Registering a business name in Australia: A complete guide
After making the exciting decision to become a business owner, it's time to officially name and legally register your new business. Our guide will take you through:
- How to choose a business name
- How to register your business name
- How to change your registered business name
- Do I need to trademark my business name?
- Do I need to register my business domain name?
How to choose a business name
Naming your business isn't easy. In a few words (or maybe even just one) you need to clearly represent your business to customers. The name you choose should reflect your products, services and purpose, while also being memorable enough to customers.
If you don't have name ideas already in mind, a good place to start is putting yourself in your customer's shoes. If you were a potential customer looking for a service or product like yours, what kind of names do you think would work?
There's four key things to think about when it comes to choose your business name: memorability, branding, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and social media.
Create a memorable name
Memorability is about creating a name that is easy to recall and hard to forget. Ideally, it's a way for customers to relate your brand with a product or service. So whenever they need what something - whether it's paint supplies or plumbing - they think of you first.
A generic name is obviously not the way to go if you want people to remember your business, but that doesn't mean you should come up with a totally crazy name either.
It's important to find a middle-ground that communicates what you do but will also stick in your customer's mind.
Build a brand that is uniquely you
Branding is all about how you want your business to be seen by your customers. It's an opportunity to communicate your personality and ideals.
This isn't done by stating the obvious. For example: "Kel's Fried Chicken" will tell customers that you sell fried chicken, but it doesn't say much else about you or the food.
To make the most of that first impression with customers, it helps to choose a name that demonstrates both what you do and how or why you do it.
For example, Kel might specialise in spicy fried chicken made using free range chickens, so she'd be better choosing a name that represents that to her customers.
Don't forget Search Engine Optimisation
Just like you might decide where to eat, where to shop and where to travel using an internet search, there's a good chance potential customers will find your business in the same way.
To make the most of these searches, it's important to understand search engine optimisation (SEO) and how it can help you to choose a business name.
Good SEO uses relevant keywords on a business's website to help it to appear above competitors in search engines like Google. The more informative and specific the keywords, the higher search engines will value them.
So when you're thinking about your business name consider using the relevant keywords that a customer might search for on Google for the product and service you offer. That way your business is more likely to reach the right people at the right time.
Use social media to understand your customers
Social media can be a very powerful tool for your business. Whether it's Facebook, Instagram, or even LinkedIn - social media channels can help you reach your customers.
A bit like SEO, think about the kinds of words your potential customers might use on social media to describe what your business does and then see if any of those words work as a business name.
Check for already registered names and trademarks
ASIC's Business Name Availability tool can help you find out if your business name has already been registered. The tool also displays businesses with similar names and their area of operation so that you can see if your business name is suitable for your location.
If you're planning to trademark your business name, you can also search IP Australia to find out if any similar trademarks already exist.
Research on social media
Browse different social media platforms to see if you can spot any businesses with similar names on social media to yours. As this could easily confuse customers and might misdirect them to your competitors.
It's also worth thinking about social media handles and hashtags before you commit to your business name to make sure it's a name that works for social media as well as the real world.
Look for similar names in market
During your research you might find business names that are similar to your own. Don't worry if this is the case - with more than 2 million small businesses in Australia, there are bound to be a few repeats every now and then.
If you do find businesses with similar names, make sure to take note of them. From there, work out how your business name can stand out more than your competition.
Test your name with potential customers
There's no better way to test your business name than with the customers themselves. They can tell you honestly what they like and dislike about your name. These customers can be made up of people you know, random people in the street or people who take online surveys.
A great way to kick off this process is by quizzing your friends about your proposed business name and asking them to share it with others so you can get unbiased feedback. You might also reach out to your social media networks by creating a short survey about your business name and asking people to fill it out.
Getting organised is easier than you think.
To learn how simple it can be, we've got 50 great tips to help you get back on track.
How to register a business name
After you've chosen your business name and tested it out a little, it's time to register it. Registering your business is a way of letting the government know specific information about your business and - most importantly - makes sure that you're operating legally.
Get an ABN
The first thing you should register for is your Australian Business Number (ABN). Your ABN identifies your business to the government and is tied to all sorts of taxes, including payroll tax and goods and service tax (GST).
Getting an ABN is both simple and free. You can apply online through the Australian Business Register (ABR), the entire process should only take about 10 minutes.
If you plan on using use certain government online services on for your business, you should also look into applying for an AUSkey through the ABR. AUSkey is a secure login that allows you to access and send government-related business information online.
Register your business name
Once your ABN is sorted, it's time to register your business name. Registering a business name means the government can recognise this name as the one your business will trade under. This doesn't grant you sole use of the name.
In fact, if you look on the Australian Business Register you might find other businesses with similar names to your own that are already registered. So if you want to exclusively own your business name, you must register it as a trademark with IP Australia - we'll cover this in more detail later on.
How to register?
Register your business name through the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC). The process is simple, but registering a business name costs a $35 fee (at this time, the fee might change in future).
If you decide to trade under your personal name you don't need to register this as your business name. However if your business name includes your personal name, for example: "Claire's Cakes", you will need to register this.
How to change your registered business name
We all make mistakes. But once you've registered a business name you won't be able to change it. So be sure you want your business name before you register it, if you change your mind or realise you've misspelt something you will have to register a brand new business name.
This doesn't mean you have to cancel your previously registered business name (although you can). You can instead choose to use this business name at a later stage or for a different part of your business.
Do I need to trademark my business name?
Registering for a trademark is the best way to protect your business, whether it's from imitators or competitors.
Trademarking has several benefits for a business, but legal security is the most important. Legal security gives you exclusive rights to a business name, slogan or logo, meaning copycat businesses negatively affecting your business’ reputation or income can be challenged legally.
Trademarking isn't the only type of intellectual property protection available. Patents and Copywriting might also help to protect you and your business. Visit IP Australia to find out more.
Do I need to register my business domain name?
A domain name is the address of your website, or your "URL." Although you don't need a website to have a business, most businesses register a domain name to help sell their products and services to a wider audience.
Things to bear in mind
- You don't need a website to have a domain. You can buy and register your business domain name first while your website is being built to avoid any nasty surprises when the website is finished.
- Buying a .com web address is simple and affordable, but if you want to buy a .com.au or .net.au web address you will need to be a commercial entity and have either an Australian Company Number (ACN) or Australian Business Number (ABN).
- If the exact domain name you want is taken, you'll have to choose something slightly different that still represents your business well. If someone has already trademarked your desired domain name, you could face legal action if you still try to use it.
- Registration of a domain name is a license rather than actual ownership. This means that if business owners find that someone else has registered a domain name containing their business name, the license can sometimes be cancelled or transferred.
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