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 Hawaii 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 Hawaii-based plumbing business called “Honolulu Plumbing,” and you want to expand beyond Honolulu, you can register a DBA for “Hilo Plumbing” and use that name in the Hilo market.
The state of Hawaii has rather confusing regulations regarding DBAs. The state specifically notes that “registration of a trade name with the Department DOES NOT grant you ownership of the trade name.” However, on the exact same page, they say that “the basic rule is that the first person to make active and continuous use of the name is the person who owns the name.”
They also note that “registration is not required in order for you to own the trade name and you do not therefore have to register the name.” So, what exactly is the point of registering a DBA in this state? According to the state, the only advantage is that people will be aware that you’re claiming the name, which does not affect your actual legal status regarding the name. In other words, your right to a DBA name in Hawaii has nothing to do with registering a DBA. Instead, you can merely start using the name and you automatically own it.
Given the fact that this state’s regulations are so casual regarding DBA names, we strongly prefer simply starting a new LLC and registering the name that way. In this scenario, there is no doubt that you own the exclusive rights to the name. Still, if you do want to register a trade name for your Hawaii LLC, we’ll outline the process below.
How to Get a DBA for a Hawaii LLC
First off, we’ll note that Hawaii 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 Hawaii begins with a search of the state’s business name database to make sure your name is available. Once you determine its availability, you can fill out the Application for Registration of Trade Name document.
This form requires your name and address, an indication that your business is an LLC, the jurisdiction where your LLC was originally registered, the new trade name you’re registering, an indication that you are either the originator of the name or that the name was assigned to you, the nature of your LLC’s business, your signature, your printed name, and the date.
When you’re done filling out the form, you can submit it online, by mail, by fax, by email, or in person. No matter how you choose to file it, this form has a $50 fee. The typical turnaround time is 3-5 business days, but if you pay an additional $20 to expedite your order, they will usually be able to process it in just one business day.
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. In some states, a DBA grants you exclusive rights to your new trade name, but in states like Hawaii, 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 Hawaii, a DBA might not be the best idea.