Registering a business name is not free. You have to pay filing fees to legally record your business name. The fees vary by state, but, generally, it should be less than $300. That said, if your business operates under your legal name, you don’t have to register it at all, technically allowing you to conduct business under an official name “for free.”
What Is a Business Name?
A business name is the official name of a business entity that’s legally registered in documents filed and submitted to the state the business operates in.
While businesses only need one business name, some can register a DBA or “doing business as,” also known as an assumed, fictitious, or trade name. This allows the business to operate under an identifier other than the owner’s legal name or the registered business name, while still being recognized as one legal entity. Learn more about starting a business.
Why Do I Need to Register My Business Name?
Your business name is one of your business’s best assets. It’s your identifier—not just for your brand and your customers, but for all of your legal documents, accounts, advertising, etc. So it’s important to protect it to make sure that all your hard work goes into a unique brand that’s legally yours.
Registering a business name also protects you from some liabilities, on top of granting you several legal and tax benefits.
How to Register a Business Name
Registering a business name often goes hand-in-hand with registering a business. How to do it depends on the type of business you have, as well as the location you’re operating from (or at least registering it in).
Step 1: Choose a Business Name
Choosing a business name doesn’t stop with creating a unique brand. You also have to make sure that no one else is registered with the same identifier. Take a look at the state’s business registry to see if there are businesses already registered with the name you choose. If there are none, you can immediately register your business name or have it reserved. Note that some states require you to reserve names before registration—check to see if this is needed in your state.
Step 2: Determine Your Type of Business
The type of business you conduct can be categorized into different business structures or entities. These categories affect your day-to-day operations, company structure, protections and liabilities, and how you pay your taxes:
- A sole proprietorship is the default business structure. It involves one owner whose personal and business assets and liabilities are not separated.
- A partnership is similar to a sole proprietorship but involves two or more owners. It only differs if the partnership is limited, a structure wherein one partner is exposed to personal liabilities while the rest only accept limited liabilities.
- A limited liability company (LLC) is a business entity where one or more owners are protected from company liabilities. Both their business’ profits and losses are taxed as personal income or loss to the owners.
- A corporation protects its owners the most from company liabilities because the business is registered as an entity separate from its owners (i.e. shareholders).
The business structure affects if and how you need to register your business name. Sole proprietorships or partnerships don’t need to have their business names registered if they’re using the owner’s legal name to operate. Otherwise, they must register a DBA.
Limited partnerships, LLCs, and corporations must register their business names. But this step is typically done hand-in-hand with filing their statement of limited partnership, articles of organization, or articles of incorporation.
Step 3: Register Your Business Name
The requirements for registering a business name differ by city, county, and state. Some areas require you to register in each one, especially if there’s a need for permits to operate.
Generally, though, if you’re a limited partnership, LLC, or corporation, you must register your business name at the state level, usually through a registered agent. Some states allow business name registration online, while others require you to submit physical documents.
Fees also depend on the place you’re in, but these typically don’t go over $300.
Stay Up-To-Date With Business Requirements
Registering a business name is an essential step to ensure that your brand stands out. But it also protects your business from other entities that might have similar identifiers. While registering a business name isn’t free, it’s a fairly straightforward process. That said, stay up-to-date with business requirements in the area you’re conducting business, so you’re sure that everything is done by the book.