Are you trying to find an original name for your self-employed business? Or are you already a sole trader who has a name in mind but aren’t sure what the rules are when it comes to business name registration?
Don’t stress! In this guide, I’ll show you some of the steps you can take to find a unique name and how to check it meets all the legal guidelines. There are some extra rules to follow if you are choosing a name for your Limited Company and I’ve included them here as well.
I’ve updated this post on 29 June 2020
How to Check Business Name Availability
There is no sole trader list to help you check which business names are available or HMRC business name checker. You don’t actually register your sole trader business name so you can choose the name you like and start trading.
Take the time to do the research though so you can check if any other sole traders are using the business name you want. They may not be happy with you using the same name, it may confuse your customers, make it impossible for you to stand out on search results online or mean social media handles are taken.
Whether you are a sole trader or LTD, you also should check whether there are any trademarks associated with the name you like otherwise it would be illegal to use it and you could end up in hot water.
How To Name Your Self-Employed (Sole Trader) Business
Naming can be one of the biggest hurdles when you start a business. Either all the great names are taken, the domain isn’t available or someone has bagged the social media handle. Or, like me, you may just lack imagination!
If you have the money available you could opt to use a specialist naming agency to help you come up with the perfect business name (try Fiverr if you are searching for freelancers to help you). But if you’re DIY-ing it to avoid the cost or just need it ASAP because you’re ready to start work or need to form a Limited Company, then chances are you are coming up with your business’ name yourself.
Can You Use Your Own Name for Your Business?
If you are setting up your business as self-employed or a sole trader, then you can choose to use your own name or you can come up with a completely different brand name. Using a personal name is becoming increasingly popular these days because it creates a more relatable brand. But it is totally up to you which way you go.
If you are trying to decide between using your own name or a brand name, then here are some things to consider:
- Perfect if you are trying to build a personal brand or are an influencer or blogger;
- You can get started working for yourself quickly, without the headache of thinking of a business name;
- You can always change your business name at a later point when you think of something new or can afford to use a naming agency;
- Lets you sell a variety of products and services
- Doesn’t necessarily show what you do;
- May make your business appear smaller;
- Can present restrictions if you ever wanted to sell your business.
- Build a brand that appeals;
- Choose a name that includes the product or service your sell;
- Easier to sell;
- May not be relatable, depending on your target audience;
- Maybe restrictive as your business evolves or if you want to expand your services or products;
- Can be time-consuming to find the perfect name.
Trading As Names
A ‘trading as’ name is a business name that is used which is different your own name if you are self-employed or the Limited Company registered name.
If you are self-employed and choose to use a brand name rather than your own name, then you’ll need to use a ‘trading as’ name on official documentation like supplier invoices and business bank statements. You can also enter it in your tax return, so it is shared with HMRC as part of self assessment.
Trading as is often abbreviated to the letters T/a, just for simplicity. For example Anita Forrest T/a Go Self-Employed or Anita Forrest Trading As Go Self-Employed.
If you have a Limited Company you can also choose to use a ‘trading as’ name if you like. That can be useful if you sell different products/services or just don’t like the registered name you have chosen. But whether you are a sole trader or Limited Company you’ll need to include your official name on your sales invoices and your trading as name, for legal reasons and clarity.
Tips for Naming Your Self-Employed Business
Choosing the right name will make you stand out. So if you have decided that you don’t want to use your personal name, then when it comes to choosing a brand name you’ll want to make sure it is totally original and reflect the mood and tone of your business.
Here are some things to consider while you chose your name:
Consider What Your Business Does
Some brands have names that are nothing to do with their products – Apple, Nike and Orange to name a few. But they are very well established household brand names. Including what your business does as part of your name may help your potential customers understand what you do without you needing to take the time to explain it to them. That means by the time you speak to them, you’ll know they want what you sell.
Think About the Impression You Want to Create
Do you want to create a formal business, or fun and relaxed? It’s important your business name conveys this impression.
Consider Your Branding
If you have a vision of how your brand will look, then think carefully whether your name choice will fit nicely with your branding.
Check How You Feel About Your Name
If you feel passionate about the name you chose you’ll sell with pride and
Spy on Your Competitors
Check out what your competitors are calling themselves to give you a feel for what works and what doesn’t work. And also what your customers expect to see.
Carry out keyword research and check whether your desired name is associated with search intent, that way you’ll know your potential name is SEO friendly or whether it is going to be a really hard term to compete on meaning your website may never rank on page one of google.
Think About How It Will Look Written Down
Before you commit to your name officially, write it down! There are many stories of unintentional inappropriate business and domain names registered. Here are a few:
- Itscrap.com – IT Scrap
- Speedofart.com – Speed Of Art.
- Expertsexchange.com – Experts Exchange
Check the Domain Name is Available
Search the internet to check whether your chosen name is taken by someone else or competitor. Even if you don’t plan to set up a website straight away, you must consider buying the domain so it is ready for when you do.
Go to 123 Reg to check whether your domain is available, here you can type in your ideas into the search box and check what is free, as well as if the .com, .co.uk or .co extensions are available.
Check the Social Media Handles Are Available
There are billions of social media accounts in use, so don’t be disheartened if the social media name you want isn’t available. You could try adding an underscore of hyphen and check again.
Check the Limited Company Name is available at Companies House.
If you are forming a Limited Company then you must choose a name as part of the formation and it must not in use already. Every Limited Company registered with Companies House must have a unique name ending in Limited or Ltd. If you choose a name that is similar to one that is already in use, the existing Limited Company owner could make a complaint to Companies House and request you change yours. So pick something that is fairly unique to avoid any problems.
Use the Companies House Name Availability Checker to search whether the LTD company name you want is available.
If you are a sole trader then you could consider forming a Limited Company now to “save” the name for the future. This does have additional costs and responsibilities even if you choose not to trade through your LTD initially, and you’ll need to file dormant accounts until the point you start using it.
Get feedback from friends and family before you formalise your name. Be thick-skinned though! Take on board their constructive criticism because if they have doubts then your potential customers may too.
Don’t Use Sensitive Words
Whether you are self-employed or an LTD, you must avoid using:
- sensitive or explicit words;
- words connected to government or professional bodies;
- using the word Limited or LTD if you are self-employed.
Try an Online Name Generator
If you are struggling or need a little inspiration then you can find lots of name generators online. I like the Shopify Business Name Generator because it always gives me a lot of options from relatively little information.
Can You Change Your Self-Employed Business Name?
Yes, you can change your business name and many people often do. Sometimes they never really liked the name they chose or their business evolves into something new. As much as people say you should choose a name that is future-proofed, the reality is that this can be hard because you just don’t know what the future holds.
Changing business names can be done but it may have an impact on your business, it’s reputation and confuses customers. There is also a huge burden because you’ll need to change things like:
- Website and transfer it to a new domain;
- Email addresses;
- Social media profiles;
- Bank account name;
- Supplier contacts;
- Update HMRC.
By choosing the right business name from the get-go will avoid needing to make changes at a later date. So it is worth investing some time and getting your self-employed business name right the first time.
Can You Change Your Limited Company Name?
You can change your Ltd Company Name by filing a NM01 form online at Companies House and issuing the minutes of a special resolution. Again, you’ll have administration changes to make as above and tell HMRC.
Do You Need to Register with Companies House as a Sole Trader?
No sole traders do not need to register with Companies House. That is only necessary if you have a Limited Company, in which case the registration is part of forming your Limited Company.
Instead, you’ll need to register as self-employed with HMRC to let them know that you are working for yourself. You can share your business name with HMRC, but this is not mandatory.
Keep on Reading: How to Set Up a Website