7 Tips to Help You Name Your New Business

Choosing a name for your new business should be one of the first tasks on your startup checklist. It is certainly one of the most important and deserves a lot of attention. A good name can help propel your business to success, while a poorly chosen name can hold your new business back.

Following are a few tips on selecting a name. Keep in mind, however, that a good business name, like beauty, lies in the eye of the beholder. What some people think is a great name makes other people shake their heads. Don't fall in love with a name until you have tested it on a few friends whose judgment you trust. And let them know to be honest with you; agreeing on a weak name just to "be positive" is not doing you a favor.

Your Business Name

Here are my suggestions for choosing a good name for your business. These suggestions are tailored for a typical small business that has limited resources to overcome a weak or inappropriate name.

1.    A good business name is memorable. To me, this is the single most important criteria. If you want to build up any kind of repeat business, customers must be able to remember your business name. The name should not be too generic nor should it be too complicated.

2.     A good business name is easy to spell. It does you no good for people to remember your business name if they can't spell it. Some successful brands deliberately have an odd spelling of their name to make it more memorable (Toys R Us, Flickr). That may be fine for a large national brand. They can afford to spend tens of millions of dollars on advertising to make the misspelling stick in people's minds. A new start up business can't do that. It's a disaster for small business if your customers can't spell your name.

3.     A good business name is fairly short. This point really goes hand-in-hand with my first two points. A short business name is easier to remember and easier to spell than a longer name.

4.     A good business name creates a positive impression. Your business name should project a message that is consistent with your product or service. For example, you would probably not want to use a name like "Mike's Cheap Plumbing" because the word "cheap" used in the often creates a mental image of a substandard product or service. A better choice would be "Mike's Dependable Plumbing." However, the words don't have to be explicit. Some words simply connote speed, strength, durability or other positive characteristics. For example, a gazelle connotes speed and grace, an owl is an image for wisdom, etc...

5.     A good business name conveys information about the nature of the business. For example, a name like "Gazelle LLC" tells your potential customer nothing about your business. Again, huge companies like Kraft, McDonald's, Nestlé, etc. can spend millions of dollars so that their name, standing alone, is recognized by their customers. That is simply not true for a small business. Your name needs to help sell your product or service. If your business is web design, say so in your name. Be careful, though. Don't pick a name that is too narrow for your intended scope. For example if you plan to grow into a full service landscaping firm within a few years, don't name your business "Joe's Snow Plowing" just because that is your initial focus.

6.     A good business name does not cause confusion with an existing trademark. Many startups pick a name that is perfect for their business -- until they discover that it is so perfect that someone else started using it first. It is disastrous to have to change your business name after you have started building your brand and have incurred outlays for signs, stationery, logo design, and other items. It's even worse if your entire business is a website that uses the name in its URL. And it's worse yet if you also have to pay money damages to the existing trademark holder for infringing its trademark. Verifying that the name is not likely to infringe an existing mark is a critical step in picking the name.

7.     A good business name works in different media. Your business name will be used in a variety of media: on the web, in printed materials, on signs and possible even on T-shirts and mugs. Does your name work across all media? The internet is a particularly important factor today, even for bricks-and-mortar based business. Is a URL with your name available? Usually you will want a .com or .net extension. If the URL is not available that exactly matches your chosen business name (and you will often find that the exact match URL is taken), is there an acceptable alternative? For example, if you are opening a restaurant called "Pete's Place" and petesplace.com is not available, perhaps you can get petesplacerestaurant.com. If you can't come up with an acceptable URL, however, you might want to rethink the name.

Although it is not essential, another useful factor in choosing a good business name is for there to be some recognizable visual image of the name. That helps in creating a logo and a brand identity. If your industry or product has a strong visual element associated with it, that may be enough. However to differentiate yourself from others in your field, it might be useful to have an image that reinforces the unique part of your name. For example, a name like "North Star Auto Repair" could provide visual image that reinforces its name better than "Premier Auto Repair."

Choosing a business name can be very challenging, but spending extra time and effort to come up with a good business name in the beginning can yield big dividends down the road.


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David K. Staub
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