How do I choose a business name?
The name under which your business trades can often be ‘make or break’ in terms of your commercial success. It’s the first step towards building a new brand. It’s your headline, your essence and your number one vehicle to demonstrate your brand’s value. It should convey the right image for your business; communicate what your business is about; be unique and distinguish you from your competitors; and be catchy and memorable to your customers. Consumers will ultimately associate your business name with the value you provide them, so your business name should reflect that value. Selecting your name is not as simple as a lucky dip and should be considered very carefully.
Decide on your business structure and type
Before you can decide on your business name, you need to be crystal clear on your business structure and, of course, the products or services you intend on selling. The type of business you intend on running will not only influence the name, it will alter the rules you need to follow to register your business name. For example, if you intend on running a company, you will need to register the business name at the same time as registering the company.
What if I am a sole trader?
If you are a sole trader or partnership and your business is named after you or your partner, there is no need to register a business name; however, there’s only so much your own name can say about what you are and what you do. Generally, it’s best to avoid using your own name, purely because it doesn’t communicate anything about your business or industry. It also can cause issues for you down the track if you grow your business enough to consider selling.
Business name registration vs. trade mark
The Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC) is the national registrar for Australian business. Registering your business name with ASIC allows you to trade in any Australian state or territory. Registration and renewal only costs $34 per year and, once registered, you can update or transfer your business name for free.
However, registering a business name does not give you the exclusive right to use that name. Multiple entities can use the same business name. For proprietary rights and exclusive use of the name throughout Australia, you need to take out a trade mark. You can check IP Australia to find out if the name you’re after is pre-registered as a trade mark. Once you trade mark your name, only your business will be allowed to use the business name.
Questions to consider while brainstorming
A business name is not a snap decision. It’s important to make the right choice from both a practical and aesthetic perspective. Make sure you brainstorm ideas over a few days or weeks, ask family and friends for opinions and suggestions, and reach out to potential customers in your demographic to see what they think, too. Your business name will guide any future marketing, so considering the following basic branding questions before you jump in head first will help you increase your bottom line in the long run.
What makes you different from your competitors?
In marketing, we talk a lot about what we call a ‘unique selling proposition’ (or USP). This gets right down to benefit; what can you offer your customers that you competitors can’t? What’s your edge? You may have more, but you should have at least one USP, otherwise there’s nothing to set you apart from other businesses in your industry. Your USP will allow you to differentiate your business and help you stand out from the pack. Is there a way you can creatively incorporate that unique benefit into your business name?
What do you want to communicate to your customers?
Brand image is the next consideration to make. What do you want to say to consumers? Are you a quirky company or are you professional and straight down the line? Your name needs to give the right indication to customers about the nature of your business from the get go. It should communicate the services you offer and the industry you operate in without being too vague or too meaningful.
It’s a tricky balance but if you’re too general, you miss an opportunity to stand out, and if you’re too specific, you limit your options when expanding the business in the future. The name must be scalable in the sense that you should be able to add products and/or services to your oeuvre without having to change the name of your business. Scalability also includes location. Don’t confine yourself to one city or state, because you may get stuck in the future when your business is doing well enough to expand. Prepare for future growth by selecting a name that is agile and flexible.
In a world that’s dominated by the internet, search engine optimisation has become really important to any business with an online presence. In the past, it was clever to stuff your business name with keywords; however, now there are smarter ways to keep your business at the top. By using words related to the services you offer or alternate versions of common keywords, you can creatively get your message across, stay front of mind and rank well in Google search results.
Would customers have any difficulty with your proposed name?
Is the name unusual and difficult to spell? Keep it simple. Your name needs to be easy to remember, easy to say and easy to spell. Long, complex names never do well. Remember the name needs to be appealing to your audience. Again, finding the right balance between unique and simple can be tricky but when you get it right, can be instrumental in the success of your business.
Could the name be misunderstood or misconstrued? You need to be comfortable with your business name but so do your customers. Don’t limit your market or scare leads away by choosing a controversial name. Think about it from all angles and make sure that your name doesn’t exclude any of your potential customers.
Is the name unique to your industry?
When you find yourself starting to favour one name or another, check to make sure that there are currently no businesses in the market with the same name. Don’t copy your competitors. If someone in the same field has a similar name, choose something else. You will have endless trouble if your business name is identical or too similar to another business selling the same products or services. Customers will likely confuse your business with your competitors and customer retention becomes difficult and expensive.
If your name is too similar to your competitors, it also appears boring or unoriginal. This doesn’t help you stand out amongst the crowd. Eliminating names that are already taken can be a great way to cut down your shortlist. You can find out which names are already taken on the ASIC website.
Is the domain name available?
Once you’ve refined your short list, the last thing you should check prior to making a decision is whether the domain name for your business is available. These days, you don’t exist if you’re not online, so your domain name is going to be highly important to your brand. It can influence your brand visibility and awareness and impact your online marketing. You can check if your domain name is available here.
While the ideal scenario allows you to seamlessly purchase your domain name, you don’t have to let go of your perfect business name just because it’s not available. There are a few options available to you should this occur.
- If the domain you are looking for is ‘parked,’ or unused, you can engage a domain broker to negotiate the purchase and transfer of ownership. This domain and the service of the broker is likely to come at a much higher fee, but the price might be justifiable to ensure your domain is search-friendly.
- Think about the different modifiers you could use. For example, if the netregistry.com.au domain name wasn’t available, we may have considered netregistryonline.com.au or netregistrydomains.com.au.
- Remember that there are different domain extensions available now. You can be creative and progressive with your domain name selecting an extension that completes your business name. For example, a building company might use the .builders extension or a dentist might use the .dental extension. You can check out which extensions are currently available by searching for a domain here and selecting “Show All” in the drop-down menu below the search bar on the results page.
While your business name plays a big role in the first impression you make on your potential customers, don’t lean on it to do all the work for you. It’s really just one tiny cog in your small business machine. It’s your responsibility to deliver on customer expectations and drive your business to success. Happy naming!