From the September 2003 issue of Entrepreneur

Q: What exactly do I have to do to register my business name?

Name withheld

A: Registering a business name is usually not difficult, but how you do it varies from state to state. Your first step is to log on to your state's Web site and find out what your state requires. Here's what to look for:

  • Do you register at the state or county level? Florida and Missouri require registration with a state office; other states, like California, send you to the county courthouse. Some will let you register online, so you can avoid both travel and paperwork.
  • Do you need to advertise your use of a fictitious name in a newspaper? It depends. In California, the answer is yes. But in Michigan, it's no. The good news is that you don't have to use the daily newspaper for a public notice. You can use a small weekly instead-it probably has lower rates and will help you fill out any paperwork.
  • Can you use a business name someone else is using? Not in states like New York-but some states, like Florida, allow it. Still, it's good business to determine if a name is already in use or protected by a trademark or service mark. Check the online Yellow Pages at Switchboard.com and AnyWho (www.anywho.com). Do a trademark search using the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's free database (www.uspto.gov/main/trademarks.htm). Or try your state's Web site.

Paul and Sarah Edwards are the co-authors of 15 books, including The Entrepreneurial Parent. Send them your start-up business questions at www.workingfromhome.com or in care of Entrepreneur.