Nothing stings more than pouring money, hopes, and dreams into a new business just to find out that the store down the street was using your name first. In the digital, globalized world where you can be competing internationally, the risk of this is even higher.
The solution is to check if your business name is available before you launch your business. Then you can move ahead confident that you can build your brand unopposed.
Here are our tips on how to check name availability for free, saving you money and future headaches.
Why You Should Check Business Name Availability
In the world of business, every idea or piece of intellectual property needs registration. Names are no exception.
So if registration will eventually be necessary, starting the process earlier is easier, since you’ll be able to claim your business name before anyone else can. However, this requires the name to be unclaimed, meaning you should check for availability.
Here are the major benefits of checking if your business’s name is free and promptly registering it.
Two companies using the same name will eventually run into legal trouble with each other. Checking for name availability up-front prevents costly legal fees down the line.
Owning your name means you are able to sue other companies that try to use your name. You are also protected from such litigation if you are the first one to legally register your business name.
Being able to use a consistent name for all of your business’ branding cross-platform makes for a much stronger brand identity.
If you confirm your name is available, that means you won’t waste money branding a business whose name has already been taken. Rebranding is expensive and can seriously disrupt your business, so avoid it if possible.
There are also day-to-day risks from not checking if your name is available. Imagine that you share the same name with another business—how are customers meant to tell you apart?
This can create many issues, like customers being unable to contact your business, profits being lost to the doppelganger business, ineffective branding, and marketing, or reviews and referrals being attributed to the wrong business.
How to Find Out if a Name is Available
To avoid the myriad problems that come from setting up a business without having properly checked for name availability, you should do some research.
A simple internet search will only dig so deep, and you don’t want to be surprised with a lawsuit down the road because you didn’t do your homework.
That’s why you should use dedicated searches that check business name availability from several angles.
Limited Liability Company (LLC) Names
Unless you’re launching a huge corporation from scratch, an LCC is the type of business entity for you. It allows you to run a small business with lots of control while still having legal protection in the case of financial troubles.
Most businesses will start as an LLC and then incorporate later on if they grow enough. LLCs are good for sole proprietorships, partnerships, or even self-employed workers such as freelancers.
As one of the more common types of businesses, LLCs will have lots of competition for names and will want to ensure their name is available as soon as possible.
LLCs are publically available, so it’s a cinch to check your potential name against an LLC registry. There are also free dedicated searches where you simply input your name and it lists all registered businesses with identical or similar names.
These reference lists of business entities are kept at a state level, but even if you plan to do business in other parts of the world, you only need to check if your LLC’s name is available where you intend to register it.
Different states and countries will have different processes for registering an LLC, but most require you to submit Articles of Organization, the papers that establish your business information and practices. Getting an attorney to do the registration can make the process much smoother.
The paperwork will include selecting an agent to receive legal mail on behalf of the LLC, so consider if you want to be that person or if you want to hand off the responsibility.
It costs under $200.00 to register an LLC in most states, though some charge more. This covers the bureaucracy needed to file your papers and get your LLC set up.
Doing Business As (DBA) Names
For small businesses looking to up their branding game, DBAs can be essential, but all that effort goes to waste if the name isn’t available.
You can think of a DBA name as a business nickname, or pen name (it’s sometimes called a trade name or fictitious business name). It is the name the business operates under, which may be different from the business entity’s name.
DBAs commonly come up for sole proprietorships or general partnerships, which are unincorporated, or for one company running multiple sub-businesses under separate names.
County offices or sometimes state-wide offices keep records of any DBA names registered locally. These can be contacted to check a potential DBA name’s availability.
While picking an available DBA name is still important for branding, you have more of a margin of error than with other business names. DBAs are relatively easy to change from a legal perspective.
Each state and country has different rules for filing a DBA registration. Double-check if yours has a separate process for small businesses that differs from the process for a formal business entity. Typically you can only go ahead with the filing if your business is in good standing.
You may need to announce your DBA to the public, often done through a newspaper ad. This lets the public know about your DBA so nobody is confused about the name change.
A trademark shows that you have claimed the exclusive right to use a piece of intellectual property—often a name. If you trademark business names, you are able to pursue legal action against anyone who tries to use them.
Trademarks are therefore the foundation of resilient branding because they prevent competitors from stealing your name and poaching your brand.
In that same vein, you want to be sure your name is available, meaning untrademarked, before registering your business under that name. If somebody else already owns the corresponding trademark, you can’t use your name without risking litigation.
Trademarks are kept by dedicated government offices, typically whatever institution tracks intellectual property disputes in a given country.
Sometimes state-wide registries contain local trademarks not listed under federal registries, so be sure to check those as well.
There are several government services where you can conduct a business name search to see if the corresponding trademark is free. The search will compare your name to existing trademarks to check if yours is taken.
When registering a trademark, you’ll need to complete forms explaining what you want to trademark and how you intend to use it, as well as undergo several checks from government agencies.
If another trademark is already registered that has a similar name to yours, is in the same industry, and is actively used, you won’t be able to register your new trademark. Ensure your business name is unique, especially among your competitors, to avoid this problem.
Websites are a key part of building a digital brand, and even the smallest businesses are expected to have a website nowadays. Matching your domain name to your business name is a big part of this branding process.
The domain name is the actual address a customer will type into their search bar. For instance, wordlab.com is a domain.
You want a domain name that matches your business name, so your branding will uplift both at once while making it easy for customers to find your website. Therefore, making sure your business’ name is available as a domain is essential.
The trick with domain names is they are globalized—anyone around the world can claim a given domain. The upside is that you can’t have doubles, so if you can snag your domain name, you won’t need to worry about copycats.
While there isn’t a centralized registry of domain names, there are plenty of services that let you check your potential name against existing websites.
Another option is you can just type your potential domain name into your web browser’s search bar and see if someone else’s site pops up. If not, you know it’s free!
Domain names will need to be purchased from whoever holds them. This might be an investment company or a digital marketplace.
Once you own a domain name, you can do whatever you want with it, including launching your business’ website. Just be aware that you’ll also need to invest in web hosting, a service that will keep your site active and accessible.
Although checking name availability is just the first step towards setting up your business, thankfully it can be done for free. If this article was helpful, let us know in the comments! And share the article with anyone you know who is trying to set up a new business.