Coming up with the perfect name for your business is an exciting feeling.
But your LLC name isn’t actually yours until you’ve registered it.
It’s possible that the name could be taken or might be sought after by another entrepreneur.
After you register your LLC name, you won’t have to worry about anyone else in your state using it for business purposes.
This step-by-step guide will teach you how to register an LLC name, even if you’re a complete beginner.
The Easy Parts of Registering an LLC Name
Coming up with a great name is the easy part. Some of you might have had a specific name in the back of your mind for years. Now that you’re ready to move forward with the business venture, you need to verify its availability and then register it.
Lots of people struggle when they love a business name, but they’re not quite ready to start the business itself. They’re afraid someone else will steal the name if they don’t register it quickly.
Fortunately, you can reserve an LLC name even before you start the business itself. Many states allow you to reserve a name for 60 or 180 days without filing any other LLC paperwork.
An LLC name reservation form is typically a one or two-page document that’s easy to fill out and file. This buys you some time to get everything in order and ensures the name is still available when you’re ready to form the LLC.
While reserving a name might be easy, registering an LLC can be a bit intimidating. The paperwork and process are a bit more involved than just thinking of a name.
Fortunately, business formation services like LegalZoom make the entire process a breeze.
LegalZoom has been used to create over 2.5 million businesses in the United States. Just plug your name into LegalZoom, and they’ll check the state database on your behalf to verify its availability.
You’ll know in a matter of seconds whether or not the name is available without having to search the state database on your own.
In addition to the LLC name check, LegalZoom can handle the entire formation process on your behalf. They’ll file the appropriate paperwork with your secretary of state’s office. All you need to do is answer a handful of simple questions about your business.
LegalZoom’s LLC formation packages start at just $79 plus state filing fees.
The Difficult Parts of Registering an LLC Name
If it turns out that your business name isn’t available, coming up with a new one can be challenging. This is especially true for those of you who had your heart set on a specific name.
So try not to get too attached to any name yet. Have some flexibility and come up with a shortlist of a few names in case one doesn’t work out.
It’s also worth noting that you can’t register an LLC name without creating an LLC. Registering the name means you’ll have to file articles of organization with your state, obtain an EIN, appoint a registered agent, create an operating agreement, and everything else that’s required to legally form an LLC.
It’s also tough to come up with a brandable and easy-to-remember name without boxing you into a particular category. For example, let’s say you’re opening a restaurant and register the name “Pete’s Pizza Palace.”
What if you decide to start serving breakfast in two years? This name doesn’t offer you a ton of flexibility. So you need to think beyond the immediate future when you’re registering the name.
For those of you who want to legally protect your LLC name with a trademark, the process is much longer than the name reservation and formation process with your state. It could take anywhere from 12 to 18 months for your trademark to come through.
Even after you’ve trademarked a name, it’s still your responsibility to defend that trademark. So if you think another business has breached your trademark, all of the legal fees associated with defending the name will fall on your shoulders. This process is far from fun.
Step 1 – Make Sure the LLC Name is Available
Before you proceed with the registration process, you need to verify the name’s availability. If someone else in your state has already registered the name or a similar name, then you’ll need to come up with something else.
Run a Business Name Search
Don’t fill out any name reservation forms or LLC formation paperwork until you’ve run a business name search. If the name isn’t available, your applications will get rejected, and the application fees aren’t refundable.
Every state has a database of business names. But these databases aren’t always user-friendly, and it can be tough for you to verify the results.
All of the best business formation services have a business name search tool. LegalZoom’s is one of my favorites. Here’s what it looks like when I search LegalZoom for “Quick Sprout Example LLC” in the state of Washington.
I’m immediately given a notification showing that the name is available. LegalZoom’s entity name check service is 100% free to use.
Run a Domain Name Search
The name check search only applies to the records in your state of formation database. But another business could be using that name elsewhere.
Most entrepreneurs want to create a website that matches the name of their LLC. So if that domain has already been registered and can’t be purchased for a reasonable price, it’s probably not worth it to use that name.
This is especially true if you haven’t invested anything into the name yet.
Just use any domain registrar to see the domain’s availability. If the domain is available, you’ll want to secure it sooner rather than later.
Check Federal Trademark Records
You’ll want to make sure that your LLC name isn’t violating a federal trademark. Even if a trademark hasn’t been issued yet, someone else may have an application pending for the name you want to register.
Federal trademarks are ideal for businesses that plan to scale outside of a local area. Registering the name with your state alone can’t stop someone in another region from using your name.
So if you’re eventually planning to trademark the name, it’s in your best interest to run the trademark search ahead of time.
Fortunately, LegalZoom also has a trademark search service.
Packages start at just $199, and it usually takes less than 15 minutes to complete.
Browse the Web
Aside from state databases, federal databases, and domain names, you should run some Google searches for the name you want to register. See what comes up.
Is anyone else using that name for another business purpose? Are the social media handles available? Has anyone used this business name in the past?
You’d be surprised what you can uncover using a search engine.
You might discover that another business used that name years ago before the company crashed and burned due to bad publicity. Maybe the previous owner had legal troubles or was part of a major lawsuit. Or perhaps the company had a data breach that exposed thousands of customer records. Even if this has nothing to do with your prospective company, you probably won’t want your name associated with these web results.
Step 2 – Reserve the LLC Name
If your name has survived the process of elimination in the previous step, it’s time to reserve your LLC name. This step is crucial if you’re not ready to officially start your LLC today.
Review State LLC Guidelines For Your Business Name
The reservation process varies from state to state.
For example, you can reserve a proposed business name in California for a period of 60 days. You must fill out the name reservation form and submit it by mail or in-person with a $10 application fee. The California secretary of state’s office isn’t accepting online name reservations at this time.
In Ohio, you can reserve the name for 180 days from the date of filing. The filing fee is $39, and you can file online or by mail.
Each state also has unique rules for creating an LLC name. For example, your name may need to contain one of the following suffixes:
- Limited Liability Company
- Limited Company
- Limited Co.
Here’s an excerpt from the California business name reservation form that shows some additional rules:
Step 3 – Register Your LLC Name
Now that you’ve completed the preliminary research, it’s time to make it official. This step will walk you through the actual LLC name reservation.
File Your Articles of Organization
You can’t register an LLC name without forming an LLC.
So how do you form an LLC? It all starts with filing the articles of organization with your secretary of state. The articles of organization typically contain:
- Name of your business
- Description of business
- Mailing address
- Registered agent information
- Information about LLC members (owners)
The exact forms and filing process vary from state to state. Rather than doing this yourself, you can just use a formation service like LegalZoom to handle it for you.
All you have to do is answer some questions about your business, and LegalZoom will take care of the rest.
Get an EIN (employer identification number) for tax purposes. This is like the social security number for your business. You can get this directly from the IRS or have LegalZoom do it for you during the formation process.
You’ll also need to create an operating agreement for your LLC. While you won’t file this with your secretary of state’s office, this legal document governs the rules and responsibilities for your LLC members and management structure.
Choose a Registered Agent
As mentioned above, your LLC needs to have a registered agent. You cannot officially create an LLC without appointing someone for this role, which means you can’t register an LLC name without one either.
A registered agent is a person or entity that can receive service of process and government correspondence on behalf of your LLC.
Technically, you could name yourself as the registered agent for your LLC, but I advise against that.
All of the best business formation services double as registered agent solutions. So you can simply name LegalZoom as your registered agent with a single click during the formation process, and they’ll handle the formalities to make this official.
LegalZoom’s registered agent service starts at just $249 for the first year.
Step 4 – Trademark Your LLC Name
You automatically get “common law” trademark rights once you start using a name for business purposes. But common law trademarks won’t protect you outside of your local area or state.
So if you plan on expanding across state lines or to another region, you should trademark your LLC name as well. This will prevent businesses in the same industry from using your name.
File a Trademark Application
The trademark application process is somewhat complicated. All of the paperwork is filed through the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
Trademark laws can be difficult to understand, which is why I don’t recommend doing this on your own. Take advantage of LegalZoom’s trademark registration services.
LegalZoom offers attorney support throughout the trademark process. They’ll handle all of the research and file the trademark paperwork with the USPTO on your behalf. If any problems arise during the process, LegalZoom will take care of them.
Step 5 – Change Your LLC Name (Optional)
The day might come when you decide to change your LLC name. Rather than dissolving the business and starting a new LLC from scratch, you have some alternative options to consider.
Register a DBA Name
You can always register a DBA (doing business as) name for your business. This is also known as a “trade name” or “fictitious name.”
For example, let’s say you formed a dry cleaning business called “Main Street Cleaners.” You decide to expand the operation and open a new location. If the new location isn’t on Main Street, it could be confusing for customers.
So you could register a DBA as “West Street Cleaners” for the new location, and both businesses would still operate under the name LLC.
LegalZoom makes it easy to register a DBA, with plans starting at just $99 plus state filing fees.
File a Certificate of Amendment
If you want to change the legal name of your LLC, a DBA alone won’t get the job done. You’ll need to file paperwork with your secretary of state’s office to make this change.
Each state has its own amendment form and process. But generally speaking, here’s what those steps look like:
- Make sure the new name is available
- Approve an LLC resolution to change the business name
- File the certificate of amendment with your state
- Amend your LLC operating agreement
- Notify tax agencies and business licensing agencies
- Change the name on your business bank account
You’ll also need to change the name on virtually everything else that has your original LLC name. Changing your LLC name can be a major headache, so I generally advise against it. Always check to see if a DBA name can solve your problem before you go through this process.