When choosing a business name, it's important to pick one that reflects your brand identity and doesn’t clash with the types of goods and services you offer.
Once you settle on a name you like, you need to protect it through registration. Each of the four ways serves a different purpose and are legally independent of each other. Most small businesses try to use the same name for each kind of registration.
- Entity name protects you at state level
- Trademark protects you at a federal level
- Doing Business As (DBA) doesn’t give legal protection, but may be legally required
- Domain name protects your business website address
Entity Name - protect the name of your business on a state level
- How the state identifies your business
- Each state has different rules about what your entity name can be and usage of company suffixes
- May not be allowed to register a name that’s already been registered by someone else
- May require your entity name to reflect the kind of business it represents
- Protects your business and prevents anyone else in the state from operating under the same entity name
Trademark - protect the name of your business, goods, and services at a national level
- Prevent others in the same (or similar) industry in the U.S. from using your trademarked names
- Businesses in every state are subject to trademark infringement lawsuits, which can prove costly.
- Check your prospective business, product, and service names against the official trademark database, maintained by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Doing Business As (DBA) Name - doesn’t provide legal protection by itself, but most states require you to register your DBA if you use one (some business structures require one)
- A DBA lets you conduct business under a different identity from your own personal name or your formal business entity name.
- Register your DBA (trade name, fictitious name, or assumed name) with the state, county, or city your business is located in.
- As an added bonus, getting a DBA and federal tax ID number (EIN) allows you to open a business bank account.
- Determine your DBA requirements based on your specific location. Requirements vary by business structure as well as by state, county, and municipality, so check with local government offices and websites.
Domain Name - protect your brand presence online
- If you want an online presence for your business, start by registering a domain name (also known as your website address, or URL)
- Once you register your domain name, no one else can use it for as long as you continue to own it.
- Your domain name doesn’t actually need to be the same as your legal business name, trademark, or DBA.
- You’ll register your domain name through a registrar service and renew it regularly.