Ten Questions to Answer before Choosing a Small Business Name - dummies

Ten Questions to Answer before Choosing a Small Business Name

By Barbara Findlay Schenck

In a customer’s mind, your business name is the key to your brand image. Choosing a business name can brand an image for your business that’s unique, memorable, appropriate, and likable.

What kind of small business name do you want?

Most business names fit into one of the following categories:

  • The owner’s name: If Jim Smith opens an accounting firm, he can name it Jim Smith Accounting. The name is easy to choose, easy to register, and sure to put forth the promise that Jim Smith is proud of this business, though it also screams “solopreneur” and is hard to pass along if Jim decides he wants to sell his practice.

  • A geographic name: A financial institution that calls itself Central Coast Bank has a name with local market appeal, but the name also restricts the institution from expanding outside the central coast area.

  • An alphabet name: A name like ABC Paving used to have value because it topped the Yellow Page listings. With fewer people searching printed alphabetical listings, though, alphabet soup names offer few benefits, and their lack of personality or brand promise puts the businesses they label at a marketing disadvantage.

  • A descriptive name: This type of name tells what you do and how you do it. A consulting firm specializing in business turnarounds might call itself U-Turn Strategies to convey its offerings and its promise to clients.

  • A borrowed-interest name: This type of name incorporates a word around which a business can build a story that becomes an accurate reflection of its brand promise. Borrowed-interest names require heavy marketing to link the name to the business image, but done right, they can work marketing magic. Just look at Apple, Nike, or Starbucks.

  • A fabricated name: You can create a name from an acronym, from words or syllables linked to form a new word, or by stringing together letters that result in a pleasant sound with no dictionary meaning. Famous examples include Microsoft, Comcast, Groupon, and Zappos.

Is the small business name you want available?

The law will stop you from using a name that’s too similar to an existing business name or trademark. To find out whether the name you want is available:

  • Search business and trademark name databases. Start with your state’s Secretary of State or Corporations Division office. Then search the database at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to see that the name doesn’t infringe on established trademarks.

  • Search online. Enter the name plus “.com” in at least three search engines to see whether the name is already claimed as a URL. Also search the URL at sites such as Go Daddy and Network Solutions.

If searches turn up no prior claims to the name, protect it. The U.S. Small Business Administration provides state-by-state registration requirements. For widespread and stronger protection of your name, consider filing for a trademark, which helps you prevent others from promoting a similar name. Contact an attorney who specializes in trademark protection or visit the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Is your small business name easy to spell?

The best names have four to eight letters and are spelled just like they sound. Unless you have the budget to educate your target audience, avoid unusual spaces, hyphens, or symbols. Aim instead for a straightforward presentation that consumers are almost certain to spell correctly based on guesswork alone.

Is your small business name easy to say?

Ask others to read the name out loud. Do they pronounce it correctly? Is it phonetically pleasing? Does it work well in normal business conversation? As a test, imagine answering the phone using the name: “Good morning, this is Greatname Consulting. How can I help you?”

Is your small business name original in your market area?

Look up the name in directories for your local area and for the biggest city in your state to see whether other companies have sound-alike names.

Is your small business name unconventional?

Finding good, available business names isn’t easy, which makes choosing an unusual name (think Lady Gaga or Twitter) not just popular but smart.

On the plus side, unusual names are most likely available as domain names and probably won’t be buried in an avalanche of search results, because few others have the same or a similar name. Foreign words fall into this category and are a good choice, especially when they share common roots with English and therefore sound somewhat familiar to English speakers.

On the flip side, unusual names require you to define and commit to how the name reflects your business or product, and they require explanation, education, and consistent use to achieve market awareness. In the end, they pay off by establishing a good foundation for marketplace dominance.

Does your small business name work in markets far and wide?

The Internet gives every company access to a worldwide market, so think globally. Look for a name that has a positive connotation in a range of major languages — especially in the languages of those you feel may represent future markets for your business.

Is your small business name memorable?

Choose a name that reflects a distinct, memorable aspect of your business or one around which you can develop a strong connection to your product or service. Companies named after their founders are easy to remember because they link to the owner’s face, which triggers recollection of the name.

Similarly, companies named after a physical characteristic (Pebble Beach, for example) are memorable because the unique attribute can create a strong impression unless the feature is overused in other business names. You can also make a name memorable with a logo that reinforces the name and by developing a strong brand story.

Can you live and grow with this small business name?

You’ll likely have this name for a long time, so the most important question of all may be, “Do you like it?” Ponder this question alone. It’s your business. Be sure that you like the name, that you’re comfortable saying it, and that you’ll be proud repeating it countless times over years to come.

And that leads to the next question: Will the name adapt to your future? Be careful about names that tie you to a geographic area or product offering, and be especially careful about names with faddish buzzwords that can get stuck in time.

Examples of names that became outdated include BankAmericard, which became VISA to appeal to an international market, and MasterCharge, which became MasterCard to reflect a broader range of payment options.

Are you ready to commit to the small business name?

After you settle on a name and determine that people can spell it, say it, remember it, and relate well to it (even in other cultures), take these steps:

  1. Register the name in your state, file for a trademark if you choose to, and secure the domain name if you can.

  2. Create a professional logo to serve as the face of your name.

  3. Introduce your new name and logo at each point where your business makes an impression on consumers.