Start a Business

Start a Business

Launching your Business

Small businesses are critical to the economic vitality and stability of the Montana economy. The Secretary of State's Office is committed to assisting you as you launch your new business venture. The information contained on this page may not include all the requirements you need to successfully start your business. We recommended that you seek appropriate legal and/or financial advice before making important business decisions.

Business Names

A registered business name must be distinguishable from another registered business name so that it does not cause confusion in an absolute or linguistic sense.

The following makes a business name distinguishable on our records:

  • Key words are different and do not copy a business name already on record. A “key word” is any word other than articles, prepositions, conjunctions, or business name identifiers as defined in 30-13-201, MCA. Example: “Bill’s Carpentry” is distinguishable from “Bill’s Builders”.
  • Key words are the same, but are in a different order. For example: “Yellowstone Hotel” is distinguishable from “Hotel Yellowstone”.
  • The use of geographic designations. For example: “Helena Auto Painting: is distinguishable from “Boulder Auto Painting”.
  • Abbreviations. For example: "Montana Ave Salon" is distinguishable from "Montana Avenue Salon."
  • Different spellings of proper names. For example: "Jayne's Boutique" is distinguishable from "Jane's Boutique."
  • Unique or improper spelling. For example: "Black Cat Designs" is distinguishable from "Black Kat Designs."

The following conditions will not make a registered business name distinguishable from another registered business name:

  • The use of punctuation marks. For example: "R/D Construction" and "R D Construction" are not distinguishable.
  • The use of special characters. Special characters are non-alphabetical and non-numeric characters such as @, #, $, %, &, *, and + that can represent a word. For example: “25 % Better, Inc.” and “25 Percent Better, Inc.” are not distinguishable.
  • The use of articles "a," "an," or "the”. For example: "The Painted Pony" and "Painted Pony" are not distinguishable.
  • The use of business name identifiers or their abbreviations. For example: "ABC Inc.," ''ABC Co.," and "ABC Corp." are not distinguishable.
  • The substitution of an Arabic or Roman numeral for a spelled out number. For example: “3 Kings," "III Kings," and “Three Kings," are not distinguishable.
  • The substitution of a lower case letter for a capital letter. For example: "d" and "D" are not distinguishable on the records.
  • The use of internet domain suffixes. For example: “.com,” “.org,” ".gov,” and ".net" are not distinguishable.
  • Contractions. For example: "Do Not Stop, Inc." is not distinguishable from "Don't Stop, Inc."
  • Variations in word endings. For example: "Betsy's Cleaners" is not distinguishable from "Betsy's Cleaning" and "ABC Transport, Inc." is not distinguishable from "ABC Transportation, Co."
  • Adding the letter "s" to make a word, including an alphabetism, plural or possessive. For example: "Jay's Market" and "Jays Market" and "RM's Co." and "RMS Co." are not distinguishable.

Step One: Determine Your Business Structure

The first decision you need to make as you launch your business is what kind of organizational structure you want for your business. The answers to these questions should be based on several factors:

  • The degree of control you want to have over the business.
  • The degree of formal organization you need.
  • The need to protect against liability for business actions.
  • The ability to attract investors.
  • Tax considerations for both you and your investors (if any).

While it is not necessary to hire an attorney to file business documents, we strongly recommend that you consult with an attorney, accountant, financial adviser, and/or banker to help you determine which business structure is most suitable for you.

See organizational structures for more information.

Step Two: Reserve a Business Name (optional)

Reserving your business name is only necessary if you are not yet prepared to file the organizational documents discussed in Step Three. You may reserve your business name for 120 days, which protects your name while you establish your business. Reserving your name does not give you authority to transact business in the state. You may skip filing a reservation if you are ready to transact business in the state.

Once you have decided on a business name, you need to determine if the name is currently available. You can determine this by searching the  Business Entity Search. Please refer to the information noted above regarding business names to determine if your name is distinguishable on our records from an existing business name.

The following form may be used to reserve your business name: Application for Reservation of a Business Name.The filing fee is $10.00 and the reservation is non-renewable so ensure you are ready to begin conducting business and the proper paperwork has been filed with the Secretary of State’s office within 120 days.

We recommend you wait to order stationery, forms, business cards, and advertising until you obtain final approval that your documents have been filed and your business name is approved.

Step Three: File Organizational Documents

Depending on the type of organizational structure you have chosen, you will need to complete one of the business forms and submit to the Secretary of State’s office along with the appropriate filing fee.

Step Four: Apply for Tax ID Numbers

The Internal Revenue Service requires every business with employees to have a federal tax identification number. To obtain one, call the IRS toll-free at 1-800-829-4933.

Important information about form SS-4, Taxpayer Identification Number

How to Update Incorrect Information

To apply for a state withholding tax ID number, contact Department of Revenue at (406) 444-6900.

To apply for a state unemployment insurance tax ID number, contact the Montana Department of Labor and Industry at (406) 444-3834.

Step Five: Apply for Professional Licenses

Under state law, some professions -- such as architects, barbers, chiropractors, and dentists -- must be licensed. To determine whether you need a professional license, contact the Business and Occupational Licensing Bureau of the state Department of Labor and Industry at (406) 841-2333.

Step Six: Apply for Local Licenses

Every city and county has specific requirements when transacting business within their jurisdiction. Call or visit your county courthouse or city offices to find out what particular requirements exist in your area.

Step Seven: Apply for Workers' Compensation

If you are planning to hire employees, find out what kind of insurance coverage you are required to provide under state Workers' Compensation laws. You may obtain this information from the state Department of Labor and Industry.

If you have questions on workers' compensation please contact the Department of Labor (406) 444-6532.

File your Annual Report

If your business structure is a corporation or limited liability company, you are required to file an Annual Report the next succeeding year after incorporation/organizing to maintain your good standing with the Secretary of State's Office. The report is due each year by April 15th and must be accompanied by a $20 filing fee. Businesses that file after that date will be assessed a penalty fee.

If you are a Montana corporation or limited liability company, you must file your Annual Report before December 1 st or your company will be involuntarily dissolved. If you are a foreign corporation or limited liability company transacting business in Montana, you must file your Annual Report before November 1st or your Certificate of Authority will be involuntarily revoked.

Throughout the life of your business, it may become necessary to change your business name, ownership information, registered agent, registered address, amend your articles, or merge with another entity. It is very important that you notify the Secretary of State's Office of any changes to your business.