How to register a business name: A complete guide
After making the exciting decision to become a business owner, now's the time to officially name and legally register your new business.
Although there's a bit of paperwork involved, naming your business can be a lot of fun and these simple steps will help you avoid any legal troubles.
How to choose a business name
Naming your business is no easy task — with a few words you need to find a way to clearly represent your brand to potential customers. These words should reflect your products, services and purpose, while also being memorable enough for customers to easily recall. It's a lot to consider. So, where do you begin?
If you're not immediately struck by a bolt of inspiration, a good place to start is by putting yourself in your customer's shoes. If you were a potential buyer looking in your chosen market, what do you think would be catchy? Or sophisticated? Or funny, even?
There's four key things to think about when it comes to choosing your business name:
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and
Create a memorable name
Memorability is about creating a name that's easy to recall and hard to forget. Ideally, it's a way for customers to relate to 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's 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 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
There are a few easy tools, such as ONECheck that can help you easily determine if your business has already been registered. The tool allows you to search if a business name, trade mark, web domain and social media names are already in use. If you’re wanting to trade mark your business name, the New Zealand Intellectual Property Office will help you find similar trade marks that 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. 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
There'll be many instances during your initial market research where you'll find business names that are similar to your own. Don't worry if this is the case - with more than 530,000 businesses in New Zealand, 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. This group 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.
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 a New Zealand Business Number (NZBN)
The New Zealand Business Number (NZBN) is a unique identifier, which any business in New Zealand can have. The NZBN will eventually become the main identifier for all businesses — similar to Australia’s ABNs.
The NZBN will speed up your interactions with government, suppliers, customers and other businesses. Your NZBN lets businesses you buy from or sell to get your details quickly and accurately.
Companies get their NZBNs automatically when they register in New Zealand. For sole traders, partnerships and trusts, you (or your accountant) can obtain your NZBN via the NZBN website. To do this, you’ll need a RealMe login, an IR number of the sole trader, partnership or trust you’re registering for a NZBN and other basic details that vary according to your business structure.
Reserve your company name
If you’ve decided to set up a limited liability company, you must reserve your company name and apply to be listed as part of your incorporation process with the Companies Office.
You’ll need a RealMe login to access the Companies Office website and to do the following:
Search the Companies Register to see if your business name is available.
Apply to reserve your company name.
Register your company.
File annual returns setting out contact details for the company and its directors.
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 protect you and your business. Visit IPONZ 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. Here are some 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. Any company located in New Zealand can register a ".nz" domain name or ".co.nz" For certain businesses, it's advisable to register a ".nz" domain name for ease of access.
If the exact domain name you want is taken, you'll have to choose something slightly different. 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.