Businesses from sole proprietorships to major corporations use DBA, or "doing business as" to denote a fictitious business name. If you decide it is in your business' best interest to change DBA name down the road, there are several things to consider besides the actual paperwork.
Doing Business As
A sole proprietor who goes by his own name isn't using a DBA. Neither is a corporation using the name given on its articles of incorporation. The law for when a business needs a DBA varies from state to state. Depending on where someone lives, Smith Plumbing might count as using the owner's real name, or it might be a DBA because it's not the owner's full legal name, such as James Smith Plumbing, LLC.
If your state requires businesses to register a DBA, you usually file the paperwork with your local county government. However, the law where you live might require you to register with the state instead. Your county clerk's office or state government website should be able to explain the rules.
Research Names First
Before filing to change DBA name, find out if the one you want is already taken. The county or state may require you to search its DBA database to confirm that the name you want to adopt isn't already a business name.
Even if the name is available, don't stop there. Research the federal trademarks database from the United States Patent and Trademark Organization (USPTO) and see if the name copies or resembles any trademarks. If it does, this not only prevents you from trademarking the name, it could also open you up to a trademark infringement lawsuit down the line.
Also, review a database of domain names. If you want to change Smith Plumbing to 24-Hour Plumbing and the 24hourplumbing.biz domain name is already taken, that limits your ability to market your company online.
How to Make Changes
If you're satisfied you've picked a usable name, the next step is to register it. This involves the same procedures you originally used to file with your state or county government. You submit your real name — or for a corporation, real business name —and your new DBA, then pay a filing fee. If the local law requires it, you may have to advertise the change in your local newspaper and then submit a proof-of-publication affidavit to the county.
If you want to trademark your DBA, or use it as a new domain name, take steps to register the trademark and domain as soon as the change is legal.
Tips and Practical Matters
If you're doing business under a new name, you need to change everything that has the old name on it, including:
- Letterhead and business cards
- Email addresses
- Advertising materials
- Bank accounts
- Signs on your premises
- Any documents, contracts, permits or licenses taken out in your fictitious name
Some of these steps cost money. They also take time — you'll want your new brochures printed up before you announce the name change.
Announcing the New DBA
You want to make the change public as soon as it happens, or even in advance. If you have employees, they need to know, as do your suppliers and, most importantly, your customers and potential customers.
An email blitz to your current customers or an advance notice on your company blog about the decision to change dba name can give people some advance notice. If you have a customer or vendor you want to build a better relationship with, you can tell her privately so that she appears to have inside intel.
After you make the change, your ads should reflect the new name. However it may be worth mentioning your old name ("24 Hour Plumbing is the new name for Smith Plumbing.") as well to make sure your clients don't become confused. Make sure you are changing the name you do business under for a good reason, perhaps for rebranding. When you change your name, you will likely lose some of the benefits of familiarity of your previous brand in the marketplace.
Fraser Sherman has written about every aspect of business: how to start one, how to keep one in the black, the best business structure, the details of financial statements. He's also run a couple of small businesses of his own. He lives in Durham NC with his awesome wife and two wonderful dogs. His website is frasersherman.com