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
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 Pennsylvania-based plumbing business called “Philadelphia Plumbing,” and you want to expand beyond Philadelphia, you can register a DBA for “Pittsburgh Plumbing” and use that name in the Pittsburgh market.
The state of Pennsylvania specifically mentions that filing a DBA provides no exclusivity for the name you register. This means that if another entrepreneur likes your DBA name, they can register it for themselves and use it for their own business. This lack of exclusive naming rights is a massive drawback for Pennsylvania DBAs, to the point where there’s really no advantage to registering one.
If you want an additional business name for your Pennsylvania LLC, you’ll need to form another LLC to secure the rights to the unique name. That said, if you still want to register a DBA for your Pennsylvania LLC, we’ll outline the process in the following section.
How to Get a DBA for a Pennsylvania LLC
First off, we’ll note that Pennsylvania typically refers to DBAs as “fictitious 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 Pennsylvania starts with a business name search to determine whether the name you want to register is available or if it has already been registered by another formal business entity. Once you ensure that the name is available, you can move on to fill out the Registration of Fictitious Name.
This document requires the following information: the fictitious name you’re registering, a brief statement about the nature of your business, your LLC’s principal business address, the names and addresses of your LLC’s owners, your LLC’s official business name, the name of your LLC’s registered agent, the location of your LLC’s registered office, your name, your title, your signature, and the date.
When you’re ready to file the form, you can submit it to the Department of State online, by mail, by fax, or by hand. No matter how you choose to file it, this document has a $70 fee, unless you’re a military veteran, in which case the state will waive the fee. You can expect the state to take 7-10 business days to process your filing, although there are expedited options available as well: same-day service for $100, three-hour service for $300, or one-hour service for $1,000.
There is also a publication step required as part of this process, but you only need to advertise your fictitious name if an “individual party” registers the DBA name. Because we’re registering a fictitious name for an LLC, this step is not necessary.
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 fictitious name. However, Pennsylvania specifically says that registering a fictitious name in this state grants you no exclusive right to use that name. 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 Pennsylvania, a DBA might not be the best idea.