Today I drove down to Norwalk and paid the fees to file a Fictitious Name application with Los Angeles County. We now have 30 days to publish a legal notice in a newspaper; meanwhile, we can now go set up a checking account for the business.

We actually submitted the FNS application by mail six weeks ago, but it came back unfiled a few days ago. Because we registered as a husband and wife, they wanted another $5 for the second name on the registration. Why they couldn’t call or handle it some simple way is beyond me, but rather than wait another six weeks to process the thing by mail and possibly have it kicked back again, I just went down and did it in person.

If you’re planning to start a business, here’s what you need to know about the FNS process…

A quick note or two: Don’t assume that the information posted at your city’s website is completely accurate. It may be incomplete or out-of-date. For example, the Pasadena website is unclear on what order to do things; it was at the newspaper’s site that we discovered we had to file our FNS with the county before going to the newspaper to run the ad.

Also, the county website will try to discourage you from coming down in person; they want you to do it by mail so they can take six weeks to do a few minutes of work. Do it in person. It’s much simpler and the result is immediate; you will walk out of the office with a certified copy of your record. If there’s a problem, you will know about it and can fix it immediately. And there are actually humans there that you can talk to.

This is how the process works if you go to the Los Angeles County office in Norwalk; (most branch offices can’t handle an FNS.) In other counties or states, the process may be slightly (or very) different. But here’s how it goes in LA.

When you arrive at the county office, you will be immediately surrounded by people trying to sound official and asking to help you. They are solicitors, not county employees. Most of them work for one of the local newspapers, and they hope to get you to run your legal notice in their paper, for which they get a commission. Some of them are very aggressive and persistent. Apparently, some of them may be frauds, because the county has put up a lot of signs informing you that they are not county employees and you don’t have to talk to them.

If you happen to be easily intimidated by bureaucracy, or are just not sure about how to deal with government officials, or have trouble following signs and simple written directions, go ahead and pick one of these solicitors to assist you. They all wear name tags showing the paper they work for, so pick one from a paper you recognize; most of the papers charge about the same amount to run an ad, some a few dollars more or less, maybe as much as $10 or $15 more. The difference may be trivial enough to justify getting the help. The person will then take you by the hand and lead you to the appropriate office, which you can find by yourself. I’m going to assume for the moment that you can do this yourself, so we’ll dismiss the solicitor and carry on.

When you get past the solicitors and into the building, you’ll find a directory or signs telling you where to go. At the Norwalk office, birth and marriage records are on the first floor, and business records are on the second floor. Whatever your local office does, you can bet there will be a sign or a directory, or a desk with a person who will tell you where to go.

There’s a room full of computer terminals you’ll be directed to, where you sit down and and enter your information into the very simple form on the screen. Work through the form, check everything, and click the “submit” button. A receipt will print out of the thing beside you. Grab it and go to the next office and get in line.

When you get to the window, hand the receipt to the clerk; he/she will scan the barcode and print out a sheet with all the information you submitted at the terminal. Check it over, make sure it’s all correct, and sign where they tell you to. Write a check (or use your credit/debit card for a $1.75 fee), sign where they tell you, and take the papers they give you.

You’re done. You’ve been there for about 20 minutes. Now go to the newspaper office and file your DBA. But we’ll get to that later.

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