What is a business name?
A business name is the name your business will trade under. It’s the name that will be on your official documents, invoices, website, and signage.
Your business name could take many forms. For example:
- just your name – Jane Wells
- include your name and a description of your business – Morgan Adams Bookkeeping
- a description and location – Alice Springs Snake Removal
- a play on words or spelling – Xero
- able to be shortened to an acronym* – Totally Awesome Plumbing Services (TAPS)
Whatever you come up with, your business name is part of your brand so it should reflect that. Make it memorable, easy to pronounce and spell, and preferably make it something that inspires you every day.
*Ever watched a Roadrunner and Wile E Coyote cartoon? ACME was the brand name behind the many gadgets that Wile E Coyote bought in his fruitless attempts to catch Roadrunner. It’s been claimed that ACME was an acronym for "A Company Making Everything." It was actually a Greek word meaning ‘summit’ or ‘peak’. And in the 1920s, when alphabetised telephone directories came out, starting your business with ‘A’ meant you were close to the front of the directory. ACME became a popular business name, suggesting a quality experience or product.
Do you have to register a business name?
Unless your business name is exactly the same as your personal name or an existing company name (that is registered with ASIC), you must register it.
If you’re a sole trader and use your personal name as your business name, you don't need to register it - Juanita Brown, for example. But if you’re going to trade as ‘Juanita Brown Plumbing’, you’ll need to register it as ‘Plumbing’ isn’t part of your name.
Similarly, if you’re in a partnership and your business name is the same as all the partners' names, you don’t need to register it.
Unsure of what your business structure will be? The Business Registration Service has more information about the various options and what business and tax registrations you should also apply for.
Choosing and checking a business name
While it’s exciting to be choosing a name for your business, you can’t just choose anything.
Before you get too settled on a particular name, you should check it's not restricted, or already taken.
Your business name can’t be:
An undesirable name is one that’s offensive or suggests a connection to something that it doesn't have, for instance a government or government agency, royal person, or charity.
Some words are restricted and can only be used in a business name if you get permission or authorisation. These include words that could mislead consumers about the nature of your business. ‘Incorporated’, ‘Charity’, ‘Bank’ and ‘University’ are examples of restricted words.
And some other laws may impact what you want to call your business. Using industry and professional terms like ‘architect’ or ‘builder’ may be restricted to those who are licensed and registered.
You can read more about name availability and restrictions on the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) website.
How to find out if a business name is taken
Once you’ve decided on a few options, it’s time to find out if they’re available. The Business Registration Service search tool will check the names you’ve chosen and also check if domain names are available.
ASIC also has a tool that checks the availability of a business name. It checks your proposed name isn’t restricted, already registered, undesirable, or contains invalid characters. It’s an easy way to save yourself a lot of hassle.
How to find out if a business name is protected
Be aware though, even if the name you’ve chosen is available to register, you don’t have exclusive rights to use it if someone else has already registered it as a trade mark. They’re separate processes. So also check your proposed business name with IP Australia for any existing trade marks.
How to register a business name
1. Business Registration Service
You can register your business name through the Business Registration Service. Doing it there lets you also apply for an Australian Business Number (ABN) or Australian Company Number (ACN) first.
Using the Business Registration Service also means you can apply for tax registrations such as GST and PAYG. It’s a good one-stop-shop solution to a lot of new business startup tasks.
2. ASIC Connect
The ASIC Connect website provides step by step instructions on the process of registering your business name. You’ll need to enter the name of the business and the business owner, and the addresses of the business.
You should get confirmation within five business days, if you have an ABN and have provided all the required information. Once the business name has been registered, ASIC will email you a copy of your record of registration. You can then start trading using the name.
What does it cost to register a business name?
You can register a business name for one year or three years for a nominal fee. After that period it has to be renewed. The ASIC website has details of the cost of registering and how to pay. The business names register is national – you don’t have to register separately in a state.
How to register a trade mark
Registering your business name doesn’t mean you’ve registered a trade mark. They’re separate processes. If no one else has registered your business name (or some other part of your brand) as a trade mark, you might decide to apply for trade mark registration. It can be a valuable step if you plan to invest in marketing your brand.
Registering your business name as a trade mark will help you:
- use your name without infringing the rights of others in Australia
- protect your name and stop others from trading with it
- get exclusive use of that trade mark throughout Australia
- have protection in all Australian states and territories for an initial period of 10 years
If you find an existing trade mark similar to the one you want to use, it might be possible for both to co-exist if they are related to different products or services.
You don’t need to get a trade mark at the same time as registering your business name – you may not be ready yet with all the aspects of your brand, such as logos or signage.
You may also want to talk to a trade mark lawyer to help you determine the right classes under which to register your trade mark, and manage the process if you’re wanting to register the trade mark overseas.
Xero does not provide accounting, tax, business or legal advice. This guide has been provided for information purposes only. You should consult your own professional advisors for advice directly relating to your business or before taking action in relation to any of the content provided.
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