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 Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin-based plumbing business called “Milwaukee Plumbing,” and you want to expand beyond Milwaukee, you can register a DBA for “Madison Plumbing” and use that name in the Madison market.
The state of Wisconsin provides no exclusivity for DBA names. In fact, they even say that the act of registering the name is “optional.” This means that if another business wants to use your DBA name as their own, they are entitled to do so. Furthermore, you don’t need to register a DBA, as you can simply start using it without registration.
For these reasons, we are not fans of filing DBAs in Wisconsin. If you want an additional business name for your LLC, you can form an additional LLC. While this is certainly more effort than a DBA (and it costs more too), we think the exclusive naming rights are worth it.
That said, if you still want to get a DBA for your Wisconsin LLC, we’ll discuss how the process works in the following section.
How to Get a DBA for a Wisconsin LLC
The process for DBA registration in Wisconsin starts with a search of the state’s business database to ensure the name you want is still available and hasn’t been registered for a formal business entity. Once you’ve verified the eligibility of your desired name, you can fill out the online registration form.
This document requires the following information: an indication that you’re registering the name for an entity, your LLC’s business address, the DBA name you’re registering, your name, your phone number, your email address, your signature, and your title.
When you’re ready to file this document, you will submit it online to the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions. This filing has a $15 fee and it typically takes about five business days to process.
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 name. However, Wisconsin specifically says that registering a DBA 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 than 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 Wisconsin, a DBA might not be the best idea.