6-Step guide to confirming business name availability and registering your Aussie startup

Before you start working on branding or the website for your new startup, you want to be sure your business name can be used. You’ll need to check availability with ASIC that the name isn’t used by another business. You’ll also need to check with a domain registrar for the domain, and social media channels for your desired social handles. Make sure you’ve checked everything before you register your business name with ASIC and reserve your domain and social handles, just so you’re not spending more time and money than you need to if you have to change everything due to lack of availability for your chosen name. Then nab yourself an email address so you can start communicating as your new business while your brand and website are being strategically built. Invest the time and into your startup strategy to launch faster with all the right foundations for growth. 

1. ASIC business name availability

All small businesses in Australia will need to register their business name with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC). If the business name you have in mind is already in use by someone else then you just plain can’t have it. End of. Check that your business name (or something too similar) isn’t being used by another business. You can check this over on the Australian Securities & Investments Commission’s Business Name Availability search tool. The ASIC website looks like it’s stuck in 1995, and is far from a pleasant user experience, but is straightforward enough once you work it all out. EasyCompanies also have a free ASIC availability search tool with a far more pleasing interface.

Note: as of July 2021, the ASIC business name availability search tool isn’t working very well in Chrome, so try another browser!

2. Trademark search

Risk alert! The last thing you want is to spend time, effort and money on branding your startup only to have another business threaten to sue you for breaching their trademark, forcing you to brand it all over again. I’ve seen this happen for all sorts of reasons, and here are some examples to give you a glimpse into why this shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Years ago, I worked for a company who were sued by a competitor over use of a similar colour. Seriously, a colour. They had to go through an extensive (and expensive) rebranding process to avoid trademark violation costs, on top of legal fees to resolve the issue. But that was a huge international company. Surely a tiny little startup wouldn’t be sued? Right? Wrong! I know a startup that was threatened with legal action because the mythical creature figured in their logo design was similar to the mythical creature used by a global corporation in a completely different industry. The design inspiration for the mythical creatures from both companies were no doubt taken from the sorts of stone carvings from ancient times that are very similar due to the simplicity of line and shape as determined by the very act of carving into solid stone. This doesn’t matter, the ancient Greeks didn’t trademark the symbol, the big corporation did. So the startup had to spend on legal and rebranding fees — new logo, business cards, flyers, office signage, updated website and socials) to avoid disaster.

So if you’re an Aussie startup, trademark infringements aren’t worth the risk. Save yourself time, stress and money by doing a trademark search up front. IP Australia makes this easy. Just go to their website to learn more about trademarks for both names and logos, and to do an Australian Trademark Search. If your business will be operating internationally you’ll need to do an international search. And of course, if you later want to protect your final business name, you’ll have all the info you need to register your own trademark. Needless to say, don’t take any of my advice as a solid legal footing for anything — I’m just a graphic designer full of cautionary tales — if in doubt, speak to a trademark lawyer!

3. Availability of domain & social handles

Double check that you can get a decent domain and social handles to match your desired business name. If your domain and handles aren’t closely related to your business name, your potential audience will constantly be questioning whether they have the correct account. Namecheck.com is an awesome free tool that allows you to check availability across loads of channels (domain, socials, etc.) in one go.

For Australian businesses targeting a local audience, you ideally want a .com.au domain. Go to GoDaddy and check for what’s available. Your best bet is always for a .com or .com.au domain for optimum credibility and memorability. When was the last time you trusted a site with a .biz domain extension? Or remembered a web address that didn’t end with .com? If you can’t get a .com or .com.au extension, you could consider an industry-specific extension. Here’s my two cents on the main options you’ll come across:

  • .co: this is traditionally the country extension for Colombia, but in recent years is growing in popularity to denote companies. You lose the country-specific SEO boost of using a .com.au domain, but you can gain those points back by going strong with Google My Business for local SEO street cred. This domain extension can be a great alternative for startups.
  • .digital/.consulting/.solutions: domains often used by B2B online services, so not a terrible option if that’s where your business sits, but all of these (and similar domains) suffer from lack of easy memorability.
  • .shop/.delivery/.store: decent options for online stores selling physical products.
  • .info: generally associated with information sites, rather than a business selling products or services, so not an ideal fit for a business.
    – .net: usually used by internet companies and associated networks, best avoided by startups.
  • For full lists of domain extensions organised by category see this page from tld-list.com

4. Register with ASIC

Go back to 1995 — kidding, but it may feel like 1995 on the ASIC website! — and officially get your business name registered with ASIC. If you already have a company and just need a new trading name, you can register via ASIC Connect. If you’re starting from scratch, you’ll want to look at registering your company, which you can do by yourself, or take the easy route with setup help from someone like EasyCompanies.

5. Register domain & socials

Register your domain and your social handles on whatever channels you want to use, otherwise someone else might snap them up before you have an opportunity to react. I’ve recently fallen in LOVE with iwantmyname for domain registration. They integrate really nicely with web hosts and are super easy to use. And it always feels nice to be supporting Kiwis across the pond. Your socials can be snapped up directly from Facebook, Instagram or whichever social platforms you’re starting out with I recommend starting small and mastering one or two social media channels before branching out. Running a startup is full on, so don’t overload yourself.

6. Setup business email

Grab your professional email address pronto so you can start communicating about your business using your new domain. I use Google Workspace for this, it’s cheap and you can be set up with an email address for your new domain name in about 15 mins. Nothing looks dodgier than emailing a prospective client from your personal Yahoo! email account.

Quick recap

You’ve come up with an awesome business name, you know nobody else is using it on ASIC and you’ve successfully registered the name as yours. There are no obvious competing trademarks. You’ve nabbed a relevant domain name and all social media handles are registered too. Finally, set up an email address specifically for your company using your new domain name so you can start communicating with prospects and look legit while you’re at it. Once you’ve made your way through these steps successfully (and can proudly say that nobody else in the world owns your business name and that it is now owned by you alone), take another step back and figure out if everything is ready for branding and marketing — the fun part!!

Are you ready to start building your startup website?

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