Small business assistance
Setting up an LLC

How to Start an LLC in California: A Step-by-Step Guide

How to start an LLC in California? It’s a question that many small business owners consider when they want to protect their assets.

Navigating the complexities of establishing an LLC in California can be intimidating for small business owners. With myriad regulations and requirements, the process may seem overwhelming. 

However, with careful planning and strategic steps, it is pretty manageable.

Following the instructions in this guide, you can efficiently and strategically complete all necessary steps to form an LLC in California – from establishing your company name and online presence to filing paperwork with the Secretary of State’s office.

You will also learn about choosing a registered agent, creating an operating agreement per California law, and obtaining an EIN from IRS if you plan to hire employees or open a bank account under your LLC name. 

Additionally, we’ll share resources for no-cost to low-cost help that can make starting your California LLC less stressful.

By understanding how to start an LLC in California effectively, you can protect yourself legally while setting up your business entity for success right from its inception.

The Cost of an LLC in California

Forming a Limited Liability Company in California is an exhilarating undertaking for entrepreneurs. However, it is imperative to be cognizant of the various expenses involved in this undertaking. The initial filing fee to form your LLC is $70, payable to the California Secretary of State. This fee covers the processing and recording your Articles of Organization (Form LLC-1).

There’s an additional cost if you want to reserve a specific name for your company before filing Form LLC-1. The Name Reservation Request form comes with a $10 fee.

Beyond these upfront costs, ongoing expenses come with maintaining an active status as a domestic or foreign LLC operating within California borders. One such expense is the annual franchise tax levied by the California Franchise Tax Board

Regardless of income or activity level, every registered California LLC must pay this flat rate tax each year, currently at $800 due annually. Your initial annual tax payment is due by the 15th day of the fourth month following your filing date with the Secretary of State (SOS)

It’s also worth noting that registering with the California Employment Development Department may incur additional fees if you plan on hiring employees.

All these costs are necessary investments toward establishing and protecting your business entity under Californian law while ensuring compliance with all relevant taxing authorities.

Seven Steps to Starting and LLC in California infographic

Step 1: Name Your LLC

When starting an LLC in California, the first step is to select the perfect name that adheres to state guidelines, is unique, and doesn’t infringe on existing trademarks or businesses.

Under the regulations for naming in California, it is mandated that any preferred name for your LLC should incorporate either “Limited Liability Company,” “LLC,” or “L.L.C.” Be cautious not to include words that might lead to confusion between your firm and government organizations like the FBI or Treasury.

Searching for Existing Business Names

In this digital epoch, having an online manifestation is indispensable. So when naming your California LLC, think about whether the name is available for websites and social media accounts. You want to ensure you are unique, clearly identify your business, and aren’t already taken by another business.

Do a business name search to ensure your desired name is up for grabs. If it is, reserve it using the Name Reservation Request form. Remember, this step is for LLCs, not sole proprietorships.

Remember, just because a name appears available, it doesn’t assure that the California Secretary of State will approve it. This is merely an initial check.

Naming your LLC may seem small, but it’s how customers will recognize and interact with you. So choose wisely.

Once you’ve found the perfect name, it’s time to move on to the next step: appointing a registered agent in California. 

Step 2: Choose a Registered Agent

In the LLC formation process, picking a registered agent is a must. They’ll be your LLC’s official contact person, responsible for getting important legal documents for your company.

Your registered agent needs to be available during business hours at a physical address in California. No P.O. boxes allowed. You can choose yourself, another LLC member, or hire a pro service authorized to do business in California.

This agent’s role is crucial. You could face penalties or even default judgments if they miss a notice or don’t tell you about it. So pick someone reliable and efficient.

If you desire to change your authorized representative, you must submit a modification to the California Secretary. Select a partner who is committed for the long term.

To find a registered agent, you can search online. When evaluating their service, reviewing customer feedback before choosing is beneficial. It is also advisable to check if the company holds an accreditation from the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

Step 3: File Articles of Organization

The Articles of Organization, also known as Form LLC-1, is a crucial document in the California LLC formation process. It’s like the birth certificate for your limited liability company.

Before you start filling out Form LLC-1, make sure you have the following information ready:

  • Your chosen unique company name (which must adhere to California’s naming guidelines).
  • A purpose statement describing why your business exists and its primary activities.
  • The address where all official correspondence will be sent (your registered office).
  • Management structure details – whether it’ll be managed by members or a designated manager(s).

You can submit Form LLC-1 online through the California Secretary of State’s office website

Or, if you’re feeling old-school, you can download Form LLC-1 here and mail it. 

Remember, a filing fee is involved, so bring your wallet.

Filing these articles is a big deal, but don’t forget that forming an LLC isn’t just about paperwork. It’s like planning a wedding with less cake and more legal stuff.

Step 4: File the Initial Statement of Information

Filing the Initial Statement of Information, also known as Form LLC-12, is a crucial step in forming your California LLC. This document gives important details about your business to the California Secretary of State’s office.

The form asks for info like:

  • Your LLC’s name and address
  • Name and address of managers or members
  • A valid mailing address for official correspondence
  • Description of your business activities

File this statement within 90 days after submitting Form LLC-1 (Articles of Organization), and then every two years. You can file it online or by mail.

Also, remember that all California LLCs are subject to an annual franchise tax imposed by the California Franchise Tax Board (FTB). You’ll owe at least $800 yearly, regardless of your company’s activity or income. Pay by April 15th after the fiscal year you’re reporting.

Compliance with these requirements keeps you in good standing with state authorities like the FTB and future business partners.

Step 5: Your LLC is Formed

Congratulations. You’ve successfully navigated the complexities of the California LLC formation process, and your new business entity is now official. Time to celebrate, but don’t forget the important tasks ahead.

Now that your domestic LLC is established ensure you’re fully compliant with all California laws and regulations. 

If you plan on doing business outside of California, you might need to register as a foreign LLC in those states.

Stay organized and proactive to maintain good standing with the California Franchise Tax Board. Keep up with changes in legislation that could affect your business.

If you haven’t already, set up those social media accounts for today’s businesses. Get online and increase your visibility to attract potential customers or clients.

Take some time to comprehend the distinctions between single proprietorships and LLCs. 

Comprehending the advantages and detriments could aid you in forming wiser choices regarding your organization’s setup.

Step 6: Get an EIN from the IRS

If you want to hire employees for your California LLC, get an EIN from the IRS. It’s like a social security number for your business so that the IRS can tax you properly.

Applying for an EIN is easy peasy. Just go to the IRS website and follow their guide. It’s faster than snail mail and fax. And guess what? It’s free.

  • Step 1: Go to the IRS website.
  • Step 2: Click “Apply Online Now.”
  • Step 3: Follow their guide until you’re done.

Once your application is approved, you’ll get your EIN right away. Keep it safe because you’ll need it for taxes, bank accounts, and hiring employees.

Having an EIN is not only required by the California Employment Development Department if you have employees in CA, but it also makes you look legit to customers and vendors.

You’re getting closer to running your California LLC!

Step 7: Create an Operating Agreement

If you’re starting a California LLC, it’s wise to have an operating agreement. It’s not required by California law, but it keeps things running smoothly.

An operating agreement is like the rulebook for your LLC, and although it’s not legally required in California, having one can save you from future headaches.

Importance & Benefits of Having an Operating Agreement

An operating agreement sets clear expectations among members regarding their roles, responsibilities, and financial contributions. This document helps avoid potential disputes by outlining how profits are distributed, or decisions are made within the company.

Key Elements to Include Within Your Operating Agreement

  • Ownership Structure: Clearly define each member’s ownership percentage based on their initial investment or other agreed-upon factors.
  • Voting Rights & Decision-Making Process: Establish a voting system that outlines each member’s voting rights and decision-making authority within the organization.
  • Distribution of Profits & Losses: Detail how profits and losses will be allocated among members according to their ownership interests.
  • Rights & Responsibilities of Members/Managers: Clarify individual roles and duties expected from managers if your LLC is manager-managed.
  • Addition/Removal of Members: Specify procedures for adding new members or removing existing ones due to various reasons such as retirement or death.

You may also consider including clauses related to dispute resolution methods (like mediation) if conflicts arise between members later.

Remember, our Small Business Assistance Tool can connect you with one of our small business development partners for no-cost or low-cost help drafting this essential document.

Seeking No-Cost to Low-Cost Help through Small Business Assistance Tool

The Small Business Assistance Tool is designed to connect you with small business development experts offering no-cost to low-cost help.

FAQs About How to Start an LLC in California

For those owning a small business in California, establishing an LLC could be an effective strategy to safeguard personal assets and enhance your business’s reputation.

Here are the steps to help you get started:

  1. Choose a unique name for your LLC. Make sure it’s not already taken by checking the California Secretary of State’s website.
  2. Appoint a registered agent. This person or company will receive legal documents on behalf of your LLC.
  3. File Articles of Organization with Form LLC-1. This is the document that officially creates your LLC. You’ll need to pay a $70 filing fee.
  4. File a Statement of Information. This updates the state on any changes to your LLC’s information. You must file one within 90 days of forming your LLC and every year thereafter. The filing fee is $20.
  5. Obtain any necessary business licenses and permits. Check with your local government to see what’s required for your industry.
  6. Get an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS if you plan to hire employees.
  7. Create an operating agreement. While not legally required, this document outlines how your LLC will be run and can help prevent member disputes.
  8. Pay the annual franchise tax of $800 to the California Franchise Tax Board. Your initial annual tax payment is due by the 15th day of the fourth month following your filing date with the Secretary of State (SOS).
  9. Seek assistance through the Microenterprise Collaborative if needed. They offer resources and support for small business owners who can’t afford to purchase services to help them grow their businesses. They don’t know what’s available and don’t want to be taken advantage of by loan predators.

The cost to start an LLC in California includes a $70 filing fee for the Articles of Organization (Form LLC-1) and a $20 fee for the initial Statement of Information (Form LLC-12).

Additional costs may include registered agent fees and any professional services you require. The annual franchise tax is also required at $800 per year.

To open an LLC in California, you’ll need to prepare and submit several documents such as Articles of Organization (Form LLC-1), an Operating Agreement (not mandatory but highly recommended), an Initial Statement of Information (Form LLC-12), and an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS if applicable.

The Articles of Organization for a California Limited Liability Company (LLC) represent the foundational document that officially establishes your LLC within the state.

Filed with the California Secretary of State, the Articles outline crucial information about your business, such as the name of the LLC, its purpose, the name and address of the registered agent, and the management structure (managed by members or managers).

Upon acceptance of this document, the state confirms the establishment of your LLC. Please note that there are filing fees associated with this process.


Starting an LLC in California can seem daunting, but by following these steps, you’ll be on your way to understanding how to form an LLC for your growing business. Each step is important in ensuring your business is set up for filing your LLC, from choosing a unique name and appointing a registered agent to file the necessary paperwork and creating an operating agreement.

If you’re a small business owner who can’t afford to purchase services to help grow your business, you’re not alone. At Microenterprise Collaborative in Inland Southern California, we cater to small business owners who don’t know what’s available and are limited in finding no-cost to low-cost experts. 

Visit our Small Business Assistance Tool to get connected!  

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