Choosing a business name is an important step in the business planning process. Not only should you pick a name that reflects your brand identity, but you also need to ensure it is properly registered and protected for the long term. You should also give a thought to whether it’s web-ready. Is the domain name even available?
Here are some tips to help you pick, register, and protect your business name.
Factors to Consider When Naming Your Business
Many businesses start out as freelancers, solo operations, or partnerships. In these cases, it’s easy to fall back on your own name as your business name. While there’s nothing wrong with this, it does make it tougher to present a professional image and build brand awareness.
Here are some points to consider as you choose a name:
- How will your name look? – On the web, as part of a logo, on social media.
- What connotations does it evoke? – Is your name too corporate or not corporate enough? Does it reflect your business philosophy and culture? Does it appeal to your market?
- Is it unique? – Pick a name that hasn’t been claimed by others, online or offline. A quick web search and domain name search (more on this below) will alert you to any existing use.
Check for Trademarks
Trademark infringement can carry a high cost for your business. Before you pick a name, use the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s trademark search tool to see if a similar name, or variations of it, is trademarked.
Intention to Incorporate
If you intend to incorporate your business, you’ll need to contact your state filing office to check whether your intended business name has already been claimed and is in use. If you find a business operating under your proposed name, you may still be able to use it, provided your business and the existing business offer different goods/services or are located in different regions.
Pick a Name That is Web-Ready
In order to claim a website address or URL, your business name needs to be unique and available. It should also be rich in key words that reflect what your business does. To find out if your business name has been claimed online, do a simple web search to see if anyone is already using that name.
Next, check whether a domain name (or web address) is available. You can do this using the WHOIS database of domain names. If it is available, be sure to claim it right away. This guide explains how to register a domain name.
Claim Your Social Media Identity
It’s a good idea to claim your social media name early in the naming process – even if you are not sure which sites you intend to use. A name for your Facebook page can be set up and changed, but you can only claim a vanity URL or custom URL once you’ve got 25 fans or “likes.” This custom URL name must be unique, or un-claimed.
Register Your New Business Name
Registering a business name is a confusing area for new business owners. What does it mean and what are you required to do?
Registering your business name involves a process known as registering a “Doing Business As (DBA)” name or trade name. This process shouldn’t be confused with incorporation and it doesn’t provide trademark protection.
Registering your “Doing Business As” name is simply the process of letting your state government know that you are doing business as a name other than your personal name or the legal name of your partnership or corporation. If you are operating under your own name, then you can skip the process.
Learn about the requirements in your state and how to file in this Registering Your Doing Business As Name Guide.
Registering Your Doing Business As Name
Apply for Trademark Protection
A trademark protects words, names, symbols, and logos that distinguish goods and services. Your name is one of your most valuable business assets, so it’s worth protecting. You can file for a trademark for less than $300. Learn how to trademark your business name.
Register Your Business Name
Naming your business is an important branding exercise, but if you choose to name your business as anything other than your own personal name then you’ll need to register it with the appropriate authorities.
This process is known as registering your “Doing Business As” (DBA) name.
What is a “Doing Business As” Name?
A fictitious name (or assumed name, trade name or DBA name) is a business name that is different from your personal name, the names of your partners or the officially registered name of your LLC or corporation.
It’s important to note that when you form a business, the legal name of the business defaults to the name of the person or entity that owns the business, unless you choose to rename it and register it as a DBA name.
For example, consider this scenario: John Smith sets up a painting business. Rather than operate under his own name, John instead chooses to name his business: “John Smith Painting”. This name is considered an assumed name and John will need to register it with the appropriate local government agency.
The legal name of your business is required on all government forms and applications, including your application for employer tax IDs, licenses and permits.
Do I Need a “Doing Business As” Name?
A DBA is needed in the following scenarios:
- Sole Proprietors or Partnerships – If you wish to start a business under anything other than your real name, you’ll need to register a DBA so that you can do business as another name.
- Existing Corporations or LLCs – If your business is already set up and you want to do business under a name other than your existing corporation or LLC name, you will need to register a DBA.
Note: Not all states require the registering of fictitious business names or DBAs.
How to Register your “Doing Business As” Name
Registering your DBA is done either with your county clerk’s office or with your state government, depending on where your business is located. There are a few states that do not require the registering of fictitious business names.
Register With State Agencies
Some business types require registration with your state government:
- A corporation
- A nonprofit organization
- A limited-liability company or partnership
If you establish your business as a sole proprietorship, you won’t need to register your business at the state level. However, many states require sole proprietors to use their own name for the business name unless they formally file another name. This is known as a your Doing Business As (DBA) name, trade name or a fictitious name.
Changing Your Business Type
Your initial choice of a business type is not permanent. You can start out as a sole proprietorship, and if your business grows and your risk of personal liability increases, you can convert your business to an LLC.
If you change your business structure, follow the Internal Revenue Service’s instructions for Changes in Ownership or Organization.
You will also need to file new documents with your state government, and depending on state and local laws, you may also need to obtain new business licenses.