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What is a DBA and How Do I Get One?

The mindset and marketing benefits of separating yourself from your business.

By Jenni Gritters • Feb 26, 2023

One of the most exciting parts of starting your own business is picking a business name that illustrates who you are and what services you offer. This is called a DBA, or “doing business as” name, although you might also hear it referred to as a trade name, operating name, or assumed name. Basically, the name you choose will be your business’ pseudonym, even if you’re a business of one. And you’ll likely find that choosing a DBA offers big benefits from a marketing and mindset perspective.

Do I need a DBA?

Anybody can get a DBA (whether you’re a sole proprietor or an LLC). Although registering a DBA is not required for freelance business owners, having a DBA lets you conduct business under a different identity from your own personal name. You can actually register as many DBA as you’d like. For example, perhaps you’ve been signing contracts with your own name, but you want to call your business Wizard Skills Editing; that’s a DBA. Or maybe you initially registered your DBA as ABC Consulting LLC, but you since pivoted and you now want to go by a name that’s more reflective of your current service offerings, like Gorgeous Cakes Consulting; again, that new name is a DBA.

Why is it a good idea to get a DBA?

There are a lot of logistical benefits to filing for a DBA and separating yourself from your business. And having a DBA can allow you to use a name that might have already been taken by an LLC in your area; this is why you might see several businesses with similar names in your town. It’s worth noting, however, that a DBA doesn’t give you legal protection!

Practically, having a DBA also allows clients to pay your company rather than you. If you have a Lili account, you can add your DBA to the account and therefore receive payments made to your business or to your name. And positioning an agreement as being between two business entities, rather than a company and a person, can also be more empowering from a negotiation standpoint.

From a mindset perspective, you might also find enormous benefits in separating yourself from your business. First, even considering your freelance practices as a business can have the trickle-down effect of taking the whole operation more seriously; you’re more likely to come up with a business plan, have intentional business practices, and create a business infrastructure. When you speak about your work with other people, having a business name can make the whole thing feel more legitimate. It can also help you position your business better online – when a potential client searches your business name, Google will more likely direct them to your website, rather than your personal social media profile.

You can also reposition your business over time by assigning a new DBA to your work; think of it as putting a new layer of paint on the business you’re already running. A DBA name can give clients direct information about what you do. (For example, Clean Plumbing gives clients more information than using your name.) And if you want to be seen as an agency or larger entity (even if you’re just an agency of one!), giving yourself an agency DBA name can assist with that framing during marketing conversations.

Finally, a DBA can give you the flexibility to launch additional brands (or even just target different audiences) without starting another business; with a new name, the possibilities for flexibility are endless.

How do I get a DBA?

For most U.S. states, you’ll need to check if your intended name is available first, then you’ll file the necessary DBA forms (which can usually be found online via the Department of Revenue). You’ll also pay a small filing fee to receive a DBA certificate. It’s worth noting that having a DBA doesn’t require paying extra taxes; your business will continue to function as it has been, just with a shiny new name! And there’s no limit to the number of DBAs you can have. There are now plenty of websites out there that can help you with the paperwork, like LegalZoom or Swyftfiling. But if you don’t want to pay an additional fee, you can also easily do it yourself on your state’s Department of Treasury or Revenue website. Just google: register dba [state], scroll past the ads, and find the website ending in dot gov.

How to pick a good business name

First, brainstorm key phrases, words, or concepts related to your business. Think about the structure you want your business to have and what unique offerings you have for your clients.

Second, weed through that brainstorm list and pick out favorite phrases or concepts. Riff on those key concepts on another page — and remember, hard-to-spell names can be tough for people to remember!

Third, pick your top few business names and run them through the ringer: Does the name limit your business in some way, or is it expansive? Does it tell people what you do? Is it easy to remember, and something you can live with for some time? You can also ask family and friends to weigh in.

Ultimately, there’s no right answer, but picking a DBA name for your business can be a deeply creative process that helps you clue into your intuition about where you want to go and who you want to work with. Choose wisely and have fun in the process!

If you want to add your Sole Proprietorship DBA to your Lili account, go to Menu / Settings / Personal Details / Add Business Name.

Written by

Jenni Gritters is a freelance writer and editor based in Seattle. She’s written for the New York Times, the Guardian, Outside magazine, and many other places, and co-hosts the freelance business podcast, The Writers’ Co-op.