The tricky art of naming your new small business
Recently my partner Steve was let go of his job working with QBuild, the Queensland Government’s building division, after five years. Rather than get down in the dumps, he decided to become the master of his own destiny by going out on his own, and offering his services as a qualified builder/handyman/maintenance guy. All I had to do was brand him and help him establish some basic marketing materials.
You’d think that given what I do (and have done), a task like this would be an absolute cinch. However, what I quickly discovered was that naming your business has become progressively harder over the years as domain names have been snapped up, and the business names register has gone national.
Why using your own name is never a good idea
Steve’s first inclination was to state the bleeding obvious and call himself ‘SL Constructions’ – his initials with ‘Constructions’ tagged on at the end. Thankfully he listened to me when I duly pointed out that this was a bad idea because he would just be joining the armies of other builders out there with their initials + ‘constructions’ or ‘build’ thus making it difficult to differentiate himself from a branding perspective. I encouraged him rather to try and come up with something short, sharp and memorable. I also let him know going in this direction would make it difficult to build up any real value in the business in case one day he should choose to sell or retire (a very important consideration any new start-up should give some consideration to). After all, why would anyone want your name all over their new business?
The business name brainstorming phase
With this discussion out of the way it was time to brainstorm. We started by thinking of words that had some relevance to the building industry that we may be able to use in some shape or form.
Not having spent any great deal of time on a building site I asked him what sort of words, phrases, tools, etc. are very commonly used, in the hope we might be able to salvage something creative. The response was not particularly useful – Steve stood there producing hammer and drill sounds and suggested there was not a lot of time for talking over the noise of such tools on a work site. Hmmm.
I tried to explain that what I was getting at was similar to when I was naming the Get Up To Speed program, a Government funded program we are currently delivering across Queensland. In this case we were promoting the opportunity for business owners to better understand the roll out of the NBN and what opportunities the new speedy internet presented to them as a business owner in Australia, as well as the fact that we would be imparting knowledge that would help them improve their online presence and become a more modern, technologically-savvy business owner.
It may have taken me two weeks, but when I struck on ‘Get Up To Speed’ and called it the Get Up To Speed program it seemed insanely appropriate. And I love the fact that to this day people take great pride in telling me they really are ‘getting up to speed’ thanks to the program.
Unfortunately, we were unable to turn up anything on this train of thought for our budding builder business.
Bring out the thesaurus
Next I started looking up generic ‘broad term’ phrases in my trusty Microsoft Word thesaurus such as ‘builder’ and ‘construction’.
As potential words and combinations came to mind I jumped straight on over to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) website (asic.gov.au). On their current home page, in the bottom right, find the heading ‘Search ASIC Registers’ and then use the drop down menu to ‘Organisations and Business Names’. Where it says ‘For’ type in the proposed business name.
Understanding the national business names register changes
Until recently registering your business name was as simple as thinking up a name, ducking into your local Office of Fair Trading and getting them to conduct a similar search for you. Provided no one else was using that name within your site, $200 or so later it was yours.
In February 2012 the roll out of the new national business names registration system commenced, replacing the current state and territory registers. All business name registrations are now managed by ASIC.
The good thing about the introduction of this national business names Registration is you now only need to register for a business name once, instead of having to register your name in each state and territory you want to operate in. Once your name is registered, it is registered nationally. You need to have an Australian Business Number (ABN), or be in the process of applying for one and not have been refused, in order to apply for a business name. (ABN registrations continue to be free and you can access yours from abn.gov.au.)
The bad thing about the national business names registration is that anyone who ever had a name in another state that you want is now preventing you from ever securing that name. Talk about narrowing the field. Despite the fact that little old builder in Tasmania, for instance, is unlikely to ever move to Queensland (unless the cold gets to him) and start offering building services, you can’t have his name.
Can you trademark that?
It’s a step many business owners overlook but an extremely important one too. With each search on asic.gov.au that produced a semi-available result, my next port of call was running trademark searches over on IP Australia. If you are not familiar with trademarks, it may also be advantageous to have a read of this page, and to potentially engage the services of a suitably qualified and experienced professional in this area as getting it wrong can seriously unravel your good work and impact dramatically on the value of your business.
Buy the domain name
On the odd occasion we turned up a potentially available business name from our ASIC and trademark searches, our next port of call was to search for available domain names.
Having sold domain names since 2008, I’ve been aware since then that available domains have been becoming more and more rare, with many reasonable combinations having long since been secured by domain squatters (yes, they exist!) who purchase them in the hope one day, just maybe, you will come grovelling over to them to buy it with $10,000 in your back pocket.
Knowing hyphens were not really desirable and starting to deviate too far from the proposed business name, in many cases the domain name searches sent us back to square one – bringing out the thesaurus, much to our growing frustration!
It should be mentioned that securing your social media networks are just as important as securing your domain names these days and namechk.com should also be included as part of any due diligence you are performing on the suitability and availability of potential business names. Simply enter your desired username and the system will let you know whether your desired usernames are available across a multitude of networks. Ensure the networks which are important to you are available.
Involving the kids as well as our family and friends in the brainstorming of a suitable name for Steve’s new business was also conducted throughout the process, though I secretly feared what they may suggest. While on a drive back from a family holiday on the Gold Coast, great entertainment during the three hour road trip was all family members brainstorming prospective business names which ranged from the reasonably good (i.e. eight-year-old’s ‘Straight Up Constructions’ – though ultimately not available) to the absolutely absurd (Krispy Kreme Constructions) aimed at getting a laugh from the others by the time we started considering everything viewed outside the car windows.
Exasperation kicks in… so we googled
Could it really be this hard to name a building business, we wondered? If anybody would know the answer to how to come up with a good name for a building company, surely Google would.
Knowing they existed I searched ‘brand name generator’ and turned up some interesting sites including those which used their ‘brand name generator’ as a lead generator for people to buy their domains to brandstack-name-generators which literally do as the name suggests – combine random keywords to create unique (and largely inappropriate) potential new brand names, especially for a building business, eg. VivaCocoa, MusicBear, CloudFlutter, PianoPaper, Fapdu, BananaRebel, PenguinButter, DragonPenguin etc. (For a fun sideline note, check out http://www.bandnamemaker.com/ where you can come up with a random band name, which has somewhat more scope than a building business for ‘out there’ literary combinations).
And we facebooked…
Still seeking answers we asked our Facebook peers. Surely someone who knew us well could come up with something strikingly apt, via way of a status update late one random week night. Sadly, they could not (though we do appreciate the effort everyone gave to the cause!)
Then finally it came to us!
In a moment of highly uncharacteristic behaviour I decided to take matters into my own hands, and offline. I dug out one of several ‘creative inspiration’ books I keep for moments of emergency, and in flicking through its pages, the word ‘Pronto’ suddenly emerged from a page.
Having spent a total of nine months on two occasions in South America, Steve and I both speak some street Spanish, so a word such as this immediately connected with us – an important consideration in taking ownership of a brand you will have to look at (and hopefully love) every day thereafter. Importantly it also fulfilled our criteria of being short, sharp and memorable.
Secondly, knowing words from other languages are often a good way of getting around the lack of available business names, I searched with baited breathe for the availability of ‘prontobuild’ across the networks. And what do you know, we could get it!
All is well that ends well
One day after finally settling on a name we had registered the business, secured the business page, created a logo and even had shirts printed up. Next up it’s business cards and a website, which we’re getting onto… pronto! (In the meantime we’d love you to pop on over to the ProntoBuild facebook page and say hi.)
What do you think of the brand we came up with? Have you ever had a hard time naming your business or a new product, event or something else? How did you tap into your creative energies and finally settle on your name? Did you use a brand name generator? Perhaps one we haven’t listed? We’d love to hear from you. Share your thoughts through your social networks or via the comments box below.