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 California LLC.
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 a California-based plumbing business called “San Diego Plumbing,” and you want to expand beyond San Diego, you can register a DBA for “Los Angeles Plumbing” and use that name in the Los Angeles market.
The state of California provides no protection for the exclusivity of DBA names. This means that if another business decides that they like your DBA name, they can use it themselves with no penalty.
For this reason, we typically do not recommend registering trade names or DBAs in this state. Instead, you can form a new LLC and officially register your exclusive business name. It’s more of a hassle, but at least this route prevents competitors from stealing your business name.
However, if you still want to get a DBA for your California LLC, we’ll outline the process below.
How to Get a DBA for a California LLC
First off, we’ll note that California typically refers to DBAs as “fictitious business 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 California differs significantly from the process in most states. This is due to the fact that DBAs in this state are not registered with the Secretary of State. Instead, you will register your fictitious business name with the county clerk located in the same county as your principal business location. Due to this distinction, this guide will serve to outline how the process works in general, but you should check with your county to see if it has any different regulations.
The first step is to check your county’s list of registered business names to make sure the name you want is still available. Next, you will need to find the fictitious business name filing form on your county’s website (or, in most counties, you can also request one in person at the county clerk’s office).
There could be some variations in these documents, but for the sake of this article, we took a look at San Diego County’s version of the Fictitious Business Name Statement form. It requires your new fictitious name, the physical business and mailing addresses of your LLC, your LLC’s official business name, the state where you originally formed your LLC (if not in California), an indication that your business is an LLC, the date you started using your fictitious name (if applicable), and your name, title, and signature.
Again, depending on your county, there could be differences in the type of form you require, how much it costs to file, and turnaround times. Therefore, you should reach out to your county clerk as soon as possible to figure out what exactly needs to be done in order to register your new DBA name.
Should You Hire a DBA Service?
Would you rather pay a reasonable fee to a business services company and have them register your DBA on your behalf? While you can certainly save some money by doing it yourself, it’s nice to have the peace of mind that your new trade name was registered by a professional who really knows what they’re doing.
Here are a few of our favorite services for DBA registrations, all offering the same low price point of $99:
- IncFile: IncFile is one of the best business service providers available, and their DBA service is top-notch. IncFile receives tremendous customer feedback, with thousands of positive reviews all over the web. They also have plenty of experience, as they’ve been around since 2004 and they’ve formed more than 250,000 businesses.
- LegalZoom: LegalZoom actually has two different packages for DBA services, as their $119 Premium package includes a trial of their Business Advisory Plan. LegalZoom is one of the biggest names in the industry, and they’ve served millions of customers. It’s hard to argue with a track record like that!
- Swyft Filings: Swyft Filings really lives up to their name, as they’re one of the fastest business services companies you’ll ever find. Not only do they have some of the industry’s quickest turnaround times, but they also say that you can fill out their entire DBA application in “as little as 10 minutes.”
The doing business as (DBA) name varies more from state to state than most other business filings, and in California, it actually varies from county to county as well. In some states, a DBA grants you exclusive rights to your new trade name, but in states like California, that simply isn’t the case. Due to this lack of exclusivity, we’re not fans of registering DBAs in this state.
Instead, it’s probably a better option to form an additional LLC if you want to be able to use multiple names for your business. This is certainly more of a hassle that registering a DBA, but at least you’ll have exclusive rights to your name.
If you’re looking for a new way to market your LLC in California, a DBA might not be the best idea.