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Your business name is a core part of your brand identity and significantly impacts its perceived value. It defines what your brand stands for and helps you connect with the aspirations of your target audience.
However, there’s a solid legal aspect to business names as well. If you don’t follow the legal route for naming and registering your business name, any competitor can misuse your identity and take advantage of your brand’s goodwill.
This article will discuss how you can register a business name and conduct your operations without legal problems.
Let’s dive in.
Why Registering A Business Name Is Worth It
Registering a business name is not a mandatory requirement for doing business in most US states. However, even if your state doesn’t require you to register your business name, you should do it because of the numerous benefits it offers.
Let’s quickly discuss some of them.
Gives Your Business An Official Identity
Have you ever seen a business without a name? Registering a business name provides your company an official identity. It allows you to conduct formal business operations and deal with clients professionally. Additionally, your company’s official name is at the core of its brand identity as well. This is why it should resonate with your business values and product offers.
Provides You Legal Protection
Registering a business name provides you legal protection and allows you to defend your company against lawsuits and any other legal issues.
Additionally, a registered business name allows you to design your official company stationary like business cards and letterheads and use it in your digital and print marketing campaigns without any legal problems.
Plus, registering your business name formally allows you to use that name for trademark applications, further protecting your brand and company.
Secures Your Brand’s Reputation
If you operate a business without registering its name with the relevant authorities, other companies can use your business name for their projects.
This can confuse your customers and even result in identity theft where some other brand uses your brand’s goodwill to see their products.
By registering the business’s name, you can operate with the confidence that no other company can ruin your reputation by using the same one.
And if someone else uses your registered business name, you have the right to take legal action against them.
As a result, your brand’s reputation is more secure when you officially register your business name.
Allows You To Open Company Bank Accounts
You can’t start a company without registering a business name. And without a company, you can open your official company bank accounts.
This can be a significant hurdle in your business expansion plans because you’ll require a company bank account to receive business-to-business payments. Similarly, you’ll need official bank accounts to process employee payroll. And even as a small business, you need to keep your business and personal finances separate and distinct.
Many online financial services and software also require official company credentials to register business users.
Without a formally registered business, you’ll find it difficult to run the day-to-day operations once your company starts growing.
Brings Consistency To Your Online Presence & Branding
Registering a business name plays a crucial role in your branding strategy.
How? Let me explain.
Suppose you’re running a business without formally registering its name. You also have a website, social media accounts, and other brand assets such as your stationery, letterheads, cards, etc.
Since your business name is unregistered, any other company can use and even register it. As a result, they can claim ownership of your social media accounts on platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc., by showing their official business registration documents. This might force you to choose a different business name for your social profiles.
Even if it doesn’t reach that stage and you’re allowed to run your social media accounts and website with the same old name, you’d still have to change your official business name because another company now owns it.
Simply register your business name and then build your digital brand assets to avoid all this hassle, knowing that no one can claim ownership because the name is legally yours.
The Investment Needed To Register A Business Name
Registering a business name is a multi-step process that involves several departments and policy considerations.
The business name registration process and associated fees vary from state to state in the US. For example, the duration and cost of registering a business name in Illinois is different from registration in California. States typically charge a fee based on your business structure and type.
For a general idea, it can cost you anywhere from $100 to $700 to register a business name in the US, depending on the state.
But those are only the state fees.
Most businesses hire legal services or agents to register their business. This is a good option because agents understand their state’s legal requirements and help you register a name faster.
But you must consider their service fees while evaluating the overall cost of registering a business name.
An even better option (which we recommend) is to use a professional online business name registration service like LegalZoom, which handles the complete registration process and provides you helpful resources and tools to make your job easier.
LegalZoom is a legal services company that helps you find the right business name, register it in your desired states, handle all the paperwork on your behalf, and even provide counsel services. In addition, LegalZoom can also take care of forming your business structure. For example, if you want to become an LLC, their services cover that.
Prices start at $79 plus state fees.
So overall, registering a business name anywhere in the US isn’t very expensive. However, the complete process is slightly complex if you’re unfamiliar with different business types and their legal obligations.
5 Steps to Register a Business Name
The process of registering a business name in the US varies a bit depending on your state. In most states, you’ll register your business name with the relevant Secretary of State office.
However, apart from the state-specific laws and costs, the overall process of registering a business name can be divided into five broad steps.
Let’s discuss each one.
Step 1: Determine If You Need To Register Your Business Name
Before registering a business name, you need to check if you even need to do it in the first place.
Registering a business name has apparent advantages. But it’s not necessary for doing business.
For example, if you own a small business that operates in a limited geographic location and has no legal requirements for an official business name, you can continue without registering.
Similarly, you can consider avoiding the registration process if you don’t plan to expand your business or use a generic name that doesn’t require branding.
However, registering a business name is crucial for all other formal businesses that intend to grow their operations and wish to protect their brand image.
Step 2: Ensure Your Business Name Availability
After you decide you need an official business name, the first thing to do is check if your desired name is available.
You should check your desired business name for multiple availability types.
First, check if the name you want to use is already registered by another company in your state. You can do that by searching for business entities on your state’s Secretary of State website.
Search requirements can vary depending on your business needs. For example, a unique and available name is required for:
- Filing for formal business structures like LLCs and corporations
- Filing a name reservation for an LLC or corporation before filing
- Filing a DBA (“doing business as” or “fictitious name”) for an existing business, both formal or informal
Assuming that you want to register your company as an LLC (we’ll discuss this shortly), you’ll need to come up with a unique and available business name for registration.
If your current name is already taken or “confusingly similar” to an existing company’s name, you’ll have to think of something else.
Trademarks are the other crucial factor to consider while searching for your business name availability. If you’re wondering what’s the difference between trademarks and business names, let me explain.
A registered business name means that you are the official owner of that name, and no other company or business entity can use it.
A trademark, however, has a much broader scope. For example, it can cover business names, logos, brand colors, product/service names, etc.
It is possible that a business name is not registered in any state but has been trademarked by someone.
In that case, you can’t use it for your business.
Search for it on the US Trademark Electronic Search System website to check whether your desired name has a trademark.
Step 3: Evaluate Your Business Name For Branding
Once you’re satisfied that your desired business name is available for registration and has not been trademarked by any other company, you need to evaluate it from a branding perspective.
There are a couple of things to do here.
First, search for your desired business name on Google and see what comes up. The goal here is to ensure that no negative search results are associated with your desired business name.
Examples of negative search results are past new reports about businesses with similar names, adult or inappropriate pages showing up for your keyword, or any other undesirable pages that might hurt your brand’s credibility.
Make sure Google returns positive or largely neutral search results for your keyword.
The other thing to ensure is that the name you choose is not associated with any other company or negative event. It should also not be similar to any other brand’s name. Otherwise, it can confuse your target audience and harm your marketing campaigns.
And finally, you should also ensure that your desired business name can be used for building your digital assets like a website and social media accounts.
New businesses often register their names without checking domain availability. Unfortunately, this hurts their branding strategy when they discover that their desired domain name is already taken.
The same goes for social media handles on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
If your desired domain name is already taken, either negotiate with the domain owner for a transfer or develop a different business name to avoid confusion once you set up your online presence.
Step 4: Choose Your Business Structure
Once you’re satisfied that your desired business name is available and in line with your branding strategy, it’s time to decide the type of business you want to register.
This is crucial because every business type has its advantages and disadvantages and is designed for various needs.
Plus, every business structure has a different registration cost.
Here are the four main types of business structures you can choose from:
- Limited Liability Companies (LLCs)
- C Corporations
- Sole Proprietorships
- General Partnerships
Since this is a slightly technical step, we recommend using LegalZoom’s services to simplify it. Its legal team will connect with you to understand your goals and suggest the best route forward.
Additionally, they’d handle all the documentation on your behalf and let you focus on your core business operations.
Step 5: Commence The Business Name Registration Process
Now that you’ve chosen a business structure, it’s time to start the registration process for your business name.
For demonstration, we’ll cover the registration process of an LLC, the most common business registration type for small and medium-sized businesses.
1. Name Your LLC (If you’ve gotten this far, you should already be set!)
2. Choose a Registered Agent (an individual or entity)
3. File the Articles of Organization
4. Create an Operating Agreement (not every state requires one)
5. Get an EIN
Once again, LegalZoom will simplify these steps to a great extent.
Registering a business name is only the first step of legally protecting your business and formalizing its operations. Once you complete the registration process, immediately take steps to secure your brand’s digital assets, such as your domain name and social media profiles.
Secondly, consider trademarking your business name, logo, and other brand assets so that no one can use them without your written consent.
In the third stage, you can also consider trademarking your products and services or any unique offerings that are synonymous with your business.