Choosing a name is one of the most important decisions you’ll make for your business.
Here’s how to get it right.
Grab a pen and paper or perhaps a whiteboard, and have your computer nearby to check the names you come up with (more on this in a moment).
Depending on your business, you might like to come up with a unique ‘made up’ name, like Google or Xerox. Most of the biggest brands out there have unique names. To find one for your business, try chopping up the syllables of your name, keywords related to the business, or any other word that means something to you. Shuffle combinations of two or perhaps three syllables until you hit on something catchy. You’ll need to make sure it’s memorable and easy to spell. (We’ll talk more about market-testing your business name shortly).
Alternatively, you could create a name based on recognisable words, which will give your customers a hint about what you do, like Facebook or Jetstar. The benefit of these names is capturing potential customers instantly with a hint about what your business does. If many of your clients will stumble across you on Google, these names can be a good choice. Try making a list of starting keywords, and then use thesaurus.com to expand and extrapolate. You’ll have more luck finding something unique if you can be a little creative, perhaps using catchy combinations, or twists in the tail (such as SmallBiz).
Write down all the ideas you come up with, even if they’re no good. Often one name will inspire to another, or twist together with a name earlier on your list.
Domain Name Availability
A domain name is the bit between the ‘www’ and the ‘.com.au.’ Having a website is essential for small businesses, and your domain name should match your business name. You can check availability at NetRegistry. Type your brand into the search box in the centre of the home page and hit Go. If the domain name for your proposed brand is already taken, it’s back to the drawing board immediately. Ideally you should register both the ‘.com’ and the ‘.com.au’. More on this below.
Your next check is the Australian business name registry, managed by ASIC. This search is critical, as you can’t trade on a business name if someone else has registered that name or something too similar already.
Head to the ASIC website and you’ll find the ‘Search ASIC Registers’ box on the right hand side. Select ‘Business Name Availability’ from the drop-down, search for your name and hit Go. You’ll be advised if your name is too similar to one already registered.
You’ll also need to make sure your chosen name hasn’t already been trademarked. You can do this on the IP Australia website.
Finally, Google your proposed business name from all angles, including abbreviations and misspellings. If your searches return a number of results, especially from competitors within the same industry, your customers will have a hard time finding you. Being at the top of search results when customers Google your business name is critical, so make sure you’ll be able to nab top place and no-one else is already there.
This part of the process can be infuriating. Expect to find plenty of ‘perfect’ names and then discover the ‘.com’ is unavailable. It can feel like ALL the good names are taken. Don’t be disheartened. Write down every name you think of, good and bad, use your thesaurus to explore synonyms and twist new ideas out of your rejects. The right one will come eventually.
- Unique – the name needs to be available, and not too similar to any other existing businesses. Do a Google search to see who your customers will find when they try to Google you. Could they perhaps get confused or accidentally chose one of your competitors?
- Conveys the Right Feeling – different words evoke different feelings in customers. Ask your test market what feelings and impressions they get from your brand name. You might be looking for reactions like ‘fresh’ ‘exciting’ ‘prestigious’, ‘fun’, ‘trustworthy’, ‘serious’ ‘professional’ or ‘creative’.
- Memorable – you need a name that ‘sticks’. If your customers can’t remember your name, they can’t refer their friends. See if your test market can remember your brand name a day later, or a week later.
- Easy to Spell – tell your testers your business name verbally, and ask them to write it down. When customers hear your business name by word of mouth, you want them to be able to spell the name correctly when they type it into Google.
- Don’t Use Hyphens – these are difficult by word of mouth, and can mess up google’s search results if typed incorrectly.
- Useable – say it out loud, practice how you would answer the phone, draft what your business card would look like. Will the name work in the everyday routine of running your business?
- Short – simplicity is essential
- Not Geographically Limiting – even if you’re starting local, you may want to expand in the future. Dream big and avoid names that confine you to one town, city or state.
Which Domain Names Should I Buy?
If you’re launching a small business, buying just the ‘.com.au’ alone is not enough. If you don’t own a key domain for your brand name, someone else could easily buy it, start a website, and steal your web traffic and customers. You at least need to buy the ‘.com’ as well, and if it’s not available, you should consider re-branding your business.
If someone already has the ‘.com’ of your brand name and is running a genuine business, you’ll be forever competing on Google. Alternatively, if the ‘.com’ website looks like spam or says ‘this domain is for sale’, it could be owned by a ‘domain squatter’. Domain squatters profit by holding domain names for ransom. They’ll wait until your business is doing well, then either build a website to compete with yours until you’re forced to buy them out (likely for a five figure sum), or they’ll sue you for trademark violation. It sounds extreme, but it does happen.
Finding a brand name with the .com available can be tough. So many are already taken, thanks to the US’s huge population. But it’s far safer to find a name where you can buy the ‘.com’ too, and know that the time and money you invest in marketing your brand is secure.
You can also purchase the ‘.net’ and ‘.net.au’ if you like. They’re usually cheap, and provide another layer of protection. However many web developers say they aren’t necessary as long as you have the ‘.com’ and ‘.com.au’, and have registered your business name with ASIC. If you’re on a tight budget now, you might wait and buy these later if your site grows in popularity.
How Do I Buy a Domain Name?
Our favourite domain registrar is NetRegistry. They’re the market leader, 100% Australian owned and run, and they give great customer service by both phone and email. (No I didn’t get paid to plug them, they’ve just been excellent every time I call them for help!).
Expect to pay around $20 per domain per year. You don’t need any of their optional extras to start with, you or your developer can add these later. Be sure to set your domains to auto-renew by credit card. A business’ worst nightmare would be to have their website snatched from under them because their renewal accidentally lapsed. Choose a secure and permanent email address so that renewals reminders will reach you years from now. Protect your brand!
Before You Buy
Only Australian sole traders, businesses and companies are allowed to register a ‘.com.au’ domain. This means before you can purchase a ‘.com.au’ domain you must have an ABN for your business. Here’s what your process should look like:
- Decide on your business name, check that it’s available to register with ASIC, and check that the ‘.com’ and ‘.com.au’ are available.
- Set up and register your business structure, register your business name (not required for companies) and apply for an ABN. You can do this yourself, through an accountant, or right here with SmallBizLaunchPad.
- As soon as you have your ABN, head over to NetRegistry and purchase your domain names straight away.
Thinking of starting a business?
How To Start A Business is your plain English guide written especially for small businesses, by Jess Murray, CPA accountant and small business expert. Choosing the right structure, how to register your business, GST, employees, bookkeeping and much more.