Virginia Business Name Search (Step-by-Step Guide)
Even with the help of business services through the Secretary of State, registering a business has financial consequences. Always discuss business setup with a business attorney.
How to search for Virginia business names
Before a business owner can register a business entity name, the business owner must research the name to ensure the name is available. The search starts at the Virginia Secretary of State’s office and moves on to domain registries and social media platforms. To search the Virginia Secretary of State’s database lookup tool:
- Step 1: Navigate to the Virginia Secretary of State’s search tool to start entering search criteria.
- Step 2: Enter the business name in the “Entity Name” search box. Virginia does not ask for any other search types.
- Step 3: Click the ‘Name Check’ button.
- Step 4: Review the results for an exact match.
- Step 5: Review the results for similar names.
- Step 6: If no exact matches or similar names exist, check for name availability at a domain registry and on social media platforms.
How to register a business name in Virginia
Once a business owner finds an available business name, he is ready to start registering the business. The business owner can register online or by paper. It is easier to register online. Navigate to Virginia’s registration page.
Choose the entity type and click on the link for filing online or by mail. Each entity has its own set of forms and questions.
If a business owner is unsure which entity is best for her situation, she could consult a business law attorney. Each entity type has its own tax consequences. Some entities do not offer protection for personal assets against corporate creditors and lawsuits. For example, sole proprietorships and general partnerships do not protect personal assets from corporate actions.
Virginia trademark/DBA name search
Virginia does not offer an online trademark search tool. If a business owner wishes to register a Virginia trademark, she must complete Form TM 1 and notarize it. Include the following with the form:
- $30 payable to the Treasurer of Virginia for each mark.
- One example of the mark that is already in use such as a business card or business stationery.
- One exhibit showing how the mark appears.
- The mark’s classification as defined in 21 VAC 5-120-100.
Follow the instructions on the form and mail it to the Division of Securities and Retail Franchising.
If a business owner registers a trademark or service mark in Virginia, the mark is protected only in Virginia. Should the business owner wish to protect the mark on a national level, he must file it with the US Patent and Trademark Office.
If a business owner wishes to determine whether a business name or logo has been trademarked at the federal level, search the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Check if the domain name is available
Before a business registers its name, the business owner should take additional steps to ensure that the name is available for domain and social media use. While the domain name and social media accounts or pages do not have to have the same name as the business, it is better for marketing purposes. If another person or entity is already using the name, a prospective business owner can choose another name to register at the state level or use a different name that describes the business for the domain name and social media accounts.
A business with an internet presence gets its name in front of many more people, which means the possibility of more business – even if the business uses a website to drive traffic to a brick-and-mortar store instead of selling online.
As with the state, domain registries do not allow duplicate names. However, domain registries do not check at the state level only. They check worldwide. Thus, there is a much larger chance that a business name is unavailable.
To check a domain registry such as GoDaddy, enter the business name in the search box. The system will display exact matches. Some domain registries also display similar names that are available.
If a domain name is not available
- A domain name may be unavailable as a dot-com but available with another extension. We do not recommend using the same name with a different extension as it will confuse customers. Many of a business’s customers could end up on a competitor’s website.
- If a domain name is available as a dot-com, we recommend reserving the name as soon as possible.
- We also recommend reserving the dot-net and dot-org extensions – at a minimum. Other common extensions include dot-us and dot-store.
A business owner that registers the alternative extensions can use them to set up landing pages that point to the main dot-com site.
Check if the social media name is available
Adding social media accounts for the business also drives new customers to your business. To check for name availability on social media sites, enter the name in the search box. If the name is unavailable, choose a different name or create a descriptive name. A business owner could also use a similar name but do not make it too similar, or customers will end up on a competitor’s website.
Naming considerations for Virginia business entities
Virginia requires business owners to append entity types after most business names in the form of a phrase, word or abbreviation.
Sole proprietorships and partnerships
If a business owner chooses to run a business as a sole proprietorship or a general partnership, the business owner doesn’t have to register it with the Virginia Secretary of State’s office. Thus, the business owner doesn’t need to append an entity type to the business name.
However, if a business chooses to use a fictitious name (trade name), the business owner must register the fictitious name with the Secretary of State. The business name does not have an entity type requirement for the name as it is still a sole proprietor or general partnership.
These entities do not offer protection of personal assets from business assets. If a business owner wishes to protect personal assets from business creditors and lawsuits, she should choose a different entity, such as a limited liability company.
Limited Liability Companies (LLCs)
Business owners who choose to incorporate as a limited liability company must append one of the following to the end of their business name:
- Limited liability company.
- Limited company.
Business owners who choose to incorporate as a corporation must append one of the following to the end of their business name:
Virginia does not require a nonprofit to append an entity description to a business name.
A business owner who decides to incorporate as a limited partnership must append one of the following to the end of the entity name:
- Limited partnership.
How are business licenses obtained in Virginia?
Virginia does not have a general business license requirement. However, the state does have licensing requirements for certain industries. Additionally, local jurisdictions might require a business to obtain a license. Business owners should check with county and city governments regarding business licenses.
How do I find liens against my business?
Creditors might file a UCC statement against the business or business property if you owe money on the property. A business owner can locate UCC filings by searching the Virginia Secretary of State’s UCC database.
Does my business need a Federal Employer Identification Number?
If the business has employees, it must have a Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN). In some cases, banks, creditors, and vendors might require the business to obtain a FEIN to do business, even if the company doesn’t have employees. A business owner can apply for a FEIN, or we can obtain the FEIN for the business.
Does my business need a registered agent?
If the business is registered with the Virginia Secretary of State’s office, it must have a registered agent. The registered agent ensures the business remains in compliance with state requirements. It also affords the business privacy – it accepts service of process and other legal documents on behalf of the business.
Does my business have to file an annual report?
Yes, all businesses registered with the Virginia Secretary of State must file an annual report. The Secretary of State’s office will forward the notice for the annual report to the registered agent about two months prior to the due date.
How do I know which taxes my business is responsible for?
The state collects most taxes, but counties and cities might also collect taxes. The state might collect a certain tax, but it might collect a different percentage for different counties. A business owner should research all taxes at the state level and local jurisdictions prior to opening a business.
What happens if a business owner does not register a fictitious name?
The business owner could face fines of up to $2,500, jail time, or both. The state could also convict the business owner of a misdemeanor.
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