When you meet someone new, what’s the first thing you want to know about them? Their name. Your name is unique—it’s how people remember you.
The same goes for your Iowa business: choosing your name is the most important step of forming your company. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as just picking the name you like best from a list. That works for babies, but not businesses. Iowa has several requirements that you’ll need to follow as you pick a name.
After brainstorming a business name either on your own or through a business naming tool, you’ll want to make sure it is available in your state. That’s where this guide comes in. We’ll walk you through how to use the tool, and we’ll dig into a few ways you can make your name a complete success. Let’s get started.
Compare the Best Iowa LLC Services
If you have found the perfect name and would like to begin the process of registering your business, there are a lot of Iowa LLC formation services (like LegalZoom and Zen Business) that can take care of the entire incorporation process.
How to Use the Iowa Business Name Search Tool
You’ve picked a name. You’re pretty sure it’s the one. But before you seal the deal, you’ll need to ensure that it’s available for you to use. To do so, you’ll need to use Iowa’s search tool. Theirs is called the Business Entities Search.
But we’ll be honest. The tool isn’t exactly the most intuitive. You might be thinking, What’s next? If you don’t know what to do, this name search can be downright overwhelming. But with a few simple pointers, it can be a cinch.
1) Type in the name you’re hoping to use: Techni
lly, your full legal name will include the entity type identifier for your business. For example, if you were going to call your shop Carla’s Cupcakes, the legal name would be “Carla’s Cupcakes, LLC” or “Carla’s Cupcakes, Limited Liability Company.” But for purposes of this search, you can leave off the entity type identifier and simply type in “Carla’s Cupcakes.”
2) Make sure the tool’s settings are correct
To get the most value out of your search, you’ll want to put the right settings on the Business Entities Search tool. Thankfully, Iowa doesn’t make things complicated. All you have to do is type in the name you’re hoping to use. AFter that, you can hit “Search.”
3) Examine the search results
Now it’s time to look through the results. Do any exact matches appear? In Iowa, your name must be “distinguishable on the record.” In layman’s terms, that means your name cannot be the exact same as the name of another entity.
But what about similar names? To ensure that your name stands out, we recommend running a keyword search. You won’t have to put on any new settings on the tool; all you have to do is type in a keyword from your name and hit “Search” again. For example, for “Carla’s Cupcakes,” you could type in “cupcakes.” The tool will pull up every business name including the word “cupcakes.” By looking through those results, you could ensure that your name stands out from other cupcake shops in Iowa.
Next Steps for Your Iowa Business Name
The steps we’ve listed above are just the legal requirements for an Iowa LLC name. But this is your business name we’re talking about. You don’t want to just “get by.” You want to go the extra mile and make sure your name is as great as your business concept. You want to protect it, too.
Let’s talk about what you can do to protect (and thrive with) the name you’ve chosen.
1) Double-check that your name meets state requirements
Iowa’s search tool will only tell you if your name is available to begin with. It won’t, however, tell you if your name complies with state laws for your entity type. Here are some rules to name by:
- Your name cannot include any words that sound as if you’re conducting activities that Iowa state law prohibits.
- If your name is not distinguishable from another business’s, you can use it—provided you get written consent from the name’s owners.
- Your name must include an abbreviation or wording that designates your entity type. For example, you must follow “Carla’s Cupcakes” with “L.L.C.” or “Limited Liability Company” or a similar label. Other business types will need to include an appropriate designation.
2) Make sure that your name stands out
The search tool will help you ensure that your name is available in Iowa. It won’t tell you if there are similar names, though. It also won’t search names in other states. The search tool simply isn’t designed to do that.
We recommend that you also browse through local phone books and do a Google search with your name. Internet search engines pull up results that are close matches to the terms you enter. That includes similar names and businesses in other states. For example, going back to our “Carla’s Cupcakes” example, Google pulls up a hit for a cupcake shop in Virginia.
If that happened to you, it wouldn’t be a make-or-break issue right away. After all, you’re just focused on Iowa results right now. That said, if you ever wanted to expand into other states later on, then you might encounter problems. Plus, having a truly unique name is a great selling point.
3) Make sure you like the name you’ve chosen
This might seem like an obvious one, but you don’t want to overlook it. You should like your business’s name. You should be proud to say it out loud, glad to write it down, excited when you hear someone say it…you get the idea.
Yes, you’re eager to start your business. But don’t get so excited that you settle on a lackluster name that makes you think, “meh.” If you don’t like the name, odds are your customers won’t, either.
A lot of guides will tell you to make sure your name is easy to say, easy to spell, memorable, and gives your customers a clear picture of what they can expect from your business. And those are all true tidbits of advice. Follow them. But at the end of the day, we think it’s important to pick a name that you like.
4) Protect your chosen name
By now, you’ve put in a lot of work to craft the perfect name for your business. Let’s make sure that work doesn’t go to waste. Iowa gives you two methods to protect your name, and you can pick one or the other—not both.
For starters, you could file an Application for Reservation of Name. There’s a $10 fee for this filing, but it gives you 120 days of exclusive use of your name without actually commencing your business. This is the perfect option if you’ve come up with an ideal name but you’re not quite ready to form your business yet.
But if you are all set to form your business, then you should go ahead and file the Certificate of Organization. This one has a $50 filing fee, but it actually creates your business. And once your business is created, your name is protected, too.
5) Get a DBA or Trade Name (Optional)
The most important name for your business is your legal name; it’s the name you’ll fill in on your Certificate of Organization. But many businesses choose to have a second name, often called a DBA or trade name. For instance, you might want to offer a second product line without renaming your entire business, or you just found a new nickname you like.
Iowa works a bit differently than other states when it comes to actually registering a trade name. In most states, you register a trade name with the Secretary of State. But in Iowa, you register it with your local county clerk. So fees and registration forms will vary based on your county. And if you’re going to do business in more than one county, you’ll need to register in each.
Want more info? Get the full scoop on registering a trade name here.
Next Steps – Getting Started
We’ve gone into a lot of detail about searching for an Iowa business name in this guide, but here’s the deal: choosing an LLC name is just one step in the much bigger process of starting a business.
If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by all that goes into it, don’t panic. We’re here to help. You can catch the full guide to set up an Iowa LLC, but here’s the fly-by version:
Choose a business name
Every business in Iowa needs a name that’s both catchy and gives potential clients a good idea what the business does. The name also needs to be unique—both for legal reasons and so your business stands out from the competition.
Appoint your registered agent
Whether you elect to use a private Iowa registered agent, serve as your own, or you hire a service like the one we’ve listed here, you can’t skip this step. Without a registered agent, you won’t become a legitimate, registered entity.
File your formation documents
If you’re forming an LLC, you’ll file the Certificate of Organization; corporations file the Articles of Incorporation. Once you fill it out and file it, this document is what officially forms your business in the state. There is a $50 filing fee for both entity types. If you need help with this step, there are plenty of good Iowa LLC services online.
Beyond that, there are plenty of ongoing costs and maintenance requirements. We won’t go into a ton of detail here, though. Your registered agent (or online registered agent service) will help you keep tabs.
Pro Tip: If you have found the perfect business name and would like to begin the process of registering your business with the state, there are a lot of business formation services—like LegalZoom and Zen Business—that can do it for you. Plus, many of them also offer a free registered agent service when you set your business up through their platform.
Conducting a business name search is an important part of forming your business in Iowa. The search saves you time and helps you set up a name that makes your business stand out. We hope this guide made it simple to name your business.