Registering Your Business Name: A Quick Guide

If you've researched how to start a business, you've likely found mountains of information that make the process seem challenging. Starting your business is an exciting time, full of opportunity. The last thing you need is the hassle of complex research and endless forms. With 332,000 new businesses formed in the second quarter of 2023 alone, competition is fierce. If you act quickly, you can register your business name before someone else.

Registering a business name can be straightforward. With some simple tips, you can easily navigate the process and start running.

It's All in the Name: Why a Unique Business Name Matters

When you register your business name, you’re setting the tone for your brand. It should represent your vision, mission and values in a way that appeals to your target market. The process is more complex than finding an original name — the right business name helps you stand out, bringing your branding together and creating unforgettable associations with your target audience. Choose a name that reflects your business identity and connects with your products or services.

Aside from creating a robust identity your target audience can connect with, registering your business name serves as protection. When you formalize your business by turning it into a legal corporation, you protect your assets. It gives your business a reputational boost and unlocks some significant tax benefits. As your business grows, a unique, registered name provides credibility. Customers can see how long you’ve been in business based on your registration date.

Another critical factor to consider is the digital world in which businesses operate. A strong registered name can catapult your brand across geographical boundaries, fostering brand recognition and supporting business growth.


The Benefits of Registering Your Business Name

When forming your business entity, you open yourself up to many advantages, including:

  • Formal business benefits: Instead of paying business taxes as a sole proprietor on your tax return, registering your business creates two separate entities. The process protects you from the personal responsibility of any debts or liabilities.
  • Tax benefits: A registered business changes your tax profile. Once a formal entity, you only have to pay tax on salaries and bonuses. You can deduct insurance premiums and other employee benefits from your taxes.
  • Financial benefits: Once you’ve registered your business, you can open a business bank account and may qualify for different loans. A company bank account is one of your most critical assets.
  • Reputational benefits: Customers want to work with credible businesses, and a formal registration gives your entity a competitive advantage.

Choosing a Business Name

You may have a fantastic idea for a business name, only to find out someone else has already registered it. While this might be frustrating, it gives you an opportunity to think of a more unique and special name. With so many registered companies out there, you need to know whether you have a new concept, so your first step should be to conduct a name availability search.

Establishing that your intended business name is unique and available is essential for:

  • Providing clarity: Customers searching for your business will be confused if they find more than one entity. A name availability search avoids customers mixing up your business with another.
  • Elevating your brand: You want your business to stand out from competitors. Let your business name speak for your brand and show potential customers what they can expect to see.
  • Avoiding trademark infringement: If you accidentally use the same business name as another company, they could sue you for trademark infringement. The process is challenging even for established businesses, so it’s the last thing a new business needs.

Business Trade Name Registration Requirements

The requirements for registering your business name depend on your business structure. Each structure requires different documentation, but you’ll still need to provide the following basic information:

  • Business name
  • Location
  • Ownership, directors and management structure
  • Registered agent information
Some states also require you to register your “Doing business as” (DBA) if you use one. A company specializing in forming business structures can help you navigate state-specific requirements.

3 Ways to Register Your Business Name


When you register a business name, you also choose your business structure. However, you can register your business name in one of three ways:

1. Form a Business Entity

You can create a corporation or limited liability company (LLC) by filling out these forms. You must also choose your legal business name, which any other company cannot use. If you register a business entity, it only protects you in the state of registration. If you expand your business across state lines, you must register your company in the new state, provided the name is available.

2. Register an Assumed Name (DBA)

Whether your business structure is a sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC or corporation, you may want to operate under a different name. In that case, you must register that name as an assumed name — also known as a fictitious name, trade name or DBA.

A business operating under a fictitious name is not necessarily a formal structure. Instead, it’s often the name you choose to give your sole proprietorship or partnership. However, if you own an existing business structure and wish to use that for your new venture, you can register a DBA and operate under that name. If you’re running your business in multiple counties, you must register your DBA in each one.

An assumed name is nothing more than a name under which you prefer to do business, that is different from the legal name of the entity.

3. Register a Trademark

Trademarks registered at the United States Patent and Trademark Office protect your business name nationwide. The process is more complex and expensive. It requires a search to ensure no trademarks exist on similar names. You must also meet comprehensive requirements to register a trademark successfully.

Your business name registration choice depends on how you structure your entity, the type of products or services you provide and the range of your operations. Small businesses operating in a single state can get enough protection by registering as a corporation or LLC.

Trademarks are generally for national businesses and are rarely appropriate for small businesses getting started.

How to Register Your Business Name: A Step-by-Step Guide

Get the ball rolling and register your business name with the following simple steps.

Determine if Your Business Name Is Available

Before you start your registration, you can do your homework and find out whether your preferred business name is an option. If it’s unavailable, you have time to devise alternatives. You can check business name availability in the following ways:

  • Work with professionals: Work with an experienced company that can simplify the registration process and ensure you meet the requirements for a successful name registration. Name availability can be an arduous process, and services like Firstep Business Solutions can greatly reduce the time, effort and frustration of determining if a name will be approved.
  • Use a search engine: Put your intended business name into a search engine and see what comes up. If other businesses operate under your intended name, you can see where they are based and whether they provide similar products or services. This can be unreliable as some businesses may be very new and not have a real online presence at the time of your search.
  • Check state and county registries: Many states do not have comprehensive name searches in one place. Unless you know all of the databases to search, this can also be an unreliable method of determining availability.
  • Search trademarks: The United States Patent and Trademark Office website allows you to search all registered trademarks nationwide to ensure you aren’t inadvertently engaging in trademark infringement.


Choose a Business Structure

Your chosen business structure impacts your tax obligations, liabilities and management. Each structure has benefits and drawbacks. Consulting a professional is always best if you need clarification on which is most advantageous to your business. Some common business structures include:

  • LLC: An LLC offers the same liability protection as a corporation but gives you more management flexibility. Owners report profits on their tax returns.
  • Corporations: Corporations are separate legal entities accountable for their own debts and liabilities. The owners comprise a group of shareholders, and profits are taxed outside their personal incomes.
  • Sole proprietorship: You are the owner and manager of the business when you choose this structure, which also makes you responsible for any debts or liabilities. You report your profits on your tax return.
  • Partnership: In this structure, two or more people share the business profits and losses. Each partner is personally responsible for their portion of any debts or liabilities and reports their profit on their tax return.

Apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN)

Apply for an EIN online by filling out this form. This number identifies your business and is a requirement for banking and tax purposes for business entities. When you apply, keep your basic business information handy, as you need to provide your business name, address and structure to complete the process.

Once you receive your EIN you may use it for any transaction that requires you to identify your business.

Obtain the Relevant Licenses

Depending on your location, products or industry, you may need to obtain various permits to operate your businesses. License requirements vary depending on your state, so it’s best to start by researching the licenses you need and checking with the associated issuing agency to confirm the requirements.

In most cases, you need to complete an application and pay a licensing fee. It may take up to six weeks for the issuing agency to approve your license, so factor the wait into your timeline.

Complete Your Registration With the State Agency

You can complete your business registration once you have all the relevant licenses and documentation. Again, the process may vary depending on your location. However, you’ll need to file paperwork and pay the registration fee. The most common steps to complete your business registration include:

  • Complete the required documentation: Your required paperwork depends on your business structure. You may have to file articles of incorporation, partnership agreements or articles of organization.
  • Register for taxes: If your chosen business structure requires, you must also register for local, state or federal taxes, which may include income, sales or payroll tax.
  • Obtain insurance: Some business registrations require you to have liability, workers’ compensation or other types of insurance.

Open a Bank Account

When you register a corporation or LLC, a business bank account is required. Make sure you have an EIN for your business, as this is required to open a business bank account. Sole proprietors and partnerships can work from their personal bank accounts. Your local bank can help you fill out the necessary paperwork. Comparing rates and perks can help you find the best provider.

Updating Records: How to Maintain Your Business Entity

Once you’ve registered your business, keeping your records updated is essential to maintain compliance. Depending on your state, you may be required to prepare an annual report or biennial statement to prove your business is still operational. This report provides an excellent opportunity to include any relevant changes like registered agents, directors or changes in address.

You are not generally required to include financial information in your annual report, but be sure to file on time as late reports often require expensive late fees and penalties.

Another part of maintaining your business entity involves declaring common changes in your business, such as restructuring, name changes, new registered agents, new addresses and contact details. You need to communicate these changes by filing an amendment to show that the company representatives agree and keep the state informed about your business structure. The Annual Report process is the perfect time to make these changes as you can often make them at no extra charge than the annual report itself.

Maintaining compliance in a registered business is complex and time-consuming. Many companies work with dedicated compliance professionals who know which paperwork to submit and when. They have peace of mind and are free to focus on business growth.

Business Registration Troubleshooting and FAQ

Whether you’re registering your first business or expanding, you likely have some queries about the process and compliance requirements. We’ve answered some common questions to provide clarity before you embark on your exciting new journey:

Are You Required to Register a Business Name?

In general, LLCs, partnerships and corporations must register with the relevant state agencies. Sole proprietorships are subject to different requirements, depending on your industry and location.

How Much Does It Cost to Register a Business?

Registration costs depend on your state and business structure. Prices vary from about $50-$600 for the state registration alone.

How Is a Legal Business Name Different From a DBA?

All businesses have a legal name. Even sole proprietorships use the owner’s name as a legal name. A DBA allows you to conduct business under a name different from the legal one. One company can use multiple DBAs, provided they are registered. The purpose of a DBA is to inform the public that you’re doing business under a different name so that they still know who owns the company and can make informed decisions about dealing with you.

How Do You Trademark Your Business’s Name?

You can trademark your business online. Start by setting up a USPTO account and filling out the online application. Pay a nonrefundable processing fee and monitor the process of your application. This is generally for national businesses and is rarely appropriate for small businesses getting started.

How Long Does It Take to Trademark a Logo?

Registering a trademark is a long and complex process. Even if you apply, there is no guarantee that your trademark will register. If your application is successful, many factors influence how long the process takes — 12 to 18 months is the standard time frame. Again, this also is generally for national businesses and is rarely appropriate for small businesses getting started.

Form Your Business in Minutes With Firstep Business Solutions

Registering and maintaining a business can take time and effort, removing your focus from growing your client base and providing the best products or services. Firstep Business Solutions is here to streamline compliance, from registering your business name to updating your records.

We’re a privately owned small business, so we understand the importance of reliable support. We approach each client as an individual, meeting your unique needs and navigating the countless websites, forms and registrations required for a compliant, functional business entity. Register your business with us and bypass the red tape today!