Whether you’re setting up a company or going into business as a sole trader, one of the most important and potentially long-lasting steps you can take is coming up with a winning name and preventing others from using it. This helpful guide outlines what’s involved and how you might go about it.
How to create a business name
Coming up with a name for your business can be both fun and frustrating. It usually takes much longer than you expect, but it’s essential to get it right from the get-go. Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that you’re inventing it for your target customers, not just you and your friends.
Your business name needs to be unique and easily remembered. It should also convey the essence of what your business is about. And, finally, it needs to help people find you, particularly on the internet. Achieving all of that in just a few words can be quite a challenge, so here are some tips to help you get started.
Begin by defining your brand
Your brand is more than a name, a logo and a colour. A brand is the personality of a business. It’s about your purpose (other than making money), your values and the way you are with customers.
Your business name might not describe your purpose and values directly, but just come to be associated with them over time. But the name still has to be a good fit to work well.
For example, the name Apple describes very little about the company, but has grown to immediately convey a host of business qualities. That said, names like Dark Lord Electronics or Steve’s Computers are unlikely to have helped them achieve their purpose to the same degree.
Taking the time to carefully consider and write down your business purpose and values – along with a brief story about what you do, why you do it and how you are with customers – will give you something to test potential names against.
You could also create customer personas. These are short, detailed descriptions for each of your main customer types, complete with made-up personal details, such as a name, age, job, income, challenges, aspirations and more. They provide another way to test what your target customers might think of potential names and other business decisions.
Make it easy for customers to find you
One of the reported reasons for Apple founder Steve Jobs’ choice of company name was that it began with A. That meant it would appear near the top of phone book listings. In particular, it would come before Atari, a computer company he had previously worked for.
Today, the importance of alphabetical priority has been replaced by appearing among the first results in an internet search engine, such as Google. Google’s goal is to provide searchers with the best possible experience. If a company’s name includes one or more of the words people commonly use when searching, then its website is likely to be given a higher priority by Google. That’s because the name typically appears in the company’s website content and in its website address or url. There’s a lot more to search engine optimisation (SEO) than that, but it can help.
Choose a name that’s easy to remember
Another way to narrow down your list of potential names is to prioritise the ones that are easy to remember. There are two things that make a name memorable. The first is being quick and easy to read and pronounce. The second is ‘stickiness’, or how long it stays in people’s memories.
There are lots of ways to make a name memorable, such as humour or cleverness. Another is to paint a memorable picture. For example, in recent years there has been a trend to use a colour and an object to create names like Green Gorilla, Blue Frog, Red Balloon and so on. Their uniqueness helped the name stand out in a crowded market, especially when the idea was new. All of these methods work by encouraging the brain to think for a second or two about the name when it’s first seen.
However you make your business name memorable, it still needs to fit with your brand and appeal to your target customers. Their sense of humour or idea of cleverness may not be the same as yours.
How to test a business name
Once you have a short-list of business names, it’s time to test your top picks. The first step is to check whether any of the names on your list are already in use, or if very similar names exist. Once you have checked each potential name, it’s time to see what your target customers think.
How to check if a business name is already being used
You could start with a simple Google search using the name and see what comes up. You could also enter the web address or url you’d like to use. If someone is already using the name, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t. A small business with the same name in another part of the world is unlikely to be a problem. If they’re already using the (business name).com web address, you might still be able to register the .co.nz or .nz version instead.
You could also do a quick search around social media apps like LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook to see if similar names come up and how popular they are. You won’t want customers accidentally going to their pages and potentially reading comments or seeing images that don’t represent your brand.
Next, dive a bit deeper and search for registered business names, trademarks, and other unique or protected things like social media handles. A really easy way to do this is to enter the name on the New Zealand government business website ONECheck.
If you think you’d like to trademark your business name, you can also see if the name or similar versions already have registered trademarks by visiting the New Zealand Intellectual Property Office website.
How to test a business name with customers
Once you think you’ve found the perfect business name and checked that it looks okay to use, it’s time to see how people in your target market respond to it. You can start with friends and people you trust but remember they’re not necessarily the people you want to attract to your business.
Take a look at your customer personas and see if friends and family know anyone that fits those descriptions. You’ll probably know a few as well. If they agree to give you some time, just let them know you’re testing a name for a company. Don’t tell them anything about it to begin with.
Here are some questions you could ask:
- What was the first thing you thought when you heard/saw the name?
- If you had to guess, how would you describe the business?
- What do you think the business might see as important?
- Have you heard of similar business names?
- How easy do you think it would be to remember the name?
- What do you think the business sells?
- How does the name suggest the business might be different to others offering similar products or services?
- Can you think of a better name?
How to register a business in New Zealand
You can register your business and receive a New Zealand business number directly from your Afirmo dashboard or on the government’s NZBN website. An NZBN is a unique identifier that can save time when you’re sharing your business details with others. It also helps you look like the real deal.
Afirmo will guide you through each stage of setting-up and sorting-out your business, to make sure you’re on top of things at all stages of your growth, whether you’re just starting out for the first time, or a more experienced small business owner.
If you’re going to register your business as a company (see below), you’ll automatically be given an NZBN during that process.
How to get an NZBN for your business
Self-employed people, sole traders, trusts and partnerships can get an NZBN from your Afirmo dashboard or on the government’s NZBN website. You’ll need the IRD number of your business, which might be your personal one if you’re a sole trader. You’ll also need personal or partnership identification documents. You log in using your RealMe password. The site will step you through creating one if necessary.
How to register your business as a company
Setting up your business as a registered company is easy in New Zealand. However, it does have record keeping, financial reporting, legal and tax implications. If you’re unsure about these, you should get advice from an accountant or lawyer. For more about starting a company, see the New Zealand Companies Office website.
If you’ve used the ONECheck website to see if your business name is available, the next step is to reserve your name with the companies register. This only costs $10 +GST. The companies register will check it’s a legally useable name and get back to you. You then have 20 days to register a company under that name or lose your hold on it.
To register the company, you click a link in the email the companies register sent you approving your name or go directly to their site. Once you’ve logged in you’ll be stepped through entering details about your company’s directors, shareholders and tax registration, as well as paying the fee. After that they’ll email director and shareholder consent forms, which need to be signed and returned.
If that’s all approved, you’ll be sent a Certificate of Incorporation, which includes your NZBN, and your company details will be publicly available on the companies register. You then need to comply with New Zealand company laws, such as keeping financial records for seven years and filing an annual information return each year to confirm or update the company’s details on the register.
How do I protect my business from imitators?
Before your new business becomes too successful, or to stop competitors stifling your success, it pays to think about protecting what makes you unique. Known as intellectual property, this can involve things like trademarks, copyright, patents and more.
How do I register a trademark?
One of the best ways to protect your brand from copycats is to register a trademark. A trademark can include a name, logo, sound, colour, shape or smell – or any combination of these – that identifies a unique product or service. It can’t be something that another business might reasonably need to use. So something like ‘Cheap Computers’ probably can’t be a trade mark.
When you register a trademark, only your business can legally use it to promote the goods or services it covers. You can also use the circled R symbol to identify your registered trademark, indicate it has legal protection and discourage others from using it. A trademark can grow in value, which you could realise by selling, assigning or licencing it to other businesses in the future.
It’s important to apply for your trademark early, as it can take six months for the official checks and registration to be completed.
For more on trademarks and other ways to protect intellectual property in New Zealand, see the Intellectual Property Office website.
How do I register a domain name for my website?
A domain name is the web address or url for a website. It might also form part of your business email addresses.
Even if you’re not planning on a website at this stage, it can be a good idea to register your ideal domain name now, in case you need it later. It can also help prevent someone registering a domain using your business name and pretending to be you online.
Registering a domain name just means you hold a renewable license to use it. Registration doesn’t protect your business name like a trademark does. However, if you use a domain name that includes someone else’s trademark, you could face legal action.
You can register a domain name online through through your Afirmo Dashboard using the Marketing Toolkit or through any New Zealand domain name registrar for a small fee. Their websites let you quickly check which domains are available, including alternative extensions, such as .com, .co.nz and .nz.
If someone has already registered a domain you really want, you can usually look up who they are and contact them about buying it if you wish. But this can be expensive. If they’re not using the domain and it includes a trademark you own, you might get a better deal by pointing out that anyone else using it could face legal action.
For more on domains ending in .nz and authorised registrars, visit the Domain Name Commission website.
More From The Learning Hub
- How To Start Your Own Business – Getting The Basics Right
- How To Create A Website For Your Small Business
- Create a logo, register a domain name and build a website with our Marketing Toolkit
- Power Up Your Business with A Free Afirmo Account