For many of us, choosing a business name can be as tricky as naming our first child.
That’s why my kids are named LLC, LP, and there’s a Corp on the way.
But seriously, how long have you been agonizing over your business name?
It’s your baby, after all, and the name you pick will (hopefully) be with you for life.
But even when you’re sure you’ve found the perfect name, one that rolls of your tongue as smoothly as two ballroom dancers floating across a dance floor—a working equilibrium, suitable for your logo, merchandise, and shopfront sign—that’s just your first step.
Yep, you still have a bit of a mountain to climb.
Like checking state availability, securing a federal trademark, and registering your name.
But don’t worry, we’re going to tell you exactly how to register your business name and what to look out for along the way! (This guide is specific to U.S.-based business owners; if you are based elsewhere, you’ll need to check with your government’s requirements.)
Why You Should Register Your Business Name
When you come up with the perfect name for your business, my advice is to register it as quickly as possible, regardless of whether you’re ready to file your business structure.
I say this because you’ll legally own your future business name, within your state, at a national level, and online in the form of your domain. Once that’s done, your name is safe and secure.
And for all you future sole proprietors out there, the only way you can register your business is by registering your actual name. You do have an option of trading under a different name, known as DBA (doing business as), but you’ll still need to register.
I’ll tell you all you need to know about a DBA and an SP at the end of this post.
But first, what if you don’t register your business name?
What Might Happen if You Don’t Register Your Business Name?
If you start a business without registering your name, any or all of the following 3 scenarios could happen!
- If you use a name that another company has trademarked, they could sue you for trademark violation. Ouch!
- When the time comes, and you’re ready to expand your brand across numerous marketing platforms, someone else could have bought your name—and repurchasing can be ridiculously expensive. Double ouch!!
- Your business could be mistakenly associated with another company with an unwanted result. (I have a humorous personal example for you later.)
Of course, you want to avoid all of those scenarios.
Please allow me to explain how:
How to Register Your Business Name in 2 Simple Steps
You have 4 name registration options, each providing your name with alternative protection levels and serving a different purpose.
Some of which might be legally required depending on your location and business structure.
- As an Entity: At the state level.
- As a Trademark: At federal level.
- As a DBA (Doing Business As): This doesn’t provide legal protection but might be legally required in your state.
- As a Domain: Protecting your business website address.
All 4 name registration options are legally independent, and most small businesses choose to use the same name for each registration option—but, it’s not a requirement in most states.
NOTE: We have 50 states in this beautiful country of ours, and all are slightly different, especially when it comes to just about absolutely everything legal (including taxes). So, you must double-check your business name registration requirements with your state’s website.
(I’ve added the links throughout this post.)
But before we talk about your registration options, let’s ensure your name is suitable and available:
Step 1. Before Registering, Do Your Research
You’ve finally decided on your new business name, and everyone agrees it’s perfect. But before you pop the champagne, check its availability, the online competition, or if a similar one’s being used to promote an activity you might not want to be confused with.
Research for the following:
- Name Uniqueness
- State availability
- Trademark availability
- URL availability
- Name association and competition
The following search tactics will uncover everything you need to know about your future business name:
Search #1. Run a business entity name search
Before you try and register your name, you should carry out a “Business Entity Name Search” because if you try to file one already registered, your application will be denied.
You can do this on either your state Secretary of State Website or your state’s Business Formation Agency Website. The one you use will depend on the state you live in. Once there, look for the option to conduct a “business entity search.”
Alternatively, use this handy business name search tool.
NOTE: The majority of our 50 states require you to carry out a “State-Level Name Search” if you are starting a formal business structure, such as an LLC, corporation, filing a name reservation form for an LLC or a corporation, and if you want to file a DBA (doing business as) for an existing business, formal or informal.
However, some states don’t require you to carry out a “State-Level Name Search” if you are filing for an informal business structure, such as a general partnership or sole proprietorship.
My advice: Check your state’s website for requirements.
Search #2. Check your name’s trademark availability
Excellent, your name is available in your state; next, carry out a federal trademark search on the United States Patent & Trademark Office website.
Searching only takes a minute and will inform you whether someone else has already trademarked your chosen name. If not, you then have the option of trademarking it yourself.
Prices for trademarking a name at a state level range from $50-$150 plus legal fees, and at a federal level, $225-$400 plus legal fees.
Once you’ve confirmed your business name is trademark free or secure, you can procure your domain:
Search #3. Secure your domain
Whether you’re a physical Mom & Pop store or an online startup, I’m 99% certain you’re going to need a website in the future.
To secure yours, carry out a free domain name search, and if available, buy it. Your average domain name typically costs less than $14.99 per year.
Buying your domain is a wise investment because if you don’t, someone else could, and it’ll cost you an awful lot more to repurchase!
And even if you don’t have a website now, you can use your domain as your professional email address. (You can head to Tailor Brands to both get your domain and set up your business mailbox.)
Search #4. Search the web just to be sure!
Before you go to the expense of securing your domain or buying a trademark, go online, type in your desired business name, and see what results pop up.
Check numerous platforms, like Google, Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and anywhere else you might use for future marketing campaigns.
You’re looking to confirm that there aren’t numerous other brands using similar names, because if there are, you might find standing out from the crowd extremely challenging.
Or worse, you might find another company using your name on a different URL, such as.ORG or .NET, that you don’t want sitting next to your listing.
This exact thing happened to me when registering what I believed to be the perfect name for my business.
When I searched on Google, the top 3 results were all for a rather public and proud naturist society, along with several bare-assed smiling pictures. While I have absolutely nothing against the birthday suit (right place, right time, of course), this wasn’t the first impression I wanted my future clients to have!
Step 2. Choose and Register Your Business Structure
Congrats, you’ve chosen the perfect business name. It’s unique, available, and your online search hasn’t uncovered anything overly concerning; now’s the time to select your business structure and register your company name.
A business structure can either be formal or informal:
Your options are an LLC (limited liability company), LP (limited partnership), corporation, non-profit, sole proprietorship, or a non-formal partnership.
And each one determines how your business will be set up, ran, and ultimately taxed, along with benefits, advantages, disadvantages, listing requirements, and naming rules.
Your choice of business structure and location also determines your business name registration requirements. You can find out more on your state website; it’s worth your time to look, as this information makes the process a whole lot easier.
And depending upon your choice of business structure, you might not need to register at all. Imagine that!
One example being if you conduct business using your legal name (a sole proprietorship).
However, you could miss out on legal benefits, tax reliefs, and liability protection by not registering your business, so think before making any lasting decisions.
A quick note on registered agent requirements:
If you register your business as an LLC, LP, corporation, partnership, or non-profit, you’re required by law to have a registered agent in your state before you file.
A registered agent is a person authorized to receive official papers on your business’s behalf and must be located in your state of registration.
You require a registered agent because of due process. If a lawsuit is filed against you, courts cannot proceed until your business has been officially notified; to do that, they require a registered address. You can be your company’s registered agent, use your accountant (as I do), or even hire an agency.
NOTE: The rules for registering business structures vary from state to state, so always check your state’s regulations.
Registering your business as an LLC or LP (Limited partnership):
Rules governing LP’s and LLC’s vary from state to state, so, as always, check with your state.
Here are some of the most common ones:
- When registering an LLC, your business name must include the phrase “Limited Liability Company” or the LLC abbreviation
- You can’t include words that might cause others to confuse your business with a government agency, like the (DEA, State Department, or FBI, etc.)
- Including certain restricted words in your business name, like Bank or University, requires additional paperwork and authorization
Some states also require you to complete the following steps:
- File your paperwork and pay your fees: Your primary paperwork is called an Article of Organization. It’s a detailed description of your business’s purpose and set up, including who’s involved, business trading address, etc. It also protects your business, as you govern by your own rules, like management structure and ownership percentage.
- Get the required license and permits: See your state requirements and ensure you follow them.
- Publish a notice of intent: Only a few states require this. As before, check your state regulations.
Registering your business as a corporation
It delights me to tell you that registering a corporation is surprisingly straightforward.
Here’s what you do:
- Choose a state-compliant business name: As with an LLC, your state has designations, such as that your name must include the term “Corporation” or “Corp.”
- Appoint your board of directors: Again, the rules vary from state to state, so check them before proceeding. However, one that seems to run throughout the US is: An owner can be a director, but a director does not have to be an owner.
- Assign a registered agent: As you now know, this can be you, a fellow director, someone you trust, or a registered agent agency.
- Complete and file your articles of incorporation: You file these with your state’s business filing agency.
- Obtain any required permits and licenses: See your state requirements and ensure you follow them.
Registering your business name is automatically part of the corporation filing process. So, once you’ve filed for a corporation, your name is registered.
Registering your business as a non-profit
A non-profit organization can register its structure in 4 ways:
- As an incorporated association
- As a corporation
- As a Trust
- As a limited liability company
For most non-profit groups, a corporation is the most advantageous. Still, depending on circumstances, sometimes a trust or an association might be the best fit.
And it should come of no surprise to you when I say that the rules for starting a non-profit vary from state to state.
However, these are 3 that generally apply throughout:
- File your articles of incorporation: Usually filed through your Secretary of State Website and requiring necessary information about your intended non-profit, such as your name, what you do and the locations you plan to raise funds, etc.
- Register with all appropriate states: Straightforward if you’re physically fundraising in only one state. But, it can quickly become a problem when fundraising via the internet, as you must register in all states where you’re receiving donations and apply for tax-exempt status. Again, my best advice, do your research.
- Apply to the IRS for your tax-exempt status: Make this one of your top priorities, as it can take up to one year to receive approval, and search the IRS website for further information.
Thinking of Using a Sole Proprietorships or a General Partnership?
As previously mentioned, a sole proprietorship is an informal business structure and doesn’t require the same registration procedures as an LLC, LP, corporation, or non-profit. However, the downside to a sole proprietorship is that you and your business are the same, meaning you’re liable if litigation should occur and your assets are not protected.
Usually, the business structure operates under the owner’s last name; however, you can trade using a fictitious name by applying for a DBA (Doing Business As).
NOTE: A DBA is often required if you’re opening a bank account for your business. Registering one also ensures no one else in your state can use the same name.
A General Partnership’s is similar to a sole proprietorship, the only difference being that there’s more than one person.
A Partnership’s business name must be the last names of any partners involved, but as with a sole proprietorship, you can file for a DBA.
What You Need to Know About a DBA
Use if the shoe doesn’t fit!
Suppose the phrase Limited Liability Company, Corporation, or the LLC and LP abbreviations don’t quite suit your business style or branding. Let’s face it. They can sound a little too formal, especially for social media campaigns; if so, you can apply to use a name more fitting by filing for a DBA.
How you apply for a DBA:
You can apply for a DBA through your Secretary of State’s Website, or if your state allows, via your Local County Clerk’s office. As always, the rules vary from State to State but don’t fret, as finding the information you need is relatively straightforward.
Ready to Register Your Business Name?
Choosing the right name for your business is probably one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make (kids aside)!
It’s because your business name is a representation of your brand’s personality, your voice, and your goals.
At first, the registration procedure can seem quite overwhelming.
But if you follow our advice, you’ll navigate your state’s requirements with relative ease. I hope we’ve been of help!
Thanks for reading; best of luck to you and your new business from all the team at Tailor Thrive.