Finding the name of a business owner isn't hard if you know which places to look. Some businesses, such as corporations, have to provide names and other information when they register with the state. Even with a one-person operation, you can often find information about a small business in public records.
Doing Business As, or "DBA"
While some sole proprietors and partnerships use the owner's name as the business's name, others don't. A name like Powerhouse Plumbing, for instance, sounds cooler than John Jones, Plumber, for instance, but it doesn't tell you the name of the business owner if you want to complain or sue them.
State laws and local ordinances across the country require people "doing business as" an assumed name to register their own name along with the DBA they're using. If you want to know who's behind a given DBA, contact your local city or county government about where in their small business public records to look up the list of DBAs and their owners.
Corporations also use DBAs sometimes. A company launching a new product may prefer using a new name so a failure won't tarnish the parent brand. These names have to be registered, but that usually happens at the state level.
Names On Licenses
Along with doctors and lawyers, many other careers need licenses. North Carolina, for example, requires licenses from alarm installers, acupuncturists, auctioneers, cosmetologists, geologists, manicurists and locksmiths, among dozens of others. To get a license requires giving the state a name.
At the local level, lots of city and county governments require businesses in their jurisdiction to take out a business license or permit. This makes it legal for the business to operate inside city or county limits.
Look up a license, see who holds it and you have the business owner's name. Washington state's Business Licensing Service, for instance, let's you search by license number, type of license or location. At the local level, a quick call to the county commission or city council should get you the information on where to search for a local business license.
Registered Business Structures
Outside of licenses and DBAs, sole proprietorships and partnerships can operate without much of a government paper trail. Other business structures, such as corporations and limited liability companies, have to register with the state to set up shop.
If someone founds a corporation, for instance, they have to file paperwork with their state government, usually the Secretary of State's office or the Division of Corporations. That information is part of the public record, including the names of the founders and the directors.
In Florida, for example, you can search the Division of Corporations' website in multiple ways:
- By the corporate name.
- By street address.
- By zip code, though this will give you a lot of false positives.
- Corporate officers.
- The name of the registered agent who represents the company.
- By their trademark.
- By the employer identification number (EIN) used for taxes.
Find Business Owner By Address
If all you have is an address, that may be enough. Like Florida's Division of Corporations, the state of Washington's license search page, for instance, allows you to look for the name of the business owner by the business street address. Local business licenses usually include an address as well as a name.
Property ownership of specific parcels and buildings is also public information as governments have to know who to bill for property tax. You can research ownership of a property in the county tax records, though some states require you do this in person, not online.
If you see a new building going up and you want to know who's behind the construction, you can look that up too. Any project more ambitious than putting on a new coat of paint requires the owner to submit permits, building plans and other information to local government. The building department should be able to give you the company name, then you can search for the owners.
- Bplans: The Complete Guide to Registering Your Business Name
- NC Careers: Occupations Requiring a License in North Carolina
- State of Washington Business Licensing Service
- SBA: Choose a Business Structure
- Coordinated Legal Tech: Secretaries of State
- SunBiz: Search Records
- St. Louis Post-Dispatch: What's Being Build Near You?
- Levelset: How to Find The Property Owner on a Construction Project
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