How do you register your business?

Depending on the type of business entity you choose, you may need to register your business with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) by calling 608-261-9555. Corporations, limited liability companies, limited liability partnerships, limited partnerships, nonprofits, and franchises MUST register with DFI.

Sole proprietors and general partnerships do not have to register with DFI. Sole proprietorships or general partnerships intending to obtain credit under a "doing business as" (d/b/a) name must complete and submit a Registration of Firm Name application with the Register of Deeds of the county in which the business is located. If you do not intend to obtain credit, the registration is voluntary. A voluntary trade-name registration can also be done with DFI.

To find your county contact at the Register of Deeds.

Type of Business EntityWhere to RegisterVoluntary or Mandatory
Corporation


WI DFI


Mandatory


Franchise


WI DFI


Mandatory


General Partnership


Register of Deeds and/or WI DFI


Voluntary


Limited Liability Company


WI DFI


Mandatory


Limited Liability Partnership


WI DFI


Mandatory


Limited Partnership


WI DFI


Mandatory


Non-Profit


WI DFI


Mandatory


Sole Proprietor


Register of Deeds and/or WI DFI


Voluntary


Is the name you want for your business being used?

When selecting a name for your business, do your homework to avoid infringing on names filed by other businesses or being used by another entity as a trademark or trade name.

  • Do an online search of the Corporate Registration Information System (CRIS) at the Wisconsin DFI to find out if that name is already in use or has been reserved. While this database is continually updated, CRIS reflects only the names of entities on record with DFI (Corporations, LLC, LLPs, etc.) Do not assume you have use of the name until you receive an email confirmation from DFI.
  • Check with the Register of Deeds in your county to make sure no one else is using the business name you want. To register your business name, submit a "Registration of Firm Name" application with the Register of Deeds Office in the county where your business will be headquartered.
  • Look through the phone book or an online directory.
  • Search the internet for name registrations.

Although the optional registrations through the DFI and the Register of Deeds create a public record of your use of a business name, the registrations in themselves do not establish or reserve exclusive rights to use of a name.

What is a DBA – "Doing Business As?"

"Doing business as" or DBA is used when a person or a company operates their business using a business name other than their real, actual name. In Wisconsin, DBAs use the "Registration of Firm Names" form from the Register of Deeds.

For example, John Smith may wish to start a new business call "Midwest Plumbing". His business name is obviously not his real name, so a DBA registration is required. For a person wanting to file a DBA, as a Sole Proprietorship, if the name of that person (John Smith for our example) is not used in any way as part of the company name, then "Registration of Firm Name" form will be necessary. But if John Smith wishes to do business as "John Smith Plumbing," then a DBA is not required because the person's real name is identifiable within the business name.