So, you’ve got yourself a promising business idea. CONGRATULATIONS!
NOW, what are you going to call this new business of yours??
Welcome to the fun (and sometimes daunting) task of choosing a business name.
The pressure’s on because you can’t just pick any old name. It’s got to be a good one! After all, it will play an important role in helping your business become a success. And it’s got to be one that you - and your future customers or clients – will LOVE.
Maybe you’ve already got some options in mind. And no doubt more names keep popping up. But how do you know which ones are seriously worth considering? And how do you decide on the best one?
Luckily, help is here, with Hello Freedom’s Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Brilliant Business Name!
BEFORE YOU START: Knowing Your Options
When it comes to naming your business, you usually have two options:
- You can choose to use your official entity name. This could be, for example: “Simpson Pty Ltd” (if you’re a company), “Simpson Pty Ltd as Trustee for the Simpson Family Trust” (if you’re a trust) or “Jane Simpson” (if you’re a sole trader). Your entity name is the name you decide on when you sit down with your accountant, or go online, and complete the paperwork to officially set up your business. These particular examples are from Australia. The exact ‘entity name’ you choose will differ depending on which country or countries you plan to operate in and which business structure you go with.
- Or, you can choose to trade under a different name – a brand name or business name.
While all businesses will have an entity name, most budding business owners will choose to go with Option 2, for a few very good reasons…
Firstly, most entity names are not very customer-friendly. They can be hard to remember. They can have little in common with what you’re actually selling. They often have funny bits on the end of them (like “Pty Ltd”). And, let’s face it, most of them have a tendency to be downright boring!
Secondly, while in most cases no-one can register the exact same entity name as you, there are often a number of companies, trusts and even sole traders out there with a very similar name to yours. This can make it hard for your business to stand out and may even make it difficult for you to use your entity name, especially if someone has already bought the trademark (more on that issue later in this guide)!
Finally, in Australia at least, having a proprietary company or trust gives you the potential to operate more than one business under the same entity. So you can have different trading names without necessarily having to create another company or trust. Please note: this approach may or may not be right for you so always consult a qualified accountant or financial planner who can provide advice specific to your circumstances.
There are exceptions - for example, you might choose to trade under your entity name if you’re a sole trader using your own name – e.g. “Jane Simpson” and you want to build your business around your own personal brand. This could be a good option, for example, if you’re selling consulting or coaching services.
But most of the time, it usually makes more sense to use a brand or business name.
STEP 1: Creating a Shortlist
So, if you’ve decided you’re going to go with a different trading name, how do you find the right one for your business?
Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula for coming up with a business or brand name. Sometimes it takes a long time to find the right one. Sometimes the perfect name will pop up almost immediately.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a one-person-band or a massive global corporation, the process of coming up with a name for a new business or brand is the same.
Usually, the best place to start is with a brainstorm session. Grab yourself a piece of paper, or open a blank document on your phone or computer and begin by writing down as many options for names as you can think of. Don’t worry at this point if some of them are not quite right or sound a bit silly. Quite often a not-so-good idea can be the spark for a brilliant one down the track.
It’s even better if you can get a few people together to help you brainstorm. The perfect excuse to catch up with some friends over for a coffee (or a glass or two of wine!) hey?
While a brainstorm session is definitely a great place to begin. Remember - inspiration can come from anywhere. It might be while out shopping. When chatting with friends or family. Or just driving along in the car. So keep your list somewhere handy (on your phone, in a notebook) so you can add to it whenever another option pops into your head.
Once you have a shortlist with a bunch of potential options you’re quite fond of, it’s time to get to work reviewing them.
This is where the Hello Freedom Business Name Checklist comes in. It’s a list of what we consider to be the 6 MOST IMPORTANT CRITERIA for choosing a business or brand name…
STEP 2: Deciding on a Name
Now it’s time to put your shortlist of names to the test!
Running each of your potential names past the following 6 criteria will help you determine if any of them have what it takes to be ‘THE ONE’…
1. Does your target customer or client LIKE IT?
Does the name appeal to the type of customers or clients you want to sell to? It’s important you don’t just rely on feedback from family or friends to answer this question. So go out and talk to some potential customers and ask them what they think!
If they gush over the name and tell you they think it’s fabulous, then you may be onto a winner. If they’re polite and tell you it’s alright but don’t seem particularly enthused, then perhaps you should keep hunting. If most of them tell you they’re not a fan, then that’s a pretty strong indicator that the name should be destined for the scrap heap!
2. Is it MEMORABLE?
If your business or brand name is easy to remember, then it’s going to make it a lot easier for people to keep you in mind or recommend you to someone else who might be interested in your products or services.
Many businesses rely on word of mouth recommendations or referrals as major source of new customers or clients. The easier you make it for people to remember and recommend your business, the less money you’ll need to spend on advertising and marketing.
So, if the name you’re considering is hard to remember – If it’s long. If it’s too wordy. If it’s difficult to spell. Or hard to pronounce. Then it might be worth a re-think.
3. Is it DISTINCTIVE?
This is where you ask yourself: Does the name stand out? Is it interesting enough? Is it different enough from other brands or businesses already out there?
You want to choose a name that’s going to stand out from the crowd.
There’s nothing worse than a boring name. A generic name will make it harder to get people excited or interested in your business. It may also make it harder for potential customers, clients or referrers to remember you (see #2). And, if the name is too generic, you will find it very difficult to trademark which means it will be very hard to stop other people from copying it (see #5).
Even if you have an interesting name in mind, if it’s too similar to others already out there, it’s likely to create confusion. People who have seen your marketing and are interested in your services might look for you, but may accidentally choose or recommend your competitor instead.
I’ve seen this kind of confusion rear its head in the vitamin market in Australia where there are three brands with very similar names: Nature’s Own, Nature’s Way and Nature’s Care. People quite often mix them up and when one of them advertises, the others tend to see an uplift in sales too!
So be sure to choose a name that’s both interesting AND different.
4. Does it reflect YOUR UNIQUE approach, strengths, personality traits or values?
Your business name alone (along with your logo design) can play an important role in giving potential customers an idea of what you’re like, what’s important to you, or how you’re different. If they feel a connection to your name, they are more likely to want to find out more about you.
So make sure you think about what makes your business or brand different, special or unique and try to shortlist or brainstorm names that reflect this.
For example, if you are known for taking a fun approach to solving a particular problem, a serious business name would not be a great fit for you. Instead try to think of names with a bit of pizzazz that express that element of your personality.
Or, if your business focuses on solving a problem in a way that is beneficial to the environment, then try to find business names that hint at this. Obviously the environment will be important to your potential customers, so if they recognise this in your name, they’re more likely to take notice of you from the moment they hear or see your name.
It’s definitely not mandatory, and not always possible for a name to tick this box (especially if you’re using your actual name or surname), but it’s definitely something well worth considering.
5. Will it still WORK IN 5 YEARS’ TIME?
When you first start a business it’s important to focus on solving just one particular problem for one type of customer or client. That way you can be as efficient and as effective as possible with limited resources.
But over time, as you grow, you may find yourself making the decision to expand into other areas or change your offering – either by selling additional products or services, or by targeting new groups of customers or clients.
It’s therefore a good idea, before you start, to ask yourself - can your business continue to use the name as it evolves? Will it still make sense down the track?
There are two things you should be wary of here:
1. Names that closely refer to the product or service that you’re offering
Let’s say you’re starting a business that sells yoga wear made from bamboo fabric, and one of the names you’re considering is ‘BambooYogi’ - a name is a combination of the fabric and the activity the product is designed for. It's a clever name. But what if, in the future, you decide to expand your business to sell exercise wear for running, dancing, or aerobics as well? Or what if technological advances in fabric mean you move into hemp-based yoga wear instead? Will BambooYogi still be a great name then?
If you think you’re likely to expand your business in the future, it may be better to choose a name that doesn’t include specific attributes of the actual product or service you’re initially focusing on. That way, you won’t be restricted down the track.
An alternative approach may be to find names that instead have a connection with your solution (rather than the actual product or service), your strengths, or elements of your personality or values. So in the case of BambooYogi, for example, you could instead consider names such as EcoBod, EcoFit, FlexiBod, GreenKind, EcoMove, KindWear,etc.
2. Names that only appeal to a particular type of customer.
I came across a great example of this only recently!
I was in desperate need of some new running shoes. After a long and happy life, my trusty Brooks had almost zero tread left on their soles and also acquired some bonus ventilation holes in the top where my toes were poking through! My other half’s running shoes (also Brooks) were in a similar condition.
So before we could bid our runners a final farewell, I had to find us each of us a replacement pair.
Now, I like to think of myself as a savvy shopper (some may say a bit of a tight-ass!) so I wasn’t prepared to go into a sports store and pay full price. I wanted to find a good deal.
After hunting online, I came across a store called ‘The Fitness Fairy’. They had the exact model I was after, at a very reasonable price. So I popped them in my shopping basket and then clicked to browse their men’s range. Low & behold I was re-directed to a totally different site called ‘Volt Sports’. It turned out that the lady who’d started The Fitness Fairy was initially focused on selling women’s fitness gear, but later decided to add a men’s range to her product portfolio. Not surprisingly, ‘The Fitness Fairy’ was not particularly appealing to this new group of customers so she had to create a completely new brand, separate website and ordering system for the men’s range. An expensive process both in terms of set-up costs and marketing expenses. Plus, having two separate sites requires customers who want to order both men’s and women’s items have to place two different orders on two different sites – very cumbersome. If she wanted people to be able to purchase both at the same time, it may have made more sense to choose a brand name that had broader appeal right from the beginning.
By deciding on a name that is really appealing to one type of customer, but off-putting to another, you may restrict your ability to expand to target these other customers in the future.
It probably won't be an issue if you're not planning to expand your customer base, but if there’s a chance you may, you may be better to plan for it from the start and choose a name that is still distinctive and memorable but will have appeal beyond your initial target customer.
6. Can you ACTUALLY use it?
No name is a good one unless you can answer YES to this question: IS THE NAME YOU WANT ACTUALL AVAILABLE? That is, can you legally secure the rights to use it?
How do you find out? There are 3 things you must check before going any further with a potential business or brand name:
Owning the trademark for your name gives you the exclusive rights to use that name in the country and category in which you’ve registered the trademark. If you don’t own the trademark, then you can’t stop others from using your name, and even worse, someone else could register the trademark for your name and then legally stop you from using it! This can be the case even if you were using the name first.
So for the sake of a small fee, it absolutely pays to register the trademark for your name as soon as you have decided on it to avoid any issues down the track.
Before you can register a trademark, you need to firstly check whether the trademark for your name is available – that is, it’s not already owned by someone else. If you plan to sell your products or services in Australia, you can do a search on the IP Australia website to find out if your preferred name is already taken. If it’s not, then you can apply to register it.
A few things to note about trademarks:
- The international trademark system has 45 classes of goods and services. You can register your trademark in as many classes as you like (each class will incur a fee). You may find that what you’re selling fits neatly into one of the classes, or you may need to register it in more than one. If you’re planning future expansion and you’re likely to sell products or services under that name that fit into other classes, it may pay to register those extra classes at the same time to prevent someone else from taking them.
- If you’re planning on selling your products or services in more than one country, then you’ll need to complete a separate trademark application & registration for your name in each of those countries. If you plan to expand into one or more international markets in the future, it may pay to at least check availability now, and possibly even register it too, before you start.
- MOST IMPORTANTLY: If you really know what you’re doing it is possible to search for name availability and apply for trademark registrations yourself. If you’re not an expert, it can absolutely pay to find a good trademark lawyer (attorney) to help you navigate the process. Sometimes it can look like a name is already taken, but it may have lapsed, or it may be possible to purchase the trademark for a fee. Other times it may look like a name is available, but for various reasons, it may not be. Also, only certain types of names can be registered. Some - like names of people or generic names - can be very difficult or impossible to register. For example, if you tried to register the brand ‘Clean’ for soap and body wash products, it would probably not be accepted as it’s commonly used as a descriptor for the personal cleaning category. If you want to be absolutely sure you can register the trademark for the name you want to use, then it definitely pays to get expert help!
Business Name Registration
In Australia, if you choose to operate under a name that is different to that of your entity, you will also need to register it as a business name. This can be done through the ASIC Connect website once you have registered your entity and have your ABN. The ASIC Connect site allows you to check availability and for a small fee, register the name of your choice. This is a separate process to trademark registration.
IMPORTANT: Registering a business name does not give you ownership rights for that name. You must register the name as a trademark too.
If you’re outside Australia, the registration of a business name may or may not be a requirement. Please ensure you check the specific requirements for your country.
This is where a lot of people mistakenly start (and end) when working out if a business or brand name is available. They do a search on a site such as GoDaddy, find out their chosen domain is available and pat themselves on the back when it comes up with a green tick next to it!
REMEMBER: there’s no use in registering the domain name if you can’t own the trademark! In fact, there have been cases where trademark owners have successfully forced a domain name holder to hand over the domain name to them. You definitely don’t want to find yourself in that position down the track!
While it’s great if your domain name is the same as your trademark, remember that most potential customers or clients are unlikely to arrive at your website by typing your domain name directly into the browser. They will search for you on Google. Or Bing. Or they’ll find your website through your social media pages. Or through a link on someone else’s website, on the bottom of your email sign off, or on your business card.
So it’s not the end of the world if your domain name and your trademark don’t quite match.
Do a search on the world's #1 domain registrar - GoDaddy - to see if your preferred domain is available.
What can you do if your preferred domain name is not available?
If the domain name is not available, but you are able to register the trademark and business name, then you could firstly find out if it’s for sale. If that’s not an option (or is too expensive), then consider alternative but similar domain names. For example, Pocket (the awesome article saving app) uses ‘getpocket.com’. The other option, for example, is to see if the .com or .co is available instead of .com.au or .co.uk.
STEP 3: Time to Get Cracking!
(or Keep Brainstorming)
Now that you’ve gone through Step 2 - do any of the names you’re considering stack up?
If so, BRILLIANT! You best get moving and register your trademark, business name & domain ASAP.
If not, don’t fret! It can often take time to find the perfect name. Keep brainstorming. Keep asking people for ideas. And keep your eyes and ears peeled for inspiration. Names have a tendency to come up when you least expect it. The great thing is, you're now armed with this guide, so you have the tools and expertise you need to quickly spot and assess potential business names.
WANT TO TAKE THE NEXT STEP WITH CONFIDENCE?
Starting a business is a bold move. Even if you have a great idea, and the perfect name, it’s still a risky move to leave behind the safe world of employment and invest your heart, soul and some (or a lot!) of your bank balance in starting your own business.
If you’re at the point where you’re almost ready to hit the button and get cracking with your business, but would like to run your idea past an expert who can help you decide if it’s really worth pursuing, why not book in for a Hello Freedom Business Idea Sense-Check?
It’s a one-on-one consultation designed to help you decide if your business is a go-er so you can take that next step feeling confident your idea has the potential to become a successful business.
Looking forward to hearing from you!