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Part 2: What’s in a name? Caroline’s horror story

Back in 2004 when I set up I scouted around for a memorable name that described what I did.  I spent weeks toying with descriptions of what I did, job titles, colours, positive words, a thesaurus full of “online” variations, and I tried them all in different combinations to come up with a company name.  My best friend Sharon and I wrote them all on tiny bits of paper and mixed them together whilst drinking several bottles of wine.  (Hey, who said business couldn’t be fun?).  The one which eventually stuck was “Virtually Sorted”.  Hooray!  I have a business and it’s called Virtually Sorted.

About six months after the business launched my web designer, Website Tom, came upstairs and showed me a new website.  “Why have you done that Tom?  I like our website”,  I said.

“I didn’t.”  replied Website Tom.

“But it’s called Virtually Sorted.  And that’s not our phone number.  You got our phone number wrong.”

“I didn’t do it.  That’s another company.”

Me: <gobsmacked!>

When we’d looked for the domain name, we hadn’t been able to get virtuallysorted.com because someone had bought it, not done anything with it and it was due for expiry pretty soon.  We wait-listed it and bought it as soon as it became available.  Meanwhile, we bought virtuallysorted.net and put our website there.  Virtuallysorted.co.uk was being used as an online training website, and although we have offered to buy it many, many times they have always refused.  Since they weren’t offering VA services we figured it probably wouldn’t become too much of an issue though.

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The VA business had bought virtually-sorted.com.  They also appeared to have registered it just before we set up, although the site had only been made live very recently.  There was a huge question mark over who had been trading first.

Off I went to see my long-suffering lawyer, Andrew, king of all intellectual property.  He sighed (a lot!).  The issue is, if they register a trademark they could theoretically stop me from using the name “Virtually Sorted”.  I’d already had my logo designed round the name, I’d had a fair amount of press exposure, I had printed all my business cards and stationery.  If I had to change the name it would mean several thousand pounds and another six months work.  I was horrified!  All that work and money going to waste.  And I really didn’t want to be seen as a copycat or to have clients getting confused about who they were working with.

Thankfully, Andrew did some further digging and realised that they hadn’t registered a trademark yet so advised me to get in there first.  (He really is a wonderful lawyer – get one at the earliest opportunity!)

Trademark registration is not a failsafe method of protecting your brand, but it certainly helps get you with the law on your side of the argument.  We registered under “Business Class” and we’ve not had any issues so far.  Had the other Virtually Sorted been encroaching on our market, or if they had the better domain name, I would have pushed harder to have their site removed.

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But it could have turned out so much worse.  My advice?  Do your research properly before deciding on a name!

1 Comment

  1. […] Was there ever a point when you thought it wouldn’t work out?  I think everyone goes through this – it’s something we should be more open about.  Even when I started, I had a bit of a horror story surrounding the name of the business. […]

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