Registering a Business
- Starting a Business
Selecting a business name is an important step. Not only should you pick something that reflects your brand identity, but you also need to ensure it's 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.
Things to consider as you choose a name:
- How will your name look? Consider how it will appear on the internet, as part of a logo, and 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 internet 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.
If You Intend to Incorporate
If you intend to incorporate your business, you’ll need to contact your state filing office to check whether your chosen 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 in different regions.
Pick a Name That is Web-Ready
To claim a website address or URL, your business name needs to be unique and available. It should also be rich in keywords that reflect what your business does. To find out if your business name has been claimed online, do a simple online 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's available, be sure to claim it right away.
Claim Your Social Media Identity
It’s a good idea to claim your social media name early in the naming process – even if you're 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 unclaimed.
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.
Naming your business is important for branding purposes, 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 a "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. 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 through the State Corporation Commission
An Employer Identification Number or EIN (also known as a Federal Employer Identification Number or Federal Tax Identification Number) is issued by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS). You'll use your EIN when you pay employees and file business tax returns. It is often also required for other business purposes, such as opening a bank account or obtaining a loan. Your EIN is a unique identifier for your business - it does not expire and, once a number has been assigned to a business, it is never issued again.
If you're a sole proprietor and don't have any employees, you may use your personal Social Security Number in place of an Employer Identification Number. However, you may still consider obtaining an EIN - it's a fast and easy way to protect your Social Security Number.
Before you apply for your EIN, you should have already determined what type of legal structure you will be using for your business (for instance, sole proprietor, corporation, etc.).
You may apply for an EIN from the IRS either online, by fax, or by mail. Applying online should take no more than 15 minutes, and you'll receive your EIN right away. If you're not a resident of the U.S. and don't have a Social Security Number or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), you won't be able to apply online - you may only apply by fax or by mail using Form SS-4.
If you have a fax number, write it in bold at the top of your application. The IRS will be able to fax your EIN back to you typically within four days. Applying for your EIN by mail may take two to four weeks.
Individual Taxpayer Identification Number
If you're not a resident of the U.S. and don't have, or are not eligible for, a Social Security Number, you may need an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). While having an ITIN is not required to apply for an Employer Identification Number, it will enable you to apply for an EIN online and may be necessary for the purposes of paying taxes and other business transactions. Review the IRS website to learn more about how to apply for an ITIN.