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One of the first steps to take when starting a Pennsylvania business is to perform a Pennsylvania Business Search. The Pennsylvania Department of State keeps record of Pennsylvania business entities that exist or have dissolved. The database is free to use and makes it easy to find existing businesses and check if a business name may be available.
How to search Pennsylvania business names
Searching for Pennsylvania businesses is done through the PA.gov site.
Pennsylvania Corporations and LLCs are searchable by the following criteria:
- Business Entity
- Business ID
Pennsylvania entity name
The “Name” search query is the most commonly used when performing a business entity search. Enter in the business name and select “search,” and the database will generate any names related to the name entered.
There is no need to enter phrases like “LLC, Corp, or other naming designations as the database will generate results for every type of entity.
Search by entity ID
Each Pennsylvania corporation has an associated filing number. To search by filing number, enter the ID number and select “Search.”
Pennsylvania corporation search name status
If a business struggles 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 instance, if someone wanted to open an Ice Cream shop, enter the word “Ice Cream” into the search field to generate a list of expired and active names to see if any expired names could fit.
If an expired name is of interest, it is recommended to confirm that the name is available by calling the Pennsylvania Department of State’s office in Harrisburg.
One thing to remember is that even though the desired Pennsylvania business name may be available, it could have a registered trademark.
Performing a trademark search through the Trademark Electronic Search System before selecting a business name could prevent headaches in the future.
1. Check if the domain name is available
- Many of the .com domain names with six or fewer letters are 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 company 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 Pennsylvania 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 registered.
- If the handle is available, lock the username in place to reserve it.
- Software platforms like SocialPilot can help simplify managing various social media platforms.
3. Register Pennsylvania business entity
After selecting a business name, businesses can register their incorporation with the Pennsylvania Corporation Commission.
For further step-by-step instructions on how to file your LLC check out this Pennsylvania 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. Pennsylvania 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 when business loans are needed to grow the business in the future.
Businesses must have a business mailing address to open a business bank account and cannot use a PO box as their primary mailing address.
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Pennsylvania business structure naming considerations
When selecting a Pennsylvania business name, it is important to understand the different naming requirements for each entity type.
Sole proprietorships and partnerships
In Pennsylvania, sole proprietorships do not have to file with the corporation division 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 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 Pennsylvania Secretary of State and must be unique.
A few reminders when naming LLCs:
- Pennsylvania business names must include the words “LLC, LLC, or the phrase limited liability company. “LLC” is most commonly used after a business name, so we recommend using that abbreviation when filing Pennsylvania 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 Pennsylvania business name if it is not clearly distinguishable from the other business.
Corporations, like LLCs, are separate legal entities that require filing with the corporation commission. Corporations are fairly 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 using “professional corporation” by using the letters “PC” instead of typical corporate designation.
Pennsylvania names can be reserved through the Department of State. There is a $70 filing fee and that must be included with the Pennsylvania name reservation form.
Pennsylvania nonprofits must file annual reports every 10 years indicating that they are still in business. Reports can be filed through the Department of State website.
A registered agent is someone that is designated to receive official papers for your LLC, LLP, or corporation. Individuals can act as their registered agent as long as a physical address (p.o. box is not allowed) is formed in the same State.
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 company receives all documents on a business’s behalf and can mail them to you privately.
Northwest Registered Agent offers free mail forwarding and has a great reputation in the industry.
Business license information can be found on the PA department of Revenue website.
A trademark gives entrepreneurs legal protections over their brand. As your Pennsylvania business grows, competitors tend to pop up to try and compete against you in the marketplace.
A trademark sends a message to competitors that may be looking into your niche that you mean business.
Trademarks also grow in value as your business grows and increases brand recognition. If you are ever hoping to sell your business down the line, having a solid trademark can add to your valuation.
Suppose your business has a physical product that you are looking to sell on sites like Amazon. In that case, there are unique features businesses can access with a registered trademark, which helps prevent infringement on your products.
- Because the database is very complex to navigate, some people prefer to pay companies like LegalZoom to do the work for them.
- Check out the LegalZoom Trademark options to see if it makes sense for your limited liability company once you have zeroed in on an entity name.
A DBA (doing business as), or trade name, is a fictitious business name that companies operate under for business outside of the formal LLC name. DBA names are filed with the Pennsylvania Department of State or can be filed with companies like Incfile.com.
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’ personal names revealed publicly.