We know that fictitous name/dba is a confusing terms for small businesses. Before explaining the "DBA", let's talk about business structures. There are several options you can take to formally set up your business but most single-owner businesses typically choose the Sole Proprietorship avenue as no registration is needed with the State. That said Limited Liability Company (LLC) is another popular business structure, as it offers more legal protection.
As a Sole Proprietor, the legal name of the business is actually the name of the owner. But you may want to give another name to your business. Many single-owners are seeking a brand name of their business without having to file a formal registration for a business. They typically choose to operate under another name, or as a “fictitious business name”. This “fictitious name” is also considered as “doing business as” or a DBA and a registration is necessary to protect the legal brand name of the business.
It is important to understand that a DBA is not a business structure and does not provide any protection against any personal assets like a registered corporation or LLC. It is solely a fictitious name used by Sole Proprietors. For example, with a DBA, Jane Smith can market herself under the assumed name of “Advanced Photography”. In essence, when you start a business and register the DBA name you are creating a Sole Proprietorship with a fictitious name or DBA.
For example, new business owners often start in business as sole proprietors and simply use their proper name. Let’s say I begin a business cutting lawns. I go door to door in my neighborhood and hand out this business card:
At some point, I want a DBA of “Perfect Grass” that describes my service. I perform a business name search at the PA Department of State site: https://www.corporations.pa.gov/Search/CorpSearch
I discover that this business name is available, so I register it. My card now says:
I’m still a sole proprietor and have added the DBA of “Perfect Grass.”
Now I take another step. I decide to register my business as a Limited Liability Company because I want the protection that an LLC affords me. I choose “Perfect Grass LLC” and registered with the PA DOS. My card now reads:
Perfect Grass LLC
When winter comes, I decide to enter a different business – snow removal. I visit the PA DOS and register a DBA that describes my snow removal service:
Perfect Grass LLC
d/b/a Snow B Gone
I did not need to create a new business to enter the snow removal business; I just registered a DBA in order to convey my new service.
To register your business name under a DBA is a simple online process through the Pennsylvania Department of State website. The process first starts with searching the desired name for your DBA to make sure it is not taken. For this search, you go to https://www.corporations.pa.gov/search/corpsearch and input the desired name. It is recommended that you also search for the availability of that domain name in the internet to make sure that the desired name is not taken to develop your website. You can go to GoDaddy.com to search for the domain name as well.
Once the name is available, you can go the PA registration site to register your Fictitious Name at https://www.dos.pa.gov/BusinessCharities/Business/RegistrationForms/Pages/default.aspx, and search for the form Registration of Fictitious Name [DSCB:54-311]. Open the online form in this site and input the information requested. It is a simple two-page form and it costs $70 to file the registration. A confirmation of the registration is sent to the email submitted in the form. Once the registration is complete, the business can use the DBA name to open a bank account and engage in contract work under that name.
If you need any assistance in registering your DBA, feel free to contact one of our Business Consultants at the SBDC for free consultation service for your new business.
The Duquesne University SBDC provides free business consulting for entrepreneurs in the Greater Pittsburgh area. Click here to request free consulting, or contact the SBDC for additional help and information.