Liz Fitzsimons: How to choose the right web address for your business

Liz Fitzsimons, Virgin StartUp entrepreneur and founder of SynchroFitness talks about how the tiniest things can have massive repercussions on your business – but when you’ve got a good business partner, even disasters can be turned around.

This is a tale of a very small character that cost us £200 and a lot of lost time…

My business partner and I were sitting in a car park following a meeting that had not quite gone as expected, when we found someone else had a very similar web address to us - and in a very similar market too! Our brand could be compromised. How on earth had we managed to miss it? Suddenly the day wasn't going as well as all of the others ones leading up to it.

When we started the business we had done lots of research on the name (or so we thought), mainly using Google. We wanted another name initially but had found it in use, via LinkedIn, but with a very similar spelling. A narrow escape! So we researched our next choice also using Google, the Intellectual Property Office (IPO), and a provider that sells domain names.
Searching for names via a domain name search gives you all of the domain name variations and links to the sites using them if the domain is taken. That’s useful because you can see what type of service or product is using the domain. The IPO search mechanism is useful because it brings up the same and similar names together with the ‘nice classification’ - a list of the goods and/or services associated with the trademarked name. That confirmed our second choice of name was in use by a software company. That’s OK, we thought. They’re not in the same market as us, but to be safe we’ll add a small character to our name.

A meeting with a web developer flagged up the trickiness of including the small character in our new name, but the reasons weren’t specific enough. To be sure about our choice we consulted a marketing expert friend. She couldn’t see any issues - the small character would get forgotten once we had secured our social media accounts.

We decided to stick with our choice and buy the domain name and a hosting package for £200. We set up a holding page and an email sign-up form. We were in business!

On the day we were working in the car park, we were setting up those social media accounts - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and our Youtube channel. What we discovered was the little character in our name, a mere hyphen, cannot be used on some social media sites. Not only that, in doing another Google search, a company in a very similar market had suddenly appeared. We could only conclude that Google either serves up different pages on different days, or this company had invested in getting itself higher up the Google rankings. The company had the social media accounts we wanted, but without the hyphen (I hope you’re keeping up!). The feeling of dejection was palpable. What were our options now?

Luckily, we had each other - it’s great to bounce ideas off someone else and really helped. We quickly recovered from our bad day and we are very happy with our new brand, SynchroFitness. No hyphen in site! (Actually the hyphen had gotten very annoying – you had to specify it in the web address when asking someone to sign up.)

I have started a couple of businesses in the past and it can be a lonely journey. It’s so much easier making these decisions with a business partner, and it means that when you hit problems like these you can quickly turn them around. While it seemed like a disaster, that one pesky character actually ended up being catalyst for our brand’s development. There’s so much strength in the bond you create as you nurture your idea into reality – and this translates into your business.

Liz Fitzsimons is Co-Director of SynchroFitness with Jessie Fox. SynchroFitness provides fun, social and energising synchronised swimming fitness classes, parties and events. With the support of Virgin Startup and their Mentor, Ben Davies of Net Profit Explosion, Liz and Jessie are taking SynchroFitness nationwide. Have a look on their website for Instructor opportunities and join in the fun on Facebook and Twitter!