You’ve done the market research, created an amazing product and are now ready to unleash your new business venture on the world, but one small problem still persists: what exactly are you going to call your potential new enterprise?
Naming a business is a lot more difficult than it sounds. For a start, its importance cannot be overstated; your chosen name will represent your company’s initial interaction with any potential customers, as well as define your business as a whole. Indeed, as you become more successful, your name will begin to evolve into a brand. And if you ever reach the dizzying heights of 10-foot billboard territory, for instance, you’d better hope you’ve got something that’s worthy of the exposure.
So, to help you on your entrepreneurial journey – and to avoid some of the most common mistakes – we’ve compiled a handy list of tips and pointers on how to name your business. We can’t guarantee it will take your venture to the next level, but if it helps you avoid becoming the next Sam & Ella’s Chicken Palace (say it quickly), then we’ll consider it a success…
1. Make Sure it’s Available
Settling on the perfect name after days or even weeks of deliberation can be a milestone moment in your entrepreneurial journey. Try not to ruin the moment, then, by discovering that someone else has actually already taken it.
A quick online search should give you an idea of if it’s already being used, although if you’re serious about expanding your business in the future it can also be worth checking state registers such as Companies House in the UK or the Securities and Exchange Commission in the US.
Although it’s not illegal to use a name similar to another that’s already in use (especially if the other business is totally unrelated to yours), you can leave yourself open to potentially costly trademark and copyright disputes further down the line.
2. Check the Potential for Online Use…
It’s no secret that the majority of businesses are online these days, with the opportunities afforded through digital marketing creating unprecedented customer opportunities all over the world. Therefore, it’s important that you don’t miss out.
This means first and foremost registering a domain. This can be tricky; even if your business name is available, that doesn’t necessarily mean the domain URL will be, too. It might already be in use for a different purpose or the domain could have been bought by someone with the intention of selling it on. This is known as domain flipping and could be the difference between paying $10 or $1,000 for your website.
Use domain search tools such as GoDaddy to establish the availability of your name, and where possible purchase the .com domain extension; even outside of the US, customers associate this extension as being more trustworthy.
Finally, don’t trip yourself up. American Scrap Metal may well be an entirely sensible business name, but don’t be surprised if you find that americanscrapmetal.com starts attracting the (extremely) wrong kind of customer…
3. …and for Social Media Use
The same goes for social media, too. Check all the popular channels such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see if your business name has been previously taken as a handle or a page name. If, for example, your computer repair business is called The Computer Guy, then there’s a good chance that a generic name such as this might be taken by a hobbyist or a blogger.
This isn’t the end of the world (as long as it’s not taken by another business); it just means that you may have to alter your approach. If the Twitter handle @ComputerGuy is taken, for example, then be creative and try @ComputerGuyShop or @ComputerGuyStore. However, be careful: the similarity of the profile names can potentially cause confusion for customers that are searching for your brand.
4. Keep it Simple Stupid
Although there are examples of this tactic being successful (such as the blogging medium Tumblr and the image host Flickr), playing with alternative wordings can represent something of a business naming minefield. Take the UK mobile phone manufacturer Phones4U, for instance: if you were trying to find this company online, would you search for ‘PhonesForU’ or ‘Phones4You’? If potential customers have to seriously think about the structure of your name, then it’s probably not a good idea.
Don’t ignore potential spelling complications, either. Mediterranean Cuisine may be a simple and evocative name for your restaurant but it’s also a notoriously difficult word to spell. This could cost you searches and make you more difficult to locate online. In cases like this, you might need to consider an alternative name or try different variations such as Med Cuisine instead.
5. Avoid Embarrassing Yourself
From the BlueBalls Boutique in Canada to Beaver’s Trim Shop (ahem) in Houston, Texas, the world is littered with businesses whose owners simply didn’t think their names through. Just as guilty are the owners of the Amigone Funeral Home (a genuine business in Buffalo, New York) and Hindenburger, a fast food restaurant that prides itself on the taste of its ‘flame broiled’ burgers (the humanity, indeed).
Of course, infamy is an effective marketing tool, so maybe these owners really did know what they were doing, but if you’re going to go down this road, at least try to be a little more tasteful. Cornwall-based interior cleaners Spruce Springclean are obviously onto a winner, while Portsmouth-based locksmith Surelock Holmes and London-based florists Floral and Hardy also know their way around a pun.
6. Take Advantage of SEO
On the subject of being found online, you’ll do yourself no harm if you pay heed to what people are actually looking for on the World Wide Web. Google’s Keyword Planner offers a highly valuable insight into which search terms are popular, allowing you to see monthly results for any combination of search terms; use this to your advantage by seeing if you could capitalise on certain searches.
For example, if you sell surfboards, do some keyword research. ‘Best surfboards’ is a particularly popular search term with relatively low competition; it could also realistically be a potential name for your business, allowing you to take advantage of all that interest and propel you to the hallowed first page of the Google search results.
7. Don’t Pigeonhole Yourself
Of course, you want a business name that ideally explains in a short and clever way the premise of your company – this would save you a lot of time (and marketing budget) explaining what it is you actually do, after all. However, try not to box yourself into a corner – you never know in which direction you might want to take your business in the future.
This means being flexible and having some foresight, where possible. Steve’s Rabbit Shop is nice, simple and effective, but what if you decide one day that you want to sell budgies and hamsters, too? Don’t restrict yourself to one niche. Can you imagine, for instance, if Amazon had originally been called Jeff’s Online Bookstore?
8. Convey Meaning
Company names don’t necessarily have to mean anything: Häagen-Dazs, for example, was allegedly a nonsense term that was chosen for no other reason than that it sounded exotic and European, while Kodak creator George Eastman simply liked the letter ‘K’. For most businesses, though, it might be a good idea to possess some semblance of connotation.
This can take many forms. It might be something basic but effective, such as a soft drinks company taking its two main ingredients of coca leaves and kola nuts to come up with Coca-Cola, or a hardware firm from San Francisco paying homage to their home city by taking the name Cisco (not to mention modelling their logo after its most famous landmark). Either way, the most important thing is that your brand name tells a story to your potential customers – whether it’s immediately clear or not.
9. Make Sure It’s Catchy
In some ways, human beings are simple creatures. We like things that roll off the tongue and live in the memory. It’s no surprise, then, that we tend towards companies that have catchy names – and it’s a good idea to follow suit when considering your own business.
Say the potential name out loud repeatedly: does it flow freely or do you keep mispronouncing it? Is it alliterative or rhythmic? There’s no right or wrong formula for what is correct, but if it sounds good, then it’s certainly worth considering.
You don’t have to compromise on meaning, either; HTML Mail doesn’t exactly set pulses racing, but Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith’s decision to rebrand the web-based email service as Hotmail instead certainly makes it more memorable.
10. Use a Name Generator
Often, true inspiration comes from an unlikely source. Until then, you can always utilise one of the internet’s many business name generators, built entirely for the purpose of doing the creative work for you.
By inputting a short series of words that describe what your business does, automatic generators such as Business Name Generator, Name Thingy and Rhymer offer up a list of potential names, including the option to employ Greek or Latin suffixes, prefixes and root words.
11. Choose a Name by Mistake
Of course, if you’ve got this far and you’re still nowhere nearer finding that perfect name, then you could always try to stumble triumphantly upon one by mistake. You’d certainly be in good company – some of the most famous brands in history came about as the result of a happy accident.
For instance, looking for a name relatable to the indexing of a large amount of data, Larry Page and Sergey Brin settled upon the concept of a googol (a large number equal to 10100) as a potential name for their fledgling search engine. When registering the domain name, however, fellow grad student Sean Anderson misspelt the term; as a result of this oversight, a small start-up called Google was born and the rest, as they say, is history…
As you can see, brainstorming ideas for a business name is a trickier process than it sounds. Aside from following the advice in this guide, try not to spend too much time on this stage of your business creation, though: if you become fixated on what you’re going to call your venture, it will distract you from actually getting it up and running.
Where did you find the inspiration for your business name? Let us know in the comments below…