Registering your freelance business as an LLC (Limited Liability Company) in Washington comes with a host of perks. But before you can reap the benefits of operating as an LLC, you need to complete your registration. And the first step involves coming up with a unique name.
Also referred to as a “trade name,” you’ll end up using this name for everything from setting up your business’s bank account and signing contracts, to representing yourself in any legal cases you might find yourself in.
Since you’re planning on registering your LLC in Washington, having an understanding of the state’s naming requirements is key. After all, if you don’t know the rules, you might end up wasting time coming up with a name that will end up being rejected, or one that will violate an existing trademark. And no one likes rejection…or lawsuits!
If you’re a freelancer in Washington, check out the information below to learn a bit about what it takes to name your business right.
Washington LLC Name Requirements
Your business’s name must end with the words “Limited Liability Company” or “Limited Liability Co.,” or the abbreviation “LLC” or “L.L.C.”
Let’s say you want to call your business the ABC limited liability company. You can write it out as:
- ABC Limited Liability Company
- ABC Limited Liability Co.
- ABC L.L.C.
- ABC LLC
Whatever name you choose shouldn’t be misleading to the public either.
For example, your LLC’s name shouldn’t imply a false government affiliation. This is why using words like “agency,” “commission,” “department,” “bureau,” “division,” “municipal,” or “board” are a big no-no.
Your LLC’s Name Can’t Be Similar to Existing Washington LLCs
Washington law specifies that your LLC’s name needs to be unique in several ways, so you can’t just use any name you want and add “LLC” to the end of it.
Here’s what you should keep in mind as you brainstorm the perfect name for your business:
The name can’t be the same as or too similar to the name of an existing LLC that’s on file with the Washington Secretary of State.
When you go to file your LLC articles of organization with the Secretary of State, they’ll check to ensure that your proposed name hasn’t already been used.
If the name is already registered by someone else, your articles will be rejected and you’ll need to refile using a new name.
There is an exception, though: If the other LLC agrees to let you use the name, you might be good to go. Unfortunately, it’s usually either impossible or too expensive to get this consent.
How can you be sure that your name won’t get rejected?
Prior to filing your articles, check if the name you want to use is available in Washington.
If you’re using an attorney, they can help you check for the name’s availability. Just keep in mind that attorney fees could quickly add up, and those costs could burn when you’re first starting off. Ouch!
If you’re filing all of the paperwork yourself, it’s up to you to check the availability of the name you want.
You can perform a search for the name in the Washington Secretary of State’s online business search database. Sounds simple enough, right?
But you should be aware that this database only shows you the names of LLCs registered with the Washington Secretary of State. So this isn’t a good tool to use if you want to be sure your name won’t match the name of registered businesses in other states.
Want to reserve your name before someone else grabs it?
Let’s say you’ve come up with a fabulous name, and you can’t see your business running under any other name. You’ve done your homework and confirmed that the name isn’t in use, so it’s up for grabs.
But what if someone else comes up with the same brilliant name and swoops in and snatches it up before you do?! Don’t fret. Here’s how you canrest assured the name will still be available by the time you file your articles.
All you have to do is reserve the name by filing a Name Reservation.
You’ll need to hand-deliver or mail this form to the Washington Secretary of State’s office, and you’ll be hit with a $30 fee.
But, it’ll all be worth it because they’ll hold the name for up to 180 days, and during that time, you’re the only one who can file articles of organization under the name. Sweet!
Businesses with Similar Names in Other States
What if another business is using a similar name to operate in another state? It still might not be a good idea to use it, even if you’d be able to register it with ease in Washington.
- You shouldn’t use a name similar to a well-known business. We’re talking about names like Amazon, Tesla, or McDonald’s. Did you know that these companies will sue other businesses that use similar names? McDonald’s regularly sues companies that use the “Mc” prefix. Pretty extreme, but true. To avoid problems, it’s best to steer clear of similar business names.
- You shouldn’t use a name that’s similar to another company that provides similar goods and services. If the other business finds out, it might sue you for unfair competition.To protect yourself, if you’re only planning to do business locally, search for the names of local businesses within your niche.If you plan on doing business around the country, search for businesses on a national level.
How to search for business names that might be too similar to yours:
- Perform an online search for the business name that you’re hoping to use. See if anyone else, anywhere, is already using it or something similar. Also look into what goods and services they provide.
- Check out SuperPages or the Thomas Register of Products and Services to search for trade and corporate names online. It’s free!
What About Trademarks?
Trademarks are different from business names. We know, it gets confusing. Hold tight, we’re about to explain.
First off, when the Washington Secretary of State registers your LLC name, it just establishes that name as your LLC’s formal legal name. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll have the legal right to use that name, or any form of it, to sell your products and/or services.
Secondly, there are both federal and state trademark laws designed to protect the names that are used to market products and services. Companies will often use a shorter version of their business name as a trademark.
Example: Apple Computer Corporation becomes Apple, which is the trademark for all of those computers and devices everyone loves.
Okay, but what does this mean for you, the freelancer who just wants to register their LLC and start making money?
Well, if you choose a name that’s the same or similar to a registered trademark of another business, you might get sued for trademark infringement when you try to market your products or services. #VeryVeryBad
In addition to checking if your preferred business name is already registered by another company, you also need to check that you aren’t competing with a trademark that’s the same or similar.
For details on how to search for registered trademarks, check out our article, DIY Guide to Trademark Research.
If your LLC’s name is registered as a trademark by someone else, you’ll need to limit the use of that name to your bank account and legal documents. And that could leave you walking on eggshells.
But, the good news is that you don’t have to use your official legal business name to market your goods or services!
Here’s an example of what we mean:
If you registered your LLC as “AAA Web Design, LLC,” you can operate under a trade name, like “Gorgeous Websites for Cheap.”
Use that name, also called a DBA (short for “doing business as”) on your website, business cards, promotional materials, advertising, etc.
You register your trade name with the State of Washington Business Licensing Service and it’s good throughout the state.
To register, file a Business License Application with the Business Licensing Service online or by mail. There is a $5 fee per name.
But, wait. Your trade name can’t be the same or similar to another fictitious name that’s already in use in Washington. And it can’t be a name that might violate a trademark. So, before you go ahead and file the appropriate paperwork, you’ll need to do more searching.
Search in the following locations to make sure the name you have chosen isn’t already taken:
- State of Washington Business Licenses
- Washington Department of Revenue
- Washington Secretary of State Corporations Registration Data Search
- Washington Secretary of State Trademark search
- United States Patent and Trademark Office
Tips for Naming Your LLC
Wow, this information is a lot to take in. Take a breath, and know that you can definitely get it all done and have the perfect LLC name in no time.
But, before we send you on your way, we have a few other tips for you:
- Check if your LLC’s name can be used as your domain name for your website.
Search through domain name registration websites like Register and Network Solutions.
You might need to purchase a domain name that’s owned by someone else, or tweak your domain name to find one that’s available. This link has a list of resources that can help you generate a domain name if you’re having trouble.
- Come up with a distinctive business name that will stand out, especially if you’re hoping to use a version of your name as a trademark or service mark.
Think about it: you know exactly what Exxon and Häagen-Dazs are because they’re such original names.
Plus, the more distinctive a business name is, the more protection receives as a trademark. A name that’s not so distinctive, or even considered weak, might not get as much, if any, legal protection.
- Choose a name that’s appealing, memorable, easy to use, easy to pronounce, and easy to spell.
Keeping your name short is also recommended.
- Avoid the use of personal names (first names, surnames, nicknames, and initials) in your company name.
And avoid names that describe your geographic location, like “Oregon Marketing Research, LLC”.
Oh, and avoid names that describe the attributes of your products or services, like “Original Web Design, LLC”. Come on, you can do better than that!
Ready to Come Up with the Perfect Name for Your LLC?
When you’re ready to launch your business, start by getting creative and coming up with a list of potential LLC names. Then, keep things simple by contacting us.
Collective does all the legwork to find out if a potential name don’t make the cut. We’ll even guide you through the process of registering your business.
Before you know it, you’ll be one step closer to operating like a pro!
Stephen has dedicated his career as an attorney and author to writing useful, authoritative and recognized guides on taxes and business law for small businesses, entrepreneurs, independent contractors, and freelancers. He is the author of over 20 books and hundreds of articles and has been quoted in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, and many other publications. Among his books are Deduct It! Lower Your Small Business Taxes, Working with Independent Contractors, and Working for Yourself: Law and Taxes for Independent Contractors, Freelancers & Consultants.