Registering a Business Name: What You Need to Know
Every business requires a business name. You can’t run an entity that has no name. If you could, then it wouldn’t be a very successful one, for that matter. You would struggle to get customers to buy from you since they wouldn’t know how to find you. Your business would essentially have no identity.
As you form your new entity, you need to go through the process of choosing, registering, and protecting your business name seriously. But how do you select a name that reflects what your entity is about and best describes what you offer? How do you register it with the state to prevent others from stealing or copying it?
How to Register a Business Name
The process you follow to register a business name depends on your business structure, location, and the degree of protection you need. This post will look into things you want to keep in mind when choosing and registering a business name.
Tips for Choosing a Business Name
Before registering your business name, take some time to find the one that communicates best what your entity offers. Sit down with your co-founders or partners and brainstorm on worthwhile business names. Remember that you’ll live with this business name for years to come, so try not to rush the selection process.
Your goal during this time should be to gather as many names as possible. Afterward, you can begin ruling them out one by one based on factors such as preference, scalability, and simplicity. Try not to approve nor shoot down any names during the brainstorming process, despite how bad they may sound. See how to choose a business name for more tips on choosing a business name.
How to Conduct a Name Search
Once you find a business name you like, your next task should be to ensure it is available to use. Most states won’t allow you to register a name already in use with another business. Conduct a name search on social media and search engines to check if another business entity is already using it.
You can also search on your state’s Secretary of State website. Most Secretary of State websites offer a name search tool that allows you to check whether the business name is registered. Alternatively, you can search on the USPTO (the United States Patent and Trademark Office) database to see if any entity is using a similar name.
Ways to Register a Business Name
Let’s say you select a good business name and no other entity uses it. You’ll need to register it with your state to safeguard it and conduct business operations under it.
There are four ways to register a business name depending on your business structure, location, and purpose. Let’s look at them one by one:
Entity registration protects your business name at the state level. No other organization in your state can register under your business name. They may, however, register with it in another state.
The entity registration process to follow depends on your state and your chosen business structure. In the case of a corporation, you’ll need to file articles on incorporation. You should also appoint a board of directors and create corporate bylaws, among other requirements. An LLC, by contrast, will call for articles of organization.
You can also register your business name as a DBA if you conduct operations with a trade or fictitious business name. A fictitious name is one that does not contain any of the owner’s names.
DBA registration doesn’t offer any legal protection. Most states may require you to register as a DBA if you use a trade name and operate specific business structures, for example, sole proprietorship and general partnerships.
You should also register a DBA if you conduct business under a name different from the one you used to register with the state. For example, let’s say you run an LLC called Lexicorp Consultancy Limited. If you want to do business under Lexi Consultants, you should file for a DBA.
You can register a DBA through your state’s Secretary of State website or your local city or county clerk office. The requirements may vary from one state to another, so it’s best to check with yours before registration.
Registering a domain name doesn’t prevent other entities from registering with it in your state. It does, however, prevent them from using your domain name to open a website URL. This registration method helps protect your business name online.
Another advantage of registering a domain name is you don’t have to use your DBA or legal business name. For instance, say your legal business name is Lexicorp Consultants Limited. You can register your domain name as lexiconsultants.com or consultantsatlexicorp.com. There are no limitations.
Trademarking can protect your business name at the federal level. This registration method is not a requirement by the state. But it prevents any entity in the United States from registering under your business name or using it for any business operations.
The process to trademark your business name is pretty straightforward. You can apply online on the USPTO (the United States Patent and Trademark Office)
Here is the process to follow when trademarking your entity’s name:
The first step you need to take is to search for your business name on the USPTO’s database to ensure it isn’t already registered as a trademark. Try searching on the USPTO’s Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS).
Your trademark application might get rejected if your name is the same or is similar to another in the USPTO’s federal database.
2. Apply for a Trademark
Now, let’s assume your business name isn’t similar to any other on the USPTO’s database. You can proceed to apply for a trademark. Here is the information required for your trademark application:
- Applicant’s name and address
- Applicant’s legal address and citizenship
- The desired trademark
- Description of the mark
- An example of the mark being used and date of first use in conducting business
- Your dated signature
- The mark’s category of services or goods.
Once you finish your trademark application, you can choose one of two filing options. The first is the TEAS Plus, that’s more cost-effective and has lower rejection rates. You can also pick TEAS Standard, which allows you to customize your goods or services description, among other benefits.
The cost for trademark registration ranges from $275 to $325. After you submit your application, USPTO will issue you a confirmation receipt and serial number. You can use the number to check your application’s status in the TSDR (Trademark Status & Document Retrieval) portal.
How to Reserve a Business Name
If you choose a business name but are not ready to register it yet, you can reserve it for a short period. Name reservation prevents other entities from registering under that name while giving you time to get ready to register your entity. It establishes your intentions to use that name once your register.
The timeframe for reserving a business name may vary from one state to another. For example, in California, you can reserve it for 60 days. In New Jersey, it’s 120 days.
To reserve your business name, you first need confirmation from your state’s Secretary of State that the name is available. You can’t reserve a business name already in use with another entity in your state.
Other Tips for Securing Your Business Name
Even before you decide to register or reserve your business name, there are various things you can do to discourage other people from reusing the name. These steps, however, only minimize the chances that someone registers your business name. They don’t prevent them from doing so.
1. Register Domain Name
As mentioned above, registering a domain name prevents other people from opening a website using your domain name.
To register a domain name, go to a domain name registrar such as GoDaddy. Enter the domain name you want to see if it is available, then pay the required fee to register it.
You can’t register a domain name that’s already in use with another website. Once you register the domain name, you’ll have to pay the fee annually or biannually. For more see, How To Register a Domain Name For Your Business.
2. Open Social Media Profiles
You can also open social media accounts with your business name to minimize the chances of someone else using it. Most people usually check on search engines and social media to see if a business name they want is available. They will, in most cases, opt for another business name if they see you are using that particular name.
As you open your social media accounts, you want to give people the impression that your pages are active. You can follow other users, post once in a while, and like and comment on other people’s posts. You can also start promoting your business if your ultimate goal is to register and grow the business.
When starting a business, one of the initial steps you need to take is choosing a business name for your entity. Select a unique and memorable name that reflects what your entity offers.
There are four ways to register a business name. You can register as an entity with your state, apply for a DBA, register as a domain name, or trademark the business name. The method you choose depends on your business structure, the degree of protection you want, and the purpose of registration.
You can also reserve your business name for a short period if you are not ready to register yet. The reservation fee and timeframe may vary from state to state, so it’s better to check with your Secretary of State. If you want to minimize the chances of someone else using your business name, try opening social media accounts or registering a domain name.