Forming an LLC is exciting.
But you can’t get past the first step of the formation process without choosing a name.
If you select a name that’s already taken or otherwise ineligible, you’ll lose out on the non-refundable application fees and have to start over from the beginning.
This scenario is easily avoidable if you run an LLC name search before filling out any business formation paperwork.
Follow the step-by-step guide below on how to do an LLC name search.
The Easy Parts of Doing an LLC Name Search
Coming up with a name for your LLC is fairly easy. Many of you probably have at least a few different ideas in mind.
But many entrepreneurs get hung up when it comes to verifying the name’s availability. There are tons of businesses out there, so there’s a chance someone else is already using the name you thought of.
Instead of manually sorting through different databases on your own, you can just use an entity name check service to handle it for you. LegalZoom is a fast and simple option to consider.
It’s really straightforward. Just enter your desired LLC name, and LegalZoom will run a comprehensive search to see if it’s available.
Best of all, the service is 100% free—no strings attached.
LegalZoom also offers LLC formation services that include a free LLC name search. Not only will they verify your name’s availability, but they’ll also fill out the appropriate paperwork and file the formation documents with your secretary of state’s office. LLC formation services from LegalZoom start at just $79 plus state filing fees.
The Difficult Parts of Doing an LLC Name Search
An LLC name search only checks the name’s availability in the state where you wish to form your business. But just because the name is available in your state, it doesn’t mean the name is available elsewhere.
This can pose some challenges if you plan to expand your business down the road. If you scale operations into another state where the name isn’t available, you may need to register a DBA name or trade name to legally conduct business in that state.
You also need to make sure you’re not infringing on someone else’s trademark. This can also make it challenging to expand your business, and you could also open yourself up to some legal liabilities here.
So expect to take some extra steps after the initial name search to ensure the name you want is truly available. To run a comprehensive search, you’ll need to check the domain name’s availability, social media profiles, and more.
Even after you’ve exhausted all potential options and confirmed you’d like to proceed with that name, you still need to go through the LLC formation process. The work is far from over after you verify the name’s availability.
Step 1 – Brainstorm Names For Your LLC
The first thing you need to do is come up with a name. Even if you have a name in mind already, you should continue brainstorming and come up with a few backup options. This way, you can run another name check ASAP if your first choice is unavailable.
There are several factors you need to consider when you’re brainstorming names for your LLC, and I’ll explain each one in greater detail below:
Check Your State Guidelines For LLC Names
You can’t name your LLC whatever you want. Each state has unique guidelines on rules for naming an LLC. So you’ll need to check those requirements to ensure your name meets the criteria.
Most states have required identifiers that you must include in the name. This usually means having words like “Limited Liability Company” or “Limited Company” included in the name. Most states allow abbreviations like “LLC” or “Limited Co.” in the name instead of the entire phrase. These requirements should be fairly easy to find on your secretary of state’s website.
In addition to the required identifiers, most states also have a list of restricted words that business owners can’t use in an LLC name. For example, you probably can’t use terms like “bank” or insurance” if your business doesn’t provide banking or insurance services. You can’t have a name similar to federal organizations either, like FDA, FBI, Treasury, and similar terms.
Think of Something Memorable and Brandable
Legal requirements aside, you should make sure your LLC name works well for your business purpose. The name should be easy to pronounce, spell, and remember for your prospective customers.
Look to global leaders like Apple, Nike, Google, Facebook, and Gucci as inspiration. As a consumer, you automatically associate these names with a product or service when you hear them. You want your LLC name to have similar brand recognition for your target audience.
If you’re creating an LLC as a holding company or something that will not be used for marketing, then this isn’t as important.
Make Sure It’s Unique and Distinctive
Most states won’t let you form an LLC using a name that’s confusingly similar to an existing business.
If the only differentiator between your desired name and an existing name is a word like “the” or “a,” then the name will likely get rejected. Plural words of a current company’s name will be rejected as well.
For example, let’s say there’s a company in your state named “Thomas and Sons Landscaping LLC.” You probably couldn’t name your business “Thomas and Son Landscapers LLC.” In this case, your name would be considered confusingly similar. The same goes for “The Corner Deli” and “A Corner Deli.”
Step 2 – Verify the Name’s Availability
Once you have a shortlist of a few names you’ve brainstormed, it’s to run the name search.
Start with your first choice, and if it’s unavailable, just work your way down the list. But if the first option is available, there’s no need to run a name check on the backup options.
Check Your State Database
Every state maintains a database of existing businesses that have legally registered in that state. In most cases, the database is available through the secretary of state’s website.
If you’re having trouble finding it, a quick Google search for “your state name + business name database” should do the trick. As an example, here is the search database for New York.
Manually checking your state’s database isn’t always easy. These online tools aren’t known for being extremely user-friendly. In some cases, your search won’t always yield results for similar names. So you may think a name is available, only to discover that it’s actually confusingly similar to an existing business after you’ve applied.
So if you plan on manually checking your state database, be prepared to run lots of searches using parts of your name and similar keywords.
Run an LLC Name Search
Rather than spending hours running dozens of checks through your state database, you can just use an entity name checker like LegalZoom.
Even better, you can use LegalZoom’s business formation service to handle every step of the LLC formation process—including the name search.
LegalZoom’s entity checker on its own is 100% free. You can also use the LLC formation service to get a preliminary check on your desired LLC name without paying anything and get an instant answer. LegalZoom will run a more comprehensive check on the name later on.
If you’re planning to use an LLC formation service to start your business, there’s no reason to check the state database on your own. Let LegalZoom, or whatever formation service you decide to use, handle that step for you.
Step 3 – See if the Name is Being Used Elsewhere
Just because a name is legally available to register in your state, it doesn’t mean you should proceed with that name just yet. The initial LLC name search won’t cover other potential sources where the name is being used.
Most new businesses need a website. Ideally, your domain name should match the name of your LLC.
You may not want to include the required indicators (“LLC”) in the web address, but everything else should match (example: quicksprout.com is better than quicksproutllc.com).
Search for your desired website name using a domain registrar. Once you know you’d like to proceed with that name, you should reserve the domain ASAP before someone else takes it.
Having a domain that matches your business name relates to one of our earlier points of emphasizing branding. If the two match, it’s easier for current and prospective customers to find you online without getting confused.
Social Media and Web Search
Like your domain name, you should verify that the social media handles associated with your desired LLC names are available. If they’re already in use, this can pose a serious problem for your branding strategy.
Unlike a domain name, you can sign up for social media accounts for free. So go ahead sign up for Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social channels you’ll be using for your business.
Even if you don’t plan to use those accounts right now, it’s still in your best interest to immediately create those accounts.
I also recommend running a general Google search for the LLC name you want to create. Let’s say you come across headlines like “company name CEO charged with fraud and embezzlement.” You’ll likely want to reconsider your name choice.
Even if that headline has nothing to do with you and your brand, a general consumer researching your business likely won’t look for the difference or explanation. That alone could be enough to hurt your brand’s reputation before you have a chance to establish one on your own.
Most new business owners don’t think about trademarking anything until they have an established brand with something to protect. But I recommend thinking about the trademark process from day one. Here’s why.
Let’s say you form an LLC today and decide you want to trademark the name two or three years from now. But you discover that the trademark is already in use. Now what?
You’ve already spent years building your brand, and now you can’t get a trademark on the name. So you should check the trademark’s availability during the name search process.
The USPTO (the United States Patent and Trademark Office) has a database you can search. But similar to state name databases, the tool isn’t always user-friendly.
Fortunately, you can use LegalZoom to run a comprehensive trademark search for you.
There is a $199 fee associated with this service. So you should be certain that the name checks out everywhere else before you begin. Otherwise, the fees can add up quickly if you’re running trademark searches on multiple names.
Step 4 – Reserve the Name
Assuming your name meets all of the criteria in the first three steps, you can reserve the name with your state to prevent someone else from using it. This step is ideal for those of you who aren’t quite ready to form an LLC today.
Name reservation rules vary from state to state. Depending on your location, you can typically hold a name for 30 to 120 days.
Find the appropriate name reservation form on your secretary of state website, or use LegalZoom’s entity name reservation service to handle it for you.
The service starts at just $49 plus state filing fees. This is a marginal cost considering how easy it is. All you need to do is tell LegalZoom your desired name, and they’ll file all of the appropriate paperwork with your state.
Reserving the name will buy you some time as you get organized and prepare to form your LLC.
Step 5 – Register Your LLC Name
Once you’ve completed the LLC name search, it’s time to register that name with your state.
You can’t just register a name alone. To complete this process, you need to form your business. This is the only way to secure that name for the long term.
File the Articles of Organization
The exact formation documents vary from state to state, but in most cases, you’ll need to file the articles of organization to legally set up your business. In some states, this paperwork is called the certificate of organization or certificate of formation.
Every LegalZoom LLC formation package comes with a comprehensive name search and entity filing service.
So you can rest easy knowing that the appropriate filing documents are sent to the correct government agency on your behalf.
This is the easiest way to form an LLC and helps secure the name you want.