My entrepreneurial story should sound familiar to anyone who's thought about launching their own business. I've been building and managing websites since the 1990s, starting with GeoCities and evolving from there, eventually becoming an expert in WordPress. When it became clear that I had hitched my wagon to the right horse, I started to look for opportunities to manage WordPress sites.
Since I was only freelancing at the time, I established Junger Media, LLC for tax and legal purposes. Junger has been my nickname for years, and I envisioned one day owning a portfolio of websites, so "Media" made sense. But the name didn't need to mean a lot, because I wasn't marketing or actively trying to sell my services when I had a day job.
When I did quit my day job to go full-time and hired our Creative Director, the new Junger Media was born. We had a great couple of years providing website management and graphic design and helping startups, nonprofits and small businesses. But as I worked on our long-term plan, I realized that our name didn't effectively communicate who we were, our values and what we do to help our clients. So I made the decision to change our name.
And then I thought. A lot.
I bounced ideas off of family, friends and partners to get their reactions to specific words and phrases we were considering. I looked at other businesses. I even bought a few domain names we'll never use. When the idea for Digital Ink came, it was a hit. The reaction was overwhelmingly positive, and it just felt right. We announced the new name at our annual bash and officially made the switch on January 1, 2016.
But even though it was fun to buy new stickers and coffee mugs with the new name and logo, it was a big process behind the scenes. Here are a few of the insights we learned along the way that can hopefully help if a name change is in your future.
Have Your Accountant File Paperwork
Since we weren't establishing a new company, we needed to let all of the places where we were registered know that our name was changing. Our LLC is registered in Maryland, but we're also official entities in Pennsylvania and have our Employer Identification Number (EIN) with the IRS.
We had our accountant prepare everything to make sure our paperwork was correct. And even though they did it correctly, bureaucracy still reared its ugly head. In early December, we sent the State of Maryland a $100 payment to amend our Articles of Organization, letting them know our name change would be effective January 1. A few weeks later, we got a notification saying that our name change was denied because only the state was entitled to pick an effective date. But they cashed our check anyway.
We re-submitted the amendment, removing the effective date for it to be processed. Thankfully, they accepted it. Notifying the IRS was my biggest worry. I just assumed there'd be some mistake in the process, especially since we were keeping our EIN and simply changing our name. Over a two-week period in early December, I called the IRS about a dozen times to make sure they received the paperwork and ensure there were no issues.
When I finally explained the situation, I learned that the IRS doesn't even look at correspondence for about 30 days after it comes in. They didn't have an update or even know if our name change notification was received. Surprisingly, around January 15, I got a notification that the name had been changed with no problem. There are so many entities you'll need to inform of the name change: your bank, your insurance, the post office, your vendors and obviously your clients. Be prepared for that to take some time.
Take Care of Your Online Presence
If your name change is significant like ours was, there's going to be a lot of legwork to make adjustments online. Everything from your website to your social media profiles to your email is going to change. So not only do you need to make those changes, but you need to make sure that -- to the best of your ability -- the old names are either still accessible or point people to the new name.
If you're planning to change your email address with a new name, it's crucial that your old addresses still work. We made the email switch the week between Christmas and New Year's, when business tends to be a bit slower, just so there would be less of a chance of emails going missing or our clients getting bounceback errors. Our email is powered by Google Apps, which makes it relatively easy to create aliases and add on second domain names.
Since we use WordPress for our site, updating the name and the design was relatively easy. We're still not quite ranking where we'd like in Google when you search for our new name, but all of the correct information is being displayed when we do appear.
The social media sites were hit and miss. There are two things you want to make sure get updated: your name and your page URL (slug). For Facebook, you can follow these instructions to change your username and change your page name. On Twitter, changing your username is easy and straightforward. Follow these instructions. LinkedIn is a bit more difficult. Technically, they only allow you to change your company name if it is a "minor name change" -- which ours was not. After back and forth with their support staff explaining why we needed to keep the same company page but change the name, they made it for us. We needed to send them our official announcement and push them to make the change, but they did.
Turn the Name Change Into a Marketing Opportunity
When you announce the name change, bring your customers and vendors along for the ride. It's obviously a great time to create and send out some new schwag. But reach out and let your partners know why your name is changing. Get your clients involved and let them know you're there for them.
Telling older clients you don't connect with regularly about the name change gives you an opportunity to check in, and for them to better know who you are and what you stand for. Many of our clients who we've previously only done website development and management work for now also rely on us for graphic design. The name change made that happen.
There's so much that goes into a name change -- and for all the work you do coming up with the new name, you'll do twice as much work preparing and implementing the change. Our rebrand as Digital Ink has been hugely successful for us, but we certainly had to deal with a few speed bumps along the way. If you're thinking of changing your name, be prepared for the potential issues, but maximize the marketing opportunity as much as you can.
Jason Unger is the Founder of Digital Ink, the creative and digital team that provides custom website design and development, graphic design for print and digital, WordPress consulting and website management.