In the last article in our series on how to start a business, we discussed how to test your new business idea. Once you have tested your new business idea and decided to move forward, the next step is how to name a business, the topic of today’s article. To make sure you don’t miss anything, use this handy checklist as you go through the article.
Your first consideration when naming a business should be whether or not the website domain is available. If name your business but can’t book the domain – or worse, a competitor grabs it – you’re going to have a lot of confused and lost customers. So make sure you check to see if your domain is available:
Step 1: Strengthen Your “Idea Muscle”
If you have read our article on how to come up with a business idea, then you can skip this step as your idea muscle should already be in good shape.
If not, then take the advice of one of my favorite bloggers James Altucher and start coming up with 10 ideas each day on different topics. While this may seem like a lot of effort, if your idea muscle is weak it will hurt you in other parts of your business as well, so use this opportunity to get it back into shape. More on this here.
Once coming up with the list is easy for you, you can move on to the next step.
Step 2: Come up with 10 business name ideas a day for 1 week.
Once you have gotten your idea muscle into shape, its time to start coming up with business name ideas. Try to come up with 10 ideas each day for a week, at which point you will have 50 potential names to choose from.
Things to keep in mind when coming up with ideas on how to name a business:
At a minimum you want name ideas that people can make an easy connection to the product or service that you are selling. This means avoiding things like trying to coin a new term with your business name.
Also try and keep in mind other things you may want your business name to convey like:
Lastly, its a bonus if your business name contains words that people are likely to type into internet search engines when looking for the products and/or services that you offer. All else being equal your website is likely to rank higher for those terms in the search results if that is the case. More on this here.
Step 3: Cross off any names that could be confusing or are not easy to remember, pronounce, and spell.
For this step keep in mind the following:
- Word of Mouth: One of the best ways to grow your business is by word of mouth, so at a minimum your business name needs to be easy for people to pass along to others.
- Spelling: Make sure it is easy to spell, so people do not type the wrong name when looking for you online.
- Confusing Names: Avoid things that could be confusing like using numbers in a name. An example would be a name like 2 Sisters Tanning. When typing this name into a search engine or elsewhere, people won’t know wether it is 2sisterstanning.com or TwoSistersTanning.com.
Step 4: Cross off any names that may be confused with a competitor or have negative connotations.
Even big companies make mistakes with this step. Infamously, Chevrolet made the mistake of marketing a car called “Nova” in Spanish speaking countries. “No Va” translates from Spanish to english as “No Go”. Sales in Latin American markets for Nova did not go anywhere as a result.
Step 5: Consider the future
You want to think carefully about how choosing a name that is specific to something like a particular Geographic location, product or person may affect your business in the future:
- Location Issues: Names like Raleigh NC Plumbers can be great for ranking your site highly in Google’s local search results, however if you ever plan on expanding your business outside of Raleigh, you don’t want to have change your name in order to do so.
- Product Issues: If you name your company Top Dog TV Repair and decide to start repairing other types of electronics in the future, this may present a problem.
- Issues Using a Person’s Name: There is nothing wrong with names like Bob Jones Auto, but if Bob ever wants to sell his business or bring in another partner this may create issues.
Step 6: Filter the list by names you can buy a domain name for.
When people want to visit the website of a particular company, often times they will type in the name of the company with a .com behind it ie www.bobjonesauto.com. Therefore, whenever possible, you are going to want to have your website’s domain name be the same as your business name. You also always want to own the .com version of whatever your domain is, or you are going to lose a ton of potential customers to the company that does.
You can search to see if a domain name is avialble at Godaddy.com and if it is you can also register it there for around $12 a year. If you are set on a particular name, and the domain name is not available, then you can also use Godaddy to try and acquire the domain.
For more on this topic see the domain name section of our article on how to build a website for your small business.
Step 7: Search the internet and trademark database for the name.
The last step before choosing your business name is to search the internet and the trademark database to see if anyone one else is using the name and/or has a trademark on it. Keep in mind that even if a business is using the name you have chosen, you may still be able to use it. In order for someone to win a trademark infringement case against you they have to prove that you used the name in a manner that is likely to confuse consumers.
While I am not an attorney, to me that means:
- If you do business in a specific area, and another business that does business locally somewhere else in the country has the same name, then you can likely still use the name.
- If the business that is using the name is not a local business, or you plan on operating nationally, then this might be an issue.
Two general guidelines on whether or not you should trademark a business name:
- If you plan on doing business locally then the costs of trademarking your business name are likely going to outweigh the benefits.
- If you plan on operating on a large scale both in your state and nationally then you will likely want to obtain a trademark.
What is next after choosing an awesome business name? Creating a “kick-ass” logo to compliment your business name. One way to get a great a great logo is through running a contest in which dozens of designers compete to have their design selected. The logo of this website was created through such a contest with 99designs. Here is a comparison of different logo design options.
More Great Articles on How to Name a Business:
- Igor International: The new science of naming
- Entrepreneur: 8 Mistakes to Avoid When Naming Your Business – what not to do when choosing a business name.
- BusinessInsider: 10 Ways to Come Up with a Killer Business Name
- Nolo: Make Sure Your Proposed Business Name is Available – Steps to take to make sure your business name is not already taken.