Archive for the ‘Naming Your Business’ Category

Dear Danielle: Should I Choose a Name Looking to the Future of My Business or Just Go with Virtual Assistant?

Dear Danielle: Should I Choose a Name Looking to the Future of My Business or Just Go with Virtual Assistant?

Dear Danielle:

I’m just starting out in this adventure and I’m having trouble choosing a business name. I’ve read your blog on Administrative Consultant and I’m intrigued, BUT I’m just starting out and will be doing anything and everything from answering phones to data entry.  Should I choose a name looking to the future of my business or just go with virtual assistant? I appreciate your help with this. — Karen E.

Hi Karen 🙂

I see you that you did notice the name of this organization. That’s good. Because I do need for people to understand that this is NOT a virtual assistant organization. This is an organization for Administrative Consultants.

What that means is if people want to ask me questions, I’m happy to help, but they need to pay attention to details (which is an important qualification in this business) and respect the proper terminology used in this organization.

Here is our position on the VA term: “Virtual Assistant” is a term of employment and has no place in any business owner’s vocabulary. It most certainly has no place in our organization or conversations.

I’m here to help people put on their big girl business britches, not perpetuate detrimental, employee mindsets.

That starts with encouraging them to hold themselves and what they do in higher esteem and not use terms of employment to describe themselves, which is counterproductive to every single effort they must make in starting and growing a business successfully.

Why do I point this out? Because your choice of words and terminology directly impacts everything in your business from getting clients, the kind of clients your marketing and terminology attracts, their correct or incorrect perceptions and expectations about the nature of the relationship, the demeanor and attitude with which they approach the relationship, your ability to command professional level fees… EVERYTHING.

Are there folks out there who aren’t ready to think bigger about themselves and what they do? Yes, of course.

There are also people who aren’t really focused on being anything specifically in business, who are better described as gophers. They are more in business to be this, that and the other and letting clients dictate their roles and what they are in business to do.

For them, the VA term is actually the better fit.

But that’s not who this organization is for. We don’t cater to those folks or old ways of thinking and operating.

Our interest, and who this organization is for, are those who are specifically focused on the business of providing administrative support.

The people who are attracted to the ACA tend to have a more sophisticated view of business and the administrative work they do. They are ready to gain deeper understandings and engage in new ways of thinking and doing things in order to continue to more positively grow their business, strengthen their business skills, get more ideal clients and make more money while operating in a way that allows them to still have plenty of time for a great life.

So, with that understanding in place, here’s my advice:

What will help you answer these questions for yourself is going through the exercise of completing a business plan.

You have to decide for yourself what kind of business you want to be in, what you want your work to consist of and what you want your days to look like.

One question that really helps is asking yourself, why do I want to be in business for myself? What am I hoping to achieve? Is this just to earn a little side money or do I want/need my business to be financially sustainable and profitable enough that I can earn an actual living from it?

And then build your business around the answers to those questions.

It’s not enough to “just want to make some money from home.” Because being able to do that is not as simple as that.

It takes intention and thoughtful preparation and foresight in setting up the business, creating standards around what you want for yourself and from the business, and what kind of work and clients will bring and sustain happiness and joy in your business so you can both do your best work for them AND remain in business for a long time to come.

As far as naming your business, I have a category on my blog called Naming Your Business that will give you excellent some guidance and helpful insights and advice. All of the articles in this category are very important in gaining deeper understanding about the importance of how you name your business and will raise your consciousness around that task.

And then this one specifically will give you some practical tips for coming up with a unique and differentiating name for your business: How to Name Your Business for Success

I would like to address something else as well.

You mentioned answering phones. This idea tends to come from people thinking that being in this business will be the same as being an employee/administrative assistant and nothing could be further from the truth.

I try to get people to understand that how and when they support clients is not the same as when they were an employee and is going to look much different once they are in business for themselves.

For both legal and practical reasons, you can’t be someone’s administrative assistant in the same way you were as an employee. They are just two completely different animals and trying to do so will keep you from creating a real business that has room for enough clients that you can actually earn a real living.

I personally have never answered phones for any client, and I wouldn’t dream of taking on that work because it would keep me tied to a phone day in and day out, which is NOT what I went into business for.

I’m not saying you have to do what I do, but in my experience, most of the people who think they are going to act as their clients’ receptionist really haven’t thought that idea all the way through about what their business and day-to-day life would be like being chained to a phone and computer all day long answering calls for clients.

Most of them, once they really think about it, realize that’s not what they really want to do. It’s more simply that they don’t know what else they could be doing for clients so they can only think in the most general, generic, traditional terms.

So, I always ask people who bring it up: Is answering phones what you really want to be in the business of doing? Have you really considered what that would actually be like and how it would impact your goals and ideals and what you envision for your business and life? Take a moment and try to picture what your days would look like doing that work.

It’s okay if that is work you want to do (you can always change your mind later if you realize it isn’t and chalk it up to a learning experience). Just make sure you are going into it consciously and intentionally with eyes wide open. Because answering phones can very quickly and easily turn you into a receptionist with little time or concentration to do anything else.

And you don’t need a business to do that. You can get a telecommuting job answering phones and still work from home if that’s your aspiration. When it comes to that kind of work, there are businesses already set up to do that work and get clients and you could simply apply for an employee position with them.

There are four posts on my blog in the category Answering Client Phones. Check those out as I think you’ll find them very illuminating on the whole topic.

Which leads me to my next point:

The one thing that is going to help you plan EVERYTHING more easily in your business and with greater intention, clarity and detail, is by choosing a target market.

A target market is very simply an industry/field/profession that you cater your administrative support to.

For example, in my administrative support business, I work with solo attorneys in business, intellectual property and entertainment law. This specificity allows me to very precisely identify in more depth, detail and clarity exactly what kind of work is needed to best support my clients and, thus, structure my offerings more specifically and meaningfully as well.

Deciding on a target market will help you plan, market and get clients so much faster and easier in your business. With a target market, you’ll be able to better identify with more depth and detail the specific kind of administrative support those clients need, what will have the most meaningful impact and results for them, and cater your offerings around that so that you can be their trusted administrative expert, advisor and strategic support partner instead of their receptionist with a ball and chain around your neck.

Next step: Download my free Income & Pricing Calculator and How to Choose Your Target Market guides.

These two exercises will get you thinking more critically about your administrative support business and what you want out of it.

And then I recommend you check out the resources in the ACA Success Store, one of which is the business plan template geared specifically for the administrative support business. These things are going to help you immensely in getting on the right track toward creating a more ideal, profitable,  happy-making business.

I would like to know how all of this lands with you and if you’ve found it helpful so please let me know in the comments. And if you or anyone has further questions on the topic, we can continue the conversation there as well.

Dear Danielle: How Can I Transition from Virtual Assistant to Administrative Consultant?

Dear Danielle: How Can I Transition from Virtual Assistant to Administrative Consultant

Greetings, Danielle:

My name is Lourie Perry, solopreneur of a new business. I am new to your acquaintance and I have to say you have inspired me! I have since changed the title of my position on social media. I already had business cards made before changing my title of “virtual assistant.” I love the Administrative Consultant title because it sets me apart from the rest (my first goal to achieve), it’s a professional title that demands respect and (to be) taken seriously as women in business. My question is how can I transition from a virtual assistant to an Administrative Consultant? For example, while at a networking event I introduce myself as an Administrative Consultant, but they look at the business card and see “virtual Assistant.” By the way, I have changed from Virtual Assistant to Administrative Consultant on my website, as well! Your help will be appreciated! Thanks from saving me from the sea of normal! —Lourie Perry, A Nyvybe Virtual Office.

Hi Lourie 🙂

That’s so great! You’ve done yourself a huge favor in business that you won’t regret.

So, this is sort of an easy one:  toss the old business cards and get new ones. These days, you can get a small stack for basically pennies on the dollar.

The reason is that consistency is super important. Everything needs to match.

Because if you call yourself this here and that there and yet something else somewhere else, or you try to use every term you can think of all together, all that does is create confusion and disconnect in your prospects.

And as the business adage goes: A confused mind says no.

They’ll walk away and put you right out of their mind because you’ve made it too difficult for them to understand who and what you are.

Better yet, don’t invest heavily in business cards or much of any printed marketing collateral. You just don’t need it.

Instead, I want you to read my post about how business cards should really be used and what to give people instead that is going to have far more impact on those you want to remember you and take interest: Are Business Cards Dead?

The other thing I wanted to relate for you and anyone else who is new reading this is that you never want to lead any conversation with your term. Your term is not for marketing purposes (I’ll explain its real importance later).

If people ask what you do, instead of saying “I’m an Administrative Consultant,” tell them what kind of problem you solve or a result/benefit you provide and who you do it for (this is your target market).

So mine, for example, is (and this is my tagline as well and no, nobody can “borrow” it. You gotta come up with your own):

I help IP and entertainment law attorneys do more wheeling and dealing from the beach.

(The beach being a metaphor for whatever they’d rather be doing and wherever they’d rather be than stuck in an office all day long.)

See how it clearly indicates who I work with and a benefit/result they get?

People are typically intrigued and want to know more (“How can I have more time for the beach?!”) and I’ll further explain that I provide administrative rescue for these solos without ever stepping foot in their office.

When they want to know how that works, that’s when I explain how I partner with my clients to provide them with strategic relief and rescue from the administrative burdens that suck up their time and energy and keep them stuck at the office.

I then tell them a story (a verbal case study) of how my strategic administrative support helped one of my clients reduce his workload, streamline and automate his operations, multiply his revenues and how he gets to travel extensively now while still running his business (which he loves).

See how I never even used my term of Administrative Consultant in conversation? They’ll see what to call me on my biz card, my free giveaway, on my website, and all the other places where my name appears.

That said, your term IS important for two reasons:

  1. You need to give people something (ONE THING) to call you and with which to categorize your business—a mental coathook, if you will.
  2. It needs to clearly convey what your expertise is while setting proper, respectful perceptions and expectations.

In our industry, the problem we’ve historically had is that by (formerly) calling ourselves assistants, we created wrong perceptions and understandings in our clients. Since we called ourselves assistants, that’s what they wanted to treat us (and pay us) as. It caused a misalignment of interests and understandings right from the start and, in turn, serious problems in the relationship.

So we’d constantly have to deal with prospects and clients who didn’t understand the nature of the relationship, who would tend to treat us like under-the-table employees they didn’t pay taxes on, who thought we were supposed to be at their beck-and-call like employees, and who would balk at paying proper professional fees (because when they think of you like an employee, they want to pay you like one as well).

And because it was such a vague, ambiguous term that focused on a role (assistant), not an expertise (administrative), clients thought it was their place to twist you into whatever kind of pretzels they pleased.

These are all problems caused by the term “virtual assistant.” It creates wrong expectations, perceptions and understandings right from the get-go.

This is why those us who are in the expertise of administrative support are Administrative Consultants. We don’t want clients thinking we’re their assistants, treating the relationship as such and wanting to pay peanuts—because we aren’t.

We want clients who approach us as professionally and in the same manner they would approach an attorney, an accountant, a web designer or any other independant professional.

The Administrative Consultant term creates an entirely improved perception and demeanor in our prospective clients. They are more respectful and understand the correct nature of the relationship. Instead of approaching us as subordinate order takers, they instantly view us as trusted administrative advisors and business peers.

And because of those changed and improved perceptions, we are able to get better clients and command higher (proper) professional fees.

It’s all about setting and managing expectations and creating better, more accurate and respectful perceptions with the words and terms we use, in this case Administrative Consultant.

(For more on this topic, read my post Dear Danielle: We Loathe the Virtual Assistant Term; Is There Something Else We Can Call Ourselves?)

Since you’re here, I also couldn’t help but notice your business name. I know you didn’t ask, but I feel it would be a disservice not to mention something that I think may be very important to your success.

I always highly encourage people to delete the word “virtual” from their business vocabulary. This post explains all the reasons why: Dear Danielle: Should I Use the Word “Virtual” in My Biz Name?

The thing I’m also concerned for you about is the spelling of your biz name: A Nuvybe Virtual Office.

I fear the esoteric spelling and syntax is going to make it extremely difficult for people to remember and find you (which is the opposite of what you intend).

That’s because no one is going to know how to say or spell it. And trust me, they aren’t going to go to extreme lengths to figure it out. They’ll just move on.

I know you value being different. I certainly appreciate that. And we all should be striving to continually clarify for ourselves and our prospective clients what our unique value propositions are.

Stand out in your marketing message, your service levels and skilled delivery and work product. However, beyond that, there are certain things in business that you just need to conform to or you’ll defeat your purposes. Choosing a business name that people can easily read, spell and remember is one of them.

Check out my Naming Your Business category here on the blog. I’ve got several posts that I think you’ll really find helpful on this topic.

Even if you were to simply change to New Vibe Administrative, that would be an incredible improvement for your prospective clients and those who refer you. That’s because its spelling is something that makes sense to people, they’ll easily be able to say it in their head and, thus, remember it and find you again, and it clearly conveys what you do in business.

I hope you find all of this helpful, Lourie. If you have any questions on anything here and want me to elaborate, please feel free to post in the comments and we’ll keep the conversation going.

I’m very happy to meet you and glad you found us. Welcome to the Administrative Consultant community!

Dear Danielle: We Loathe the Virtual Assistant Term. Is There Something Else We Can Call Ourselves?

Dear Danielle: We Loathe the Virtual Assistant Term. Is There Something Else We Can Call Ourselves?

Hey Danielle! Happy New Year!!

I was talking to a few friends in the Admin Support industry here in Australia today and the topic of what we call ourselves came up. Now all three of us LOATHE the virtual assistant title (so we’re on a good start here!) however in Australia, consultants (of any kind) are not viewed very favorably. Have you come across this in the US? Do you have any thoughts on a more accetable term that us Aussie admin chicks can use? Thanks heaps! —Cathy White

Ooo, I love this question. Good to hear that you all detest it as well, lol. So funny. But yeah, it’s such a counterproductive term for those who are trying to build real businesses with well-paying clients who take them seriously.

(And to be clear, I detest the term, not the people. I think the world of the people in our industry!)

When you say consultants are not viewed very favorably, it sounds like the same sentiment the general population over here has about them. Sort of along the lines of how people in general feel about attorneys.

Attorney and consultant jokes abound and “everyone” hates them… until they need one, lol.

So here’s my thing… first, I’m not trying to figure out a million different terms. We settled on Administrative Consultant a long time ago.

As a new industry, it’s helpful for us inside that industry to have one unifying term so that we can easily find our peers to create community.

However, when it comes to clients, you market with a message, not a term. You want your message to be all about the client, what you do for him and how you help improve his business and life.

What you call yourself comes after all that, simply for the purpose of giving people something to call you and categorize your business with—a mental coathook, if you will—which is very important. Psychologically, people just need that in order for there to be understanding.

At the same time, you want your term to be one that doesn’t create negative, problematic perceptions, expectations and understandings (like the VA term does) or it will defeat your purposes and make things more difficult.

As I always say, when you run a business, you aren’t anyone’s assistant. Assistant is a term of employment and when people think you are an assistant, they want to pay and treat you like one. Their perception—due to that term—is that you are a subordinate order taker, not a peer, expert and trusted advisor.

The other important thing is that you aren’t marketing to the general population so it doesn’t matter what their general opinion is of certain words/vocations.

You are marketing to business people who have a need for the solution you’re in business to provide. With a proper marketing message educating them about what you do and how you help them, they will understand the benefit and value of working with you in the same way that the clients of attorneys and consultants understand why they need them.

If everyone truly had very little opinion or need of attorneys and consultants, they wouldn’t exist. And, like I say, general opinion is simply irrelevant in our context.

I see conversations here and there where it’s clear some folks in our industry don’t understand our use of the term “consultant.” They think all consultants do is advise.

We use the term “consultant” in a hybrid sense of the word, not the traditional definition.

So what I explain to peers and prospects is that while I am first and foremost an administrative implementer providing support, as an administrative expert, I’m also in a position to give clients guidance and advice on their administrative systems, set-ups, tools and organization. That’s the advisor part of it.

Hence:  Administrative + Consultant. See?

One other thought to add… you also want to make sure you aren’t focusing solely on the “consultant” aspect. Because we aren’t consultants in that sense.

The reason I mention this is because I notice some folks naming their business/domain something like “Such and Such Consulting” or “Jane Doe Consulting.”

They are completely missing the administrative part which is THE most important information to relate, not the consultant part.

Those folks are the ones who are going to confuse their audience and make people think they are something they aren’t.

So you don’t want to use just “consulting.” You need to include “administrative” in there to provide the proper context and understanding. Otherwise, people will be confused and get the wrong idea.

Dear Danielle: Should I Use the Word “Virtual” in My Biz Name?

Dear Danielle: Should I Use the Word “Virtual” in My Biz Name?

In this episode of What Would Danielle Say, Lynn wants to know if she should use the word “virtual” in her business name.

Dear Danielle:

My business name is BD Virtual. I read your blog post about What’s In a Name and the part about not having “virtual assistant” or “assistant” in your name. Is it a good idea to have virtual in your name? If not, should I consider admin services consulting like you were talking about. Is BD Virtual okay of a name? —Lynn Smith

Hi Lynn 🙂

If you follow me for long, you will find that I frequently advise/remind people to delete the word “virtual” from their biz vocabulary (among others).

A business is a business. There’s nothing virtual about it.

Is a business more “pretend” or of less quality if it’s run out of a home office or on the road? Is it more of a business if it’s located in a rented office?

Does an attorney who works from home and conducts most of his meetings over the phone have any less of a legal practice?

Is a doctor or accountant or designer or (fill in the blank for whatever other independent service professional comes to mind) “virtual” just because he works from his own location and/or his clients go to him, he doesn’t go to them?

By that logic, then all businesses are “virtual” in that they perform their services from their own place of business, not the client’s.

But we don’t qualify those businesses like that so why should you qualify yours in that way?

This is why I advise people to stop using the word “virtual.” It’s a silly word and puts a negative, subpar, “less than a real business” spin on things.

One of the challenges of a professional services business like ours (where we do not have physical storefronts that clients can walk into like brick-and-mortar businesses do) is instilling trust, credibility and rapport.

Therefore, you want your business to present itself in every way you can as no different from any other professional service a client would engage to provide an expertise.

Any word that detracts from that or qualifies your business as something “other than” or “different from” a real business like any other makes it more difficult to establish that trust and credibility.

And this is what the word “virtual” does… it says that your business is not a “real” business, it’s something “other than.”

And why do that? Why qualify it in any way except that it is a real business like any other?

This is what I mean by a business is a business. Where the business is located and where you work from is of no relevance.

Regarding your other question, whether you should call it Administrative Consultant, that depends on whether you actually are one or not.

An Administrative Consultant is not the same thing as a virtual assistant. The terms are not interchangeable.

Where “virtual assistant” has become the proverbial junk/miscellaneous drawer of terms of anyone doing anything and everything (which isn’t a definition or category of anything, it’s merely a gopher, what Seth Godin refers to as a meandering generality), an Administrative Consultant is someone who specifically specializes in the business of providing ongoing administrative support (what Seth Godin calls a meaningful specific). That is their business category and their specialty.

The other distinction is that when you are in business, for both legal and practical reasons, you are not anyone’s assistant.

Administrative Consultants are independent professionals (in the same way that attorneys, accountants, designers, etc., are independent professionals) who provide clients with the expertise of strategic administrative support. They are not day-to-day substitute employees or “alternative staff.” They are not staff in any way.

So if your specialization and expertise is administrative support and you view yourself as an independent professional (not a staff member, assistant or outsourced worker), then Administrative Consultant would fit you.

Since it sounds like you are just starting your business and still in the naming phase, be sure to also check out the Naming Your Business category of my blog. I have several posts with information and ideas to help you in that process.

Thanks for the question and I hope this provides you with some understanding and clarity. All my best!

What’s In a Name, Part 3

One thing that interests me about marketing is that so much of it involves psychology, which I find fascinating. Being a student of psychology definitely will aid you in your marketing.

I’m sure many have heard the coffee comparison example:

Essentially, that people will pay many times more for a cup of coffee at Starbucks than they would for the same coffee at 7-11.

A lot of that has to do with the “experience” of getting coffee at Starbucks, which might include (among others):

  • more quality coffee (real or perceived)
  • better tasting coffee (real or perceived)
  • hip/comfortable atmosphere
  • place to hang-out, to see and be seen
  • status

All of this is related in many ways to “connotation,” which is the underlying (conscious and subconcious) thoughts, feelings, perceptions, prejudices and preconceived ideas and associations that are conjured up and evoked from a word, term or experience.

Just as context, environs and experience have much to do with how people buy and the perceptions they bring to the table, the words and terms you use in your marketing are relevant in this respect as well.

While some lofty, high-minded conversation about your title should NEVER be part of your marketing message nor your conversation with clients, the term, title and brand words you use to identify yourself to clients does matter. It will evoke certain perceptions and understanding (or misunderstandings as the case may be) in your potential clients.

You can make things easier and work more in your favor or more difficult (paddling upstream) all depending on the words and terms you use.

For more on this topic, see these blog categories as well:

What’s In a Name?

Why We Stopped Calling Ourselves Virtual Assistants

You Are Not an Assistant

From both a legal and practical standpoint, the fact is when you are in business, you are not anyone’s assistant.

The term “assistant” is a term of employment, not business, and shouldn’t ever be used in your business relationships and conversations.

When you stop calling yourself an assistant, you’ll get less pushback from clients when it comes to your fees.

People automatically equate “assistant” with employment. So when you call yourself an assistant, you predispose clients to balking at your fees because they don’t understand why they would pay you more than they would any other in-house employee/assistant.

You can talk until you’re blue in the face about your standards and boundaries and that you are a biz owner, that you have your own taxes and expenses to pay, yada yada yada–but you negate all of that when you call yourself an assistant.

It’s all about positioning and using the right words to pre-set proper expectations and mindsets–all for vastly easier conversations and more successful relationships with clients. You’ll always have more problems when you call yourself an assistant.

When you frame yourself instead as an expert in the art of administrative support, it’s a whole other ballgame. People EXPECT to pay experts professional fees. Instead of looking at you as an employee they don’t pay taxes on, they view you as a professional who is hired for a particular expertise that will help them meet a solve, solve a problem and move forward and improve their businesses–in our case, that’s the expertise of administrative support and guidance.

Another reason to stop calling yourself an assistant is to reduce the likelihood of the IRS (or your country’s similar governing agency) determining you are an employee and going after the client for back taxes and penalties for misclassification of employees.

This is one of the many, many reasons we as an organization moved to the term Administrative Consultant.

If you’re not comfortable with the word “consultant,” call yourself an administrative partner or administrative expert or administrative specialist… ANYTHING but assistant.

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 Admin,” “Dizzy Administration, “Dizzy Administrative,”“Dizzy Business Support,” etc. If someone else in our industry is already 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.

What’s In a Name?

I was sharing with my dad recently about how we are converting over to the term “Administrative Consultant” and how the organization will be getting a new name and a new site and all the reasons why… chiefly, the fact that the virtual assistant term creates wrong expectations and understandings in clients and makes our conversations with them more difficult than need be.

And he shared a story with me about one of our family friends that really illustrates how important a name or term is in educating clients about what you are and what you do and how it can hurt or help in your educating and marketing efforts.

So this family friend is a financial planner and lifelong master sailor. Many moons ago, when I was still a little girl even, due to his love of sailing, he decided he wanted to start a side business teaching beginnner’s how to sail.

One of the very first principles in sailing he’d teach on, because it was the foundation of everything else, was how to clean your boat. Having a crusty bottom, apparently, could literally affect your speed and navigation and in teaching all this, it was the natural segue to all the higher parts of the learning involved.

It’s sort of like with other skills where you don’t start out learning how to do the actual thing, you start by learning the most simple, seemingly unimportant tasks related to the thing. Trying to think of a good example and the movie, Karate Kid comes to mind. It’s been so long since I’ve seen that movie that I can’t remember it exactly, but you know how the teacher dude had the Karate Kid doing basic tasks that didn’t seem related or important at all, but which were really the foundation and shaped the character of everything else? It’s that kind of thing. It’s the crux of all the learning that follows.

So because the cleaning and care of the boat was the crux of everything else when it comes to learning how to sail, he decided to call this business venture Swabbies.

Can you see the problem already?

Now in the sailing world, this is a very understood nautical term, in all its full, nuanced meaning. And this is why he felt it would be perfect for the business name.

The problem, however, was that not only did he fail to understand his market, he used a term that only a select group of people would even remotely understand it’s real meaning. Which meant that it was esoteric jargon to everyone else. And this “everyone else” were who his would-be students were.

So he was getting all these calls and inquiries from people who only understood the term as any layperson would understand it–a swabbie is someone who cleans the deck. Instead of getting calls from people wanting to learn how to sail, he was only getting calls from people who wanted to have their boats cleaned!

As you can see, even super smart people like our friend the financial planner can make such basic branding errors when it comes to what they call their business or what title they use. His very name prevented him from connecting with the customers he was seeking. In fact, it completely miseducated them and made them think he was something he wasn’t whatsoever.

This is the same problem with the term Virtual Assistant. When you are in business, you are not anyone’s assistant and you can’t be.

On top of that, people only understand the word “assistant” one way. No matter how much you try to educate them until you are blue in the face, they just can’t seem to understand that you aren’t an assistant at their beck-and-call.

And why call yourself something that causes that much difficulty in aligning expectations and understandings in the first place? Business conversations are so much easier with a name that better reflects what you are in business to do and better educates clients as to the correct nature of your relationship.

This is why I have moved on to the term Administrative Consultant… because I’m not an assistant, I’m an administrative expert. I’m not hired to be anyone’s flunky or gopher. I’m hired because I have a valuable expertise that helps clients get things done and move forward in their businesses. It’s a term that more clearly reflects what I’m in business to do, it garners INFINITELY more professional respect, and it better educates and aligns expectations and understandings with the kind of clients I work with before we ever even speak to each other.

Dear Danielle: Should I Be Concerned that a Colleague Has the Same Biz Name?

Dear Danielle: Should I Be Concerned that a Colleague Has the Same Biz Name?

Dear Danielle:

I have a question regarding my business name. I started my business on August 17, but just found out that there is another business in our industry with a name similar to mine. I know that this probably won’t matter, but I am in one state and she is in another. My long term goal is to go international, but right now, I am concentrating on local clients. By the way, I have business cards, a business license, etc. Should I be concerned about this? If so, what do you suggest I do? Thank you in advance for your advice. –FT

You are right in assuming that it doesn’t necessarily matter that you are in two different states.

This is especially true in our industry where we don’t have any geographic boundaries from each other.

If the person with the pre-existing, established use of the name takes their business interests seriously and is intent on protecting their trade name rights, you could be in for some legal problems and expenses.

In fact, the laws governing trademarks, trade names, trade dress, etc., matters requires them to defend their rights or they forfeit them.

When you’re in business, there are lots of important areas you have  a responsibility to understand.

They may be boring, complicated and not so fun, but they are imperative nonetheless because they protect us and the marketplace, keep things fair, and give us some parameters to ensure we can all play nice and get along with each other.

So the first thing I advise you to do is go to USPTO.gov and study up on the trademark and copyright information listed there.

I’m going to post some info we share in our forums on this topic and why it’s in your best business interest to come up with your own unique business name.

WHY IT’S IMPORTANT TO FIND YOUR OWN UNIQUE NAME

In our industry, we have no geographical boundaries from each other. Therefore, having a unique business name is even more important.

When starting an administrative support business, beyond just the impoliteness of stepping on a colleague’s toes (someone who was there first), here is why it’s important for you to have a unique business name:

1. You don’t want to get sued. A colleague with established first use of an existing trade name has legal rights and can sue you for infringement, and possibly even damages. It costs a lot of money, time and energy to defend yourself. If you lose (which you can by either default or because the court finds in the complainant’s favor), it can cost even more. If they win a judgment against you, they may be able to go after your personal assets, garnish wages, get an injunction to freeze bank accounts and force you to disgorge any monies you earned while using their IP (intellectual property). This is not “mean”; it’s business, and every business has a right to defend its rights and its turf if it feels it’s been infringed upon. Likewise, every business has a duty and self-preserving interest to make sure it is not infringing. It’s just not a ball of wax you want to even potentially find yourself in.

2. It’s not a great way to be welcomed into the community. Ours is a relatively small, tight-knit community. People will know you are infringing on one of their comrades. How do you think they will look upon you? And imagine if it were you… how would you feel if someone new came into the industry and started using your business name, the one you’ve been using for X years and around which all your identity and marketing has been based? It would not feel good. Trust, good will and polite society can not exist where we allow this kind of thing to occur. It’s just not cool, much less professional or ethical.

3. You don’t want to be confused with another business in the same industry. It’s going to be really important to differentiate yourself from everyone else, and that includes having a unique business name and identity. It doesn’t do you any good to be using someone else’s established business name if traffic and name recognition is going to be diverted to someone else who was there first.

4. You don’t want to have to redo everything (e.g., website, marketing materials, etc.). If you are caught infringing, you can be compelled to relinquish domains, destroy or hand over other intellectual property, and it’s going to be a lot of work and more money to start all over again.

STEPS TO ENSURING YOU DO NOT INFRINGE

So, what do you do? A bit of homework is in order. To make sure you come up with a unique name and do not infringe on the established trademarks and trade name rights of any of your colleagues, there are things you can and should do:

1. Search industry directories. Make sure no one else is using the same or similar name already.

2. Search the uspto.gov database. 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 recourses, 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.

3. 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, you should search for  “Dizzy Admin,” “Dizzy Administrative,” “Dizzy Administration,” “Dizzy Administrative Consulting,” “Dizzy Administrative Consultant,”“Dizzy Business Support,” ““Dizzy Virtual Assistant,” “Dizzy Virtual Assistants,” “Dizzy Virtual Assistance,” etc. If someone else in our industry, regardless of where they are located, is using “Dizzy” (which is the relevant novel/ substantive part of the name), forget about using it.

WHAT TO DO NEXT

Once you find a name that is unique and that in no way can be confused with anyone else’s existing, established trade identity in our industry, you’re home free.

If you think you were the first to use the name, contact the colleague and see if you see if you can work things out.

If you know you were not the first, contact the colleague with the same or similar name, and see how they feel about it.

And then consult an attorney about whether it would be a wise course of action to pursue the name anyway, what the possible ramifications are, and what it might cost to defend or protect yourself. ;)

Dear Danielle: I’m Stuck On a Business Name

Dear Danielle:

I have just made the decision to start my own Administrative Consultant business. I’ve been researching lots of sites for helpful info. I’ve started a business plan. I’ve researched software and equipment upgrades I need to make. Right now, I’m really stuck on finding a name for my business. Maybe I’m making a big deal out of nothing but I can’t seem to come up with something catchy. Any tips? MG

Naming a business is an important decision, so I’m glad you’re taking the time to think it through. You’re not making a big deal out of it at all–it IS a big deal. Good for you. 🙂

There are a few things to think about in naming your business.

First, you do want something unique. You want to differentiate your business and stand out from the crowd. And you definitely don’t want to be confused with any other existing business in our industry.

Which bring us to the second point–steer clear from infringing on the rights of another Administrative Consultant’s existing business name use. That will get you into hot water with your colleagues–not a great way to introduce yourself to the community (and trust me, you will need them).

There are no geographical boundaries in our industry due to the nature of our business model and how we deliver our service. We all operate in the same online marketplace so it doesn’t matter if Superlative Administrative Consulting is in another state. If you use that person’s existing business name or something derivative of it, she’s not gonna be very happy with you, and may seek legal recourse. That could be very costly to you, and she’ll probably tell all her buddies in the industry about your infringement while she’s at it.

So once you start to come up with some names, due your due diligence: make several Internet searches, look through all the various industry directories, and double check with folks in your professional communities.

In naming your business, it really requires you to go back a few steps and think about your target market. You need get clear about what you do, who you do it for and what results you achieve for them. Formalizing that thought process is going to help you establish your branding.

Once you know those things, you then have a better idea of who your business name is really for. What do most of their websites look like? Are they a serious or fun-loving group? Do they sell products or services? Are they in an industry or a skilled/degreed profession? Are they going to appreciate cleverness or inventiveness, or is traditional formality going to better appeal to their sensibilities? What kind of name will inspire their trust and confidence in your business? What brand aspects can your name convey to them?

These are the kinds of questions that should come to mind once you decide who your business is speaking to, and will help you decide what sort of business name will best suit their tastes while conveying your brand position.