Knowing how to formally register that business name is your next step, and it’s not as simple as just choosing what you’d like to be called.
When and why do you need to register your business name?
Registering your business name can offer protection and should be one of your first steps in starting a new business. If you start operating your business with a name that someone else in your state has already registered, you will be unable to register that name yourself and may have to rename and rebrand your company. Registering your business name before starting business operations can alleviate these problems.
Once you’ve officially registered your new business name, you are protected from anyone else being able to use your name. Depending on your business structure, you may also receive some tax benefits as well as personal liability protection and other legal benefits.
There are four different ways to register your name, and each provides different levels of protection. An entity name establishes your business at the state level. Creating a trademark protects you at the federal level. A domain name protects your web address, and a Doing Business As, or DBA, can offer you a bit of privacy and public separation between your personal name and your business name.
Before you register your business name
You can’t register a name before you’ve chosen one! So, the first step in registering your business name is finding the right one.
Step 1: Brainstorm some possibilities
Create a list of possibilities for your new business name. You might have one in mind that feels perfect, but be prepared with some backups, too. Your first or second choice might be taken, so it’s good to have options.
Having trouble coming up with ideas? There are free business name generators online that can help you brainstorm new names.
Step 2: Check to see if the name is available in your state
Your state’s Secretary of State website will typically have a search feature for business names. If the name you’re considering is already taken, move down your list of ideas to find one that is available.
A unique and available name is required if you plan to register as a formal business structure like a corporation or an LLC. If you try to register a name that is already taken by a different business, your application will be denied. A unique and available name may also be required for a DBA.
In some states, informal business structures like a sole proprietorship may not require a state-level name search, but having a unique name for your business before you register is never a bad idea.
Step 3: Check for federal trademarks
You’ve checked at the state level, but you also need to be sure that the name you’ve selected hasn’t already been trademarked at the national level.
The U.S. Trademark Electronic Search System will quickly tell you if anyone has trademarked the name you’re considering. If your name is available, and you can afford the expense among the many other costs of starting a business, consider trademarking the name as your own.
Step 4: Check the domain name availability
You want your web address to correspond to your formal business name, so check if your business name (or some variation of it) is available as a domain name. You can use services like Google Domains, GoDaddy, or Namecheap to check availability.
If your business name is available, jump on it! It’s a good idea to stake your claim now, even if you aren’t planning to build a website soon. Owning a domain name is relatively affordable and keeps anyone else from grabbing it, even if you aren’t using it for months or even years.
Step 5: Explore your competition
The domain you want might be available, but that doesn’t mean other businesses aren’t using variations of your future business name online. Do some searching to see who pops up when you search for your potential business name or close variations of it.
You may find that competition is stiff for some names but not for others. It’s worth knowing who is already out there with a strong online presence to either avoid or prepare for competition.
Determine your needs
Your location and how you’ve structured your business determine when and how you’ll need to register your business’s name. Once you know how you’ll be doing business (as a sole proprietor, a C corporation, or an LLC), you’ll be able to move through the registration of your business name simply enough.
Sole proprietorship is the simplest business type, and the name registration process reflects this. Since a sole proprietorship is an informal business structure, it won’t need to be registered with the state as a sole proprietor can use their legal name.
However, if you don’t register, it must operate under your name, including your last name, as the business owner. If you would like to use a different name than your own, you can register a new business name by filing a Doing Business As or DBA. DBAs are also known as assumed names, fictitious names, and trade names.
If you do choose to file a DBA, you’ll enjoy benefits such as public separation between your personal and professional lives and an easier time securing a business bank account or loan.
Learn more about sole proprietorships in our guide: What is a Sole Proprietorship? What to Know Before You Start
A general partnership is an informal business arrangement that doesn’t require name registration. Like sole proprietors, a business operating as a general partnership must include at least the last names of the partners in the business name.
If you’d like to use a different name for your general partnership, you can choose an assumed name by filing a DBA.
Learn more: General Partnerships: A Complete Guide
Limited liability company (LLC)
Forming an LLC, or limited liability company, protects your assets by separating your personal life from your business. If you are forming an LLC, you must have a unique name, and that name must have certain elements.
Requirements vary by state, but typically, you must:
- Avoid naming confusion with federal or state government agencies like the CIA or State Department
- Submit additional paperwork and applications if your business name will include restricted words (and presumably practices) like Bank, University, or Insurance
- Include the phrase “limited liability company” or its abbreviation, LLC or L.L.C., in your business name
Learn more: What Is an LLC? and How Do You Start One?
A C corporation is set up to separate owners and businesses. Corporations are formal business structures that require a unique name that follows your state’s requirements.
Restrictions for naming corporations are similar to those for LLCs. They may vary but typically require that you:
- Select a name that is unique and distinguishable from existing businesses in your state
- Avoid confusing similarities to state or federal agencies like the Treasury or FBI
- Include the word or abbreviation for “corporation,” “company,” “incorporated,” or “limited”
Learn more: C Corporations: Everything You Need to Know
Register your business name
Great news! Your perfect name is available and suitable for your business. Now it’s time to figure out how to register your business name.
There are four ways you can register your new business name. You can:
- Form a formal business entity like a corporation or an LLC,
- File a DBA to use an assumed name,
- Register the name as a trademark, or
- Purchase the domain name for your business.
Your business type will help determine which method is right in your circumstances. Some businesses use more than one method to secure their business name, while others stick to a single option.
Forming a new business entity
When you register your business as a partnership, LLC, or corporation, the name of your new business is recorded and registered alongside all the other legal requirements for your new endeavor.
To form an LLC, you will need to file articles of organization using the new name with your state. If you opt to form a corporation, you’ll file articles of incorporation with your new name.
Establishing a corporation or LLC registers and protects your new name at the state level. If you want to register the same business name in your neighboring states, you may need to register your new company in those states as well. Be aware there would likely be a filing fee in each area.
Filing for an assumed name
Any small business can take on an assumed name by filing a DBA or Doing Business As registration. The exact process for filing a DBA will vary by location. Some areas register assumed names at the county level, while others are at the state. A DBA name might be referred to as a fictitious name in certain areas as well.
For sole proprietors and partnerships, filing a DBA is all that is required to register a new business name. Formally registered companies like LLCs and corporations have the option to file a DBA as well if they choose to.
A DBA offers a way to separate your personal name from your company’s in the county or state where you register and can provide better branding and name recognition for your business. However, keep in mind that a DBA doesn’t give your company any legal protection, unlike an LLC or a corporation.
Registering a trademark
Registering your business name as a trademark can be done at the state or federal level. The requirements for trademark registration vary by state, and the protection offered is limited to that state.
If you want to register and protect your business name across all states, you can register at the federal level by trademarking a business name. This type of business registration is a more complex and more expensive process than registering at the state level. Still, it offers the widest range of identification and protection of all options.
You can learn more about the federal trademark application process at the United States Patent and Trademark Office website.
Purchase a domain name for your business
If the domain name for your business is available online, purchasing it will effectively register your presence online through that new desired name.
However, owning the domain name of your business does not offer any additional legal registration within the county, state, or country. That’s why it’s important that you also register your new business name with a trademark, DBA, or as a formal business entity.
How Bench can help
A solid bookkeeping system is the heartbeat of your new business. It works behind the scenes to ensure that your financial information is always accurate, up-to-date, and easily accessible, so you can make smarter business decisions and file your business taxes with ease.
As America’s largest professional bookkeeping service, Bench can have you tax-ready in no time. Start your free trial today.
Protect your name and build your business
You take pride in your work, and while choosing a business name is important, protecting that name is just as critical. Choose wisely and register your name correctly, and you’ll be ready to enjoy the process of bringing your new business to life.