One of the most important parts of starting a business is figuring out what to call it. You could name your business after yourself or give it a unique name.
If you choose the latter and you're not registering as a corporation, you'll need to register your alternative moniker with the right authorities. This is known as registering a "Doing Business As" (DBA), or fictitious business name.
"Your company name should reflect who you are," said Doug Williams, of Doug Williams Digital Marketing. "When my company's business focus changed, my old name didn't make sense anymore."
Registering a DBA allows you to avoid the hassle of changing the company's legal name while still using a name that reflects your business's identity. Here are some commonly asked questions about registering a DBA name.
How do I know if I need to register a DBA?
If you plan on using a business name that differs from your real name or the name of your business partner(s), then you will need to register a DBA. The Small Business Administration (SBA) website notes that when you form a sole proprietorship or partnership, 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. You will also need to register a DBA if you are an existing LLC or corporation and wish to do business under a different name.
According to BizFilings, some other reasons for needing to register a DBA include if your bank requires it to open a business account, if a prospective client requires a DBA in order to award your company a job, if your company is entering a new business area not reflected in your current name, or if your company operates more than one business or website.
How do I file?
There is specific paperwork that needs to be filled out, as well as a filing fee. This is done with a local or county agency, but some states require you to file with a state agency instead of, or in addition to, the county. Some states and counties might require that you publish with a local newspaper giving the public notice that you have filed a DBA.
In New York, for example, sole proprietorships and general partnerships must file a business certificate listing their assumed names with the county clerk's offices. Corporations, LLCs, LLPs and limited partnerships, on the other hand, must file assumed names with the New York Department of State. In contrast, the state of Kansas has no requirements for businesses to register fictitious names.
It should be noted that not all states require you to register a DBA. Visit the Small Business Administration website to find out if your state requires you to file, and with which entities.
What happens after I file?
Once you've chosen your business's fictitious name and registered it locally, you might want to consider filing for a trademark to protect your intellectual property with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Trademarks protect words, names, symbols, sounds or colors that distinguish goods and services.
Additionally, if the paperwork and filing process seem like too much to comprehend, you can contract a business lawyer to complete all of the necessary filings to secure your DBA name. Reputable business lawyers are listed by the American Bar Association.
Upon completion of the filing, you may begin using your DBA name.
Additional reporting by Michael Keller. Some interviews were conducted for a previous version of this story.