For the business owner, having a fictitious name has clear advantages. When chosen well, your business name can be a powerful marketing or branding tool – at a minimum cost.
Who Needs to File a DBA?
Only 13 states—Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Wyoming—do not require companies to file a DBA. If you registered your business in any other state, you will have to file.
It doesn’t matter what your business structure is. Sole proprietorships and general partnerships, as well as incorporated businesses, must file a DBA if they want to use a fictitious or trade name. Only once the filing has been approved can the business begin using the DBA as their official company name.
What Are the Advantages of Filing a DBA?
Some banks may require sole proprietorships and general partnerships to have a DBA before they will allow the company to open a business checking account. But the real advantages of having a fictitious company name are psychological.
The fictitious name becomes a powerful branding tool that the consumer comes to associate with your service or product. Consider how we have been conditioned to say “Kleenex” when we mean “tissue” or “Coke” when we want cola.
The DBA also has psychological advantages for the business owners. It provides a degree of separation and helps to establish credibility.
How Do I File for a DBA?
If you registered your business in one of the states that requires it, you need to submit a form to the Department of Labor or the Secretary of Commerce (whomever the state has deemed responsible for these forms).
You must supply the exact official name that you registered the business under, as well as the address where the business intends to operate from, which may be another state or even another country. The form must be signed on behalf of the entity by a corporate officer, a general
partner, the sole proprietor, or the member or manager of an LLC.
DBA has nothing to do with business structure or tax law. You can file a DBA as a sole proprietor even if you never officially registered your business with the state. Nor does the DBA offer you liability protection. To protect your personal assets, you must incorporate by structuring your business as an LLC, an S Corp, or a C corporation.
Choosing a Great Business Name
It’s time to get out your thesaurus and start thinking. Choosing a fictitious business name allows you to reflect on how you really want to present your business to the world and is one of the best ways to begin establishing a brand identity.
Consider the feelings you want the consumer to associate with your product or service. Find words, and combinations of words, that resonate.
Once you have a short list of names you feel comfortable using, it’s time to check to see if anyone else is using them. You don’t want to infringe on a valid mark. Some places to look:
- United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) database.
- Searching the internet may show you if someone else is using the same name.
- The County Clerk’s office in the state where you officially registered your business will have a list of other DBAs.
- Check the Secretary of State (or appropriate state official) to see what incorporated company names have selected.
Once you have found a unique name that captures the spirit of your company, you may want to stake your claim by using the trademark symbol (TM) after your name. You don’t need to register it. You should also buy the domain name for your company so that you can begin building a
presence on the web.