How to Register a Business Name: A Step-by-Step Guide

entrepreneur filing paperwork for registering a business name

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k

These days, more and more people of all ages are becoming entrepreneurs. Starting your own business is an exciting step and can open up a wealth of possibilities for you and your ideas. 

There are many logistical aspects and factors to consider when you are starting your business. One important step is registering your business name. Following the proper protocols not only ensures that you are legally compliant, but it also affords you certain protections and helps you gain credibility in the eyes of consumers, potential partners and employees, and others.

So, how do you register your business name? Here are the steps to follow, plus more information on your options.

How do I register a small business?

There are two main options for registering a business name: setting up a DBA (which stands for “doing business as”) or establishing an LLC (limited liability company). Learn more about the differences and benefits of each type of structure and process below.


A DBA is a fictitious business name established by someone who wants to conduct business under a name that is not her own. When she goes through this process, she does not have to create a business entity that is separate from herself. Establishing a DBA is often much less costly and involved than setting up an LLC, although the fees vary from state to state and county to county. 


An LLC is operated separately from you, the business owner, as a distinct entity. It offers some protections that a DBA does not; for example, it protects you and your own assets from personal liability. While a DBA is more common among sole proprietors, an LLC is a good idea if you have employees or intend to expand. It can also lend some legitimacy and credibility to your business.

How do I register my business name for free?

Unfortunately, it does cost a small fee to file a DBA. The fee tends to be larger for an LLC. However, if you use your own legal name to run and operate your business, you do not need to register your business name. For example, if your name is Jane Smith and you are calling your business Jane Smith as well, you will not need to pay a fee or go through the steps of registering your business name.

How much does it cost to register a business name?

The fee to file a DBA varies according to the city or county in which you are establishing the business. Usually, the cost is somewhere between $10 and $100.

The cost to establish an LLC is a bit steeper. Depending on your state, it can range from roughly $50 and $500. In New York State, for example, the filing fee is $200. 

How do you find out if a business name is taken?

The requirements of choosing a name for your LLC can vary according to your state, but generally speaking, the name cannot be the same as that of another LLC, must end with LLC or some variation of this designator, and may not include certain words as dictated by your state. (Check with your Secretary of State’s office for details.

Most state agencies (usually your Secretary of State’s office) that handle business name filings offer an online tool that allows you to check whether your name is taken. You can also ask a representative of that agency about how to find out. These steps are the same for filing a DBA.

You should also ensure that your name or a similar one is not trademarked. You can search the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) to find this information. 

If you are confused or encounter any problems when trying to find out if your business name is taken, it is a good idea to seek guidance from an attorney, who can also help you trademark your own business name if you wish. 

Steps for registering your business name

(Note that these steps can vary from state to state.)


1. Find out if your desired business name is available for registration.

2. File the Articles of Organization with the office of the Secretary of State in your state of registration.

3. Pay the filing fee.

4. Establish an Operating Agreement that designates responsibilities, liabilities, rights, and more among members of the LLC. All members must adopt this agreement.

5. Publish a copy of the Articles of Organization in a newspaper. (This step is not required by all states, and the length of time the announcement appears and the number of newspapers in which it must be published varies from state to state.)

6. Secure permits or licenses your business may need to have in order to operate.

After filing, you will be required to report any pertinent changes (such as the address of the business) to the same office. You will also send an update with business and financial information every year. (In some states, you must also update your contact information regularly; in New York State, for instance, you must do so every two years.) The LLC name will stand until the business is dissolved.


1. Determine whether your business name is viable (not taken).

2. File a certificate of Assumed Name in the applicable office of the county or city where you intend to conduct business. (In some states, you will file it with the office of the Secretary of State.)

3. Pay the filing fee. 

Unlike in the case of an LLC, a DBA has a limited duration period. (In California, for instance, it is five years; in Texas, a DBA lasts for 10 years before expiring.) You may renew it before it expires. In some states, you must also report any changes in the original information. Note that some LLCs may also file a DBA if they wish to conduct business under another name; in this case, you will likely need to provide proof that the LLC is established, operating legitimately, and in good standing.

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