If you’re doing business in Pennsylvania, then you need to register your business name with the Pennsylvania state government. That makes sure you’re able to use that particular name exclusively. No one (except you) can use that business name for their own business transactions.
You may not even realize how much you’ll be using your business name. It’ll be in all your office forms, corporate stationery, and business cards. Every marketing and advertising material you release will feature this business name. It’ll be in all your official business formation documents, in your loan documents, and in every business contract and agreement you sign.
The main problem with not registering your business name in Pennsylvania is that someone else may already be using it, or someone may use it in the future. After all, Pennsylvania is a large state with a huge population. Great minds think alike, and it’s not all that improbable that some other people will come up with your business name to use.
So, how do you do this? Registering your business name in Pennsylvania involves a few crucial steps:
#1. Decide Your Business Structure and Business Name
When you’re running a business (whether in Pennsylvania or anywhere else), you’ll have to decide the structure you want for your business. It can be a corporation, a limited liability company (or LLC), a partnership, or a sole proprietorship.
The best choice for you will depend on several factors. Do you need personal liability protection? Are you planning on attracting investors? Do you wish to maintain a more complicated business structure? The answers to these questions can help guide you as to what business structure best fits your needs.
Personal Business Names for Sole Proprietorships and Partnerships
Some business owners choose to go with a sole proprietorship because there’s no need to register with the state. This is often the business structure used by freelance operators, along with some business owners and franchisees.
If you wish to run a sole proprietorship, then it will operate with your name by default. The legal name of your business and your personal name will be the same.
With partnerships, the name of the business will have to include all the surnames of the partners. You may have noticed that law firms (which often run as partnerships) are generally named this way, like Dewey, Cheatem, and Howe.
But you have the option of using a different name, not unlike how rappers have their hip-hop names for their musical brands. If you’re running a catering business, then instead of using your personal name, you can call your service something else (like “The Meticulous Catering Service for Foodies”). This is called using a DBA, for “doing business as”.
#2. Follow the Pennsylvania Naming Rules for Corporations
If you’re running an LLC or a corporation, then there are rules to follow. The most basic rule is that if you’re running an LLC, then the name has to include the phrase limited liability company. As in XYZ Limited Liability Company. But you can also instead use various abbreviations for the phrase, like Limited, Ltd., LLC, or L.L.C.
For a corporation, you have to use one of these terms: incorporated, corporation, or company. Thus, you have the XYZ Corporation.
Instead of XYZ, though, you can use any name or phrase you want using letters and numbers along with other common symbols like “&” and “!”. The same goes if you’re using a brand name for your sole proprietorship or partnership.
There are some restrictions, however.
You can’t just use words like University, Attorney, or Bank. You’d have to get approval from the appropriate overseeing body or board first. For example, to use the word “Bank” in your company name, you’d have to get approval from the Banking Commissioner. You can’t also include words that will liken the name of your LLC with an agency under the Government such as the State Department or FBI. You can’t also use the word “University” or “College” without the ok from the Pennsylvania Higher Education Coordinating Board.
If you’re planning to name a corporation in the state of Pennsylvania, your business cannot be named in a way that includes other services apart from those in the Pennsylvania reserved names.
The state of Pennsylvania has a list of words that cannot be used when naming a corporation and the use of these names/words will require approval. The list of the words is available on the Pennsylvania State Statute naming guide in Pennsylvania for further details.
You can always get yourself a registered agent service that can help you with your business name search. Registered agent services are anyway (though theoretically, you can do it yourself) quite affordable now. These services know all the rules by heart.
You can also go online and check out various free name generators for LLCs and corporations. Their suggestions can help you come out with your own business name.
#3. Check the Business Name Availability
You may have come up with a great, catchy business name for your corporation, but then again, it’s entirely possible that somebody else is already using that same business name in Pennsylvania. The business name rules online also define whether similar business names are allowed or not.
But you have to check first, to see whether the business name you’ve chosen is already in use or not in Pennsylvania. You can do this using the Pennsylvania business entity search tool to be sure that the name you’re planning to use isn’t already in use as this will result in denial of your filing. You’ll need to fulfill some search requirements depending on the needs of your business. These requirements may include:
- Filing for a DBA name for all available business structures
- Filing for strict business structures such as corporations and LLCs.
Your registered agent service can do this search for you, including searching for similar business names. That way, you don’t end up with a business name that’s too similar to another business name. That can just lead to confusion, even if the name is theoretically allowed.
Finally, you may as well check to see if your business name is also available as a web domain. You need to have a website for your business—most clients and customers may regard your corporation as not quite legit if you don’t have one. At the very least, you’ll want to acquire the URL to make sure other business entities can’t use it for their own ends.
With your web domain and website, you should also have your own professional email account. While your Gmail account may do well enough for your private use, you need an account that ends with “@yourcompanyname.com”. Again, it reassures people that you’re running a legit business.
Note that the State of Pennsylvania doesn’t require a State-level name search when you’re planning to have an informal business structure like general partnerships or sole proprietorship.
If you want to register a DBA name or an assumed name, you’ll need to search the database to see if your business name is available.
#4.Register Your Business Name
Now that you’ve decided on your business structure and you’ve checked that your chosen business name is actually available, the next logical step is registering your business with the state. You can do this on your own, by filing the necessary documents with the State of Pennsylvania. You’ll need to file your Articles of Organization with the Pennsylvania Department of State if you’re forming an LLC, or file the Articles of Incorporation with the Pennsylvania Department of State if you’re forming a Corporation. You can choose to apply by mail, or online.
Your best bet is to go with an online business incorporation service, and the best ones offer registered agent services as well. They will file the documents for you for a very modest fee. That way, you know that all the details are handled properly and you can focus on actually setting up your business.
Note that in the state of Pennsylvania you can protect the name of your business by applying for a trademark for it. This will cost 225 to 400 dollars in addition to whatever the attorney fees are. You’ll be doing this after you have confirmed the availability of the business name and have secured it.
Tips on Picking Your Business Name
The right name can really help to get your business going, while the wrong business name can lead to customer dissatisfaction and even legal troubles. With the right business name, you can then proceed with your marketing and advertising more effectively.
So, how do you pick the right business name? Here are some tips that can help:
- Stick to easy-to-spell names. That way, when people hear about your brand, they’re more able to do research and find your brand online. In the same vein, go with names that are easy to pronounce. You don’t want to keep correcting people on how to pronounce your business name properly. You then may have to end up with a mispronounced business name.
- Don’t go with a that’s too narrow or limiting. That’s a problem that even Google encountered when they expanded their business beyond their search engine. They eventually formed Alphabet Inc. to become their mother company. That’s also the problem that Amazon avoided.
- Use Google to see if your business name is already in use. While the name may not yet be registered in Pennsylvania, it’s still something to avoid so you won’t have any online confusion.
- Try to go with meaningful names. The name itself can have a nice history, or it can clearly imply your business goals.
- Go with catchy names as well. It should look good on paper, and sound nice, too. It should be something that catches your customers’ attention, instead of a boring business name that people forget quickly. At the same time, don’t be too weird—it can make customers think that you’re unprofessional.
- Be happy with your business name. Don’t settle. You’ll have to live with that name, and customers can sense when you aren’t all too sold with the business name you’ve chosen. You have to be able to say your business name with pride.
Changing Your Business Name
You may decide to change your business name in the future. It may be because you’re transferring to another location in Pennsylvania, or maybe you’re changing or expanding your products and services. You may even go for a more politically neutral name, so you don’t end up like the Washington Redskins football team.
For the state of Pennsylvania, you can do this by either filing for a DBA, or an assumed name, or by applying for an amendment to the legal name of a business that already exists. Filing for a DBA, or an assumed name is an extremely expedient course because you avoid the tedious task of changing your legal name. You won’t have to file an amendment to the legal name of your current business. Filing for a DBA is the only available means for general partnerships and sole proprietorships to change their business name in the state of Pennsylvania.
Corporations and LLCs can choose to file for a DBA or apply for an amendment to the legal name of a business that already exists. Corporations are to file this document, while LLCs are to file the Certificate of Amendment – Pennsylvania LLC. You can apply for an amendment to the legal name of a business that already exists or DBA by submitting the form through mail or online alongside a filing fee of 70 dollars for the document(s) you file.
How much will it cost to start my LLC and register my business name?
Incorporating your business in Pennsylvania, whether it’s an LLC or a corporation, will cost you 125 dollars to file for the Articles of Organization with the Pennsylvania Department of State.
Is it better to use an online incorporation service?
Yes. It is a better choice for most business owners because you have professionals covering each step of the incorporation process—including registering your business name. You can get services such as registered agent services, document forms and templates you can use, and checking on business name availability. These services can even help you set up your website, or provide assistance in various matters that new startups may require.
What the online incorporation service really does is free you from the tedious job of minding the details when you’re starting your business. That way, you’re able to focus your efforts more on actually setting up your business—and then getting it running!
Do I need a business license?
The state of Pennsylvania does not require a general statewide business license to operate. You’ll need to acquire licensing at a county or city level. The license you’ll need depends on the type of business you’ll have and the location of your business.
How do I go about getting a Pennsylvania Business License?
You’ll have to know the licenses required for your business to operate in Pennsylvania. You’ll do this by applying online through the Licencing System of Pennsylvania Website.
Can I register for Taxes in the State of Pennsylvania?
Yes, you’ll have to fill and submit the PA-100 form aka Business Entity Registration form online or by mail.