Step 1: Choose a Business Structure
The type of business structure you choose to form will determine how you register the business with the district. Use our how to choose a business structure guide to help choose which business structure is best for you, whether it’s sole proprietorships, general partnerships, limited liability companies (LLCs), and corporations.
The factors you should consider when choosing a business structure will depend on your needs and wants for personal liability protection, tax liabilities, and paperwork to keep the company in compliance.
Sole Proprietorships and General Partnerships
By default, sole proprietorships operate as the same name as the owner while general partnerships must include the surnames of all the partners.
LLCs and Corporations
Both LLCs and corporations require unique names in Washington D.C. that must follow certain naming requirements:
Step 2: Check Name Availability
When registering a business name, it's important to make sure it's unique and no one else in your state formed a company with it or has control of it online as a domain name.
Domain Name Search
We strongly recommend that you also check to see if your business name is available as a web domain (URL). Even if you don't plan to create a business website today, you may want to buy the web address to prevent others from acquiring that domain name. If the web domain is available then it’s likely the name will also be available in a business search.
Find a Domain Now
Washington D.C. Business Name Search
Next, search the Washington D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs business name search tool. This is an important step in the process because your filing will be denied if you try to file for a name already in use.
Search requirements can vary depending on your business needs. For example, a unique and available name is required to:
- File for formal business structures like LLCs and corporations.
- File a DBA name for any business structure.
A district-level name search isn’t required for informal business structures like sole proprietorships or general partnerships in Washington D.C. But, if you decide to register a trade name or DBA name, you’ll need to search the database to see if your desired name is unique and available.
Step 3: Form Your Business With Washington D.C.
Once you have selected your business structure and name, you will need to file your formation documents with the district, which will register your business with Washington D.C.
To register your Washington D.C. LLC, you'll need to file the Articles of Organization with the Washington D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. You can apply online, by mail, or in person. Read our Form an LLC in Washington D.C. guide for details.
To register your Washington D.C. corporation, you’ll need to file the Articles of Incorporation with the Washington D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. Read our Form a Washington D.C. Corporation guide to learn more.
Protect Your Business Name With a Trademark (Optional)
Once you confirm the availability of your business name and secure it, you can choose to apply for a trademark for your business. This typically costs around $225 to $400 plus any attorney fees as well as a renewal fee every 10 years.
While this cost can be high for a start-up or fledgling business, it will give your company brand nationwide protection backed by federal law. That means if others try to do business with the same — or a similar — name as yours, you’ll have legal precedent on your side. For most small businesses, this really isn't necessary unless they are thinking of going national.
How to Change the Name of a Washington D.C. Business
Changing the name of a business in Washington D.C. can be done in two ways: by filing for a trade name or by submitting an amendment to the legal name of an existing business.
The first method, filing for a trade name (also known as a DBA name), is the easiest way to operate your business using a different name without needing to change its legal name.
A DBA name is the only way for sole proprietorships and general partnerships to have a different business name. It’s also the easiest method for LLCs and corporations to follow because it allows them to avoid filing an amendment or complicating their business operations while enabling them to operate with brand names that don’t include the necessary LLC or Inc. suffix required in a legal name.
If you want to change the legal name of your LLC or corporation, however, filing an amendment to the legal name of an existing business is your best option. Here are links to forms for both options:
- Certificate of Amendment for domestic LLCs
- Articles of Amendment of domestic for-profit corporations
You may submit both online or by mail along with the $220 filing fee.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I get a business license in Washington D.C.?
Obtaining a business license in Washington D.C. is as easy as following these four steps:
- Complete corporate registration and trade name registration, if applicable.
- Register your business with the IRS and DC Office of Tax and Revenue.
- Complete registration with the Office of the Zoning Administrator.
- Submit your basic business license (BBL) application via the My DC Business Center.
Do I need a Washington D.C. business license?
Yes, you need a basic business license (BBL) to operate a business in Washington D.C.
Do I need a trade name or DBA in Washington D.C.?
No, you don’t need to file a trade name or DBA name in order to operate a business in Washington D.C. Some business entities may, however, benefit from filing a DBA name like those planning to operate in multiple states without reserving their business name in each location.
How do I file a Washington D.C. trade name or DBA?
You can file a trade name — otherwise known as a doing business as (DBA) name — online through your CorpOnline account.