How To Get a DBA: A Step-by-Step Guide
If you’ve ever tried to set up a business, you know how difficult it can be to decide on the structure the business should take. Once that’s out of the way, it’s time to work on branding, at which point you need to choose a name. Many business owners don’t want to associate their names or surnames directly with their brand; instead, they’ll use a “doing business as” name (DBA).
In this article, we’ll explain what a DBA is, how to get a DBA, why you might need one, and any other related issues that might be causing you confusion. We’ll get right into it with a definition.
A DBA is a pseudonym or alternative name that differs from the legal name of the business or that of its owner(s). It can be used to refer to the business as a whole or partially in instances where the owner(s) want to operate the business under a name other than its legally registered name. It’s also referred to as a fictitious business name, trade name (in Colorado, for example), or assumed name, depending on your location.
A DBA doesn’t have anything to do with a business’s structure; it’s merely an official nickname used to present a brand to the public. A sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, or any other business structure can get a DBA.
One famous example of this is Meta, Facebook’s newly renamed parent company. The company’s legal name is Meta Platforms, Inc., but its DBA is simply Meta. The original business entity and structure remain the same, but once the business owners create a DBA, they can market their company much more effectively using the DBA name.
DBAs are not separate legal entities and will not offer you any asset or liability protection, no matter your business structure. They do, however, allow you to receive payments, open bank accounts, and market your business under that name.
You may or may not need to register your DBA; this varies by state. It’s also important to note that DBA registration is not the same as registering a trademark; upon registration of your DBA, you should bear in mind that the additional rights and benefits associated with trademarks don’t apply to DBAs, unless you go through a separate trademarking process.
Registering a DBA
So, how do you go about registering your DBA? In the USA, you can do this by filling out the required paperwork and paying the filing fee at your local, state, or county agency, depending on the state.
In this section, we’ll answer some questions associated with registering a DBA to give you a better understanding of how it works.
Who Needs To File a DBA?
Although businesses can go without filing a DBA, having a trading name can be great for branding purposes. Any formal or informal business that intends to trade under a name other than their legal one - or that may do so in the future - needs to file a DBA in most states. This is to prevent random “businesses” springing up under false names to defraud unsuspecting individuals.
The main purpose of DBA filing is to prevent such cases of fraud. Once registered, the status of the business, its structure, and its ownership become clear not only to clients, but also to the state authorities where the business is registered. This way, everyone knows who they’re dealing with, especially if and when legal issues arise.
DBAs are potentially more useful for partnerships than for sole proprietorships, simply because without a DBA, the business name will carry the surname of all partners. The more partners there are, the messier this can get.
A “doing business as” (DBA) name is also advised for formal business structures like an LLC. That way, if the business owner(s) want a rebrand, changing their DBA is much easier than filing for a legal name change.
What Names Can Be Used as DBAs?
You have great flexibility when picking a name for your DBA. It could be an acronym or an abridged version of your own name, a play on words, or an entirely new name. Filing a DBA with a brand new name is common among business entities trying to rebrand or branch out to focus on a single aspect of the business. You’re at liberty to be more specific about the nature of the business through the name of the DBA for the sake of creating awareness.
When Should You File a DBA?
You don’t have to file your DBA at any specific time, but it makes sense to do so early on, before you invest in branding. Don’t worry, though - even if you’ve been trading for years without a DBA, it’s not too late to get one.
Reasons to get a DBA later on include business expansion, rebranding, requirements from your bank, and bidding for contracts.
The financial status of the company should also be considered when determining when to file a DBA. Registering multiple DBAs at once can get costly, so it’s worth considering whether you really need a DBA and, if so, how many. A better strategy might be to register separate business structures instead of piling up a series of liabilities on one business.
In some jurisdictions, you’ll be required to file your DBA within 30 to 60 days after its first use.
Step-by-Step Guide to DBA Registration
The process for registering a DBA varies based on the state where your business is located or was registered. You should visit the county clerk at the closest registry or the website of the Secretary of State to find out what peculiar requirements apply to your jurisdiction. Your state may also require you to place a local newspaper ad for a stipulated amount of time. The filing fees range from $10 to $100.
You can manage the process yourself or hire the services of a professional to do it for you.
Step 1 - Check business name availability
Conducting a name search by yourself or through the state will show you whether the name in question is available at both state and local levels. You should also be aware of the naming requirements applicable in your state. After you’ve confirmed the name’s availability, you can also conduct a quick web search to see if the URL is available and buy the domain name. After all, your business will likely need a website.
Step 2 - Ensure you fulfill the operating requirements
After securing your DBA name, you may be required by your state to carry out business operations before proceeding with the registration process. Some examples of preliminary operations include printing branding materials like complimentary cards, staff identity cards (where necessary), and brochures.
Step 3 - Complete the necessary forms
At this point, you’ll need to submit your proprietor information, including contact information, telephone numbers, and email addresses. This stage can be completed online. The completed forms can be handed back to the appropriate officer(s) in charge either online or via email. Whether approved or denied, you will be informed appropriately and this concludes the necessary steps to set up DBA.
Other Things To Note About Filing a DBA
1. Restrictions on names
Depending on your jurisdiction and the registration status of your main business, you may not be able to use certain words in the name of your DBA, including “Inc.” and “Corp.” at the end of the name. This will usually only apply if your business isn’t incorporated.
2. Announcement of your DBA
When you start a business and need to find out how to get a DBA in your state, you may want to look out for requirements about announcing your trading name. Some states will ask that you announce your DBA in a local publication for a specific period. This is to create awareness that your legal business name and DBA belong to you and have been duly registered.
3. Certificate of good standing
In some jurisdictions, you may be required to present a certificate of good standing from the office of the Secretary of State before your DBA registration can be accepted. This requirement is mostly for LLCs to show proof of the good standing of the business and its owner(s).
4. DBA renewals
DBAs expire and need to be renewed after a certain period. In the majority of states, the lifespan of a DBA is five years. Take note of the registration date and the eventual expiry date to avoid any dramas.
5. Information change
If the information you provided at the point of the DBA filing changes, your DBA may need to be revised. This can include changes to the structure of the business or to your principal address.
6. Employer Identification Number
To protect your privacy and keep your personal and business matters separate, you’re advised to apply for an EIN. Having this number means you don’t need to use your Social Security number for your business identity.
Advantages of Registering a DBA
1. Targeted branding
When you need to branch out or focus on a certain aspect of your business, you may do so by getting a DBA registered and marketing it to your target audience. You’re at liberty to create separate logos, websites, and anything else related to branding to fit the description of what you’re registering as a DBA. This way, that aspect of the business can stand alone and have a more focused appeal.
2. Privacy protection
Since the legal name of a business is usually the name of its owner(s), it makes sense to apply for a DBA. For some businesses, using a DBA ensures the protection of the owner’s privacy and reduces the number of unsolicited postcards and catalogs sent to your address.
Privacy protection also helps reduce unsolicited calls, most of which probably aren’t from potential customers. Some of those calls may even be prank calls. You should consider creating a DBA if you don’t run a business that requires using your name to give you some form of leverage and boost personal branding.
3. Business flexibility
For a business that already exists and is looking to expand, a DBA affords you the flexibility to do so while avoiding the need to register a new business entity. This flexibility even allows you to expand your business to a region where your legal business name has already been registered.
Flexibility also means that you can decide to use more fun and relatable names for your DBA. So if you haven’t already done so, the time to follow our guide on how to get a DBA is now!
4. Ease of legal compliance
Fraudulent businesses and schemes can wreak havoc, and getting a DBA is the surest way to protect yourself and your business from avoidable legal issues. If you trade under another name in a state where you need a DBA but you haven’t done the paperwork, you’ll be in trouble.
The last thing you want is to end up defending a lawsuit that could have been avoided by filing the correct ‘doing business as’ paperwork. There’s no reason not to; it’s quick, easy, and not too expensive.
Disadvantages of a DBA
1. Little or no liability protection
Unlike registering certain types of businesses, getting a DBA doesn’t protect your assets from liability if your company gets hit with a lawsuit. The DBA does nothing to separate you from your business; it’s simply a legally recognized alias.
Of course, that’s not the purpose of a fictitious business name. Whether you’re opening an LLC or a corporation, you shouldn’t rely on your DBA for protection.
2. Maintenance difficulties
Managing too many DBAs under one legal business entity can be a hassle, especially when you’re planning on doing business internationally. That’s because some other countries will also require you to file registration of trade name paperwork.
When you have to repeat that process for multiple DBAs across dozens of countries, then keep on top of renewals, there’s every chance some important admin could slip through the cracks and cause you some major headaches.
3. No extra tax benefits
When you register a business name in the form of a DBA, you’re only getting an alias you can use for clearer branding. You shouldn’t expect the DBA to affect your company’s tax status - that all comes down to your business structure.
4. Lack of exclusivity of business names
Seeing as a DBA is not a trademark, it doesn’t offer you exclusive rights to the name you have chosen; it only allows you to conduct business under that name. This means that multiple businesses can conduct business using the same or very similar DBAs. By extension, you can’t use DBAs for legal paperwork, since they aren’t legal entities. It should be noted, however, that you can trademark a business name if you desire some extra protection.
Registering a DBA is an easy and inexpensive way to expand your business and create brand awareness. It’s the best way for small businesses to experiment with other goods or services without having to break the bank or go through the process of registering a brand new business.
At the same time, you can also enjoy the privacy a DBA affords you. Now that you know how to get a DBA, we encourage you to follow the steps discussed here and get one if your business needs it.
You can get a DBA if you don’t wish to trade under the legal name of your business. Another reason to get a DBA is to expand your business or focus on a particular aspect of it. For instance, a restaurant owner may use a DBA to start a smoothie business by giving it a separate name from that of the restaurant, while still operating under the same legal entity. When creating a DBA, business owners should make sure to capture the nature of the new venture in the name.
DBA stands for “doing business as.” It’s an alias or fictitious name that an already registered business or company uses to operate if it does not wish to use its legal name. LLC stands for “limited liability company,” a legally registered business entity with a legal persona that is separate from that of its owner(s).
The cost of registering a DBA name is significantly lower than the cost of registering an LLC. This is largely due to the legal implications and benefits of registering both entities. Since a DBA does not separate the persona of the owner(s) from the entity, such owner(s) will not be protected from lawsuits that DBA lands in. An LLC can sue and be sued in its name, without its owner(s) bearing any form of liability.
Another notable difference between a DBA and LLC is that a DBA does not guarantee the exclusivity of your business name, whereas an LLC does. While operating under DBA registration, you may need to take extra steps to trademark your business’s name for protection. Of course, the two aren’t mutually exclusive; you can open up an LLC then use a DBA to operate under a different name
DBA and self-employed don’t mean the same thing. As a self-employed individual, you can use a DBA to trade under a name other than your legal business name. Knowing how this works comes in handy if you ever wonder how to get a DBA as a sole proprietor.
Dragomir Simovic is a staff writer for SmallBizGenius, where he regularly contributes well-researched, engaging content about the latest trends in the finance industry. As a successful entrepreneur and freelancer himself, he knows the ins and outs of running a small business and is eager to share his insights. When he’s not analyzing the latest finance news or thinking up startup strategies, Dragomir likes to play the guitar, discover new indie games, and sample craft brews – responsibly, of course.
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