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How to register a company in 5 steps

Company 'registration', 'formation' and 'incorporation' are all terms used for the process of setting up a business as a formal legal entity. A business cannot operate as a company until it has been registered at Companies House under the Companies Act 2006. There are several advantages to running a business as a company, chief of which is that a company can raise funds by issuing and selling shares. Registering a company could seem like a daunting process, but it really isn't that complicated. 

Check if your ideal company name is available to register. If another company has registered the same name, you will have to choose a different one. For more information about rules and restrictions, read Naming your business. Check the Trade Marks Register of the UK Intellectual Property Office to make sure your chosen name is not the same as an existing trade mark. Ask a lawyer if you are unsure about this.

For more information on naming your business, read How to choose a name for your business.

A company must have a registered office address where notices, letters and reminders can be delivered to the company. It does not need to be an address where day-to-day business is carried out, so it could be your accountant’s address or a director’s address for example. Be aware that the registered office address will be available on the public record at Companies House (Companies House in Wales for companies registered in England and Wales, and Companies House in Edinburgh for companies registered in Scotland). A business risks being struck off the register or wound up if they cannot be contacted at an address.

A private company limited by shares is the most common type of company. A company of this type has a share capital and the liability of each member is limited to the amount, if any, unpaid on their shares. For example, if a company has one member (shareholder) and they own 20,000 shares at a value of £1 they would be liable for £20,000 (if unpaid) at the time of winding up.

Other types of companies are:

  • private company limited by guarantee (limited to amount guarantors agree to contribute to company assets if the company is wound up)

  • private unlimited company (directors or shareholders are liable for all debts)

  • public limited company

For more information, read Private limited companies.

Company director

Private companies are required to have at least one director who must be an individual (as opposed to a company acting as a director).

All individuals actings as company directors:

  • must be at least 16 years of age

For more information about company directors, read The role of a company director and Different types of company director.

Company secretary

Private limited companies are not required to have a company secretary anymore (a person who ensures compliance and updates Companies House with ongoing changes). These responsibilities should be carried out by company directors. Public limited companies are however required to have a company secretary as they are subject to more regulation.

The company secretary can also be a company director, but cannot:

A very simple way to form a company is to issue at registration one share at the value of £1, using the sole director as the shareholder. Additional shares can be issued at a later date - for more information on this, read Share transfers and issuing new shares.

For more information on the different types of shares, read Types of shares or Ask a lawyer.

Read What happens after you register your company to find out what happens after registering your company.