Often, you need to register a business name with the government. There is a process. You need to pick one that reflects your brand while at the same time giving your brand name legal protection in federal and state arenas. Here’s what you need to know about how to buy a business name for a brick-and-mortar or online site. And any filings.
To learn more about buying a business, download the BizBuySell Guide to Buying a Small Business. (Or if you’re selling a business, download the BizBuySell Guide to Selling Your Small Business.)
Thinking of a Business Name
Do you want to know how to create a business name? You need to get started somewhere, and thinking of a business name involves:
- Keywords. A little market research and sorting through industry content helps with ideas.
- Consider your goods and services. For example, having your service mixed right in with your business name is a good starting point. Something like “Better Sales Web Design,” for a website.
- Acronyms are a good choice for a business name. Consider examples like NBC that stand for the National Broadcasting Company.
Don’t pick a name similar to your competition. And don’t get fancy. A name should be easy to pronounce and spell. A secretary of state is a good resource.
Finding a Business Name
You might want to purchase a business name from another place. If that’s the case, there are name generators that use software. BrandBucket has a collection of carefully curated names for you to choose from.
Another way to check availability is a quick Google search. If your business structure is online, you’ll need to check the domain availability. Avoid capital letters and symbols with domain names.
Buying a Business Name Only
You need to make sure the business name you want isn’t taken. The rules that apply here are different in each state. Once you find the company name that suits you, it must be protected. First off check to see if the federal trademark or domain name is taken.
Here are some other things you’ll need to know when naming your businesses.
- At the state level, you might need to get an entity name. This depends on your location and business structure.
- The documents you will need to file on a national scale include a trademark. These offer protection for your trademarked name. No one in the US can use it. Get in touch with the United States Patent and Trademark office. That’s for an LLC and other names.
- Business owners getting involved in e-commerce need a domain. These are also called a URL or website address. Register your domain name with a service that can tell you which ones you can use. These need to be renewed on a regular basis.
You can also use a doing business as (DBA) name. Most states require you to register this if you are using one. You can do business under a different identity than your personal name. You get a federal tax ID number to open a business bank account. Several businesses can use the same DBA in one state.
Once you find out a company name isn’t taken, you can register it directly with the secretary of state.
What if Another Company is Using my Preferred Name?
Depending on your business niche and products and services, the name you want might be taken. Getting another business to switch with you is hard but not impossible. Below are the steps you need to take to get the preferred name you want.
1. Find the Details of the Business Name Owner
The business structure makes a difference. For example, if the services are online, go here and enter the domain name from the website. Another way to find ownership of a business’s name is to go to directories. Like HomeStars and Thumbtack.
The Better Business Bureau is another option for help. The bottom of the listing has the owner’s info.
2. Does the Business Have a Trademark?
The next step is to find out if the business or corporation has a trademark. The US Patent and Trademark Office grants both of these. There’s information there about whether you need an attorney. Also how to search using the Trademark Electronic Search System (Tess).
There is good information on an effective search here too. A business’s name doesn’t necessarily need to be trademarked. A trademark that is similar to yours or is used on related products, goods or services can prevent yours from being registered.
The same applies if the search finds it is a live LLC or another name.
3. Negotiate a Purchase with the Owner
A trademark search can lead you to the owner. If that clears the criteria set out in the trademark office, you can negotiate a purchase of the name. Getting things in writing is critical. You’ll need an attorney depending on the state laws.
Before you get to any contracts, work out a budget. Don’t forget that financial side.
4. Sort out the Legal Aspects and Change Ownership
There are legal aspects you’ll need a lawyer for. Different terms like trademarks, business names, and legal names need to be categorized. One gets used for a legal type document. A trade name gets used for advertising.
Due diligence with terms is important. Consult a law firm as they have the necessary data, including how to change your business name.
Future-Proofing Your Business Name
The next step is to register and future-proof your business name in the right state. There are some business structures companies need to consider. These include a corporation or limited liability company LLC.
You’ll also need to think about name registration including a federal trademark, DBA and/or a domain name. That’s for an eCommerce business. Here’s a list of the top 10 places where companies can buy a domain name.
Business Entity Name for a Limited Liability Company
You need to protect your business name in your state. This step involves what’s called an entity name. This is the way each state identifies your small business. Some states even require your entity name be a good reflection of your business or corporation.
Check with your individual state about the steps to go through for an llc.
Doing Business As (DBA)
You can also register a business with what’s known as a DBA name. These are also known as assumed, fictitious or trade names. A DBA allows you to open a business bank account and provide you with the federal tax ID number. Sole proprietors often use a DBA just like corporations and LLC businesses.
These help with customer service as they can be easy to remember.
A Federal Trademark
These allow you to register small business names in each of the 50 states and other countries. Registering your business name as a trademark has some bonuses. Registering in your state is cheaper than federally.
- When you register your trademark name it’s on public notice.
- You can use the document to get registered in a foreign country.
You can get the right document for registration online.
This is the address of your small business on the Internet. It’s the digital address customers use to find out more about your goods and services. There are some excellent places to buy a domain name like GoDaddy. Make sure to go through the registration process so the domain name is yours.
Pick one that works well with digital marketing tools like SEO, email marketing, and social media content. The text is a critical area. It should blend in with other documents on your site.
Registering Your Business Name with Different Authorities
Registration with different authorities is important. However, it’s not mandatory for every business in every state. Checking with your attorney helps. The location of your business and company structure are important factors.
Generally, an LLC needs to register in the state where you do business. Other protections look after your business security at the state level. Look into what’s needed for a corporation.
Registering with Federal Agencies
Protection at the national level for your goods and services are done with trademark names. It’s important to check your business name as well as service names against the federal database. You can find that here. These are necessary articles so the name is protected.
Registering Your Business Name at State Level
You need to register the right document at this level too. A business entity name protects you so no one else can operate under your name. There are exceptions. These often involve your business structure. This can affect taxes.
Registering with Local Agencies
Usually, there is no filing process or articles with local agencies. Including city and county governments. However, if you are a corporation you might need to file for permits. In some areas, you’ll need to register a DBA. Check with your local municipality.
Selling a Business Name
You might be selling your business and the name. It’s a big asset. Generally, if there’s no trademark, there’s no authority to sell it. Some buyers prefer a trademarked name since it holds more value. Some like a name that’s been around for a while.
How do I name my small business?
A business owner needs to determine what’s unique about your enterprise. Use acronyms or run words together. Think TripAdvisor. Make sure you can trademark it and it is specific. Check the necessary database and documents.
You can test it with Google Ad Words to find out how many searches it will get.
Can I have the same name as another business?
The answer is no. Mixups are possible. Like two businesses registering the same name at the state level. You can have the same name if you operate in another state. However, this can cause consent and trademark issues.
How do you buy the rights to a business name?
Establish the trademark. Be sure there are no tax liens and lawsuits. Check for any debt.
How much does it cost to buy a business name?
Trademarks generally last for a decade. The costs range between $250 and $750. Not a lot when you consider the advantages.
How can I buy a business with no money?
There are several ways. One of the best is to look for seller financing.
More in: Buying or Selling a Business