What’s in a business name? One woman’s journey.

After taking voluntary redundancy in early 2011, I started to think seriously about how I could set myself up as a freelance proofreader and copy-editor. In 2012 I registered with HMRC under my own name as a sole trader. This was just the beginning.

I’d set up a personal Twitter account in May 2012, and realised by October that a Twitter handle for my business would be more useful than my personal one. After several attempts to find a name that wasn’t already taken, I came up with @spellegance, which I felt was just on the right side of corny.

In November 2012, I asked on Facebook if any of my friends had any suggestions:

If I plan to go freelance, is it best to have a company name and website? And if so, how do I pick a good name?

I had some interesting responses, among them:

M (freelance translator, copywriter and editor) suggested avoiding the limited company option:

you have to pay to be a limited company, whereas trading as freelance (sole trader) is free and easy.

A friend who works as a professional photographer advised:

Don’t register as a company. Website maybe but not necessary. Definitely get business cards though, and get nice ones, good quality, good design etc. Affects how professional you look when you whip it out!

Having not yet registered as a limited company or even having looked into it yet, the fact that I’d have to pay put me off, at least at this early stage. As for business cards, I hadn’t settled on a name yet, let alone a logo, font or any of those other things crucial to making a good impression.

I decided to look into two options – using my name, and using a business name:

Using my own name

I’d attended a course run by social marketer Keith McMean (www.keithmcmean.co.uk) back in October. His preference was for using real names if you work as a sole trader, on the basis that appearing ‘human’ is very important, and if you work alone you are essentially your own brand. This seemed fairly logical, although being a regular, responsive presence on Twitter and blogging could also be ways to come across as more human.

AB (owner and manager of a publishing services company) was also in favour of this option:

Yeah, go freelance, use your own name. Otherwise you end up adding loads of overheads you don’t need.

The main justification here seemed to be the issue of cost rather than the name itself. However, a lot of the work I’ve done for publishers has come via a relative by marriage, and communicating in anything other than my maiden name could look like nepotism. I also hoped at some point to promote my services locally, in many cases to friends and connections, and using my maiden name in these cases might well cause confusion for everyone involved!

As for using one name for some people and another for others…well, that was a non-starter.

Using a ‘business’ name

I was now leaning towards picking an original name. There are quite a few web pages on naming your company, and I particularly enjoyed reading the advice at Startups on choosing the perfect business moniker. One sentence that really resonated with me was “Humour or a nice play on words is an effective way to stand out from the crowd.” My job, after all, is to ‘play’ with the English language, collaborating with authors, translators, editors and publishers to polish manuscripts until they are the best they can be.

A software engineer friend (K) had these words of advice:

You can be a sole trader and still have a ‘company’ name though if you wish. Good names are subjective though. Short and memorable, tripping off the tongue easily and easily associated with what you do all make for good names in terms of word of mouth and people remembering you.

Another friend (A), self-employed as a counsellor and therapist, said:

Go for it Sarah. Sole Trader (free), catchy company name and tag line that sells the benefits of what you do… And good record keeping for when you sort your tax out…sorted!

I already had come up with a strapline – Changing the world one comma at a time – and was pretty happy with that.

My record-keeping was also in order – or at least I had a spreadsheet of all my income and a load of receipts shoved in the back of a notepad…

As K put it, good names need to be memorable and associated with what a company does.

I spent the next few weeks asking family and friends about various options I’d been considering, googling possible names to see if anyone else was using them, and generally getting myself even more confused.

As I was tempted to start trying to secure work from local clients, I wondered about selling the local angle, with names like Lake District Proofreading, Cumbria Proofreading and Editing…the list goes on. However, as I can potentially work for clients from all over the world, I wondered if this would make my appeal less global. I certainly didn’t want to put anyone off!

Although I didn’t want to go down the limited company route, I did want to have this as a potential future option, so I used HMRC’s WebCheck tool to make sure any names I thought of weren’t already in use.

I was also aware that I’d probably want to set up a website at some point, so I checked online to see if various domain names, both ending in .com and .co.uk, were available at that point. I used GoDaddy’s domain name search, but there are plenty of other sites that you can use to check.

It was only after running through several different names that I realised I already had a web presence that wasn’t under my own name. My Twitter handle.

I’d been sending out sporadic tweets for a while, but hadn’t ever thought about using it as a name for my business, and certainly didn’t have any kind of strategy for using Twitter to market myself at that stage. I ran through a mental checklist:

  • Describes my business: CHECK. (Or at least the spelling part of it)
  • Memorable: CHECK. (I think so, at least.)
  • Humorous: CHECK (As above.)
  • Available: CHECK.

And that was that: spellegance it was, and spellegance it is to this day.

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