One of the most important parts of any business is its name. Your limited liability company’s name is your first impression with prospective clients, whether they hear about your business by word of mouth, drive past a billboard advertising your business on the freeway, or if they stumble upon your business as a result of a Google search.
One way to change your business name — or to add an additional name that your LLC can use interchangeably — is by filing a “doing business as” name application, commonly known as a DBA. There are many reasons to get a DBA — from marketing a new product line to granting a sole proprietorship the ability to use an assumed name — so this article will walk you through the process of registering a DBA for your Alabama LLC.
A solid name goes a long way in establishing your brand in customers’ minds. Doing Business As (DBA) names give you increased customization, flexibility, and versatility with your business identity. Once you're ready to lock it down, have ZenBusiness file all the paperwork.
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What Is a DBA?
To begin, let’s quickly run down what exactly a DBA is. One point of confusion we often hear about is that a DBA is not a business entity, like an LLC, corporation, sole proprietorship, general partnership, etc. Instead, you can think of a DBA as an add-on feature of sorts.
The DBA allows you to create alternate business names for your entity, which you can then use interchangeably with your LLC’s official business name. In addition, for informal business entities that don’t have exclusive business names (like sole proprietorships and general partnerships), a DBA can be a great way to inject some additional professionalism into a business venture.
But let’s talk strictly about LLCs, shall we? Why would an LLC want an additional business name? There are several potential reasons, although they obviously vary considerably depending on what your business does. One popular reason is to differentiate a new product line from a company’s existing offerings.
Let’s say that you own a business called “Fine Footwear, LLC” that produces high-end shoes. If you decide to also start a new product line that sells inexpensive flip-flop sandals, you might want a way to differentiate this brand from your core business. In this circumstance, you could register a DBA for “Flip-Flops by Fine Footwear,” and you can use this name to market your new products, while your original product line remains unaffected if your sandal side business fails.
It could also be helpful if you decide to expand your local business into a new market. For instance, if you own an Alabama-based plumbing business called “Montgomery Plumbing,” and you want to expand beyond Montgomery, you can register a DBA for “Birmingham Plumbing” and use that name in the Birmingham market.
The state of Alabama includes more protections for DBA names than most states do because, in most states, there is no exclusivity for a DBA. If another business decides that they want to use your DBA as their own name, many states allow them to do just that. However, because Alabama groups DBA names in together with trademarks, this state provides more legal protection than most. In fact, Alabama will protect your trade name for five years once you register it.
How to Get a DBA for an Alabama LLC
First off, we’ll note that Alabama typically refers to DBAs as “trade names,” but for the purposes of this article, we’ll continue to use both terms interchangeably because most states use the term “DBA.”
The process for obtaining a DBA in Alabama is considerably different from the process in nearly every other state. This is because Alabama requires that an LLC has already started using its alternate business name before registering it with the state. If this seems backward, well, it is (at least compared to the way the process works in most states).
The first step you’ll need to take is to search for your desired business name in the Secretary of State’s business entity records database. Once you make sure your name is available, you can move on to the next step.
Before you register your DBA, you will have to use it in at least three different ways from the following list:
- Business cards
- Newspaper advertisements
Once you’ve used your new assumed name in at least three ways, you can file the Application for Registration or Renewal. In order to complete this form, you’ll need to include the official business name of your LLC, the type of business your entity is registered as (in this case, an LLC), the name you wish to register, a description of the goods and/or services provided by your business, and the type of mark you’re registering (in this case, a trade name).
Next, you’ll indicate your LLC’s business classification. The state outlines 25 different types of businesses — from agriculture, forestry, and fisheries through public administration and many points between — and notes that if more than one of them applies to your business, you’ll need to file a separate application for each one of them.
At this point, you’re in the home stretch of the application. All that’s left is to indicate the date you first used your new trade name, provide your email address, and attach the three materials you’ve used your new trade name on. Once you sign and date the form, and indicate your title, you’ll need to pay the $30 filing fee. You can fill out and file this form online, or you can print it off and submit it by mail or in person.
To be honest, we often say that entrepreneurs shouldn’t bother with DBAs because they don’t provide any exclusivity for your business name. However, despite some reservations with their confusing “backward” process for trade name registrations, Alabama actually does a solid job in this regard compared to most states.
Alabama’s pledge to provide five years of name exclusivity for any trade name registered here makes the DBA an interesting proposition in this state, and we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this option to any of our readers.
If you’re looking for a new way to market your LLC in Alabama, a DBA isn’t a bad idea.