I recently started a small photography business on a shoestring, and I was able to use and benefit from a lot of the online tools that are mentioned here on E-Samaritan. I was thrilled with just how quickly I was able to get my business up and running with these tools…for cheap. When I first realized that it was time to start the ball rolling and turn an idea into an actual business, the first thing I knew I needed to do was decide on a business structure and get my business filed with the state of Texas. I couldn’t get a bank account with state paperwork, and it would not have been smart to start on a logo design without securing the legal name I desired first. 

For a lot of creative folks out there, these decisions and steps can be really boring and cumbersome. But it must be done and it’s all part of being a small business owner. Before you can file your new business with the state, you have to know what type of business structure is best for you. Put good thought into this, because if you decide later to change your business structure because you didn’t really know what you were doing in the beginning, legal and accounting fees can get sky high with making this transition, depending on what changes you need to make. Luckily, I’ve been doing small business accounting for many years, so I was very familiar with the different types of business structures and what would likely be the best fit for my new business. But not everyone is lucky enough to have this boring information stored in their brain, so if you are wondering about the difference between a C-Corporation, S-Corporation, and LLCs (and many others out there), you can start your small business journey in the following places: 

IRS Small Business Center http://www.irs.gov/businesses/small/article/0,,id=98359,00.html

Entrepreneur.com’s Basics of Business Structure http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/200516

FindLaw.com’s Which Business Structure is Best for your Business? http://smallbusiness.findlaw.com/business-structures/business-structures-overview/business-structures-overview-choosing.html

So, all that to say, I chose a single-member LLC for my business structure (though I toyed around with choosing an S-Corp) and ultimately decided to give LegalZoom a shot with filing my state paperwork for me. LegalZoom is one of many websites that offer basic legal services to small businesses and individuals, without the big lawyer-sized invoice. These are some smart dudes, because they saw the need for low-cost legal services for all the basic legal needs that most people put off completing because of the big price tag – services like patent filings, trademarks, wills, and business structure filings. This service is a bit DIY, but since you are here at E-Samaritan, you’re probably ok with that.

I must admit, when I decided to go with LegalZoom, I did it on a whim. No one recommended them to me, and I had only heard of them through television advertisements. There was a small part of me that thought it might not be the best decision to start my new business through an online legal service ‘farm’…but like many people with an idea that won’t let you sleep at night, I was impatient and just wanted to get the show on the road already. I guess I felt like I’d rather make a mistake over sitting around and not moving forward. 

Lucky for me, the process was super easy, I’m glad to say that I was very pleased with LegalZoom’s product and customer service. Their website was very easy to navigate, and the process of filling out everything they needed to start my legal documents only took about 30-40 minutes. The total price for the filing service, registered agent fee, and state fee was $487.95. 

LegalZoom consistently under promised and over delivered in regards to the timeline that was presented for completion of all my paperwork. Since they are more of a DIY company (i.e. if there is a problem, they cannot tell you what to do, only proceed as you instruct), you have stay in touch with them if they contact you with a question. Oh, and that’s another great thing…I always talked to a person when there was an issue, and everyone I talked to was very polite and pleasant. Now you are probably wondering what kind of issues I had, right? 

Well, it just so happened that a company already existed in Texas with a business name that was very similar to mine. Within a week of sending my information to LegalZoom, they informed me that I needed to get clearance from this company to use my chosen legal name in order to proceed further. The Texas Secretary of State will not file articles of organization for a business if the business name is what they call ‘deceptively similar’ to another legally trademarked name that already exists. 

http://www.sos.state.tx.us/corp/tradefaqs.shtml#tm3 

I was worried, because I thought that surely I would not be able to get permission from another company to use my desired business name. I thought no one would care about my insignificant photography business, I would be ignored, and I’d have to come up with another name…a great reason to pay for your small business logo and marketing materials after you have secured your legal name. 

LegalZoom told me the name of the registered agent for the company I needed to contact (see…DIY), and I decided to look them up and give it a shot. However, Google prevailed, and I bypassed the registered agent and decided to call the CEO of the company instead. If his name and number are that easy to find, why not? So I called Mr. CEO and apologized for bothering him, and told him my problem. Since he was hundreds of miles away from me, and his company was medically-related, he said no problem, just draft the letter you need and e-mail it to me for my signature. Good luck with your little photography business and have a nice life

This is the beauty about a company like LegalZoom for these types of services – yes, I could have paid a lawyer to look into this and get the needed clearance. But because I chose the DIY route with LegalZoom’s guidance, I probably saved a good chunk of change in legal fees. Even with the little roadblock, my state filings were completed and my articles of organization were in-hand in about four weeks. LegalZoom sent me an e-mail each time the process moved on to the next step, so I was always aware of the status of my order. I was really happy with the end result, and I will likely do business with them again if I need a simple legal service for my business.