How to Register a Business Name

Alongside drawing up a business plan and choosing a business structure, choosing and registering your business name is one of the most essential steps in starting a business. Deciding on a name that makes sense and is aesthetically pleasing can be an ordeal in itself. The other half of it is making sure to register your business name in compliance with any legal and financial requirements.

Registering your business name is a step you’ll want to do early on when starting a business. Thus, it is central that you know how to register a business name with all the required authorities and agencies. Conveniently, there are three easy ways to register a business, some of which accomplish two steps in one, such as incorporating your business and registering it in one step. Keep in mind the process varies from country to country. For example, to register a business in the UK you follow a different procedure than you would in the US, which in turn is different from registering a business in Canada.

How to Register a Business Name

Understanding how to register a business name is a critical part of starting your own business. Registering a business is a legal requirement for most business types, but it also offers benefits beyond this. A key benefit gained from business registration is protection for your business name. Once you’ve registered your business’s name, other companies cannot use it, guarding you against other businesses that might want to use a similar name.

Here are three ways to register your business name:

1. File a Doing Business As (DBA)

The easiest method of registering a business is to file a Doing Business As (DBA), also known as filing for a fictitious business name. You submit a DBA filing to your state or county clerk’s office, which usually comes with a small fee. Another common requirement is for you to publish a notice of the business name in a newspaper.

Out of the six common types of business structures, filing a DBA is most common among sole proprietors. However, if you’re a sole proprietor using your own legal name as your business name, you are not required to register the business name. Your DBA filing is especially important for when you want to open a bank account in your business’s name. Bank will require your DBA filing to move forward.

2. Create a Business Structure

An important step in starting any business is choosing the structure of your business, whether as a sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC or corporation. It also can be a crucial step in registering your business.

When you establish an LLC or corporation, you have to file the Articles of Incorporation. These documents both establish your business’s organization and registers your business’s name in the process. Take note that if you what to operate under a different name, you’ll need to file a fictitious business name or DBA with the state or county as well.

3. Trademark Your Business Name

The third method to register a business name is to trademark your name. By making your business name a registered trademark, you gain certain protections against another company trying to use the same name as yours within your state.

To make your business name a registered trademark with the federal government, you’ll file an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Your application will be rejected if another business has already trademarked a similar name. There’s also a fee for filing a trademark application based on three different options with initial application fees of $225, $275 and $400, respectively. The biggest benefit of trademarking your business name is that you get the strongest protection available against other businesses attempting to name themselves something similar.

Federal, State and Local Steps to Register Your Business

In general, most businesses don’t have to register with the federal government to become a legal entity. The main federal consideration is filing for a federal tax ID. The key exception here is when you want to trademark your business’s name as it does require filing a federal application with the USPTO.

Another exception is when you want to file a nonprofit for tax-exempt status. This is a federal-level registration that you’ll file with the IRS. In addition, if you want to establish an S corporation, then you must file Form 2553 Election by a Small Business Corporation with the IRS.

When starting and registering a business, you’ll most often deal with state-level requirements. When setting your business up as an LLC, corporation, partnership or nonprofit corporation, you will need to register with the state in which your company conducts business.

According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), the principal criteria for conducting business in a state is when:

  • The business has a physical presence in the state
  • The business frequently has in-person meetings with clients in the state
  • A substantial part of your business’s revenue comes from the state
  • Any of your employees work in the state

The majority of states require that you register your business with the office of the Secretary of State, Business Bureau or Business Agency. Many states also allow you to register online, but other states still require you file paper documents via the mail or in person.

On the local level, you don’t usually need to register your business with the city or county. What you may have to file for are licenses and permits to conduct business as LLC, corporation, partnership or nonprofit in the city or county. If you want to register your business as DBA, some counties and cities do require you file a fictitious business name with the appropriate authorities. In the end, registration, business license and permit requirements depend on the city and county, so always check local government policies when starting your business.

Depending on the state in which your company conducts business, you might have annual or biennial requirements for your business. Research state requirements by searching your state’s Secretary of State’s office website.

The Bottom Line

One of the key points to take away is the importance of the protection you gain by registering your business. While a registered trademark provides the highest level of protection, each method of business registration offers a solid level of protection for your business name. Conveniently, if you’re setting your business up as an LLC or corporation, you knock out two birds with one stone when you file Articles of Incorporation. And even if you’re a sole proprietor who doesn’t need to necessarily register your business, doing so gives you the added reassurance of protecting your business name from potential encroachment.


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