In March 2019, the number of self-employed workers in the UK reached a record high of 4.93 million.
Some people will have huge business broadband contracts supporting multiple offices, while others run homespun enterprises from kitchen tables using domestic internet connections.
But businesses of all sizes need their own internet domains for website and/or e-mail use.
Buying and registering a domain is fairly easy, but many business owners don’t realise their domain is an asset which must be maintained over time.
Nominet, the official registry handling all the UK’s domestic web addresses, is currently reserving .uk domains exclusively for those who currently own the .co.uk version.
However, this moratorium will expire in June 2019.
That’s important because if you own a highly desirable .co.uk domain and don’t claim the .uk version prior to the deadline, someone else might buy it.
You could end up competing with another business using a virtually identical domain name.
So what should sole traders or business owners do to protect their domain(s)?
The host with the most?
Many owners of small or medium-sized businesses register their domains with Nominet via a third party – often the company hosting their website and e-mail services.
It’s important to note the hosting company is not the same firm providing domestic or business broadband connectivity.
They may not be the firm that designed and built the website, either. It’s important to retain any domain-based paperwork, to establish who’s responsible for what in years to come.
The hosting company makes your domain work online, so any websites and e-mail accounts stay live.
If you don’t know who hosts your domain or who has registered it, try to find out by running a ‘Whois’ look-up on Nominet’s website.
The administering company will be described as the ‘registrar’. They administer the domain, but they probably don’t own it.
The person or business named as the ‘registrant’ is the legal owner of the domain, and may not be named on a Whois look-up.
If this is the case for your domain, ask the hosting company to confirm the registrant.
Never allow an employee or third party to be listed as the registrant. If things go wrong, you might lose the domain, the website and all associated email addresses as well.
Once you know who owns the domain and who is managing the registration, look up the expiry date.
You must pay the UK registry (Nominet) an annual fee to keep any domain registered to you or your business, though many registrants (owners) pay this via their registrar.
Confused yet? It’s about to get worse…
Time is running out
All domain registrations are time-limited. If you don’t renew within legal timescales, the domain can be sold.
That may be disastrous, so keep an eye on registration periods.
Some registrars will accept several years’ registration costs in advance, enabling you to forget about it for a while.
It might also be worth considering buying other domain names resembling your own, or which may be popular in the future.
While this incurs up-front expenses, it’s sometimes worthwhile just to keep these domains away from rivals, or stop anybody impersonating your brand.
Domains may be resold at any time, making them valuable business assets in their own right. In the Nineties, speculative investors bought huge numbers of domains for this very reason.
Keep it current
As any business develops, its requirements – including hardware, software and domain management – will evolve as well.
You may eventually decide to change your domain registrant, registrar or hosting company, any of which could have an impact on the domain.
It might be necessary to alter domain names, transfer ownership to someone else or just change the registered contact details.
Make sure you keep Nominet updated on important changes. A list of FAQs and further info is published on Nominet’s website, with details of how to manage domain admin online.
Businesspeople and entrepreneurs tend to have a million things to think about, and domains are often way down on their list of priorities.
But that shouldn’t obscure the fact that a proprietary website domain is arguably a brand’s most valuable asset.
Domain management may not be terribly exciting, but it’s one of the most important pieces of business admin any business owner or entrepreneur will undertake each year.