Your company can have one name that belongs on your legal documents and another name everyone’s familiar with, just like with your personal name.
People often change their names for personal or professional reasons. It can be a middle name, an abbreviated name, or a nickname—anything that feels more natural and fitting.
A “Doing Business As,” or DBA as it’s popularly known, is the commercial equivalent of a nickname.
It’s an excellent tool for businesses to create different products, services, and divisions under unique brand names.
The process of filing a DBA varies from one state to another—sometimes even from county to county.
In this guide, I’ll give you a step-by-step of how to get a DBA.
The Easy Parts of Getting a DBA
A DBA can be a fantastic thing for your enterprise’s brand. Instead of sticking to your legal name, you can choose something more exciting and attention-grabbing. Getting a DBA does involve a fair share of paperwork and effort, but considering the benefits you get, it’s worth it.
Generally, DBAs are easy and affordable to file. There’s also greater flexibility to choose a name that meets your expanding and evolving business requirements.
For example, if Martha’s Cookbooks, LLC launches a new website, they can file a DBA for MarthaCooks.com to keep that site’s business activities covered under the umbrella protection of the original LLC (Martha’s Cookbooks, LLC).
In fact, Martha’s Cookbooks can file DBAs for every new service it launches, ranging from offering private chef services to selling cutlery under the same overall LLC.
Isn’t that great and SO much more convenient?
Additionally, filing a DBA for your business lets you legally use a business name without incorporating it as an LLC or corporation and send and receive payments in your business’s name.
You can also skip all this hard work by simply enlisting the services of a business formation company. Whether you have a single-member LLC or a C-Corp, these online services can take care of DBAs, EINs, and business name reservations.
The Difficult Parts of Getting a DBA
A DBA is essentially a name for your business.
Of course, you want something exciting and unique, but it may already be taken by somebody else. Using a name that’s already been taken by another business puts you at the risk of getting sued, where you might end up paying heavy fines and penalties.
Next up on your list of challenges is keeping up-to-date with the state and county’s rules and regulations. Things can get increasingly complex if you plan on launching businesses in different states with different DBA eligibility criteria and requirements.
Moreover, filing a DBA isn’t the same as trademark protection.
You can’t stop anyone else from using the same business name. If you want a higher level of protection, you’ll need to register a trademark—something that takes time and effort. It’s also common for trademarks to get rejected, which is why you may find yourself constantly refilling papers.
There’s a common misconception that a DBA is a corporate structure. It isn’t. Filing one doesn’t make you a part of the corporate umbrella like an LLC, so you don’t get any special tax benefits.
Step 1: Zero In On Your DBA Name
You can’t file a DBA if you don’t have a business name in mind. Exactly why the first thing on your to-do list is to brainstorm names. But before you do that, you should know whether you really need a DBA or not.
Know Whether You Need a DBA
DBAs are a great option if you’re a sole proprietor running their business under a different name than your own.
Under a sole proprietorship, your legal name is the registered name for your business. If you change that or even add a word or two to your name, you’ll still need a DBA. For instance, if your name is John Doe, and you decide to run a café under John Doe’s Café, you’ll need a DBA.
DBAs are also necessary if you have an LLC, corporation, or other registered business entity. However, the entity has to include other stores or businesses under its umbrella that use a different name.
Continuing with our previous example, if you incorporate your café business as John Doe’s Café, Inc., you would need a DBA if the corporation operated a store called Café & Cremé.
You can also consider getting a DBA if you plan to market to different demographics or age groups. This will allow you to tailor your advertising and marketing materials to enhance your reach, even when you sell the same kind of products or services.
Brainstorm Potential DBA Names
Choose a business name that’s unique, easy to remember, pronounce, and spell. This part is incredibly crucial, so you have to get this right.
Your business name should also help potential customers connect your company with the kind of products or services you sell. For instance, while John Doe’s Café is a great name for a restaurant, it makes zero sense when used for an electronics shop. Ideally, it’s best to choose a name that gives customers a clear picture of what you sell.
Another important thing is to avoid names that potentially limit your business. I’ve always made a point to steer away from adding geographical designations or specific products or services unless necessary. It could limit future growth or cause confusion if you sell internationally.
Based on the above pointers, create a list of potential names for your business.
Next, you should check the availability of the DBA with your state’s Secretary of State and go through other records to ensure the name isn’t already in use.
Try to avoid using a famous name or brand—even if you’re selling something entirely different—to not get sued. Taking a name that’s already being used by someone else puts you at risk for a lawsuit, plus it’s very difficult to register the name and apply for trademark protection.
Business entities (LLCs, corporations) have to register with the Secretary of State in every state. As such, the Secretary of State‘s office will always have a registered names database that you can check to ensure the name you chose isn’t already in use.
If your DBA is already taken, you can remedy the problem by adding hyphens, underscores, and/or numbers. Keep in mind that adding these extra characters can be difficult to run.
In addition to checking the state or county database of registered names, you can also perform a quick internet search. Just to be safe.
Step 2: Register Your Chosen DBA
Once you figure out a name for your business, you have to register it as per your state’s requirements. This includes locating and completing the required paperwork, filing DBA forms, and publishing a notice in the newspaper.
Find Out Your State’s DBA Requirements
As mentioned previously, different states have different requirements for registering a fictitious or assumed business name.
It’s also possible that some states do not have any registration requirements. However, even in states that don’t, individual counties within the states may have specific rules concerning DBAs. A few states require you to file registration documents with both state and county agencies.
Precisely why it’s best that you check the registration requirements for all the states and counties you plan to do business in.
Complete Your Paperwork
First, you have to obtain all the appropriate forms to register a DBA in your jurisdiction. Although you can find these online, you may also contact your county or state to acquire them.
Fill in all the required information in the forms, including business and owner information, the DBA name you’d like to use, business structure, and the address for the business’s primary location.
Again, make sure your desired DBA name is available with the state before you complete the forms. It’s also better to avoid names that sound too similar to already operating brands.
Your DBA forms must be signed by the appropriate parties, i.e., the owners or officers of the business. Moreover, if your business is subject to an operating agreement or bylaws, it’s crucial you adhere to all requirements of the document when drafting and executing a DBA.
Most jurisdictions have made notarization of the signatures necessary, so that’s another thing to keep an eye out for.
Pay DBA Filing Fee
Finally, all that’s left is to pay the appropriate filing fee and file the document with the appropriate agency.
Step 3: Publish Notice in the Local Newspaper and Get EIN
A few counties have made it necessary for businesses to publish notice of their new DBA in a newspaper for a limited period. If you find your business falls under this requirement, make sure you know the deadlines and publish a legal notice in your local newspaper to fulfill it.
You can get an employer identification number or EIN from the IRS after publishing the notice.
Publish the DBA Notice on a Newspaper
The county clerk’s office may have a list of approved newspapers. Ensure to cross-check it to avoid making blunders. The office will also inform you about specific requirements concerning the publication date and how long the notice must run.
Once you’ve published your notice, file an affidavit or any other proof of publication with the state or county agency.
Procure Your EIN From the IRS
You cannot file taxes and other government forms and documents without an EIN. As a sole proprietor, you can continue using your Social Security number, but an EIN is recommended to keep your business records and dealings separate from your private information.
Receive Your DBA Certificate
After completing all the necessary requirements, you should receive your DBA certificate from the state or county agency. This may take as long as four weeks after you file your application, perhaps longer if you publish notice and file proof of publication.
Step 4: Apply for Trademark Protection
You can register for a trademark in any state, but applying for a federal trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office will protect your business name across the nation—provided your DBA qualifies for it.
At this stage, you can also consider hiring an attorney to make sense of the trademark applications and other applications. Alternatively, you can sign up for a reliable business formation service to do this job for you. Not only are they extremely efficient and affordable, but also reliable when it comes to helping you start your business.