What We Learned From Our Rebrand

By Laura Hanly

Recently, we decided to rebrand our company from Shopify Ninjas to Blackbelt Commerce. This post outlines what we learned in the process.

Why did we rebrand? After they IPO’d, Shopify understandably didn’t want other companies using their trademark “Shopify” in their business name, so we had to change it. More details here.

Here’s Tristan to give you the story:

Shopify Ninjas was over 4 years old. In large part, that name was how we were known in the Shopify community, to our clients, among friends, and to colleagues.

In that sense, having to make a change was difficult. The team had an emotional connection and an identity tied to the name and the quirky logo we’d had for the past 4 years.

I was also hesitant to alienate or lose anyone who knew us by that name, or was searching for us using it. I knew it would be a lot of work, but for legal reasons (and other benefits which follow), I was determined to make the best of it.

Below are some results of the change. Many of these results were unexpected, so I’m sharing them in the hope that it may help others who have to consider a name change at some stage.

It was more difficult than I thought, but also more rewarding than I expected.

Changing your business’ name is difficult in many respects. First, there’s the emotional attachment I mentioned above. In a sense, the business is ‘your baby’ and changing its identity is scary.

What if customers get confused as to who is emailing them? What if our Google ranking drops? Questions on and on, ad nauseum…

But very few of my concerns actually eventuated.

It also took significantly longer than I ever anticipated. Building the new website, finding a name I really loved, brainstorming for branding, designing new assets, updating everything – all of these individual elements each took longer than I thought.

Luckily, I had adequate time to complete the re-brand (from a legal perspective) and it all came together well in the end.

Brainstorming for new business names was way harder than I thought.  I’d hoped I’d be able to sit down for a couple of hours, use a few tools to assist with name generation, and find a great name that had an available domain name I could work with.

In actuality, I must have gone through hundreds of names, ranging from the terrible to pretty good. Finally, through discussions with a colleague, the name Blackbelt Commerce emerged.

If you rebrand, prepare to spend a good amount of time brainstorming, hitting roadblocks, then coming back to the drawing board until you find the right name. 

Overall I’m really happy with how it came out – so far the feedback has been really positive. I’ve had very few issues with people not recognizing us or not knowing who we are.

In general, so far people seem to like the new name, and see a ‘logical extension’ from Ninjas to Blackbelts, which I’m super happy about!

There were many benefits I hadn’t anticipated.

Firstly, it removed a lot of mental baggage about legal issues. Whilst Shopify has been very understanding about it, deep down I’d known for the past year or so that sooner or later I would need to change the business’ name.

I’d also been asked a few times about potential copyright issues, given that “Shopify” was part of my business name.

Whilst I really like working with Shopify and they generally always do the right thing and are great to work with, you never know. There was a small, faint worry that, one day, it could cause issues. In that sense, I’m really glad we have now made the switch.

The new name Blackbelt Commerce also feels more mature, and allows for us to broaden our horizons more if we decide to offer other services.

For example, right now we don’t offer SEO or Email Marketing, as we focus solely on Shopify builds. If we did, though, it will be much easier to do that with the “Blackbelt Commerce” brand than with a name that reflects only Shopify.

In summary, I’ve had some great feedback so far, and I feel that the new name and branding reflects a more mature company which gives us more scope to grow.

Suggestions for Anyone Renaming their Company

Below are a few recommendations and tools I used during the process, in the hope that they may help someone else going through the same thing.

Use 301 redirects to keep your Google Rankings:

I researched online, and determined that 301 Redirects were the way to go for redirecting our old domain to our new one.  This only takes a few minutes to implement – the hard part is working up to it!

So far the results have been great, in the sense that we are still the first website that pops up for “Shopify Developer” and similar terms, after Shopify’s own website.

[A note for the SEO folks: I’m not super knowledgeable about this, so I’m happy to be corrected, but with the research and implementation I did, so far it’s worked mostly well.]

Use Google Apps ‘secondary’ domains to avoid recreating all your company email addresses:

In Google Apps, you can have a primary name and one or more secondary domains.  What this means is, if you have several email addresses (tristan@, info@, sales@, etc.), you don’t have to re-create all the individual addresses when you add your new domain name – Google Apps will do this for you.  It’s a major win.

PLUS, the old ones will still work.  Right now, anyone can email info@shopifyninjas.com ORinfo@blackbeltcommerce.com, and both will arrive into my inbox.

Initially I made the new domain the secondary while I was setting everything up. Once we were ready, I just flipped them, such that now Blackbeltcommerce is the primary domain, with ShopifyNinjas as the secondary.

Get everything ready before asking for too many opinions or making announcements:

Before I announced anything to customers or staff, I had the website up and the new name finalized. It’s great to ask trusted people you respect throughout the process – I did this and am so happy that I did – but if you ask every one you know, you may end up with too many cooks in the kitchen.

Similarly, I think it’s clearer to announce “Our company is now called X” than “What do you think we should be called?” or announcing in advance that the name is changing.  At least, that’s how it worked in my experience.

For my announcement post and emails, I took the lead from 37 Signals’ post “37 Signals is now called BaseCamp”. Straight to the point.

Keep a ‘formerly known as’ bar on your site for a while: 

I used the free WordPress Plugin called “Notification Bar” to show a small bar at the bottom of my site with a message “Welcome to Blackbelt Commerce, formerly Shopify Ninjas. Why?”. This links to the announcement post about why we changed our name.

This helps any returning visitors understand what’s going on and why our name is different. I included that link in my email signature too, and plan to leave it there for about 6 months or so. It looks like this and the setup took 10 minutes:

Other Systems You Might Need To Update

After you’ve changed your name, you’ll also need to update a lot of other stuff.  My main list, which I’m still working on, even weeks after launch, is:

  • Domain name
  • Email address plus those of all staff, and general ones like info@, sales@, etc.
  • SendOwl for digital product delivery
  • Zendesk for customer service
  • Sales materials / packs
  • LeadPages for sales pages
  • Digital downloads’ logos and messaging
  • Internal SOPs and Wiki
  • BaseCamp for project management
  • Slack for internal chat
  • You might need a bunch of new (ahem, better) images for your website and blog posts — I picked up a great deal from AppSumo for DepositPhoto.com. I think the deal has expired but I’m sure they have Stock Photography website deals come up all the time.  I got 100 great images (from their library of thousands) for $50.
  • Update all previous blog posts’ links – the WordPress Plugin “Find and Replace All” can be useful for this, be careful though and do a backup first!
  • An announcement to clients and your emailing list.

I’m sure there will be other things that come up. The idea is that it’s not a one-time job, but rather, a long list of things that I plan to be updating for quite some time.

Wrap-Up

All in all, the rebrand was a tough, draining and long process, but one I’m really grateful we went through.  I feel we have a better, stronger, more grown-up company on the other side. I’m looking forward to a new chapter as Blackbelt Commerce.

I’d like to thank the superb design work and clear thinking of Jon Myers, the Dynamite Circle Stretch Goals Mastermind Group, as well as the wonderful writing of Laura Hanly, who all helped a lot with the process.

I hope this post might help anyone who might go through a re-branding, with a few considerations and ideas for the process.

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