One of the first steps to take when starting a California business is to perform a California Business Search. 

The California Secretary of State keeps an organized log of California business entities that exist or have dissolved.  

The database is free to use and makes it easy to find existing businesses or see if a business name may be available.

How to search California business names

The California Secretary of State in Sacramento maintains a website of registered corporations in the state of California. The site maintains a list of active and expired businesses that is free for the public to search.

The Corporations database is easy to navigate with the following business entity search options on the search page:

Search Type Options are broken down into three categories:

  • Corporation Name
  • LLC Name
  • Entity Number

One of these filters must be selected prior to searching for a business name. 

Corporation or LLC name

The most popular search method for Corporations and LLCs is to perform an entity name search. To perform a search, follow the steps below:

  1. Enter in the name of the desired business name 
  2. Select “search”

Key tips:

  • The search is not case sensitive, and all letters will be treated as uppercase.
  • Search results will remove and unique punctuation marks in business names to group all similar business names.
  • Do not remove spacing that is part of an entity’s name or add spaces that are not part of an entity name.
  • The search will ignore words like L.L.C., Corp, L.T.D., INC
  • Search by a single keyword to generate the broadest possible search 

The results will populate the following information for each entity name result:

  • Entity Number
  • Registration Date
  • Status
  • Entity Name
  • Jurisdiction
  • Registered Agent

Entity number

Searching by corporate officials is another common way to look up California Business Names

  1. To search by an official, navigate to the search by official tab
  2. There will be search options to search by first or last name. 

The Entity Number is the ID number issued by the California Secretary of State when the entity is formed.

Key tips:

  • If searching for a corporation, the letter “C” must be entered following the seven-digit number
  • If searching for an LLC, enter only the 12 digit entity number

California name search status

If a business is struggling to think of a good business name, one way to generate ideas is to look through the search results list to see if any expired names could fit the business. 

For example, suppose someone wanted to open up a new Pizza restaurant. In that case, they could enter “Pizza” into the search bar and generate a list of ideas that are available based on the business status results:

The status description will give business owners ideas of potential name based on how they are classified:

  • Active: Indicates that the business is in good standing with the state and the name is not available
  • Canceled/SOS canceledThe state of California canceled the formation because payment for the filing fee was not received. In these instances, if there is a name that is of interest and you want to see if it is available, call the Secretary of State’s office at phone number: 916-653-6814.
  • Suspended: The business name has been suspended by the Secretary of State for failure to file the Statement of Information. These names may be available, and it is recommended to reach out to the SOS’s office to verify.
  • Expired name/Inactive/Dissolved: These names are typically available if they have failed to file the required Statement of Information and other state requirements. Check with the SOS’s office for approval before moving forward if there is a name of interest. 

Trademark search

One thing to remember is that even though the desired business name may be available, it could have a registered trademark.

Performing a trademark search through the Trademark Electronic Search System search tool before selecting a business name could prevent headaches in the future.

Next steps

1. Check if the domain name is available

  • Many of the .com domain names with six or fewer letters are already taken, so getting creative may be necessary. Websites like Namechk and GoDaddy can help filter available domain names and suggest alternatives that may be a good fit.
  • While a .com is the most familiar domain extension used, extensions like .co, .net, and .io are becoming more commonly used as the internet ages and can be a good fit once a business name is selected.

2. Check if the social media name is available

In the digital age, it is essential to have a solid social media presence. Customers will often check sites like Yelp and Google Reviews to gauge what others think about a business. Some other tips on social media for a California business entity:

  • Having a strong social media presence for small businesses is an excellent way to boost organic presence on the web, impress customers, and build awareness.
  • Unfortunately, like domain names, social media handles are often hoarded. Make sure to check sites like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest to ensure the handle is not being used.
  • If the handle is available, lock the username in place to make sure it is not taken.
  • Software platforms like SocialPilot can help simplify managing various social media platforms.

3. Register California business entity

Business Licenses can be filed online with the Division of Corporations, Business, and Professional Licensing.

Another option is to file with companies like Northwest Registered AgentIncfile, or ZenBusiness, who can take care of the filings for as little as $0 plus state filing fees

For further step-by-step instructions on how to file your LLC check out this California LLC guide.

4. Register TAX ID/EIN with the IRS

An EIN is a nine-digit number that identifies a business for tax purposes. Think of it as a social security number for businesses. Filing your EIN for a limited liability company (LLC) is straightforward and can be done online. California corporations can register for a Tax ID for $79 with Swyft Filings.

5. Create a logo

Similar to selecting a good business name, businesses with a great logo impress customers, help distinguish themselves from the competition, and create a positive visual memory of your unique business services for customers.

With the emergence of freelance marketplaces, it is easy to get a logo done on Fiverr in 24 hours or less.

6. Write a business plan

Writing a business plan can help organize business owners’ ideas and create a pathway for businesses to follow. Having a professionally written business plan also impresses investors and helps create accountability.

Liveplan.com is a business plan software that can help make the process easy as they have over 500 sample plans to choose from.

Businesses that form partnerships should consider having a professional operating agreement.

7. Open a business bank account

Having a business bank account is required for businesses as it helps keep business and personal finances separate. It also helps build business credibility in the event business loans are needed to grow the business in the future. 

Businesses must have a business mailing address in order to open a business bank account and are not allowed to use a po box as their primary mailing address.

Lili and Novo are online banks that specialize in working with freelancers and entrepreneurs.

We recommend Novo Bank

Built for small business owners, entrepreneurs, and freelancers.

8. Setup an email account

Google Workspace can help set up an @yourcompany email address for as little as $6 per month.

Plan on running your business well

Google Workspace helps with email addresses, team collaboration, productivity, and more.

9. Register a trademark

One of the easiest ways to file a trademark is through LegalZoom. They have options to file by themselves or pay an additional fee to have an attorney take care of the filings.

California business structure naming considerations

When selecting a California business name, it is important to understand the different naming requirements for each entity type.

Sole proprietorships and partnerships

In California, sole proprietorships do not have to file with the department of commerce to begin business operations. Sole Proprietorships typically operate under a person’s name, so there is no need to perform a business name search in most situations.

Like Sole Proprietorships, Partnerships are relatively easy to file and generally include all partners’ last names (ex: Smith, Jones, and Lasalle). 

LLCs 

LLCs are separate legal entities that separate owners’ business interests, debts, and liabilities from personal responsibilities. Names for LLCs are required to be filed with the Alabama Secretary of State and must be unique.

A few reminders when naming LLCs:

  • California business names must include the words “LLC, L.L.C., or the phrase limited liability company. “LLC” is most commonly used after a business name, so we recommend using that abbreviation when filing California articles of organization.
  •  An LLC name should not include the terms Inc., Corporation, Corp, or Incorporated in the LLC name.
  • The state may not approve a California business name if it is not distinguishable from the other business.

Corporations

Corporations, like LLCs, are separate legal entities that require filing with the California Division of corporations. Corporations are relatively complex and typically used by large companies looking to issue stock and attract investors.

Corporation naming considerations:

  • Corporations must include “corp”, “corporation”, “Inc”, “limited”, or “company” in the business name to indicate that it is a corporation.
  • S Corporations are subject to the same naming requirements as traditional corporations.
  • Professional Corporations must indicate that they are one by using “professional corporation” by using the letters “PC” instead of typical corporate designation.
  • Nonprofit Corporation, Limited Liability Partnerships, and General Partnership (GP) search results are also generated by the search tool

FAQs

How are business licenses obtained in California?

The business programs division at the Secretary of State does not issue business licenses or permits. The CalGold Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development is responsible for assisting in finding the appropriate permit for your business.

How do I file for a Statement of Information?

The statements of information show a company’s key officers and business description. 

Statement of information requirements are variable depending on the type of business and must be filed within 90 days of the organization’s filing. 

Once the entity is registered, the Statement of Information instructions can be found on the Secretary of State site.

What are the naming restrictions in California?

The Secretary of State restricts proposed names that could mislead the public.

Typical examples include names that imply a government affiliation, such as “Commission, Bureau, Municipal.”

It is important to understand naming restrictions prior to registering for a California business. 

Should I file a California DBA? 

A DBA (doing business as), or trade name, is a fictitious business name that companies operate outside of the formal LLC name. 

Here are a couple of benefits of DBAs:

  • Expansion possibilities: having a DBA enables businesses to expand past their original business and without starting a new business entity. Simply creating a new DBA and operating under the existing LLC is all that would be needed.
  • Privacy: One of the best benefits of having a DBA is that it gives businesses the ability to operate under a fictitious business name and not have owners’ names revealed publicly.

A DBA search is performed through the intended county clerk’s website.

Does California require a registered agent?

California Corporation Code 1700-1702 states a Corporation continuously maintains a registered agent and a registered office for the purpose of a registered agent‘s statutory requirements.

One of the main benefits of using a third-party registered agent service company is that it adds a layer of privacy between the business and the general population. The registered agent receives all documents on a business’s behalf and can mail them to you privately.

Starting a business? Our number one pick for registered agent services is Northwest Registered Agent

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