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Getting a Doing Business As (DBA) certificate can add versatility to your business so you can operate under a different company name. This can be especially useful for sole proprietorships or LLCs that need more naming versatility without lots of legal paperwork and expense. While applying for a DBA may sound like an overwhelming process, it is actually quite easy, and with a little planning, you can complete the entire process on your own.
Why it’s worth getting a DBA
Getting a DBA is a valuable investment for many companies. With a DBA, you can operate under a name that is different from your official registered company name. For example, if you are the sole owner, you will need to operate under your personal name unless you obtain a DBA. The same is true of an LLC. You have to do business under the legal name of your bylaws, but a DBA lets you operate under a different name.
With a DBA, sometimes called a trade name or an assumed name, you can choose a name that best suits your business without changing all of your legal papers. If you are turning or exploring a new business, you can use a DBA for the new part of your business. If you regret the company name you have integrated your business with, you can use a DBA to create a more memorable name that better fits what your business has evolved into.
A DBA can also help you solve challenges you face when developing a new line or moving into a service area that is unrelated to your current services. You can create a DBA to run that particular part of your business relatively independently with its own branding and website. This simplifies the process of building and expanding your business without requiring you to incorporate your new venture as a separate business.
It is important to understand that a DBA is not a legal entity, so it does not provide your company with any legal protection in the way that an LLC or other business entity would. That said, a DBA pays off in other ways. It can make your business appear more professional, especially if you get a DBA, so you can avoid using your personal name as a sole proprietor. A DBA lets you choose a name that is more distinctive, and it can be a wise marketing move that can help you get in better touch with customers or clients. Most banks require individuals to have a DBA before they can apply for a corporate account.
Getting a DBA is relatively straightforward. Filing fees tend to be affordable, and in many cases you can fill out the paperwork yourself and further keep costs to a minimum. Many people run on your company name, and a poor quality name can confuse customers, make it difficult to retain repeat customers and even cost you potential sales by not attracting new customers. With a DBA, you can easily solve naming problems and ensure that your company name works as you need it and supports all the hard work you do to build your business.
The investment is necessary to get a DBA
Getting a DBA requires an investment of both time and money. DBA application fees vary by state, with some being as little as $ 10, while others can cost $ 100 or more. If you use a service like LegalZoom to help you complete the paperwork, budget for the extra cost of this service. LegalZoom charges $ 100 plus application fees to apply for a DBA. If your state requires you to advertise the filing in a local paper, be sure to include the cost of the ad in your budget.
If you are building a large business and expect to incorporate it under your DBA name, it is worth consulting a business attorney during the DBA application process. The same is true if you have put a lot of effort into your company name and logo and want to verify that none of them are trademarks. Lawyer fees can be very expensive, but investing in legal aid right now can save you major headaches and even greater rebranding expenses later.
The process of brainstorming and deciding on your DBA name can be very time consuming and is probably the longest part of the entire DBA application process. You want to be sure that your DBA name is a strong company name, one that you can use in the years to come. Between brainstorming and making sure your potential names are not trademarked, you plan to invest plenty of time in this phase of the process. If you’re even considering getting a DBA in the future, it’s wise to start brainstorming names now so you have several great options to choose from.
When it comes to actually completing the paperwork for your DBA application, the process is relatively quick and simple. This is something any business owner can complete on their own, though you will need to research your state’s specific application requirements. If you are not comfortable with completing the paperwork yourself, a program like LegalZoom can help guide you through it and simplify the process.
7 steps to getting a DBA
Getting a DBA is not a terribly complicated process, but you do need to understand all the steps involved in getting approved.
# 1 – Brainstorm names
Before you get your DBA, you need to find the perfect name. You may already have one in mind, or you may be starting over.
Now is the time to brainstorm ideal names for your business. An ideal company name should be meaningful, easy to spell and easy to remember. You can be inspired by common phrases, mythology, foreign words and more.
If you find it difficult to find the perfect name, try Shopify’s company name generator. This handy tool takes a descriptive word that you enter and generates several potential names to choose from.
Make a list of all the potential names you come up with, and then start writing down the list. Ask friends and family their thoughts on your top 10 names, and also try to reach your target audience to get their reactions.
When brainstorming names, keep in mind that you need to represent your business honestly. You can not add “Inc.” or “Corp.” if your business is not incorporated. The same goes for the addition of “LLC.” While these terms may make a name sound more official, adding them when you do not have the legal business structure to justify using them is mistakenly representing your business. If you apply for a DBA with a name with the type of extension that does not apply to your business, your application will be denied.
# 2 – Check potential name Trademark availability
When narrowing down your list of names to your two or three best choices, it is important to check their availability. If you use a name that is already trademarked by another company, that company may require you to stop using the name. This would be a problem as you would have to change your DBA as well as all your branding.
To determine if your potential DBA names are trademarks, search for the name on the United States Patent and Trademark Office Web site. You can search for a trademark in several ways, including a wordmark search using words or phrases in your names.
This search is free and relatively easy to use.
# 3 – Search the Secretary of State’s records
If you think you will ever register your business as a company or an LLC, then it is important not only to make sure that your DBA name is not trademarked, but also to make sure that it does not look like a name, already registered. If your business name is similar to an existing registered business name, your state will not allow you to register that name. It can lead to a required name change if you ever want to become an LLC or a company.
To perform this search, you must access the Business Directory on the website of your State Secretary of State. These forms will vary, but most allow you to search by your company name or by a phrase included in your company name.
# 4 – Examine your state’s DBA application requirements
Each state has its own DBA application and associated requirements. Each state also decides on the application fee required to apply for a DBA.
Most states require you to complete a DBA application and submit an application fee. Some may also require you to post an ad in your local neighborhood that identifies the DBA name you are applying for.
You can find your state’s specific DBA application requirements in the business section of your state’s website. Most city officials will also have this information and the DBA application available.
If you do not want to do the task of calling or going down to your town hall, you can consider using LegalZoom. With LegalZoom, you can access your state-specific DBA requirements and complete the paperwork online, saving you time.
# 5 – Complete and archive your DBA paperwork
Once you are familiar with your state’s DBA requirements and have chosen a DBA name, you are ready to complete and file your DBA paperwork. You can do this in person at your clerk, or your city can make these forms available online.
If you want to save yourself the trip down to your town hall, you can complete this paperwork online with LegalZoom. You must select the state where you are applying for your DBA and LegalZoom will load the correct paperwork for your state. LegalZoom will even make sure to put a notice in your local newspaper if that is a requirement in your state.
Using LegalZoom to file your paperwork can save you time and can be a very convenient option. The platform guides you through the completion process, and LegalZoom fees will be refunded during the first 60 days if you are not satisfied with the service.
# 6 – Wait to be approved
Once you have submitted your paperwork, you must wait for your DBA to be approved before you can start using the name. Processing times may vary, so try to start the process well in advance so you do not have to worry about waiting anxiously to be approved for your DBA.
Once your application is approved, your state will contact you via email or email. Then you can start using your new company name.
# 7 – Review Renewal Rules
Once you have your DBA, it is important to get the details on how and when to renew it. Most states require DBA renewal every five years. These can usually be completed online, but it is a good idea to set yourself a calendar reminder so that you do not overlook the important renewal process.
Once your DBA is approved, you will need to develop marketing and business materials under that name. Your company’s branding should reflect your DBA, so plan to develop a logo, slogan and all your marketing materials around this new name.
If you have not already done so, purchase a site domain that reflects your DBA name. As you develop your branding, you can also start building your site and pages on social media.
You may also want to request an EIN or employer identification number to use when filing your taxes. Some single-user users use their social security number to file taxes, but when running a business, using that number can be risky. Your social security number will be on lots of paperwork, including on contracts that you may need to email to clients.
It is safer to file an EIN. This number is linked to your core business, which means you can use the same EIN for your core business and for all DBAs you run. You can apply for an EIN on the IRS website.