How to get a virtual address
About 50% of all small businesses in the United States are home-based businesses. They come in every shape and size—from landscape designers freelancing out of their garages to a 30-person app development firm with employees all over the country and no physical headquarters. As different as they may be, they all have at least one thing in common. Each company has to decide what address to use to register its business.
The decision isn't as straightforward as you might think, and if you're reading this article, it's probably because you've figured out that using a virtual mailing address is the best option for your business. But if you're still on the fence, this article may help guide you through the pros and cons of your various options (like using your home address) as well as how to get and use a virtual address to register your business.
Why you shouldn't use your home address to register your business
If you're starting a business from your home, you may be inclined to use your personal address when you register with your local secretary of state's office. After all, your home will be your office. However, using your home address has some significant drawbacks.
- You don't want to entangle your business and personal affairs. If you're registering your business, then you're likely creating a limited liability company (LLC) or corporation—probably to get the benefits those structures provide, like a shield from personal liability. Smart move. Unfortunately, if your company was ever involved in a lawsuit, the court would look for things like separate bank accounts and addresses to determine whether a liability shield is appropriate, i.e., whether your business and personal life were actually separate. Let's be clear: registering your business using your home address probably isn't going to bring the feds knocking on your door. But if you experience legal issues in the future, you'll be glad that you kept your business and personal affairs separate.
- The address you use to register your business is public. Anyone can look it up on your local secretary of state's website. Publicizing your home address increases your susceptibility to identity theft. Between 7 and 10% of the U.S. population falls victim to identity fraud each year, and sharing personal information online makes you more susceptible to attack. Even if your information remains safe, you may open yourself up to having an upset customer knock on your door while you're having dinner with your family.
- You may be prohibited from operating a home-based business at your home address. Some homeowners' associations, condominium or apartment associations, and municipal ordinances ban people from operating businesses out of their homes. The reason for these bans is generally to avoid the activity of a business (traffic, customers coming in and out, etc.) in a residential area. Many home-based businesses don't have any of that activity, especially if you're providing a service that involves sitting in front of your computer at a desk. However, using your home address as your business address for an LLC may open you up to complaints or citations. Make sure you know what the rules are where you live before you get started.
Business virtual address—why should you register it?
At this point, you're probably pretty clear on why you shouldn't use your home address to register your business. But why should you use a virtual address for an LLC?
The answer is simple: getting a virtual mailing address for your business protects your private information and keeps your business and personal affairs separate.
Of course, your business mailing address does much more than serve as a registration location for the secretary of state's office. You provide your business address for your LLC to many people, in dozens of places:
- On your invoices
- When you register your domain name for a website
- On communications with customers (For instance, anti-spam laws in the U.S. require any business sending marketing email communications to include their business address at the bottom of the email.)
- On contracts or purchase orders with vendors
- When you open a business bank account
- To be on online review sites, like Google My Business or Yelp
Virtual mailing address
If you're going to be using a business address for an LLC in all those ways, you might as well have it work for you. A virtual mailing address adds flexibility to your business operations by allowing you to check your mail from anywhere in the world—sitting on your couch or on a bicycle tour of the Irish countryside. Wherever you have internet access, you have your mail.
With a virtual address for an LLC, you can easily share mailed documents with colleagues or clients and save important information securely in the cloud. Plus, you can be sure you'll never miss an important piece of mail.
Now, let's take a minute to talk about P.O. boxes.
Some home-based businesses rent a P.O. Box to avoid providing their home address when they register or on other business documents. Unfortunately, not all states allow businesses to register with a P.O. Box, and a P.O. Box can't give you the flexibility that a virtual mailing address provides.
Virtual address for business
LLCs and corporations must have a registered agent in the state where their business is registered. A registered agent is someone that you designate to receive specific important documents on your behalf—for instance, documents from the secretary of state's office or "service of process" documents if you're ever involved in a lawsuit.
Each state creates its own rules about registered agents. In most states, you or another individual from your company can act as the registered agent as long as you have a physical street address within the state. However, someone would need to be present at that address during working hours to sign for important documents, and the registered agent's address is publicly available on the secretary of state's website.
Because someone must be physically present for a registered agent's address, you may not be able to use a virtual address for business. Check with your local secretary of state's office to be sure. Online companies like LegalZoom offer registered agent services, as do many local businesses and attorneys.
Virtual address for LLC: How to register your LLC or corporation with a virtual address
You can get a virtual business address within a matter of minutes.
- Choose the virtual address plan from Earth Class Mail, a LegalZoom company, that best meets your business's current mail needs.
- Click the "Buy Now" button and enter your name and email address.
- Choose a virtual business address for an LLC in the state where you're registering your business. If you're choosing a virtual address that's a P.O. Box, check with your local Secretary of State's office to confirm that you can use a P.O. Box address to register. Earth Class Mail's P.O. Box virtual address for an LLC works the same as our street number virtual addresses.
- Fill out a USPS Form 1583, a form required by the federal government, before any third party can gain access to your postal mail. You'll need to have the form notarized with two forms of identification. Then send the original form to Earth Class Mail.
- Once you receive notice that your virtual address is set up, visit your local secretary of state's website and use the virtual address to register your business.
If you've already registered your business using your home address, don't fret. You can always change it, and now is the perfect time to get that personal information off a publicly available website.
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