Photo credit: Khwaneigq
You have done your research and chosen a name that speaks to your customers. Your cleaning business name describes what you do and who you are. Your business name is available in your state, county or town. What’s next?
At this point, it is still not a good idea to order a web domain name, signs, business cards, or other supplies with your chosen business name until your cleaning business name is registered. Remember that your business name must be fully registered with your local town, county or state before you use it to open a bank account, sign a contract, sign a lease or start advertising your brand new cleaning business. For self-employed sole proprietors and general partners there are some business name rules to be aware of before you register a name.
Name Rules for Unincorporated Businesses
In nearly all states, the words “company” or “co.” can be used in DBA (doing business as) names, fictitious names, assumed business names or trade names for sole proprietors and general partners.
Unincorporated sole proprietors and general partners are restricted from selecting names that suggest their businesses are incorporated when they are not. That includes DBAs (doing business as) names, trade names, assumed names or fictitious names that include words, phrases or abbreviations such as:
• Corporation (including corp.)
• Incorporated (including inc.)
• Limited (including ltd.)
• Professional corporation
• Professional association
• Service corporation
• Cooperative (including coop)
• Mutual benefit enterprise
• Limited liability company (including LC, LLC, PLC, or L3C)
• Limited liability partnership (including RLLP or LLP)
• Limited partnership
Finally, in many states, sole proprietors or general partners may not register trade names, fictitious or assumed names that resemble the names of agencies of the federal government or any state government.
A Business Name Versus A Trademark
The difference between business names and trademarks is:
• A business name is the name under which a company does business. A business name identifies and distinguishes one business from another. An example of a business name is Scrub Bright House Cleaning Service.
• Trademarks are generally unique combinations of words, phrases or symbols that identify and distinguish to the general public the services or goods of one business from those of other businesses. Trademarks also indicate the source of the services or goods. An example of a trademark* is:
Trademarks may be established and protected by use at the state and federal levels. Information about federal trademarks is available from the website of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Information about state trademarks is typically available through Secretary of State websites for each state.
Register With Your State, County Or Town?
Sole proprietorships and general partnerships are more likely to need a county DBA name registration than incorporated businesses such as LLCs (Limited Liability Companies) or corporations. Sole proprietors and general partners who choose to register a DBA generally must do so with the county or town where the business is based. The remaining 20 US states have a state filing requirement.
New businesses in these states should check with their local county clerks to register their DBA (doing business as) name:
• Delaware (general partners must register with the state)
• Kentucky (general partners must register with the state)
• Louisiana (rules vary by parish)
• New Jersey
• New Mexico
• New York
• North Carolina
• North Dakota (general partners must register with the state)
• South Carolina
• South Dakota
More Business Name Registration Rules
After registering a DBA name, seven states require a new business to publish their DBA name in a newspaper or legal publication. These states are: California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska and Pennsylvania.
In many states, a business owner can also reserve a DBA name by filing a Reserve Name Application form. Filing this form will reserve your chosen name for one year. The reservation holds the name but does not allow you use of the name until the registration process is complete.
The majority of states that require registration of DBA names also require renewal of DBA name registration. Typically DBA names need to be renewed every five years, but other states have renewal cycles ranging from every one to ten years.
Protecting Your Business Name
In most states, even after you have searched and registered a business name that is not too similar to other business names in your state, simply filing a DBA or fictitious name does not guarantee your business sole rights to the use of that name. Other businesses in the state may also register the same DBA name.
Many states follow the Hawaii Rule when it comes to trade name ownership. In Hawaii, a trade name is owned by a business simply by using the name before the public. The basic rule is that the first person to make active and continuous use of the name is the person who owns the name.
You may still have to defend your registered name legally, including in court, if you plan to grow statewide, regionally or nationally.
Registering a business name can be a process that ranges from a one page $10 DBA certificate in some counties and towns to hundreds of dollars spent in other states and counties in notary fees and ads in newspapers to publicize your business name. Each state has its own set of rules and regulations to be aware of that are part of the name registration dance. The best way to get started is to contact your secretary of state, plus your county or city/town clerk’s office for more information. Most states also have websites with a wealth of information on how to start and name your business.
No matter how long or short the process, keep the end in mind. The end is what you want this cleaning business to do for you and where you want to take it. Whether your goal is a side business to pay off a few bills or growing a cleaning empire worth millions, begin with the end in mind. Your cleaning business name is just the first step on that path.
Get started with Cleaning Business Name Basics in Part One
Just Getting Started?
- Apply for a business name
- Get a business license
- Register to pay taxes
Just click on the map to find your state and get started.
*The ServiceMaster trademark is a registered® trademark of The ServiceMaster Company, LLC. Use of the trademark does not imply any affiliation with or endorsement by ServiceMaster Company, LLC.