When setting off on any new venture, the first few steps can feel the most intimidating. This is certainly true for starting a business, as just the actual process of forming that business can feel complex. If you’re looking to start a LLC in Georgia, this guide will walk you through the process.
LLC stands for limited liability company. This type of business entity is very popular in Georgia (and nationwide), mostly because of the liability protection it offers. Put simply, when you own an LLC, your personal assets are safe from liability associated with your business. If your company gets sued, your personal assets are generally protected. Plus, LLCs are typically easier to form and maintain, compared to corporations.
In Georgia, the LLC formation process is handled by the Georgia Corporations Division. The basics are explained in this guide on Georgia.gov, but the guide below goes much more in-depth. For entrepreneurs looking to form an LLC in Georgia, this guide walks you through the step-by-step process that you should follow. Let’s get started!
1. Consider using an LLC formation service
The process of starting a business in Georgia can be a bit complicated. Fortunately, there are several services that can help you. Some top recommendations include ZenBusiness (which starts at just $49 + state fees), Northwest Registered Agent, and Incfile.
All of these companies can help you form a new company in Georgia. They work with Georgia’s state government to form the new entity, so they are essentially a middleman between you and the state. They aim to make the process simpler by explaining the steps more and walking you through each requirement. The services are all online, so you can fill everything out from your home computer.
These services have additional benefits, as well. Most offer an optional expedited filing service, which means you can get your company registered faster. They also can be your Registered Agent (see step #3 below), which is required in Georgia (although you can serve as your own registered agent).
To sum up, services like ZenBusiness make it easier to start a limited liability company in Georgia. For many business owners, these services are well worth the cost (which is quite reasonable, starting from $49!)
Check out our roundup of the Best LLC Services
2. Name your new company
The first concrete step you will need to take is to select a name for your LLC. To do this, you must meet certain requirements. The most important is that the name be unique (not taken by another Georgia company). You can complete a business entity name search with the Georgia Secretary of State to confirm availability.
Here is a list of the requirements you’ll need to satisfy when naming your Georgia LLC:
- The name must be distinguishable from the names of other companies in Georgia (corporations, LLCs, partnerships, etc.)
- The name must include “limited liability company” or an approved abbreviation (LLC, L.L.C.”
- The name cannot contain any government-related words, or words that may be confused with government terms. Examples include “FBI” and “State Department”.
- Certain words and phrases are restricted and may require additional paperwork. Examples include “Doctor” and “Lawyer”.
You’ll need to find a name that meets all these requirements, and that is unique. Although, you shouldn’t worry too much about choosing the perfect name, because it’s possible to use trade names as well as your official LLC name.
Using a Trade Name in Georgia
Trade names, also known as “Doing Business As” or “DBA” names, are secondary names that your business can operate under. They are add-ons that you can essentially attach to your business license, and enable your company to do business under more than one name. For example, “Peach State Plumbing, LLC” could use a trade name like “Atlanta Home Plumbers”, “Savannah Plumbing”, or both.
To register a trade name, you’ll need to do so with the county or city that you obtained your business license from (see step #7). This is NOT handled on the state level – however, your business will need to be formed on the state level before you’ll be able to add local trade names.
3. Appoint a Registered Agent in Georgia
Every new LLC and corporation in Georgia is required to have a Registered Agent. You must choose and “appoint” a Registered Agent before you file for your LLC paperwork. And you must keep a Registered Agent appointed for the life of your company.
A Registered Agent is a person or business that represents your company. Their chief responsibility is to accept legal documents and notice of lawsuits. They must have a physical address in the state of Georgia, which can be used to receive documents (and respond to them in a timely manner).
The Registered Agent must be either A.) A resident of Georgia or B.) A company licensed to do business in the state of Georgia.
This means that, if you are a Georgia resident, you can be your own Registered Agent (as can one of your employees). Your business cannot represent itself, however. You’ll need to use a personal address if you choose to be your own agent – and keep in mind that this address becomes public record.
The alternative is to use a professional Registered Agent service. This helps protect your personal information, and ensures that everything is handled properly. Plus, some services offer mail forwarding and other useful features. We recommend either ZenBusiness or Northwest Registered Agent, if you choose to go this route. Expect to spend $50-$150 per year on the service.
Check out our roundup of the Best Registered Agent Services
4. File Georgia LLC Articles of Organization
The Articles of Organization are the formal documents that you will need to fill out in order to form your new LLC. These forms are filed with the Georgia Corporations Division, and collect key information about your new company. The easiest way to do this is to file online.
The filing cost to complete this document is $100, and goes directly to the state of Georgia. Georgia LLC processing time is approximately 7 business days if filed online, and approximately 15 business days if filing by mail. There are expedited processing services available, for an extra $100 charge.
Corporations Division 2
Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. SE,
Suite 313 West Tower
Atlanta, GA 30334
5. (Optional) Prepare an LLC operating agreement
Note: This is an optional step, but we highly recommend it for most companies.
An operating agreement is an important document. It’s an internal document that lays out key details of your business, including its general purpose, operating procedures, and most importantly, its ownership structure. For any LLC with multiple owners, having an LLC operating agreement is a must, as it helps prevent future ownership disputes.
With that said, the operating agreement is an internal document. It does not need to be submitted to Georgia, or to any government entity. As such, it’s optional.
If you want an operating agreement, you can obtain a template from a service like ZenBusiness. Alternatively, you can use the services of a local attorney.
6. Wait for your documents
Once everything is submitted, you’ll need to wait for the state of Georgia to process all your documents. This can take a few days to a few weeks, depending on the filing type and the current backlog. Generally speaking, here are processing times for Georgia LLC filings:
- Online filing: Approximately 7 business days
- Online filing (expedited – $100 extra): Approximately 2 business days
- Mail filing: Approximately 15 business days
- Mail filing (expedited – $100 extra): Approximately 2 business days
7. Apply for business licenses, permits, etc.
The steps above are the requirements to form a Georgia LLC. However, these are not the only requirements that you’ll need to check off. You will likely need a business license (typically issued by your city or county government), and you may need other permits or specialized licenses, depending on the type of business you are starting. For some specialized businesses, state-level permits may also be required.
That’s all you need to know about starting a company in Georgia! Follow these 7 steps, and you’ll be well on your way to running a successful business in the Peach State!
Steps to take after your business is formed
The guide above covers the requirements for forming your new company, but there are some additional things to keep in mind – as well as ongoing responsibilities that you will need to tackle.
1. Apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN)
New businesses that plan to hire employees are required to obtain an EIN, or employer identification number. This is a numeric tax ID number that is similar to a social security number, but for your business!
An EIN is 100% required to hire employees. And even single-person businesses will still likely want to get one. Fortunately, they are very easy (and free) to get. Any business can simply file for one online on the IRS website. This is a federal process, so it has nothing to do with Georgia – but all businesses, in Georgia or otherwise, should apply for one.
2. Start a business bank account
All businesses should start a business checking account as soon as they form their new company. This account should be used for all day-to-day expenses and business transactions. You should not use your personal bank account for business purposes.
Most financial institutions offer business banking services. You will need a business license, an EIN, and other information about your company.
3. Keep your company in good standing
There are ongoing requirements that you need to stay on top of. This includes tax filings, permit renewals, annual reports, etc. Here are some of the items you’ll want to pay attention to:
- Georgia Annual Reports (due annually)
- Federal tax returns (annually)
- Quarterly taxes (quarterly)
- City/county tax reports in some areas
- Payroll taxes and other employer tax returns
- State sales tax and state use tax returns
- Business license renewals and permit renewals
- Ongoing Registered Agent (required for as long as you are in business)
This can all seem like a lot to handle, but it’s much better if you stay ahead of the game from day one. We recommend making a list of all your responsibilities, and adding key due dates and reminders to your calendar.