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Naming your sole trader business

How to pick the right name for your sole trader business, and what steps you can take to protect it

If you choose to set up as a sole trader you can trade under your own name or your business partner’s name, should you have one. However, you also have the scope to get creative and give your fledgling company a new title if you wish to.

Choosing the right name for your business is paramount. After all, this will form the basis of prospective customers’ first impression of your offering.

There are certain considerations to be aware of when naming your sole trader business. Firstly, sole traders are not allowed to use the terms limited (Ltd), limited liability partnership (LLP) or public limited company (plc) in their name (or their Welsh equivalents) as this incorrectly describes the status of their business.

As with any company name, your chosen moniker must not be offensive, nor can it contain prescribed “sensitive” words, including those that suggest your business is connected to the government or of national importance (such as British or international) unless you have obtained specific permission to use them. (See our summary of business name restrictions for more information.)

You want a name that is catchy and original, sets you apart from the crowd, is memorable, available to use and encapsulates your brand identity or proposition. Given that many sole traders operate in the service sector, such as gardeners, plumbers, designers, hairdressers, B&Bs and builders, you may want to consider incorporating your local area and proposition into your name, for example, Queens Park Garden Services or South Coast Bikes.

While this approach does not always deliver the most creative of names, it can work to your advantage in the search engines when potential customers are seeking your offering within your locality.

However, before you begin trading or fork out for stationery, advertising or signage, you must check that your chosen name is not already being used by someone else, and does not infringe any registered trade marks. Our guide on how to check if your company name is original can help you with this.

If a sole trader at the other end of the country is using your name, this may not be a problem. However, if another local or national company is using it you will have to go back to the drawing board.

Once you have determined that your name is available to use and complies with all the rules, the next step is to register as a sole trader. If you choose this route, you do not need to register your business with Companies House. Instead, you simply need to register as self-employed with HMRC.

However, you may also choose to register your company with the National Business Register (NBR). This affords you more protection against any legal challenges to your name, as the NBR will perform all necessary checks on your behalf and will inform you if there are any issues with your proposed title.

According to the NBR, registration also prevents others from copying your name in the future and protects your business against “passing off” – that is, others using your name to piggyback on your success, potentially taking customers away from you in your market or trading area. Full business name searches, protection and registration for one year costs around £100.

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