Last week, I wrote about How To Think Of A Creative Business Name That Will Last. This week, we’re talking about how to trademark a business name, buy a domain name and claim social media handles.
First, you’ll want to check to make sure no competing businesses are using your name. The quickest way is Google, then researching domain names, then the trademark database.
What to do before preparing to trademark a business name
Once you’ve come up with a name for your business, you need to do some research to see if a similar business is using the name already. It costs money to hire a trademark attorney to research a name, so you want to do a good job up front determining that the name is probably okay to use. Then your attorney can dig deeper and advise you on the likelihood of being granted a trademark for the name.
You don’t want to get a Cease & Desist order from a competitor’s lawyer because you didn’t do the research up front. It’s okay for a “Bumblebee” Bakery and a “Bumblebee” Real Estate to coexist. It’s not okay for a “Bumblebee” Gift & Paper and a “Bumblebee” Letterpress Stationery to use the same name. If you and your name twin operate in different states, that only works if neither of you has an ecommerce business. Going online expands your range of clientele and makes you competitors, unable to share a name.
Check for existing businesses
First, do a Google search for the business name. Try the business name alone, and in conjunction with your industry. For instance, imagine you’re starting a stationery company and your name idea is “Daisy Meadow.” You search Google and it turns up farming results. From there, your next searches should be something like:
- “Daisy Meadow stationery”
- “Daisy Meadow paper”
- “Daisy Meadow greeting cards”
- “Daisy Meadow gifts”
Google is the simplest way to get a picture of whether and how the name is being used, but you can’t stop there.
Check for existing trademarks
Next, do a search using the trademark database at the United States Patent & Trademark Office (if you’re in the US). Again, be as thorough as you can. If all seems clear, you can move on to buy a domain name and file a trademark application (more on that below).
Check for existing domain names
See if the domain name you want is available. You can do this using Network Solutions’ WHOIS tool. If the name is available, congratulations! It can be hard to find a domain name that’s not in use.
If the domain is “parked” but not being used for a website, you may be able to negotiate a purchase with the owner. If the domain name is actively in use, it’s less likely to be able to talk the owner into selling. In either case, you need to decide if you want to:
a) use a different business name
b) use a variation of the name for the domain (by adding “shop” or another word)
c) offer to buy the domain from the owner
When someone else is using the domain name you want, this is a warning sign that you may not be able to trademark the name. Make sure that the business is definitely not in the same industry as yours. You want a name that you will be able to defend with a trademark.
Buy a domain name
Once you’re pretty sure the name and domain are okay for you to use, you can claim the name online.
Purchase your new website domain. You can buy your domain from any domain registrar. I use DNSimple. That’s an affiliate link, and I have had great experiences with their customer service team. The service is pretty no-frills, so if you feel intimidated by setting up a domain, you can try NameCheap (also an affiliate link).
Along with the new domain name, you will want to set up your new email address(es) at that domain.
Claim social media handles
For a new business, claim your name on the social media platforms you’ll be using.
If you have an existing business, we recommend that you change your name on social media accounts, rather than setting up new accounts. This way, you can maintain your following. Each social media platform has different guidelines, which you can learn about here:
Changing your name/handle on social media means that you’ll instantly start using that name. This is easier than holding it in reserve for when you make your announcement. This is a good thing! It gives you a chance to make an announcement, start the transition, and get people excited about the change. More about how to promote the change is coming up.
You may want to claim the new social media handle as a new name, rather than changing your existing account name. Please note that some platforms will make it hard to switch later. For instance, if you delete a name on Instagram, you can’t use that name again. So you need to go through an elaborate switching process, changing the wanted name to something random, changing your existing name to the wanted name, then deleting the random account.
Trademark your business name
We strongly advise hiring an attorney to do this for you. Kiffanie Stahle, attorney and owner of the artist’s J.D., tells us:
“There are lots of legal projects that DIY’ing or using a service like LegalZoom is the smartest choice. But when it comes to trademarks, it is a terrible idea. An experienced trademark attorney will help you three ways: stop you from wasting money on a trademark you’ll never get, increase your chance of getting your trademark, and increase the value of your trademark. If you want to register a trademark, start a trademark savings account. And once your account balance is $2,500, then start the process of finding an attorney.”
The trademarking process takes a long time (6 months to a year). Having a thorough trademark search done by an attorney will give you the peace of mind to use the name while the trademark is in process.
Your next steps: after you’ve claimed a business name
Once you’ve claimed your name, you need to start using it. Next, we will talk about the practical steps you need to take after renaming an existing business, or naming a new business. This will include information about legal steps to take, design, marketing, and launching your new brand or rebranded business. Stay tuned for this post! Subscribe to our newsletter so you don’t miss it.
Prepare for your next steps: branding
Do you feel like you’ve heard a lot about “branding” and “brand identity” but it just hasn’t quite clicked for you yet? Maybe you understand the big picture concept, but are having trouble relating it to your own business? Do you really need a target customer? Can you have more than one? How do you make your business stand out in a saturated market? Do you need to hire a graphic designer? How do you prioritize what to invest in when your budget is low? We dig into what branding means for your business.
We have a video that answers all of that. Sign up to watch it here!