Registering your freelance business as an LLC (Limited Liability Company) in Virginia 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.
What to know before you pick a business name
The name can’t be the same as, or even just too similar to, the name of an existing LLC that’s on file with the Virginia Corporation Commission.
Expect that, when you go to file your LLC articles of organization with the Corporation Commission, they’ll check to ensure that your proposed name hasn’t already been used.
If the name has been registered by someone else already, 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 to do a business name search
Prior to filing your articles, check if the name that you wish to use is actually available in Virginia.
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!
On the other hand, if you’re filing the paperwork yourself, it’s up to you to check the availability of the name you want.
You can perform an online search for the name at the Virginia Corporation Commission Name Distinguishability Database. Sounds simple enough, right?
But you should be aware that this database will only show you the names of other LLCs that are registered with the Virginia Corporation Commission. So this isn’t a good tool to use if you want to be sure your name will be so unique that it won’t even match the name of registered businesses in other states.
How to reserve your business name
Let’s say you’ve come up with a fabulous name, and you can’t see your business running under any other name but that one. 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. There’s a strategy you can use in cases like this so that you can rest 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 an Application for Reservation or for Renewal of Reservation of a Business Entity Name.
You’ll need to postal mail this form to the Virginia State Corporation Commission office, and you’ll be hit with a $10 fee.
But it’ll all be worth it because they’ll hold your name for up to 120 days, and during that time, only you’ll be able to file articles of organization using that name.
You can also renew the reservation for an additional 120 days. 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 Virginia.
Restrictions when naming your business:
First off, you shouldn’t use a name similar to that of a well-known business. We’re talking about names like Amazon, Tesla, or McDonald’s.
Fun fact: 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.
You also shouldn’t use a name that is similar to another company that provides goods and services that are similar to yours. If the other business finds out, it might sue you for unfair competition.
To protect yourself, if you’re only planning on doing business locally, you can search for the names of local businesses within your niche. If you’re planning on doing business around the country, search for businesses on a national level.
Bottom line: to avoid problems, it’s best to steer clear of similar business names, just in case.
How to search for business names
- 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, as we’re about to explain.
First off, when the Virginia Corporation Commission registers your LLC name, it just establishes that name as your LLC’s formal legal name. It 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 federal and state trademark laws designed to protect the names that are used to market products and services. Companies 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 all 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 for another business, whether it’s a fellow LLC or another type of company, you might get sued for trademark infringement when you try to market your products or services. Yikes!
So, in addition to checking if your preferred business name was already registered by another company, you also need to check that you won’t be competing with a trademark that’s the same or similar.
For details on how to search for registered trademarks, check out our article, Freelancer’s Guide to Trademark Research.
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.