What’s in a name? Turns out, everything! Your business name is one of the most critical first decisions you’ll make.
The name you choose will affect how people find, remember, and think about your business. So it needs to reflect who you are, but also consider how your customers think. Ideally, the name should be unique, but not too mysterious or hard to recall.
Here’s a guide to all the key considerations in choosing a name that will serve your business well.
- “Easy” does it
Select a name that is easy for your customers to say, spell, and remember. This is perhaps the single-most important rule to follow..
When customers look for your business, you want to be easily found. If they see your name in passing (whether on a business card, a sign, a truck, in an article, etc.), you want to stick in their mind.
If they can’t remember you, you just lost their potential business. Sales and marketing can be enough of a challenge, so let your company name work for you, instead of against you.
- What’s your type?
There are basically two different types of business names:
- Descriptive or suggestive
Search for almost any type of service on Yelp and you’ll immediately see many descriptive names. If your name is Fred and you run a shoe shop, Fred’s Shoe Shop is about as descriptive as possible. This kind of name may not feel particularly unique, but people looking for shoes are going to have an easy time finding Fred and knowing what he does.
Coined names are a little trickier.
The business world definitely has some big, successful examples; Verizon and Comcast are both made-up words. But this approach has its own special pros and cons.
Consider that big companies have a lot of money to spend on branding consultants (to create a coined name that’s still easy to remember and spell), and on marketing to “build meaning,” or essentially to help people understand and get used to their unique names. Smaller businesses generally have much leaner marketing budgets.
On the other hand, a coined name can potentially suggest the type of business you’re in quite effectively. (It’s not hard to recognize that “Comcast” includes parts of the words communication and broadcast.)
And if you’re in a creative service or industry, a creative name might be a logical choice for you.
If you do decide on a coined name, just keep step one in mind—make it easy to say, spell, and remember!
- Check your work
When you’ve got an idea or two that you like, it’s time to do a little more checking (and thinking) to make sure your final selection is right. Here are three more steps to follow:
Naturally, you’d like to be in business for as long as you want.
First, think of your future. What are your long-term plans for this business? How might you grow and expand? Make sure your chosen name doesn’t limit your ability to add logical products or services, or adjust your business plan in some other relevant way.
For example: If you mow lawns, you can use “lawn mowing” in your name, but you might consider “lawn care” instead. It’s still fairly descriptive, but a little broader with more room to grow.
Second, use the internet to do a little research:
- Does another business already use that name?
- Does the name include any terms that are copyrighted by someone else?
- Does the name have any negative connotations that you weren’t aware of?
And third, test drive your name with some target customers. Our companion guide, How to Write a Business Plan, includes information about using primary market research. You can include name-testing in that process, but you can also do this more informally.
- Make it official
Now that you’ve done all this work to find the perfect name for your business, it’s time to make sure it’s yours and your alone.
Part of protecting your name is in the legal creation of your business, as a formal entity recognized by your state. Even if your business is a sole proprietorship, you will need to file a DBA (for ‘doing business as’) in order to set up a banking account in your business’s name.
You can further protect the name, as well as your logo (see below), by filing for a trademark. This step can be done quickly and affordably online.
It’s also very important to register for a web URL using your business name. The URL is your “online address”, like yahoosmallbusiness.com or espn.com. This can be done through any domain registration company (including us.)
- Ready, set, brand!
Congratulations — you’ve got a name! Now it’s time to start letting customers know. Creating customer awareness of your business is the first step in building your brand, which you’ll be strengthening as long as you are in business.
A logo is a visual element that complements and reinforces your memorable name and gives you another way to communicate who you are and what you do.
With a name and logo, you’re ready for business cards, a website, signage and other materials to get your brand off the ground and into your customers’ minds. If your business is a retail shop, restaurant or other brick-and-mortar operation, for example, people literally walk into your brand.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Take a few minutes to brainstorm other “customer touchpoints” where you can keep your brand’s professional image front and center:
- Marketing collateral
- Local event or team sponsorships
- Shopping bags
- Product packaging
- Product names
- Employee uniforms
- Bills and receipts
- Letterhead, thank-you cards and stationery
- Voicemail greetings
- Email signatures
- Calendars, mugs, shirts, or other promotional items/giveaways
Each of these ideas — digital and physical — is another opportunity to strengthen customers’ perception of your business.