Prepare and File a Fictitious Business Name or Trade Name
What Is a Fictitious Business Name?
The name you do business as may not be the same name that your company is registered under. As an example, John Doe LLC might do business as Doe Graphic Design. John’s legal documents and business license are filed under John Doe LLC, but all of his business cards say Doe Graphic Design.
In this example, Doe Graphic Design is John’s fictitious business name. Your state may call it a trade name, an assumed name, or a DBA, which is short for “doing business as.”
Most state and county governments require you to register your DBA. This process isn’t always complicated, but you will need to repeat it for every state that you want to do business in.
Who Uses a DBA?
One of the most common reasons to use an assumed name is to protect your legal name. A sole proprietorship is a business that is run by a single person. Legally, the person and the business are the same.
Freelancers and independent contractors often work as sole proprietorships. Although they use their legal name for business documents, they don’t always want to advertise that name to potential customers. A DBA lets a sole proprietorship operate under a great business name without filing a more complicated business license.
Another reason to use a fictitious business name is company expansion. Imagine that Doe Graphic Design recently partnered with a web developer. The company is still registered as John Doe LLC, but he’ll now be offering a complete design and development package. John files a new trade name: Doe Web Solutions.
If John’s expansion is successful, he might eventually incorporate Doe Web Solutions under a different business license. Until then, his DBA lets him use the name that is appropriate to his current business model.
Some businesses register a single parent corporation and use an assumed name for every individual branch of their company. Media Example LLC might use assumed names for their photography, animation, and content creation studios. Each department has a different business name, but they’re all the same legal entity operating under a single business license.
This tactic is also used for individual product lines. A company that makes power tools might decide to produce a line of kitchen blenders using the same technology. A fictitious name would let them rebrand this new product line without filing a separate business license. Every name you do business under needs to be registered with the appropriate local government.
Anyone can file an assumed business name; the registration is easy and inexpensive. If you’ve got a great name for your business but want to keep the paperwork simple, a fictitious name might be the most workable business solution.
How to File a Fictitious Business Name
Depending on your state, you usually need to register your business name before you can legally use it. This process shouldn’t take more than a month if you file your paperwork in a timely fashion.
First, find the website for your local Secretary of State or the part of your local government that regulates business licenses. Your state government website usually has a directory of this information.
Next, find the “doing business as” paperwork. This might be called something different in your state, so search for the term “business name.” Trade names, assumed names, and fictitious names are all the same thing.
Fill out the paperwork and submit it to the relevant agency. Make sure you don’t miss any details, as this could delay your process. You will usually need to pay a registration fee.
You should hear back from the agency with approval for your business name in a few weeks. You are now officially doing business as the great name you came up with.
File your fictitious business name today
File your fictitious business name today
The Catch: When a DBA Isn't That Simple
An assumed name is not the same thing as a business license. There are a few reasons your fictitious name might not be the solution your business needs.
If you choose to work as a sole proprietorship, you and your business will be legally indistinguishable. This means that you will be personally liable for the financial risks your business undertakes. Many freelancers prefer to set up a Limited Liability Corporation, or LLC, to gain more legal protection. You might still use an assumed name, but you’ll also need to file a business license.
Another concern is whether your business name is protected. A registered trade name is not always safe from copyright infringement. Incorporated names are protected, but “doing business as” names are not. If you want to prevent anyone else from using this trade name, you might have to trademark it.
Consult with a professional before you decide the structure your business should take. You need to make sure that your business is legally protected before you work with your first client.
Let LLC Formations File Your DBA for You
The quickest way to file a fictitious business name is to hire a professional to assist you. LLC Formations can help you:
- Ensure that a DBA is an appropriate way to handle your new business structure.
- File the required paperwork with every state you will be doing business in.
- Trademark your business name to protect you from copyright infringement.
- Set your new business on the path to expansion and incorporation.
Business licenses aren’t always a simple process. Filing the wrong license for your business could result in you paying the wrong taxes or receiving the wrong treatment from government agencies. Paperwork and legal terms vary between states; if you don’t understand the difference, you might end up paying too many license fees.
Let one of LLC Formations partners help you register your DBA. Our team of professionals is prepared to answer any questions you might have. We’ll handle the paperwork and details; you just need to think of a fantastic new business name.