You want to begin the process of starting an LLC. You have your vision, your business name, and the motivation to make your dream a reality. But you want some help getting started, so you’ve decided to hire an LLC formation service.
But that leads to a big decision: which service should you use? There are a lot of great options available, but they’re not created equal. Two very popular services are ZenBusiness and Northwest Registered Agent.
In this guide, we’ll give you a side-by-side comparison of these two options. Then you can pick the right service for you.
Rocket Tip: Looking for the best and most affordable LLC formation services? Compare the top 3 options for incorporation service to see how they stack up.
Our philosophy: What makes a formation service “good”?
Ultimately, the “top LLC service” boils down to a matter of opinion. Which one is best for you depends on what you want from a service. But that said, there are certain qualities that make one formation service better than another.
Whenever we review LLC formation services, here are some questions we ask:
- Does this service give me a good value for what I’m paying?
- Does this company have a proven record of supplying high-quality service?
- What is the quality of this company’s customer service?
- How easy is it to use this service?
- How quickly will my business be formed?
A good LLC formation service will receive high marks in these categories. We’ll consider the answers to these questions in our in-depth comparison below.
ZenBusiness vs. Northwest: What’s the difference?
On the surface, ZenBusiness and Northwest seem to accomplish the same purpose: helping you form your LLC. And while that’s true, the difference between them goes deeper than that. We’ll give you our full analysis in just a moment, but here are a few key differences:
- ZenBusiness has some of the lowest price points in the industry, as they charge just $39 for the combination of LLC formation service and a year of registered agent service.
- Northwest’s customer service model is without rival. They assign you a personal customer service representative, so whenever you have a question, you’ll get assistance from someone who truly understands your business.
- ZenBusiness is a socially conscious organization that gives back by supporting women and minority-owned entrepreneurs.
- Northwest is a no-nonsense company that is very against any sort of up-sells or flashy add-ons.
Both ZenBusiness and Northwest can help you create an LLC online. We honestly like both, but ZenBusiness edges out Northwest in the end. But to give you a better idea of which is right for you, let’s jump into the specifics.
LLC formation pricing and features
Whenever you make a purchase, you want to know that what you’re buying is truly worth the cost. The same goes for ZenBusiness and Northwest. These two services have very different price points: ZenBusiness starts at $39 and Northwest starts at $225.
But the nuts and bolts of their packages are different. Let’s take a look at them:
- Starter: The first package with ZenBusiness costs $39. For that price, you get LLC formation, a customizable operating agreement, CPA assessment, and their annual registered agent service — making it an excellent option. After that first year, the registered agent service will renew at $119 per year.
- Pro: The pro package makes a jump to $149 per year. That includes an EIN (which is a good add-on), their Worry-Free Guarantee (essentially a compliance assistance program), and faster processing time.
- Premium: Costing $249 per year, this package includes everything from the Pro package and adds faster processing, a business website and domain name, a domain name privacy feature, and a business email address.
Northwest only offers one LLC formation package, and it costs $225 (plus state fee). For that price, they’ll file your formation documents for you. They also throw in a year of free registered agent service, which costs $125 after the first year (there is no obligation to renew once the free year is up). Finally, Northwest also provides a sample operating agreement and membership certificates.
The annual billing model of ZenBusiness is unique, but it doesn’t make us dislike their prices. After all, that annual fee includes registered agent service in it. And with any other service, you’ll pay a similar annual fee for a registered agent—even with Northwest. So the value isn’t really any different.
These companies have rather similar offerings, but their price points are vastly different. Obviously, when ZenBusiness provides the combination of registered agent service and business formation service for just $39, while Northwest charges $225 for the same features, ZenBusiness wins this category easily.
How easy it is to use the service
Any business service is supposed to make your life easier, right? That’s why we always consider how easy it is to use a service when we evaluate them. After all, why would you bother paying someone to file your paperwork if it’s harder to hire them than it is to do it yourself?
We tested both services, and they’re both relatively straightforward. Here’s the run-down of the two:
- Choosing a package: Just pick the right package for your business to get started.
- Up-sells: ZenBusiness does present a few extra up-sells throughout the process, which can be annoying. Thankfully, they are easy to navigate.
- Order time: When we tested the order process for ZenBusiness, we took just a few minutes to reach the final step. If you select any of their add-ons of third-party offers, it can take a bit longer.
- Choosing a package: Northwest only offers one package, so this does not apply.
- Up-sells: With Northwest, there aren’t any up-sells! Their order form is as simple as it gets.
- Order time: There are really only two steps to ordering an LLC formation package with Northwest—enter your business details and pay for your order. That’s all there is to it, so it takes very little time.
Both Northwest and ZenBusiness are easy to use. That said, we do like the fact that Northwest completely avoids up-sells and third-party offers; ZenBusiness has a few. That’s why Northwest takes a narrow win.
Buying a product is one thing. But getting support for that product is just as important. After all, if a company doesn’t stand behind its product, why should you? But when a company helps you throughout the entire process—choosing a product, purchasing it, and keeping that product up-to-date—you’ll be happier with your purchase.
The same goes for business formation services. If they help you pick the package that’s right for you, assist you with the paperwork, answer your questions, and make it clear that they want to help you more than make money off you, you’ll keep using them. You might even recommend them to your friends.
In our opinion, both ZenBusiness and Northwest have good customer support, but we do have a strong preference for Northwest. Here’s a summary of our thoughts on the customer service of both services:
- Types of support: ZenBusiness uses a web-based chat support for their customer support. You can also contact them via email or phone.
- Availability: ZenBusiness usually gives a prompt response if you contact them during their regular business hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET on weekdays and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET on Sundays.
- Quality of support: When we tested them, we found the representatives at ZenBusiness to be knowledgeable and prompt.
- Types of support: Northwest also offers support via phone and email.
- Availability: Northwest doesn’t post the exact hours for their customer support department on their website. However, when we tested their support, we received an email within 24 hours. We didn’t wait that long for our phone call, though (thankfully).
- Quality of support: Northwest fully delivers on its promise to provide next-level support. They’ll be your contact whenever you have questions, so you’ll get advice from someone who already knows your business situation, not a random person at an outsourced call center.
ZenBusiness is a solid business formation service, but we think their customer service isn’t as strong as Northwest. Northwest has decent availability and their customized support model is one of our favorites, so we have to give the customer service win to Northwest.
Company track record
Technically, there’s nothing wrong with using a new company to form your business. But working with an established, trusted brand gives you confidence. You can trust a company that has already served thousands of happy customers.
ZenBusiness and Northwest both have good track records, but each service shows that track record in slightly different ways. Here’s how the two stack up:
- Years in business: ZenBusiness was just founded in 2015, so it’s one of the more recent additions to the online business services industry.
- Businesses formed: ZenBusiness has created thousands of businesses in its short time in business, and they say on their website that they aim to form one million businesses within the next few years.
- Customer reviews: Customers have lots of good things to say about ZenBusiness, with thousands of reviews and excellent ratings on both Trustpilot and the Better Business Bureau.
- Years in business: Northwest is one of the oldest LLC formation websites; they joined the market in 1998.
- Businesses formed: Northwest boasts more than 2 million businesses formed.
- Customer reviews: For as well-established as Northwest is, they have very surprisingly few reviews online. They are mostly positive, though.
ZenBusiness may be fairly young, but they’ve formed a decent number of businesses. They also have a lot of positive reviews. Northwest has fewer reviews, but they’ve got almost 20 years of experience on ZenBusiness. Overall, we’ll call this category a tie, but if you have a preference between longevity and customer reviews, we wouldn’t blame you for choosing one over the other.
If you ever change your mind about a product you’ve purchased, you want to be able to return it, right? Unfortunately, with any business formation service, a full refund is impossible. That’s because part of the money goes to the state as their incorporation fee, and states do not refund those fees.
But occasionally, a customer changes their mind about a package they purchased. Perhaps they no longer want to subscribe to the registered agent service, or the company completes the process incorrectly. Each company has their own policy for refunds, and ZenBusiness and Northwest are no exception. We’ll summarize those policies here.
ZenBusiness offers refunds on a case-by-case basis. If, at any time, you are displeased with the service and want reimbursement, you’ll need to contact their customer support and make a request. The ZenBusiness team will then review your request. If they choose to offer you a refund, they’ll give you your money back, minus the state fees.
We’ll let Northwest speak for themselves here: “We will not take your money twice, and if we screw something up, we will give your money back.” Northwest makes it their priority to serve their customers, not get money from you. If you’re ever disappointed with their service, you can get a refund (minus any non-refundable state fees). However, Northwest charges a $25 fee for all refunds.
To be honest, we’re not sure whether ZenBusiness actually ever offers refunds or not. The wording of their policy is that confusing. Even though we’re not thrilled about Northwest’s mandatory $25 convenience fee for refunds, it’s still preferable to the vague language provided by the ZenBusiness refund policy.
Assistance with ongoing compliance
Starting your business takes a lot of time and effort, but so does maintaining it! Each state is a little different; some require annual reports, some require you to renew your license each year, and more. Keeping track of these requirements can be confusing.
That’s why a lot of services help you with ongoing compliance. But just how much help you’ll get depends on what service you choose.
If you purchase the Pro package from ZenBusiness, then you are automatically subscribed to their Worry Free Compliance Guarantee. This program includes managed annual report service and up to two amendments per year, and it typically costs $110 annually. In addition, you can purchase registered agent service from ZenBusiness for $119 per year.
Northwest offers two separate services for ongoing compliance assistance. One is their registered agent service, which costs $125 annually after your first year. You can also subscribe to their annual report filing service for $99 per year, which helps you meet all your yearly requirements.
So, which LLC service do we recommend?
ZenBusiness and Northwest are both excellent services. We’re confident you’ll get your money’s worth from either company.
ZenBusiness may be young, but they’ve established themselves as an awesome option. In fact, they compete well against Northwest in several key categories.
Overall, we prefer Northwest for their customer support and ZenBusiness for their incredibly low prices. For us, ZenBusiness is the preferred option, but Northwest’s industry-best customer support makes their LLC formation service a worthy purchase as well.