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 Massachusetts 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 a Massachusetts-based plumbing business called “Boston Plumbing,” and you want to expand beyond Boston, you can register a DBA for “Salem Plumbing” and use that name in the Salem market.
The state of Massachusetts does say that your DBA name needs to be exclusive, but there doesn’t seem to be any sort of mechanism in place to ensure that this is the case. DBAs are registered on the municipal level in this state, so there is no statewide database of DBA names.
That means that you could search Boston’s business name database and find that no business in this city is using your same name, but to make sure no one else is using it across the state, you would have to dig through every city’s database. Obviously, not everyone is going to go to that level of hassle, so we don’t think a DBA is the best way to go if you want to register an additional business name for your LLC in Massachusetts.
However, if you still want to get a DBA for your Massachusetts LLC, we’ll walk you through the process below.
How to Get a DBA for a Massachusetts LLC
The process for obtaining a DBA in Massachusetts differs from most states in that this is not handled at the state level. Instead, it is left to each city and town to register and keep track of DBA names themselves. In this section, we’ll discuss the general process of registering a DBA in this state. Keep in mind that the process in your municipality may vary, so make sure to check with your local government before tackling this process.
The first step is to search several databases to see if the name you want is available. First, you’ll need to search the state’s business name database, and then, you have to search the reserved names database to make sure no business in this state has reserved the name for future use. After that, you will need to find and search your city’s business certificate database to ensure the name is available for local registration.
Once you have determined that your desired name is not already registered in any of these three databases, you can move on to actually registering if for yourself. Each city in Massachusetts has its own version of a “business certificate” which can be used to register a DBA name.
In most cases, this form requires the following information: the DBA name you wish to register, your LLC’s business address, your LLC’s official business name, the nature of your business, your phone number, your email address, your website, and your signature. It’s important to note that many cities also require this form to be notarized.
The filing fees for these registrations vary by city, as do the methods for submitting your forms to the city, so again, you’ll need to check with your municipality to find out what the exact process looks like.
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 Massachusetts, each municipality keeps track of its own DBA names. Therefore, it’s all too easy for multiple businesses to register the same DBA 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 know that you have exclusive rights to your name.
If you’re looking for a new way to market your LLC in Massachusetts, a DBA might not be the best idea.
Get a DBA for an LLC in all States
We break down the DBA filing process in every state. View all of our guides below.