Creating a Business Name

Photograph by Jack Dorsey

Photograph by Jack Dorsey

It’s often the first thing that a new creative business does, but coming up with a business name is probably the most important step you take in the branding process, and needs some time and thought before you jump in.

You don’t need a separate business name if you’re trading under your own name. Lots of creative people choose to use their own name as their brand, including writers, filmmakers, designers and artists. Legally that’s fine, as long as you use your legal name (the one on your passport or birth certificate, for example). Your own name includes using your initials as well as your first and/or last name.

If you decide to use a name for your business that’s different from your own, there are a few legal steps – but first you need a name. Whatever you call your creative endeavour could have a massive impact on the way your business is perceived by the world, the kinds of clients or customers you attract, and ultimately the amount of money you can make. Prepare yourself for some frustration, though; this can be a very fun but sometimes drawn-out process. You may come up with some gobbledygook before you discover a winner!

Start by thinking up a list of keywords that describe the kind of business you’re creating. Include the basics of what you do (film, words, paint, photos?) and then think about how you work (creative, fun, focussed, engaged?).

Next step, get creative. It’s big-piece-of-paper, coloured texta time. Brainstorm all the words, names, titles and phrases that come to mind. Don’t edit, or tell yourself the names are crazy, just write them down. It can help to work on this process over a few days – your brain can get very creative while you’re sleeping or riding the bus to a meeting.

If you feel lost, check out other people who are running similar businesses to yours (in other countries as well as Australia). Examining the competition can be a scary task, but try not to be intimidated. Use their websites and other marketing to inspire you (but don’t steal).

Next step, think about your potential clients. Are they going to require you to be serious and conservative in order to trust you? Then eliminate the words that don’t convey this. Do you have a more fun, light-hearted brand in mind? Then avoid words that convey anything too traditional. Whoever your clients might be, your name needs to help give them a reason to trust you.

Having said that, don’t choose anything that will lock you in completely. You might want to change or adapt your business offerings, or perhaps wander in a new creative direction entirely. Adding your geographical location to the name, or identifying with a specific product, can be confusing if you change in the future.

A few extra thoughts:

  • Avoid being too clever. Using unusual words, creative spellings or made-up nonsense names to make your business stand out can be hard when clients try and Google you. You don’t want to be explaining your name to every confused punter at the networking event.
  • Simple is best. Make your business name one that potentials can easily pronounce and remember. Skip acronyms as well, they can be confusing.
  • Short is good. Not too many syllables, and avoid using hyphens and other special characters.
  • Always check the international implications of your name. You may think your chosen moniker is cute and quirky, only to find it means something obscene or ridiculous in another culture.
  • Don’t be shy of an emotional connection. I named my business Girlhouse Films after my daughters, and since my focus is exclusively on films by and/or about women, the branding works too. The occasional dirty-minded sod has thought I make ‘adult’ films, but since that says more about them than me it’s not been a huge issue!

Once you have a shortlist of name that you like, run them by your trusted friends and colleagues. Pay attention to their reactions and emotional responses. You might like the names, but how do other people perceive them?

Your shortlist then needs the legal treatment. Ultimately, your chosen name needs to be registered with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, so visit their website to see if its available. Registration is a relatively inexpensive and necessary step.

Also see if the same name is available as a domain name, and for the sake of your branding, make sure they match. It will be easier for your potential clients to find you if your name and web address are identical.

You should also investigate the trademark implications of your name with IP Australia. Registering a trademark isn’t compulsory but can provide extra protection for your brand.

Hopefully your new name will inspire you to create a business that’s close to your heart, conveys your brand, explains your offerings, and tells your clients what you stand for.

Good luck!