business name, it is important to understand the different naming requirements for each of the different entity types.

Sole proprietorships and partnerships

In Wisconsin, sole proprietorships do not have to file with the department of commerce to begin business operations. Sole Proprietorships typically operate under a person’s name, so there is no need to perform a business name search in most situations.

Like Sole Proprietorships, Partnerships are relatively easy to file and generally include all partners’ last names (ex: Smith, Jones, and Lasalle). 

LLCs

LLCs are separate legal entities that separate owners’ business interests, debts, and liabilities from personal responsibilities. Names for LLCs are required to be filed with the Alabama Secretary of State and must be unique.

A few reminders when naming LLCs:

  • Wisconsin business names must include the words “LLC, L.L.C., or the phrase limited liability company. “LLC” is most commonly used after a business name, so we recommend using that abbreviation when filing Wisconsin articles of organization.
  •  An LLC name should not include the terms Inc., Corporation, Corp, or Incorporated in the LLC name.
  • The state may not approve a Wisconsin business name if it is not clearly distinguishable from the other business.

Corporations

Corporations are fairly complex and typically used by large companies looking to issue stock and attract investors.

Corporation naming considerations:

  • Corporations must include “corp”, “corporation”, “Inc”, “limited”, or “company” in the business name to indicate that it is a corporation.
  • S Corporations are subject to the same naming requirements as traditional corporations.
  • Professional Corporations must indicate that they are one by using “professional corporation” by using the letters “PC” instead of typical corporate designation.

FAQs

How do I create an address change in Wisconsin for my business?

The best way to change a business address is to notify the Department of Records and complete a change request form.

Is an annual report required in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin requires business entities to file an annual report for existing business entities registered with the state.  The annual report due date and paperwork can be found on the Department of Financial Institution’s website.

How can you file a Wisconsin LLC dissolution?

Dissolution of a corporation or business entity is completed by filing an Articles of Dissolution.

Can you reserve a Wisconsin business name?

A Wisconsin Name Reservation form needs to be filled out and mailed to the Department of Financial Institutions to reserve a Wisconsin business name. The name reservation will reserve the business name for 120 days.

Should I file a Wisconsin DBA? 

A DBA (doing business as), or trade name, is a fictitious business name that companies operate under for business outside of the formal LLC name

Here are a couple of benefits of DBAs:

  • Expansion possibilities: having a DBA enables businesses to expand past their original business and without starting a new business entity. Simply creating a new DBA and operating under the existing LLC is all that would be needed.
  • Privacy: One of the best benefits of having a DBA is that it gives businesses the ability to operate under a fictitious business name and not have owners’ names revealed publicly.

Does Wisconsin require a registered agent?

Wisconsin Secretary of State statutes state a Corporation must maintain a registered agent and a registered office to fulfill statutory requirements.

One of the main benefits of using a third-party registered agent service company is that it adds a layer of privacy between the business and the general population. The registered agent receives all documents on a business’s behalf and can mail them to you privately.

Starting a business? Our number one pick for registered agent services is Northwest Registered Agent

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