If you’re reading this, then WOOOO-HOOO! Congrats on taking the first step to making your dreams come true and starting your own business. I’m so excited to help you do this right–the first time. Follow these six easy steps to ensure you are setting your business up legally to avoid any future infringement lawsuits.
Step 1: Choose a Name.
This is one of the most important decisions you will make for your business. Is your name unique? Is it something that will catch people’s attention? Does it help explain what your business is about?
There are a ton of considerations to weigh when choosing a name for your business. The most important thing to remember is that it should make YOU happy and proud.
Step 2: Conduct an Informal Search to See if That Name is in Use.
After you have established what you want your business name to be, it is always a good idea to do an informal search of that business name on Google, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to find out if there are any already existing businesses with that name. If there are, try and come up with another name. This will help you avoid any trademark issues in the future (i.e. a business suing you for using their registered name).
Step 3: Conduct a Formal Search of Your State and the Federal Trademark Database.
Once you have completed the informal search step and you can’t find another business with your unique name, it is time to conduct a formal search on your state’s secretary of state website. This is a very easy step and can be done online for all states (as far as I know).
Businesses in every state are subject to trademark infringement lawsuits, which can prove costly. That’s why you should check your prospective business, product, and service names against the official trademark database, maintained by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Or, my biggest suggestion is to hire an attorney to do a preliminary formal search of your business name! They know what they’re doing and will provide you with an extensive list of information pertaining to the name you selected that is appropriate for trademark registration should you choose to go that route later down the road.
Step 4: Register your Business Name with your State.
Most states don’t allow you to register a name that’s already been registered by someone else, so your name must be unique. Once you have found the name you like, and it has passed both a formal and informal search, you need to protect it. You can find paperwork on your state’s secretary of state website to register your business name with the state.
Once your business name is registered, no one else can register with the same name as you! [Shouting from the rooftops!] State registration in most states costs about $20-200.
Step 5: Register for a Domain Name.
A domain name is simply your website name. If your business is called “Paige Marie Photography” you would want to buy a domain name like www.paigemariephotography.com or www.paigemariephoto.com.
I usually complete a domain name search during the informal search to ensure that the domain matching my business name is available (I also do this for Instagram to ensure my business name or something really similar is available on Insta). Once you make sure that the domain is available, buy the domain name ASAP! It would be so unfortunate if you registered your business name with your state and then found out a really popular website is already using the domain name you wanted to buy. Websites like google.com, godaddy.com and bluehost.com are easy places where you can buy a domain name.
Step 6: File for a Federal Trademark (optional).
This is the most complicated step of the process and it is not necessary to complete right off the bat, but a good idea to complete eventually to protect your brand. Filing for a federal trademark can be spendy, so if you need to wait until your business is profitable you can totally wait! Filing for a federal trademark will cost you at least $225 (without the help of an attorney) and up to $400 for each additional service or class or goods you want to protect. Further costs often include legal fees, additional add-ons, and after mark registers.
To register a trademark, go to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s website at www.uspto.gov. There is a paper application process, but there are additional costs associated with the paper process. I recommend using the online system. The online application is less expensive and easier to navigate. However, registering for a trademark is not for the faint of heart and is a difficult process that you don’t want to mess up, because it could impact your ability to register a name at all if you do something wrong at the beginning. Hence, chatting with a lawyer before registering your mark is the best idea!
I hope this helps any of you just starting out! Contact me if you have questions about specific states or how to register your business name. I am always happy to help, but may need to refer you to a local attorney if its a state-based question.