Small Business Advice

How to register a business name

When you register a business name, you essentially protect that name from competitive usage within your state. Read on to find out how you can register a business name online or in person.

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Starting a new business is an exciting venture. However, there is no denying that being a business owner is hard work. Regardless, one of the most important decisions you will have to make is choosing the name of your business. This is because your company name reflects your business identity. In addition, it also provides consumers an idea about what you do and can offer them.

Once you have chosen your company name, you will then need to follow the process of a name reservation and business registration with a state agency. This will help ensure no other business entity can operate their corporation under the same name. Therefore, if you want to learn more about how to register a business name, keep reading.

How to register a business name

The process of registering a business name takes three easy steps. First, you’ll need to perform a name search using the internet and online databases. Then you’ll have to register that name in your state, after which you can trademark it as your business name. Once that is complete, you are one step closer to fully launching your business.

The exact steps vary from state to state and also depends on the type of business that you’re setting up.

For example, sole proprietors are not legally required to register a business name. They can simply operate with a “doing business as” or DBA. This means they are choosing to operate their business under their own name, such as “John Smith Plumbing.” However, if you use a fictious name such as,” John Smith and Associates,” you will need to undergo the business registration process. This is because fictitious business names suggest others are doing business under your assumed name. Although your name is clearly stated, the use of a word like associates categorizes your company name as fictious.

Furthermore, other forms of businesses, including LLCs, must register a business name, also known as an entity name with the local government to ensure it follows all state laws. Let’s take a closer look at what these business structures are, so you can better determine which one is suitable for your company.

Partnership: A general partnership business structure means your business consists of two or more owners. This type of business structure is similar to a sole proprietor structure. For example, a partnership’s business owners and the business itself are not separate legal entities. Thus, any profits or losses that the business faces are the responsibility of the owners and there is more liability involved.

Corporation: A corporation business structure means the business itself and its owners are a separate legal entity. Therefore, the corporation name may have different legal requirements it must follow, depending on the state you live in. Further, a corporation must follow more stringent tax requirements and business operation regulations than other businesses.

Limited Liability Company (LLC): A limited liability company (LLC), is a fusion business structure. It has characteristics of a general partnership, and corporations. It provides liability protection for owners and offers business owners tax reductions.

What does it mean to register your business name?

Name registration simply refers to the process of submitting your business name to the state so that it can be entered into the registry of business names. It may be necessary for two reasons:

  • When you want your business name to remain protected from competitive usage. In other words, no other person will be allowed to use the same name.
  • If you already have a business name but are not sure what kind of business, you want to form. Registering the name will bar other people from using it as you get your plans in order for your startup. The good thing is that you can change your mind about the name any time and choose a different name if you wish.

Do you have to register a business name?

Most states require that you register the name of a corporation, limited liability company (LLC), general partnership, or nonprofit. This should typically happen before you start conducting business activities in the state. You can register the name with the state’s Business Agency, Business Bureau, or Secretary of State’s office.

On the other hand, if you’re operating a sole proprietorship under your legal name, then you’re not required to register a business name. You can conduct business activities with a DBA.

However, it’s still a good idea to register your business name even if you’re starting or running a sole proprietorship. Doing so will entitle you to business tax benefits, personal liability protection, and other legal benefits.

You’ll typically be required to avail some information while registering a business name. That includes:

  • The name of the business
  • Location of the business
  • Ownership of the business alongside its directors and management structure
  • The number and value of shares in the case of a corporation.

How to register a business name: a step by step business guide

As already mentioned, the exact steps for registering a business name vary slightly from state to state and also from one business structure to another. Nonetheless, it takes the following general procedure:

Step 1: Carry out a name search

A name search basically tells you whether the business name you’ve chosen is available. Obviously, you can’t use a name that someone else is already using. Below is the proper way of performing a business name search:

  • Search online

Start by searching for your preferred business name in search engines. Head over to Google, Yahoo, Bing etc., type in the name, and hit enter to see if there’s already a business with your chosen name.

For more precise results, try enclosing your business name with quotation marks when doing the search. Doing so will return search engine results that are exact matches of the business name.

  • Search the state registry

Visit the official website of your Secretary of State and find their registry of business names. Most state websites will allow you to search through the registry. In case your state doesn’t, try requesting a name availability check.

  • Search the UPSTO registry

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) keeps a registry of all business names that have been trademarked. You can search their online database to determine if your preferred name is available.

Step 2: Reserve and register the business name in your state

Should your search efforts establish that your business name is available, you can proceed to reserve and register it. This process varies by state and business structure.

Generally, most states require that you formally register a business name if the business is a corporation, limited liability company (LLC), general, and limited partnership, or nonprofit. Some states don’t require the formal registration of a partnership business name. Finally, all states don’t require that you register the name of a sole proprietorship as long as you’re using your legal name as DBA.

Make sure to check the naming guidelines of your state before you reserve and register a business name with a registered agent or county clerk in your area.

  • Reserving a business name

You can reserve a business name if you just want to put a hold on the business name but not incorporate the business immediately. Make sure that you check the reservation period of your state.

  • Registering a business name

You can only register a business name while incorporating the business. The incorporation process involves submission of articles of organization in the case of an LLC or articles of incorporation in the case of a corporation.

While some states allow you to complete the registration online, others require that you file paper documents. You can do so in person or via mail.

Step 3: Trademark your business name

While a business name, or trade name protects other people from trading using a similar name, a state or federal trademark protects your entire brand against competitive usage.

For example, a trader won’t be allowed to put your brand name on their products without your consent. A trademark, therefore, adds another layer of protection to your business.

Again, you can trademark a business name at state or federal level. The process involves filing for a trademark with the USPTO. But this should only be done once the business is formally registered. Thus, it should be the final step before you’re legally considered to be conducting business in a state. Further, once you have registered your business, and filed with the USPTO, your trade name will be officially processed and stored in the national or state trademark database.

Can you register a business name for free?

People often have FAQs about how to register a business name for free.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a single state that allows traders to register business names for free. That said, the cost of registering a business name is generally low, albeit with varying figures in each state.

Oftentimes you won’t pay more than $300 to register a business name regardless of state or business structure. More specifically, registering a business name for a corporation or LLC will set you back between $50 and $300. If it’s a sole proprietorship that you want to run under a DBA, then you’ll simply need to pay a filing fee. It’s typically anywhere between $10 and $100. Trademarking your business name and brand will cost an extra $225 to $275.

Conclusion: 

In summary, the process of registering a business name is pretty straightforward. And in many cases, you may find yourself spending more time choosing the perfect company name, rather than the registration process. Nonetheless, you only need to do a name search, then register the name if it’s available and finally you can trademark it as well.

Remember, the exact steps vary from state to state and also depending on the business structure. However, all states allow you to skip name registration if you’re setting up a sole proprietorship. In that case, you can get the business up and running using nothing but a DBA.

While there’s no way to register a business name for free, the associated costs are affordable. You generally won’t have to pay more than $300 to register a business name, regardless of which state you choose to operate in. The same goes for trademarking your business name and brand.

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