The ultimate guide to naming and registering your business in New Zealand

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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 later on.

1. Choosing your 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 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?

Below, we list a few key criteria that resonate with customers. Considering these, and introducing your own personal flair, will help you develop the perfect name for your business.

 

Memorability

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 - consider how closely many people link Apple with phones and computers.

Creating a memorable name can help your business to achieve the same thing (although on a much smaller scale). Then, whenever they need the product you sell - whether it be burgers, stationery, or plumbing, they'll remember you first and get in touch with you.

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. Finding a nice middle ground is often the way to go.

For example: Start by coming up with a name that is a comforting or familiar in some way. These kinds of names can help customers relate to your business on an emotional level.

 

Branding

Branding is how you want your business to be seen by your potential customers. As your business name is likely the first thing customers will see, it provides a good opportunity to represent your business ideals to your customer.

This isn't achieved by stating the obvious - 'Kel's Fried Chicken' will demonstrate that you sell fried chicken, but it doesn't say much about the food itself. To make the most of this first impression, it's important to demonstrate your brands personality.

For example: If you considered creating a catering business, would you want to appear as a fun, easy-going business catering for backyard barbecues, or more of a gourmet, cocktail-style business catering for corporate events?

In either case, your name can go a long way to reflect the kind of catering you want to provide. Remember that your name will likely be applied to any branded advertising you do, so make it count!

 

Search Engine Optimisation

Just as you might decide where to eat, where to shop and where to travel with 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). This optimisation is what makes the websites of businesses appear above their competition in search engines like Google.

To improve SEO, businesses should use certain keywords in their website content related to their business. The more informative and specific this content is, the more search engines will value them and the higher your website will rank.

For example: A business named "Local Hairdressers" with little website content would struggle to appear in a Google search. Instead, the search would likely display the websites of hairdressers local to the customer's area.

Using terms like "Men's hairdresser in Richmond" on your site will help those looking for - you guessed it - men's hairdressers in Richmond.

 

Social media

Social media is a very powerful tool for advertising and marketing your brand. Whether it be Twitter, Instagram, or even LinkedIn, social media channels can help you better reach out to your audience.

Start by creating social media pages on any platforms you think your audience is likely to use. An easy way to grow your page following is by inviting friends and family to like your page or by following them (depending on the platform).

If you're looking to expand your following quickly, or wanting to increase your visibility among your target audience, you can look into paid social media advertising. This allows you to allocate a budget to targeting a specific audience.

For example: Facebook advertising provides businesses with the option to target a 35 year old married woman who lives in Auckland and enjoys knitting. This should give you a good idea how powerful paid advertising can be!


2. Testing your business name

After deciding on a business name, a Google search and checking for similar domains will give you an impression of how popular your business name is and how other industries may have used it.

With these initial impressions in mind, there are a few deeper ways you can test your business name. Further testing is a great way to tell if your business name is going to be a hit with your audience, and if not, it can help you look for ways to improve it.

 

Check trademarks and social media handles

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.

 

Do some social media research

It's also useful researching businesses with similar names on social media, as this can easily confuse users and misrepresent your brand identity. This only requires a quick search to see how popular similar names may be.

For example: If you've found that the Instagram handle "JoesGourmetPizza" is free for your business, there may very well be several similar handles, like "JoesGreatPizza," "JosiesGournetPizza," or JoesGourmetPasta."

 

Recognising similar names in market

There will 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 the success of your business name than with the customers themselves. They can tell you honestly what they like and dislike about your name and offer constructive criticism. These customers can be made up of people you know, random people in the street or people who take online surveys related to your brand.

A great way to initiate this process is by quizzing customers about their first impressions. This first reaction can help you understand how brand new customers may receive your brand and can potentially give an indication of the memorability of your name.

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3. Registering your business

Registering your business is a way of letting the government know specific information related to your business and - most importantly - that you're operating legally.

 

Getting your 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 an NZBN and other basic details that vary according to your business structure.

Reserving a 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.

To apply for registration, you’ll need a RealMe login to access the Companies Office website where you can:

  • 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.

4. Trademarking and business intellectual property

When a business wants to protect its brand, whether from imitators or competitors, registering a trademark is the best way to do so.

Trademarking offers several benefits for a brand, although legal security is the by far the most important benefit for most businesses. Legal security ensures exclusive rights, meaning copycat businesses negatively affecting your business’ reputation or income can be made legally responsible for doing so.

Trademarking is used in a variety of way by brands. As well as the brand name itself, and other unique brand-related elements can be protected, such as logos and slogans.

For example: Amy's uniquely branded quilts start developing such an impressive reputation that a competitor starts producing inferior quilts that are visually identical to cash in on Amy's success. 

Because Amy trademarked her brand prior to her success, she is able to pursue legal action arguing that her competitor is trying to fool consumers.

Trademarking is not the only type of intellectual property protection available through IP Australia. Other forms of IP protection include patents and copyrighting, and what you choose to utilise will often depend entirely on your business.

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5. Registering your domain name

A domain name is the address of your website, or URL. Although not compulsory, registering a domain name to take advantage of the large audiences online and helps get your brand out there.

It's helpful to remember that you don't actually need a website to have a domain - you can buy the domain first while your website is being built to avoid any nasty surprises (like it being taken by somebody else) 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, including their level TLDs, such as .co.nz. For certain businesses, it's advised to register a .nz domain name for ease of access.

 

Domains and intellectual property

As with registering your business, a domain name doesn’t protect the name of your brand, it simply secures the URL. In choosing a domain, you may find that the exact URL you wanted is taken. In these cases, you should choose something slightly different that still represents your brand well.

If someone has already trademarked your desired domain name, it is possible you might face legal action if you still try to use a similar name.

 

What to do if someone else registers your domain

Occasionally the perfect domain for your business is already in use. This may just be because you've chosen a popular URL, but there are some cases where the domain owner can prove that the URL was used irresponsibly by someone else.

Registration of a domain name is a license rather than actual ownership. This means that if brand owners find that someone else has registered a domain name containing their brand, the license can be cancelled or transferred in certain situations. This unfortunately doesn't extend to use of a URL that you thought was perfect for your brand. Good try, though!

Both the domain name holder and the complainant also have an opportunity to file evidence and make submissions.

To succeed in a complaint, the complainant must prove three things:

  1. the domain name is identical or confusingly similar to a name, trademark or service mark in which the complainant has rights
  2. the domain name holder has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the domain name
  3. the domain name has been registered or subsequently used in bad faith

Bad faith implies an ulterior or unfair motive is related to the registration or use of a domain name.

Bad faith could include:

  • Redirecting traffic to a competitor’s website
  • Using the domain as a derogatory platform
  • Registering the domain with the intention of selling it to a specific brand owner for a profit

Not all cases of bad faith are equal, though. It is much simpler to demonstrate bad faith when a brand is well known.

For example: The deciding panel does not believe 'Kyle's Shoe Store' is using a domain similar to 'Kyle's Shoe Emporium' in bad faith. In their next case, a tech company is using the domain name 'Apples' and they believe it is a case of bad faith as Apples is seeking to take advantage of Apple's reputation.

 

How much does does a domain name complaint cost?

A domain name complaint can very easily cost thousands of dollars. Proving your case can also be so difficult and there's a good chance your thousands of dollars will lead to no favourable resolution.

With this is mind, it's often cheaper to buy the domain from the seller - despite this option likely leaving a sour taste in the buyer's mouth.

Instead of being ready to spend your cash, if your case involves an unused domain, a good first step is to make the other party aware that their use of the domain name is a breach of trademark and can lead to court action.

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