Starting a business is no easy feat, but with the right knowledge, tools, and assistance, you can get started on creating a limited liability company (LLC) or corporation in California. A few things you’ll need to do before starting the process is deciding which structure you’ll go with, which industry you’ll step into, and which name your business will go by. The last one can play a major role in your business’s success.
Having the right business name can attract certain types of customers, which can be great if you offer a niche service or product. It can also give your business its identity, making it a household name. Before settling on a name, you’ll first have to figure out if it’s available to use in California.
If you aren’t sure how to get started or need help with conducting a California business entity search, then our guide can help you out. We’ll cover other topics as well, but we’ll explain in detail how to search for the name of a corporation or LLC. Look up any business name in California with ease through our guide below.
As we mentioned above, your business’s name is part of its identity. It’s what people will remember first if they have a great customer service experience. It doesn’t matter if your business is a corporation or LLC. If it has a name that piques a person’s interest and perfectly translates what the business offers, then it’s something you’ll want to settle on.
It’s true that knowing you’ll need a business name that people will remember is important. What’s equally important is actually coming up with one. When brainstorming business names, you’ll need to sit down and think about what you want.
Perhaps the best thing to do is create a list. You’ll want to jot down several names because there’s a high likelihood that your first name choice is already taken by another business in California. If you’re having trouble brainstorming some names, then check out our article on coming up with catchy business names.
First, you’ll need to learn the business naming rules of California. California has naming rules for both corporations and LLCs. Be sure to familiarize yourself with them before creating your list of potential names. If a name you want doesn’t fall in line with California’s rules, then your formation documents may be rejected by the state.
The California Secretary of State (SOS) is the government entity responsible for business formations. As we mentioned above, the SOS has several rules for naming corporations and LLCs:
For a full list of California’s entity naming rules, read through Title 2, Division 7, Chapter 8.5 (Business Entity Names) of the California Code of Regulations on the SOS’s website.
Next, you should conduct a corporation or LLC search. California has a method of doing this that we’ll discuss below. This tool can make it easier to perform a corporation or LLC lookup. That way, you don’t have to Google “California LLC search” or a similar term just to find a tool that may not even give you solid results.
In order to conduct a California business entity search, you’ll need to go over the SOS’s bizfile Online website. Here, you can conduct a corporation or LLC name search. Go to https://bizfileonline.sos.ca.gov/. On the homepage, you’ll see a section marked “Business Entities.” Below it, click on “Free Business Search & Copies.” From there, you’ll be taken to a page that contains a business search tool.
Search for the business name you want. If you get no hits, then chances are that that name is not in use by any business in California. It’s always safe to double check by contacting the SOS directly at (916) 653-6814 and asking if the name you want is free to use.
Your third step is to choose a domain name that matches your California business name. After you’ve performed a corporation or LLC lookup, you should consider getting a domain name for your company. You should know that, unless you plan to start an online business, getting a domain name isn’t required. However, if you plan to have a business website at some point down the road, then getting a domain name now is something to consider before registering your business name.
If you’ve heard of a domain name before but aren’t sure what it is, then let’s go over it. A domain name is a website’s name. Our domain name, for example, is ZenBusiness.com. You might think that URLs and domain names are the same, but they aren’t. A URL identifies a specific page, like ZenBusiness.com/LLC.
When considering a domain name, keep in mind that it should match your business name as closely as possible. As an example, if you name your business Lisa’s Flower Shop, then your domain name should be lisasflowershop.com, or something close to it. A domain name also allows you to create a business email where people can reach you and lets you and your workers keep in touch.
A domain name means having a website for your business, and this can be a great marketing tool if used correctly. If you own a physical location, a website lets you reach an audience outside of your city and maybe even the state. You can also use social media to market yourself and direct followers to your website. If you’re already sold on getting a domain name, then check out our domain name search tool.
You’re probably thinking that you can always get a domain name later on after forming your business. Think about this though: a couple of years have passed, business is booming, and you need a domain name that matches your business name but it isn’t available. You could’ve avoided this by thinking up matching business and domain names before your company’s formation.
That way, if the domain name you wanted wasn’t available, you could’ve gone back and chosen your second option for a business name. Maybe that one would’ve also been available as a domain name. Now, why would you want matching business and domain names? So people find you easier when looking you up online. Even if you don’t need a domain name now, you can still register one so that no one else can claim it in the meantime.
Your last step is to reserve the California business name you want with the Secretary of State. After performing a corporation or LLC name search and ensuring that your name is free to use (with a matching domain name if you’re planning to have a website), consider reserving it through the SOS’s bizfile Online website. You’ll first need to create an account, which is free.
Your business’s name will be reserved for a period of 60 days and can be renewed. Keep in mind that renewals cannot be consecutive. At least one day must pass when a reservation expires before a renewal can be requested. You can also reserve a business name for up to 120 days. You can find more information on the Name Reservations page of the SOS’s website.
Many businesses choose to operate under a “doing business as” (DBA) name. This is an alternate name, and in California, a DBA is known as a “fictitious business name (FBN).” Unlike most other states, if you choose to file for a fictitious name, you’ll need to do so at the county level in California by filing an FBN statement. Your best bet is to reach out to your county clerk for more information.
As we mentioned above, since you can only apply for a fictitious name at the county level, you’ll need to contact your county clerk or other similar office. Before doing that, look up your county’s official website to find out how fictitious name applications and requirements are handled. From there, you can get the process started.
If you want to do business under a name different from what you included in your Articles of Organization or Articles of Incorporation, then you’ll need to file an FBN statement with your county. Why you’d want to do business under a different name can vary. Whatever your reason is, you must file for an FBN if you own a corporation or LLC.
Now that you know how to conduct a corporation or LLC name search, you’re on your way to figuring out if the name you want is available! On top of helping you with domain name reservations and business formation filings, we offer other services that can help you run and grow your business. From our Worry-Free Compliance service to our Employer Identification Number (EIN) application service, we’re here to help you however we can.
As mentioned in Step 4, yes, you can renew your business name reservation in California. You should know, though, that the reservation is good for 60 days. Also, reservations cannot be consecutive. At least one day must pass after the reservation expires before you can renew it. Business name reservations are done through the SOS’s bizfile Online website. You’ll need to create an account before doing so.
If you’re looking to change the name of your California LLC or corporation, then you’ll need to submit certain documents to the state. For a domestic LLC, you’ll need to submit Form LLC-2-NA. For a domestic stock corporation, you’ll need to submit Form AMDT-STK-NA.
You can submit these online through the SOS’s bizfile Online website. The SOS’s website has other forms for different LLC and corporation types. Before changing your name, you’ll need to make sure your new name is available by performing another California business search or lookup. LLC and corporation name changes should be done carefully each time.
Check out our complete guide on how to change your business name in California.
Yes, you can request a California business name change online through the SOS’s bizfile Online website. You’ll need to file Form LLC-2-NA for a domestic LLC and Form AMDT-STK-NA for a domestic stock corporation.
The following business types must file for a fictitious business name if they plan to operate under another name:
Yes, you can name your LLC after yourself. Remember that doing so can possibly impede your business’s growth. A business name should entice customers, and if your LLC’s name doesn’t do that, then you have the option of applying for a fictitious business name with your county.
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