Starting your own e-commerce business demands that you master hundreds of details, from finding and managing inventory to marketing and servicing customers. But amidst the myriad online tasks you'll need to complete, don't forget to register your business in the offline world as well. Just because you're starting an online business doesn't mean you're free from the requirements of the real world. Registering your e-commerce business will keep you in compliance with the law and prevent potentially costly fines or penalties later.
Visit your state's secretary of state website and download the form to register a fictitious business name, or DBA -- that is, "doing business as" (see Resources). Complete the form and return it to the secretary of state's office via the address indicated on the form, along with the registration fee. Registration fees vary from state to state, but should not exceed $50.
File your business's organizational documents with the secretary of state's office. Forming a corporation (C-corp, S-corp or LLC) will require filing Articles of Incorporation and appointing a statutory agent to act on the corporation's behalf. Incorporation documents can be found on your secretary of state's website. Operating your business as a sole proprietorship or partnership does not require an organizational filing.
Call or visit your city or county clerk's office and ask if your locality requires a vendor's license or business permit to operate -- most localities do. You'll probably be required to obtain a vendor's license regardless of whether you actually sell items locally or not.
Visit your state's tax agencies' websites to learn whether or not you'll need to register to collect state sales tax (see Resources). Registrations to collect state sales taxes are free but will also require you to complete monthly or quarterly reports detailing any sales tax you've collected when you submit those funds to the state. Your state's tax agencies can also inform you of your state's laws regarding when you'll collect sales tax.
Consider registering your business with the local chamber of commerce. The chamber exists to promote local businesses and may be a source of information, help and mentoring, as well as providing you an opportunity to network with other area business owners.
Mike Andrews is a freelance writer and serial entrepreneur focused on small-business and entrepreneurship for average people. He holds a bachelor's degree in biblical studies and a master's degree in theology and has appeared in a wide array of print and online periodicals including "HiCall," "Mature Living" and "Caregivers Home Companion."