Choosing a name for your business requires more than just creative brainstorming.
A good name needs to match your brand identity, stand out from the competition, and align with your state’s legal guidelines.
Once you land on the right name for your business, you still need to file the appropriate paperwork to make it official.
This step-by-step guide will teach you how to choose a business name with ease so you can put this task behind you and start focusing on other important areas of running your company.
5 Steps to Choose a Business Name
Choosing a business name is easy. Just follow the five steps below to get started:
- Review Your State’s Business Name Guidelines
- Make Sure the Name is Available
- Reserve a Business Name
- Register Your Business
- Get a DBA (Optional)
The Easy Parts of Choosing a Business Name
Many entrepreneurs are creative. Some of you might already have a name in mind to use for your new business. Others likely have a shortlist of three to five ideas.
If you don’t have any ideas right now, don’t worry.
While your business name is obviously important, brainstorming shouldn’t take you weeks or months. Some of the best businesses in the world have the simplest names—think Apple or Amazon.
If you’re still having trouble coming up with an idea, there are plenty of online tools and business name generators that you can use as inspiration.
Officially registering the business name is another concept that people struggle with. But this is actually really easy, especially when you’re using a business formation service like ZenBusiness.
With ZenBusiness, you just need to answer a few simple questions about your business. Then they’ll file the appropriate paperwork with your state to reserve the name.
When you’re ready to officially form your LLC or corporation, ZenBusines has you covered. They offer business formation packages, registered agent services, EINs, and everything else you need to legally register your business with the state.
Rather than having to visit your state’s website, download different documents, and file everything on your own, you can just let ZenBusiness handle everything for you. Then you can rest easy knowing that the process is being handled the right way, so there won’t be any delays or setbacks with your filing.
The Difficult Parts of Choosing a Business Name
Finding out your name isn’t available can be hard on some entrepreneurs. So try not to have your heart set on a name, just in case you need to pivot and think of a new one.
Hold off on doing any branding or marketing until you know that the name is actually available.
Even if the name you want is available, sometimes the domain name isn’t. If the domain isn’t for sale or the current domain owner is asking for an unreasonable price, you need to weigh the cost of buying the domain against coming up with a new name. Unless you have other substantial investments associated with that name, it’s usually in your best interest to just come up with something else.
Choosing a name is just the beginning of your journey.
You still need to form the business, get your finances in order, obtain the appropriate permits and licenses, and actually run the business. Securing office space, getting inventory, hiring employees, landing customers, and generating revenue are all on the horizon. This stuff makes choosing a business name feel like a picnic.
Step 1 – Review Your State’s Business Name Guidelines
Every state has its own unique rules and regulations for business names. These rules tell you what can and can’t be included in a name and also outline the specific requirements of what must be included in your name.
You’ll see slight variations in these rules from state to state, but many jurisdictions have similar rules. We’ll take a closer look at some of these requirements for popular entity types below.
State Guidelines for LLCs
When forming a limited liability company, most states require you to include one of the following names or abbreviations as part of your legal business name:
- Limited Liability Co.
- Limited Liability Company
Most states prohibit you from using names that would somehow deceive the public or imply affiliation with a government authority. For example, you may not be able to use words like “municipal,” “bureau,” or “commission” in your name if it falsely implies unauthorized associations.
Let’s say you want to start a plumbing business. Calling yourself the “San Diego County Sewer Commission” would likely be rejected, as it implies an association with the government.
State Guidelines for Corporations
Similar to LLCs, corporations must follow certain guidelines as well. It’s in your best interest to review these rules, which can usually be found on your local secretary of state’s website.
Most states require corporations to have one of the following words or abbreviations in the name:
Beyond this requirement, each state also has rules that prohibit corporations from using certain words or phrases as part of their names.
For example, you can’t use words like “insurance,” “bank,” or “charitable foundation” in your corporation name unless you fall into specific categories. A restaurant can’t be named “Gold Bank,” and a coffee shop can’t be named “Beans Roaster Charitable Foundation.”
Step 2 – Make Sure The Name is Available
Once you’re familiar with the legal naming guidelines for your state, it’s time to brainstorm a name and make sure it’s not being used by another business.
Run a Business Name Search
If you already have a name in mind, you can jump right into a business name search to verify its availability. With ZenBusiness, there are a few different ways you can do this.
A business name check is included with every ZenBusiness formation service. So whether you’re forming an LLC or a corporation, ZenBusiness will check that name against your state’s database as you’re going through the process.
Alternatively, you can use the ZenBusiness name reservation service to hold that name until you’re ready to actually form the business. This service also includes a business name search.
If you’re not planning to use a third-party tool, you can run a business name search directly from the secretary of state’s website in your state of formation. This process will look a little bit different for each state.
Just be aware that most states have outdated websites that aren’t very user-friendly. So it’s typically in your best interest to use a third-party service to verify the name’s availability.
See if the Domain is Available
Ideally, you want your business name and domain name to match. This really helps for branding purposes and name recognition.
ZenBusiness has a name-checker tool that provides a list of available domains that you can use as inspiration for your business.
All you need to do is enter some keywords associated with your business type, and ZenBusiness will use different combinations of those words to look for available domains.
You typically wouldn’t want to include the “LLC” or “Corporation” suffix in the domain.
For example, www.quicksprout.com is fine. Using www.quicksproutllc.com would not be necessary.
Check Its Availability on Other Digital Channels
Assuming the domain is available, you should also check the business name against other online channels and platforms.
Look at this name across all platforms where you expect to have an online presence. Then you’ll want to create accounts on these channels as quickly as possible.
Since most of these channels offer free accounts, you can even do this before your name has been officially registered. There’s no downside to securing the accounts, even if you ultimately go with a different name.
Make it Unique and Easy to Spell
There’s nothing wrong with being creative as you’re brainstorming business names. But generally speaking, you want the name to be as brandable as possible.
Unusual spellings of common words can cause confusion if people are looking for your business. You should also make sure that the name won’t be confused with your competitors or other businesses.
Run a Google search on your proposed name to see what comes up. If there are tons of hits against other businesses in different states, you may want to reconsider the name.
You should also steer clear of business names that have negative press or stories about other businesses using the same name. Prospects searching for your name online probably won’t be able to tell the difference.
Step 3 – Reserve Your Business Name
Reserving the name of your business prevents other people from registering that name in your state.
You cannot reserve a name indefinitely. But most states will let you reserve a name for at least 30 days. Other states will let you hold a name for up to 120 days.
The easiest way to reserve a name is by using a business name reservation service like ZenBusiness.
Just select your state and enter the name of the business you’d like to reserve.
ZenBusiness will ask you some questions about your entity type. Then just provide them with your personal information and address, and they’ll take care of the rest.
All of the appropriate papers to reserve your business name will be filed with the state until you’re ready to proceed. This service costs $50 plus any state filing fees.
Step 4 – Register Your Business
Your business name isn’t officially yours until you’ve actually registered a business. Aside from the temporary reservation, you can’t register a name without forming a legal business entity.
The easiest way to do this is by using a business formation service to form your LLC or corporation.
ZenBusiness formation services start at just $49. They handle all of the mandatory filings, and verify the accuracy of your documents before filing them with your state.
This process also includes a business name search. So if you’re ready to register your business today, you can skip the reservation process and jump right into the actual filing.
Get an EIN
You’ll need to obtain an EIN (employer identification number) as you’re going through the formation process. This is your tax identification number that’s required by the federal government. Aside from using this to pay and report taxes, most banks and credit issuers require an EIN for you to open an account.
You can get an EIN for free directly from the IRS or just get one from ZenBusiness as you’re completing the formation steps.
Obtain a Registered Agent
Every state requires you to appoint a registered agent.
Sometimes referred to as a resident agent or statutory agent, this role is designated to receive service of process on behalf of your business. This can include legal actions like a lawsuit or summons and other types of official government correspondence.
ZenBusiness offers registered agent services that can easily be added to your plan when you’re going through the formation steps.
Step 5 – Get a DBA (Optional)
DBA stands for “doing business as.” This is also known as a fictitious name.
Obtaining a DBA is not a requirement, but many businesses choose to do so as a way to simplify their business name from the legal name.
For example, let’s say the full legal name of your business is “John Smith Landscaping and Tree Removal Limited Co.” You could get a DBA like “JS Landscaping” and operate under this name instead.
You can open bank accounts with DBA, accept checks with DBA, and conduct business using that name.
DBAs are also really helpful for sole proprietors. Most states don’t require individual entrepreneurs conducting business under their own names to file any paperwork. But a DBA name can make your sole proprietorship appear more official and trustworthy to prospective customers.