Start-ups always need to figure out a legal structure – it's one of the most common questions asked early on in the formation of any company. For many years this process has been available online from a host of vendors at different price points and levels of service.

At this year's Blog World Expo, I met up with Nellie Akalp, CEO and Founder of CorpNet Incorporation Services to understand how she differentiates her company, and to learn why she returned to this industry.

Akalp and her husband Phil were one of the originators of the idea of online incorporation, creating in 1997. The company was eventually acquired by Intuit and is now privately held again. Once the Akalps sold in 2005, they focused on raising their family and Nellie tried several other careers – including kickboxing instructor – before returning to the field she helped pioneer (once her non-compete ran out.)

'We looked around, and there wasn't a personal touch or hand holding when companies had questions,' said Akalp. 'We heard President Obama talking about the need for more small businesses to start-up, and we created CorpNet in July of 2009.'

CorpNet provides business incorporation services and filing services for entrepreneurs and small business owners looking to start a business, regardless of type. 'If an owner doesn't want to take the step to incorporate, we can help them create a fictitious name under which they can do business,' said Akalp. And once they're set up, CorpNet attempts to be a one-stop shop, helping owners protect, manage and keep business in compliance with all their legal obligations.

Interestingly enough, CorpNet also provides services for the Company Corporation, potentially one of their competitors. 'We have a partnership where we offer registered agent services through Company Corporation in all 50 states, and it is free for the first year.'

(You can learn more about a registered agent in Inc's Articles of Incorporation or Creating an LLC pages.)

CorpNet also provides another useful service for free – a name check. If you want to call your start-up 'Joe's Deli' they can search your state's database and tell you if other entities have already claimed that name, or reserve it for you. A full trademark search is $199. Additionally, CorpNet will help educate new business owners about this and other services, via phone, free. For example, CorpNet will talk you through the benefits of incorporation, the ins and outs of where and why to incorporate - but Akalp notes that for specific legal advice you must consult an attorney.

This 10-employee start-up is located in California, and is bootstrapped and growing organically. I asked Nellie what her biggest start-up mistake was, and she told me 'Spending lots of money on marketing without having a clear plan of action or clear business goals. When starting a business as a second time around I learned you can't pay to play. You can't just buy ads and expect business, and you can't just put a site up and wait. You have to network, engage with people and get out there.'

After spending almost $250K on advertising, Akalp changed marketing models, reaching out via social networking, engaging with clients on Facebook, Twitter, blogging, and sharing content. Since then, she reports, the company has taken a really positive turn.

Doing your research about your corporate structure and legal needs is important, and CorpNet may be one place to learn, in addition to your own legal counsel.

Where did you get effective advice about your company's structure? Let us know in the comments below.

Quick side note: I've been named to the board of advisers at the South by SouthWest (SXSW) Accelerator program for tech start-ups. If you have a new tech start-up and are looking for visibility read more.