Are all Registered agents created equal?
What services should I be looking for in a Registered Agent?
Should I go with a local firm or a national firm with offices in my state? And should those offices be local? How often would I need to meet with my RA in person?
I am ready to get my business licensed and going, but I have no experience with RA's. Any advice will be helpful.
Registered Agents (RA) generally are at least on the hook for giving you notices from the state you're operating in. However, they can incorporate your company and help with a variety of tasks related to maintaining your company. For example, you can ask the RA what other services they help with, like will they help you file your annual fee, or send you reminders at least for when your franchise tax is due or other things you'll need to do to stay compliant. As a result, fees can vary a lot depending on what you get.
You don't have to meet with your RA in person often. In fact, many things can get done without meeting the RA at all! It depends of course on the types of services you'll be having the RA do for you. If you're just using them as mail forwarders, most likely you won't have to meet them at all.
As for the part about getting your "business licensed," I'm not sure if you're talking about simply incorporating, or the actual process of getting a license. Some states require incorporation and getting a license, and many RAs do not help with meeting licensing requirements since these can change from county to county.
Test the registered agent's mail-forwarding and notification response time. Send them an important-looking and a non-important piece of mail addressed to you, and see if they forward it and how fast they notify you.
Make sure they don't drop a $1.26 million ball like Pepsi's RA did: http://abovethelaw.com/2009/10/legal-secretary-of-the-day-pepsis-1-26-billion-mistake/
You ought to just leave the process of deciding whether you need a registered agent, and who to use, to your attorney. A repeat buyer has better relationships than you, as an individual. I've already done the research on the requirements in many states.
If you are not using a lawyer, which I do not recommend, then there are some companies out there that do it, just Google it.