The process of registering a business name takes three steps. First, you’ll need to perform a name search. Then you’ll have to register that name, after which you can trademark it as your business name.
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. Other forms of businesses, including LLCs, must register a business name.
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. The good thing is that you can change your mind about the name any time.
Do You Have to Register a Business Name?
Most states require that you register the name of a corporation, limited liability company (LLC), 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 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 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:
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), 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.
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 protects other people from trading using a similar name, a 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.
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.
Can You Register a Business Name for Free?
People often ask 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.
In summary, the process of registering a business name is pretty straightforward. You only need to do a name search, then register the name if it’s available and finally you can trademark it as well.
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 of how 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. The same goes for trademarking your business name and brand.