A lot of people starting a business venture get stuck on a very basic item on their to do list: give the business a name. While it’s a basic question, that doesn’t make it easy! In fact, it makes sense to get stuck here because it’s actually a question about branding.
A brand is everything you say about your business that isn’t about the specific words. It’s what’s conveyed through design, connotation, writing style, and cultural context. In large companies a brand has to be stated and communicated to many different departments. As a solo enterprise, the key is that you're clear on what you're trying to convey and who you're trying to convey it to. And that your marketing appeals the way you intend, to the group you intend to appeal to. And the starting point of all that is what you call your business.
The fundamental question in business is “what are you selling?” Without that you’re not doing any business. But right next door to that is “and who are you?” Your business name is your first chance to describe what it is you do. While the Google’s and the Kleenex’s of the world have names that define what they do, most of us will not achieve a prominence that allows our business name to carry so much ascribed meaning. For most small businesses and self-employed enterprises, it’s helpful when the name describes who we are, what we do, or what makes us better/different than others. In order to be cohesive with your brand, the name also needs to resonate with our target market or ideal client.
The easiest way to establish "who" a business is, is to name it after yourself. This has some upsides, but also some downsides, so the alternative is to establish a business name. Neither one is right or wrong, they just have different pros and cons. Here are the pros and cons as I see them:
Name your business after yourself:
- If they know your name, they know the business name! Only one name to keep track of!
- Works well if your “brand” is intrinsically linked to you as a person.
- Don’t have to dream up a new business name!
- Doesn’t describe what you do or how you do it. (Though adding a modifier before or after your name can solve this. Such as: “Jane Smith Consulting” Or “Coach Sarah Doe”)
- Doesn’t lend itself easily to having staff people since your position as name-holder would eclipse a staff person’s authority with a client. Similar problems exist if you ever want to sell the business.
- If your name is very common or difficult to spell, then it will be difficult for people to find you.
- If your personal reputation is tarnished, then it more obviously tarnishes the reputation of the business and visa versa.
Give the business it's own name:
- Have fun picking out a business name!
- Get a chance to set the tone for your business in the name
- Give the opportunity to describe what you do and/or how you do it.
- Easy SEO juju for having keywords about what you do in every URL
- Establishes the business as very separate from you as a person which can make taking on staff or selling the business easier down the road.
- Sometimes business names have unintended meaning.
- If it’s unclear what the name means then it doesn’t help define the brand.
There’s no one perfect fit for any business, but hopefully the points above help you clarify which would work best for your business.
Inventing a Business Name
So, you’ve examined the pros and cons and it’s apparent that you’ll have to invent a name for your business. ...so how does that happen?
If something isn’t jumping out at you. Then I highly recommend brainstorming. Jot down all the nouns that are at all related to your business, plus nouns that resonate with your target market or ideal client. Then repeat thinking of adjectives. (Bust out a thesaurus if you need to!) Do it again with verbs. Play with matching the words up in different combinations and see what you get. Make the process fun by having a friend help you or turning it into a game.
Once you’ve got a few business names you like, here are some tips:
- Google it. In part to see if someone’s using it, and in part to make sure it doesn’t have any unexpected connotations.
- Ask your friends what it brings to mind. Again, this screens for unintended meaning.
- Check if the URL of your name is available (e.g. www.YourName.com) but ALSO check with your state’s department in charge of business licenses. Typically you cannot have two businesses with the same name operating in the same state. If the URL is not available, don’t get clever with abbreviations or other extensions (e.g. .net .biz ) People are likely going to get it wrong and end up on the other webpage.
Picking a name for your business can feel daunting. It’s important to strike a balance between picking something with too little thought, and thinking about it so hard that you never find the “perfect” name. While it is a hassle to change a business name at a later date, it’s also far from impossible. Do your best and keep in mind that you can change it later!