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Last updated on 2/6/20

Choose a business name

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How you present yourself to the world can affect the way you’re perceived and whether or not clients choose to do business with you. Which means your business name should be something you’re happy to say and prepared to use, well into the future.

As freelancers very often work alone, it can be confusing to know what to call your business. Is it best to stick with your own name and build the business around you as an individual? Or is it better to distance yourself as an individual by creating a business name? Let’s explore both options.

Use your own name if you want to…

1. Build a reputation as an expert in your field

Whether you’ve been vlogging on the side while working full-time, or you have a reputation and are considered an expert in your day job, potential clients will most likely recognise you by name rather than by company.

2. Secure a domain name you actually want

Lots of creative, catchy or obvious domain names are often no longer available. If your name isn’t common, it could mean the difference between getting the domain name you want and trying endless obscure ‘versions’ of a business name just to find one that’s available.

3. Emphasise a more personal, tailored service

Clients will often assume you are a sole trader when you use your own name and may employ you so they can get a more personal, tailored service.

4. Appear more affordable

As a sole trader, clients will assume your prices are more competitive than larger companies or agencies offering the same service. You’ll have fewer overheads and other costs associated with running a large business. Do a good job, and your name could potentially lead to repeat business.

Create a ‘business’ name if you want to…

1. Change your name in future

If you get married in the future and change your name, then choosing a business name now will ensure consistency.

2. Help people find you

Lots of people will try to find your business by googling you, but you’ll be difficult to find you if there are lots of people who share the same name.

3. Expand at some point

Where do you see your business in two, five or 10 years? If you plan to continue working as a sole trader, then your name will probably suffice. But if you plan to hire staff to work on your behalf in the future, clients could end up disgruntled if they believe they’re hiring you and someone else turns up.

4. Avoid using your name because it’s difficult to spell or pronounce

Anything that makes it hard for clients to find you, will potentially lose you business (NB also watch out for names that can be spelt in a variety of ways (ie Philip, Phillip or Phillipe).

Identify the do's and don’ts

Business names: the do's

Keep it short

Two syllables work well due to their simplicity and the easy rhythm they create (eBay, Apple, Twitter, SnapChat).

Reveal your story

Can you capture the essence of your business in a word? When Richard Branson opened his first business – a record shop – one of his employees suggested the name Virgin because it was the first time they were in business.

Check what it means in other languages

Calling your business Graham’s Gifts in the UK would be perfectly acceptable, but in German the word ‘gift’ actually means ‘poison’… 😵

Test the name out on friends

Choose just two or three trusted friends. Ask too many people, and you risk having too many conflicting opinions, which could leave you with a bland compromise.

Experiment with
abstract names

Abstract names can be memorable, simply because they’re unexpected. Think Google, Xerox or Hoover, which have all now become verbs too! When the general population starts using a company name to describe an everyday action, you have millions of consumers marketing your brand for you. So don’t necessarily rule out a completely made up name.

Compare it with other businesses in the same field

Is there a pattern to the names in your industry? (ie law firms are often named after their founding partners) If so, following that pattern could help your company to be easily identified as part of the same business sector.

Let the name reflect what
you do

Practical names that show what you do act as a marketing tool in themselves. A ‘facebook’ is actually a company directory that lists the employees along with a picture of them. Mark Zuckerberg used the name to create his social network, which is essentially a digital version of the same thing.

 Business names: the don'ts

Limit yourself by location

Rumour has it that Kentucky Fried Chicken changed its name to KFC for just this reason, although the company claims it was because the new name has fewer syllables. If your location is part of your name, it could limit you as the company grows.

Pick a name that gives the wrong first impression

Calling a hairdressing salon It Will Grow Back, might be a laugh to those who know you, but might not encourage new customers.

Choose a name you don’t like

You’ll be using your business name a lot – in letters, emails on the phone, in person – so you must more than like it. Love your name, and your passion for what you do will shine through too.

Choose a name that is difficult to say, hear or spell

Names that have unusual spellings, lots of double letters, are pronounced differently to how they’re spelled, even some foreign names will make online searches difficult for clients.

4 steps to check your name’s availability

Although you may have brainstormed your company name, run it past friends, tweaked and prodded it until you’re completely happy, you won’t be able to start using it until you’ve checked that no one else is already trading under the same name.

There are four steps to go through to ensure you can use the name across all channels.

1. Check it’s available with Companies House

Companies House is the government agency that holds records of UK companies. We’ll look at the different types of companies in more detail in the next chapter, but it’s worth noting that the agency only keeps records of registered companies.

Whether you decide to register your company or not, use the Companies House name availability checker to be sure there isn’t already one under the same name.

There are also certain words you can only use as part of your name if you meet certain criteria (words such as association, charity or regulator for example). Check the list of sensitive words to avoid any problems further down the line.

2. Does anyone own the trademark?  

A trademark is a logo, word or phrase that has been legally registered by a company. See if your name has been trademarked, and if it has, you’ll need to find an alternative.

3. See if the URL is available

Nowadays it's essential to have a web presence, which means you’ll need to check if your domain name is available.

Buying the .com is vital if it’s available as it will give your company a more global identity. Prices vary, but you can get a name for as little as 99p for the first year (NB the cost of a second year will start at about £9.99).

4. Social media platforms

Which platforms are your customers using? Do you need to display products (Instagram)? Are you more concerned with becoming a thought leader (Twitter/LinkedIn)? Remember, the more platforms you choose, the more time it will take to manage them. Choose the two most relevant and do a search for your business name on each.

Understand why good business names work

‘The best names stand for a big idea,’ says Jonathan Bell from brand creation company, Want Branding. In the video below, he explains the seven different business name categories and why they work.

Once you’ve decided on a name for your business, you’ll need to choose your company’s legal structure. We’ll explore the different types in the next chapter.

Let's recap!

Example of certificate of achievement
Example of certificate of achievement