How to Name Your Business for Success

Business naming is an area we’ve all struggled with. Perhaps you are in start-up stages yourself and are completely frustrated with where to even begin. So I thought I would round up some advice from a few smart experts, including myself, to give you some much-needed direction.

I love Guy Kawasaki’s down-to-earth, tell-it-like-it-is style (plus, I think he’s a cutie-pie to boot). In his book, The Art of the Start, he advises never to compromise on your business name–it’s that important and will make your positioning much easier. A few of his tips include:

  • Have a first initial that’s early in the alphabet.
  • Avoid numbers.
  • Pick a name with “verb potential.”
  • Sound different.
  • Sound logical.
  • Avoid the trendy (and cutesy).

All great advice. Personally, while I think choosing a name with an initial early in the alphabet can provide some advantages, they are more incidental in the scheme of things. The person who learns how to market and create her own pipelines will never suffer because her business name doesn’t start with the letter “A.”

Harry Beckwith is a marketing expert I can’t get enough of. I have read everything he’s ever written (and you should, too). In his books, Selling the Invisible and The Invisible Touch, he offers some business naming advice we’d all do well to heed:

  • Give your service a name, not a monogram. What he means by this is that people don’t remember acronyms (monograms). They have no memorability because they have “no spirit, no message, no promise, no warmth, and no humanity.”
  • Pick something that stands out. Generic names encourage generic business.
  • Never choose a name that describes something everyone expects from the service. The name will be generic, forgettable and meaningless. Example: Quality Cleaners. Duh, you wouldn’t go to a business named Crappy Cleaners. However, “quality” is such a basic expectation, you’re not saying anything distinctive or memorable by using that word. Plus, with everyone and their brother using “Quality,” you will only blend in with the crowd, which is what your business DOESN’T need to do.
  • Be distinctive and sound it. The mind best remembers names that are unique, sensory, creative and outstanding. An ordinary name implies an ordinary business.
  • Look for a name that people can see, smell, taste, feel or hear (or all four). Names with exceptional memorability are sensory and engage four of the five senses.
  • Start with your own. When in doubt, you can’t go wrong with putting your own name on the business.
  • Look for a name that makes the prospect, not you, sound important.
  • Say the name out loud. If it doesn’t roll off the tongue easily or has unintended pronunciations or connotations, rethink things. It should also be easy to spell.
  • Keep it short. It should be no more than eleven letters or four syllables max.

What I will add to all this great advice:

Forget about clever/tricky spellings. It doesn’t make you distinctive. It just makes it hard for clients to find your site or look you up online because they can’t for the life of them figure out how you spelled your biz name.

2. Make it legal. That is, do your due diligence and make sure you do not choose a name (or version of a name) that another company in your industry is already using. It’s just asking for trouble and will cause ill will within your professional community. It’s a really, really, really bad idea.

And don’t argue with this advice. Whatever you think you know about the law when it comes to this, I guarantee ya, you don’t. The best thing you can do for yourself is operate under the assumption that your colleague’s business is as important to them as yours is to you. They have every right under the law to go after you, in whatever way they see fit, if you infringe upon their established trade name. That’s their livelihood after all. You wouldn’t want someone doing that to you, right? You remember what they say about “do unto others,” don’t you? ;)

So here’s what you can do, once you find a name you like, to ensure you are not infringing on anyone else in your industry:

  1. Conduct a search in your industry directories. Make sure no one else is using the same or similar name already.
  2. Conduct a search for the name (or the predominant unique identifier) in several different search engines. Use Google, MSN, Yahoo, Chrome and any others you might think of. Better to be thorough now than sorry later. Example: If you want to use “Dizzy Admin Support,” you should search for “Dizzy Virtual Assistant,” “Dizzy Virtual Assistants,” “Dizzy Business Support, “Dizzy Administration, “Dizzy Administrative,” etc. If another colleague is using “Dizzy” in their name, forget about using that word.
  3. Search the USPTO.gov Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS). Check to see that no one else is already using the same or similar trade name. Bear in mind that while federally registered trade names have even further protections and recourse, a name does not have to be registered there to be protected. Changing a letter or word is not going to help you if the name can be considered to be substantially the same and/or would still create confusion.

RESOURCE: All the books and authors mentioned can be found on Amazon.com and I HIGHLY recommend you get them–today. As a business owner, it is also imperative you educate yourself about copyright and trade marks. USPTO.gov is a perfect place to start. And having a good Intellectual Property lawyer on your team of professional advisers is always a good idea.

2 Responses

  1. Oneka Bady says:

    This article really did awaken something inside of me. I did the whole on-line search to see if someone else had the name and came up with other versions of it but not quite the exact. Silly me thought I was on to something and now I regret it. I want to change my name so badly. Thinking of a new name as of today.

  2. Excellent points, Danielle.

    I will admit that my business name breaks a few of your rules ~ not early in the alphabet, unusual spelling, uses the term ‘virtual’ which is already understood about what I do.

    That being said, I really thought long and hard about my business name and went through several incarnations before I came up with Virtual Mavrix… I am very happy with it, and I find that “my people” get it which, after all, is the entire point.

    Being as multi-passionate as I am, I will definitely keep these things in mind as I look to pursue other endeavors in the future! ;)

    ♥, Farah

Leave a Reply

If you'd like your photo to appear next to your post, be sure to get your gravatar here.

Please copy the string BJXr0P to the field below: