One of the fun and exciting steps of the process of starting a business is that you get to create your own business name. Your business name is one of the most public-facing aspects of your business that helps you build a brand and become more memorable to your customers.
Once you choose a business name, it’s essential to go through the process to legally register your business name and make your business legitimate in the eyes of the law. This can help you protect your business's intellectual property and enhance your reputation over time.
Here’s a closer look at how to register your business name in 2022.
How Can I Make My Business Name Legal?
When you start your business, you will want to do your research in advance to determine what the laws are in your state regarding business name registration to ensure you are using your business name legally. If you are doing business as a sole proprietor under your personal name, generally, you will not have anything additional to register name-wise. However, doing business as a sole proprietor can leave you vulnerable to certain financial risks and might cause you to miss out on some valuable tax benefits that can come from forming an LLC.
However, once you start branching out into the realm of business names that do not include your personal name in them, odds increase that at least one type of business name registration will be required. Before you start the process of registering a business name, be sure to find out if your business name is already registered; this can avoid possible complications and copyright issues.
Start by using a free business name search tool to see if your choice of business name is already taken or is still available to be registered in your state.
How to Register a Business Name
You’ve picked the name and determined you need to register it. But how? There are four primary methods to register your business name:
Doing Business As (DBA)
Each of these types of registration serves a different purpose, but not all are legally required when you are starting your new business. Let’s take a closer look at each type of registration.
Registering a business name typically happens when you form an LLC or other legal business entity; it is typically required to list an entity name when forming an LLC or corporation, and this part of the business formation process also makes the business name official.
If you are doing business as yourself, as a sole proprietor named Jane Smith, you do not have to register an entity name for Jane Smith. However, if you are Jane Smith and you are operating your business as a sole proprietorship called A+ Consulting, your state will likely require you to register A+ Consulting as a business name.
You will need to ensure your business name is unique as your state is unlikely to allow multiple businesses to register under the same name. Legally registering your entity name also helps make your business name unique and exclusive to you; it will protect your business name from being used by other businesses as their legal business name.
You can also change the name of an existing LLC or other business entity. If you need to change the name of your LLC, you will need to file Articles of Amendment with your state regulatory agency.
If you are concerned about protecting your business name at the national level, you might want to consider registering a trademark. Trademarks are industry-specific, which means that your business name will be protected from use by others in the same, or similar, industry. You can trademark your business name or even trademark popular products and services if the name is unique to your company.
If you are ready to register a trademark or just want to learn more about the process, a trademark registration service can handle all the steps for you.
A DBA (“Doing Business As”) is an alternative name you use for your business other than its official, legal name. Also called a trade name, fictitious name or assumed name, the DBA might often represent a more informal style than your business name itself. Or if you have an LLC that operates multiple lines of business, you can use a DBA for each separate business line while keeping one LLC name for the official identity of the overall company.
Despite being unofficial, the DBA still needs to be registered if you are operating your business under the assumed name. Unlike registering a legal entity name, a DBA doesn’t necessarily require that your business be formally incorporated. You can register a DBA for your sole proprietorship that operates under your own personal name without officially filing paperwork to incorporate the business or form an LLC.
Registering a DBA is usually quick and inexpensive, but keep in mind that it does not come with the same legal protections as officially creating a business as a separate legal entity (such as an LLC or C Corporation). You don’t have to choose between a DBA and an LLC; you can form an LLC and register a DBA if needed.
Registering a domain name (website URL) is important if you want your business to have an online presence. There are few legal requirements for your domain name, which makes it quite a bit easier than registering an entity name or a trademark. Your ideal first choice might be to register the domain name that matches your entity name or DBA, but this isn’t always an option. If someone else has already registered your domain name, you can’t take it without their permission.
But don’t worry — if someone else is already using the domain name that you wanted, you still have options for choosing a domain name. You can use any variation of your business name for your domain name. For example, if the domain "JaneSmithConsulting.com" is already taken, you could add a word to your business name as part of the domain name, such as AskJaneSmithConsulting.com or TrustJaneSmithConsulting.com. You could also choose a domain name that doesn’t even have your business name in it.
Ideally, you will be able to secure a domain that closely or exactly mirrors your entity name so you have greater control over your online brand presence. Registering a domain name is simple and can be done at any time; start the process by checking GoDaddy or another reputable registrar for available domain names. Once your domain name is secure, you can begin the exciting task of building your business website.
Each of these business name registration methods can be helpful to create your business as a separate standalone identity and brand. But if you want the highest level of protection, financial advantages, tax benefits and separation of your personal and business finances, you should consider forming an LLC or incorporating your business as a corporation. If you’re a sole proprietor, registering a business name is one important way to stay in compliance with state regulations, but forming an LLC or other legal business entity can help you get other benefits like an Employer ID Number and a business bank account and make it easier to track your tax-deductible business expenses and more.
Ben Gran is a freelance writer from Des Moines, Iowa. Ben has written for Fortune 500 companies, the Governor of Iowa (who now serves as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture), the U.S. Secretary of the Navy, and many corporate clients. He writes about entrepreneurship, technology, food and other areas of great personal interest.