20 Dec Legal Steps to Rebrand Your Small Business
You want to rebrand your business. Maybe your business has expanded. Maybe your mission has changed. Or, maybe the logos are out of date. Whatever the case is, your first step must be to have a crystal clear why you are rebranding and who you are trying to target. Your brand is your business and any changes should be made with thoughtful consideration.
If you’re thinking about a rebrand, there are three legal points to keep in mind before you get started:
- Will you change the name of your business?
- What intellectual property will you want to protect?
- How will you communicate the change with your customers
Changing the Name of Your Business
You can modernize your color palette. Commission a new logo. But, one rebrand factor you should take extra care for is renaming your business.
Legally, there are several ways to go about this.
Option one lets you keep the same tax identification number that you currently have. First, you amend the name of your business entity with the state you are organized in (as well as any that you are registered in), changing the organizational document, such as the articles of organization. You can inform the IRS using a simple form or you can wait until you file taxes. You’ll need to make sure all of your business accounts reflect the name change so that payroll, taxes, etc. can be filed smoothly. Your current contracts will stay valid but you do need to inform all contracted clients and vendors of the change.
Option two is to create a new business entity entirely. This means getting a new tax identification number, shifting all your current contracts to that of your new business, and double checking possible liabilities and tax consequences that could result because of the transfer.
Don’t like either option? There’s a third choice, operating your business under an assumed name. Also known as a “fictitious business name” or a Doing Business As (DBA) designation, this is an option in many states for sole proprietors, partnerships, LLCs, and corporations. A DBA designation allows you to maintain your original legal entity while operating in a new field under an assumed name. For example, Johnston Business Law Group is a DBA for the Law Offices of Matthew S. Johnston, LLC.
You maintain your original business entity but can operate in expanded or new fields with the new assumed name. This is really good for businesses that started off in a more niche field (for example, “Patio Renovations LLC”) but want to take on a wider scope (“Exterior Home Remodeling”). You will likely need to register and renew this name with the state but it should be a relatively cost effective option (here are the DBA fees for Maryland businesses).
Yes, we are talking about intellectual property again. We will never not talk about it because it is important to protect what’s yours. This applies to rebranding in two parts.
First, if you would like to change your company’s name, motto, or logo, it is really important to do research before making the switch (we recommend scheduling an appointment with a lawyer, actually). Before you deep dive into giving your company a facelift, check that your new name or branding isn’t taken already in the trademark databases. Aside from the trademark database, check that other business staples such as a domain names are available, and search around to ensure that your name isn’t a popular one that is already actively on the market.
You’ll want to acquire a trademark for your new name as soon as possible, even if you aren’t selling or delivering your services quite yet. If you’re in the planning stages, you’ll want to file an “intent to use” trademark application. Still brainstorming what your name will be? You can file multiple “intent to use” applications and then only move forward with your name or logo of choice! Unsure about what a trademark is or where to start? We’ve broken it down here.
You should also consider trademarking your existing name or logo. Why should you care about your old name? You’ve built up your business and brand around your old name. Your customers all know your old name. There is a familiarity, a reputation there. If you don’t protect your old name, a new company can come in and use your old name, effectively taking up the market share you have worked so hard to establish. So protect, protect, protect. Maintain a trademark portfolio, if you will. (Unsure how to go about the trademark process? Here’s some guidance)
Podcasts you might be interested in:
- Tips about trademarking logo designs with Design Domination
- Are you protecting your design rights and covering your assets? with Design Domination
Communicate with Your Clients
Lastly, let’s talk about your customers. You’ve arranged everything legally. Selected, registered, trademarked. The last step is to clearly communicate this to everyone — clients, suppliers, contractors, and more. It should be a uniform rollout at the same time across all communication channels. Update your contract headers and templates, all legal documents, websites, emails. Throw out the old business cards. Change all social media portfolios. Update terms and conditions. Check everywhere.
A rebrand should be a well thought-out process. You should be proactive to ensure the new brand is not only suitable to who you are as a business — but also that it is legally available for registration and protection. Looking to talk with a lawyer about what your process will look like? Schedule a consultation with us.
About the Author
Arabella Chen is a legal research and writing intern at the Johnston Business Law Group and an aspiring law student. She is currently a senior studying biology at Duke University and spends her time alternately researching global health impacts and legal concepts. Arabella graduated from Frederick High School, where she spent four years on the Mock Trial team with Matt Johnston as the attorney coach, which sparked her interest in law. When not combing through journals or writing, Arabella can be found cooking (pesto pasta, anyone?) and riding horses anywhere she can manage.