When starting a business, choosing a name for it will be one of the biggest--and possibly one of the most challenging--decisions you'll make as an entrepreneur.
What's in a name?
Your business name serves as one way to differentiate you from your competitors, and it can affect how customers perceive your company. That's right, your name can plant the seed of confidence or doubt even before you've provided your products or services to buyers.
That's why I always advise new business owners to put in the time, thought, and research required to get it right. You need to choose a name that's a perfect fit for your business AND that's available for you to legally use.
Want to zero in on a business name worth building your brand upon? Heed these five tips:
1. Consider the vibe you want your business to project. How do you want customers to feel when they hear your name? The tone of your business--e.g., academic, edgy, professional, or friendly, etc.--should come across in your name so customers can anticipate what they might expect from you.
2. Try to pick a business name that describes what your business does. A name that's too general won't help customers know what your business is about. For example, "Sharon's" could be anything. "Sharon's Spa Products," on the other hand, provides a clear description of what customers can buy. Try not to get too specific, though. For example, "Sharon's Soaps" might box her brand into a single product and hinder her success if she wants to expand her offerings in the future.
3. Keep it simple. There's power in simplicity. I've always found the most effective company names are typically easy to pronounce, spell, and remember. The last thing you want is for customers to struggle recalling your name when they are recommending your products and services to their friends and family.
4. Beware of language and cultural taboos. Although a name like "Get Hammered" for a carpenter may sound clever at first, not everyone has the same sense of humor or tolerance for controversial references. I recommend testing your name on members of your target audiences to gauge their reactions. That will help you avoid damaging your brand and alienating prospective customers.
5. Make sure your name isn't already taken! You can check to see if your name is available in the state or county you plan to do business in by conducting a free business name search. You might also use a trademark search application tool to see if the name is available in all states. That will identify if anyone else has registered for, been granted, or abandoned a trademark for your proposed name.
After you've selected the perfect business name, you'll want to seal the deal to make sure it's legally yours alone for use within the state or county you'll do business.
If you presently don't want to incorporate your business or form an LLC, you may file to register your name as a DBA ("Doing Business As")--also known as a fictitious name--in the state(s) you'll be conducting business. For sole proprietorships and partnerships, this is a simple and affordable way to protect your business name in those states. Note that if you plan to use your own first and last name for your business (e.g., "Don Smith's Bookkeeping"), you don't need to register your name as a DBA.
If you do opt to incorporate your business or form an LLC, your business name automatically becomes registered in whatever states you've become incorporated. As a result, no other corporation or LLC may use the name within your state. Realize, however, another business in a state in which you didn't incorporate could use your name in its state--and a business using your name as a DBA/fictitious name in your own state has the legal right to do so.
For the most brand name protection, consider guarding your name by filing for a trademark. By doing that, you'll prevent others from using your business name in all 50 states.
It's A Big Deal! Take Naming Your Business Seriously.
As you ponder your business name, give yourself some time to think hard about what you want your name to project and where you want your business to go in the future. It's far less time-consuming and frustrating to do it right than to try to change your brand name down the road. And after you've chosen the ideal name, make sure you protect it by filing your name as a DBA, registering your business as an LLC or corporation, or filing for a trademark.
With your name secured, you will be able to more fully put your time, energy, and focus on moving forward with the other federal, state, and local requirements you'll need to comply with before you start operating your business.