I considered calling this post “Most New Business Names Suck...Make Sure Yours Doesn’t,” but sometimes that much bluntness can be hard to take. But unfortunately, it’s true. Here are some tips to make your name an asset, not a liability.
Contrived names using words you’ll never find in the dictionary are fun but best left to the pharmaceutical companies and multi-nationals with enormous branding budgets. Most small- and mid-sized businesses, which comprise nearly all start-ups, need names that speak to their customers or clients. They need to be consistent with your product or service, convey competence, and evoke confidence in the people who will buy whatever you’re selling.
Later, when your business conditions change - you’re wildly successful, merging/acquiring, changing your offerings, etc. - you can always rebrand. This is what happened with Verizon, which started as Bell Telephone in 1885, later became Atlantic Telephone & Telegraph, and was divided in 1984 into seven subsidiaries, or “Baby Bells,” because of a federal antitrust lawsuit. The Bell Atlantic subsidiary is what later became Verizon in 2000 after its merger with the GTE Corporation. At that point, the “Atlantic” reference no longer made sense, and the company’s massive advertising and branding budget could easily support turning this new word, Verizon, into a household brand.
Ultimately, this was a great name incorporating “veri,” which invokes “truth,” and “izon,” which makes you think of the horizon/future/progress. This is why it’s great to open the thesaurus and do lots of word association as you proceed through the naming process.
Don’t Use Your Name
Unless you’re truly the next Alexander Graham Bell with a world-changing invention, don’t use your own name - or those of your kids or pets - in your business name. Not only does it imply that you’re very small, but it will likely keep you small. Even if you’re a sole proprietor doing people’s taxes on nights and weekends, you don’t want to call it Max’s Taxes. If you do, clients will always want Max to do their returns, not Sally or Jim or Sanjay or any future hires.
The same goes for geographic terms, which limit you to just your hometown, with the one exception below.
Open Your Browser
What are the likely search terms customers might use to find your website? Our firm does a great deal of web design and development, and we’re based in Columbia, Maryland. So people routinely find us by typing “Columbia MD web design firm” (we know this is true because we review our website analytics all the time).
So if we use the search term method, we might want to name our company “Columbia Web Designers”. But we don’t because a) we do much more the web design, and b) we work throughout Maryland and five other states.
Company names that include search terms are wonderful for search engine optimization; just make sure they are not too limiting.
A search-term-filled URL is very powerful, so in the example of our company, we might want to buy www.columbiamdwebdesign.com. Similarly, www.virginiahomebuilder.com would drive great traffic in that industry. So first, explore whether incorporating your best search term in your name and your URL makes sense.
Even if you don’t use a search term, you still must check available URLs before settling on a name. If your preferred company name is not available as a .com or .net, you should seriously consider an alternative name.
Mind Your IP’s and Q’s
How bad would it be to pour five or ten years and countless dollars into building a company that really starts gaining traction and attention only to get a cease and desist letter because you’ve violated someone’s intellectual property (IP). Even worse, it might also be a demand letter claiming that you owe them money for trading on their good name.
This happens all the time, and you cannot overlook this issue!
Therefore, at a minimum, you must do a quick search of your own at www.uspto.gov. If nothing shows up there and the desired URL is available, then you should bring in an IP lawyer to do a more comprehensive search. Only after they determine you are good to go should you proceed with the chosen name. Do NOT rely only on the availability of the URL as an indicator that the IP is clear. That $400 for the lawyer is invaluable. Then trademark your name.
Leave Clever to the Professionals
Certain industries can get away cute names, but most can’t - it’s just demeaning. Once while in the small town of Pekin, Illinois, I passed a beauty shop called Curl Up & Dye. That was pretty clever and probably didn’t dissuade anyone from doing business there. And the various food shops that use Thyme instead of Time are okay.
But what’s clever to you is usually not to everyone else.
I once worked with a man whose company name was COIN Services and his logo was the head side of a penny. Can you guess what his business was? Maybe vending machines or a laundromat? Nope, this very smart, very nice engineer was in the business of setting up computer networks in offices, and COIN Services stood for COlumbia InterNetworking Services. Not clever, just confusing.
What About IMPACT?
Finally, let me comment on the name of our company, IMPACT Marketing & Public Relations, or IMPACT Marketing, as most people call us. We inherited the name in 2005 when we took over a predecessor company, and I have never been in love with it. It’s generic and doesn’t convey what a cool company we are. But “marketing” is in the name to immediately tell people what our general industry is, we have a good URL, and we truly make a tremendous impact on our clients’ businesses, so it is fitting.
And this brings me to the final and most important point, which no marketing or branding company would ever tell you: What matters most is not your company name or your logo, but how well you do what you do. No amount of great marketing can make up for shoddy work, so take these tips, do your best, call us if you need help (410-312-0081), and get back to what actually makes you money every day.