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Now that I’ve found an awesome new name for my firm, how do I protect it?

Jul 31, 2018

You’ve been working on re-branding your firm or are in the process of branding for the first time, and have found a name you really love: it feels like ‘you’, it embraces what you do, and quite frankly, it’s really cool. You can’t wait to jump into it full force!

But what if someone else is already using the name? If not, how can you make sure no one else will try to use it in the future?  

We’re often asked by our clients going through a branding process about what steps to take before fully committing to the new name and brand. Here’s the process we recommend:

1. Research the name online

Once you’ve narrowed your possibilities down to one or two names, do some preliminary research on your end. The first and best place to start is always Google.

Let’s say you’re leaning toward the name ‘Formidable Accountants’. Search for it and see what comes up. Are there any direct competitors in the accounting industry? If so, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t use the name. Just make a note of it.

If there are no accountants, are there any other products or services with the name ‘Formidable’? If so, you may need to do more work securing the name for your use (more on that in a bit). You can also search for variations of the name, like ‘Formidable Accounting’ or ‘Formidable Bookkeeping’. Add any you find to the list.

2. Look for available domain names

The next step is to go to an internet domain registrar such as godaddy.com, 123reg.co.uk or namecheap.com and look up the URLs that you could possibly use and see if they are available. They will have a handy search option on their homepage where you just type in the name you want and it will pull up all available URLs – .com.,.net., co., .io – you get the idea. If you see your name is already taken, check for possible variations. How about ‘formidable.com’ or formidable_hq.com or formidableaccts.com? The URL doesn’t need to match your new name exactly – just get as close as you can. Add these to your list. One of our clients, Nimbus, chose the URL nimbusxyz.com as nimbus on its own was already taken.

3. Search for available social media channel URLs

Once you’ve chosen a few URLs that are available, the next step is to do research on social media channels. Check all social media channels that you are and will be active on: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, Vimeo. The marketing you’re doing (or soon will be doing!) – writing blogs, recording videos, creating landing pages on your website – will be shared with your audience on your social media channels, and you’ll also be engaging with prospects and clients on them, so it’s important you lock these URLs down as soon as you can.

You could start (with our fake example) by looking to see if @formidableaccountants is available. As with URLs, you can look at different variations of social handles.

It is best to have all your social usernames match – if at all possible, get them to be @formidableaccountants’ or @formidableaccountantshq. Keeping them consistent is best so there’s no confusion as to who you are, and so your prospects and clients can find you easily. (They don’t have to search for ages.).

If you’re unable to get all your social usernames to match exactly, find the one that is available for the majority of your social media channels, and match the unavailable one as closely as you can.

Nameckr is a great URL and social channel search tool you can use, but it’s a good idea to double check each channel on your own in case the search tools missed one.

4. Claim your URL and social channels

After you’ve done this preliminary research and feel confident in the name you’re leaning towards, it’s a good idea to claim your URL and social channels. We’re doing this now (rather than before step 5, involving lawyers) because it’s usually inexpensive to buy the URL you want (around $29 USD), and signing up for social usernames is free.

You don’t have to worry about setting up your social channels with a banner image, thumbnail and content for now. The goal is to claim the account so no one else can snatch it up. You can go back and set up the design and branding later. If you end up changing your mind, you can delete them or simply not use them. The same applies with any domains you buy. If you decide not to use those domains (or the lawyer says you can’t), you let them lapse and you’re only out a very tiny sum.

5. Take steps to legally protect your name and brand

Before moving forward with officially changing your name or getting one for the first time, we recommend contacting an Intellectual Property (IP) attorney to discuss filing a trademark on your new name sooner rather than later. We’re experts in creativity and branding, but not in the legal side of things: so we strongly recommend that you go to the legal experts to make sure everything is okay.

Filing the trademark for your logo and brand is usually straightforward, but when it comes to protecting your name and website, it’s a bit more complicated.

This is where your IP attorney can help you. They will research the possible names that you’re interested in and advise you if it’s worth pursuing. If there are several people called ‘Formidable Accountants’ and a few of them are in the accounting industry, it might not be worth your money or time to file to get exclusive rights to the name. If there are only one or two people with that name and they have not filed a patent on it, or they have little or no history of using the name in business, it might be worth your time and money to pursue it.

One of our clients who recently rebranded discovered that there was other accounting firm using the name they wanted to use, but their attorney did some research and found the name was not trademarked, so they were able to make a claim on the name and the other firm was forced to stop using the name.  

A good IP attorney will talk with you about all your options and can give you an estimate of the time and money you’ll need to put into securing a particular name. If you don’t have an IP attorney, you can always ask a business attorney to help you with this. If they don’t handle IP work, they can certainly refer you to one.

Protecting your name and brand is easier than you might think – you need to do a little research, and get legal advice sooner rather than later. Once you’ve done that, you can move forward with enthusiasm and enjoy your new brand.

The next stage with your new brand will be a beautiful website that displays everything about who you are, who you serve, and what you stand for. But that’s a bit further down the road! For now, take the steps to register and protect your new accounting firm name, and let us know how that goes!