During the crazy journey of launching a business, no decision is more agonizing than finding the right business name. In most cases, business owners have a firm grasp of the brand message they want to convey. However, trying to distill that message into a memorable, easy to say and easy to spell name is no easy feat. On top of branding issues, the name has to be legally available to use -- even though it feels like every good name was taken a decade ago.
Throughout the process of helping small businesses get their start and working with incredible small business owners, I have seen many entrepreneurs take thoughtful and effective approaches to naming their business. If you are starting a new venture this year, here are a few tips to keep in mind as you start to brainstorm and vet potential names.
1. Know your brand promise.
Don’t get too bogged down with what your product does. Instead, ask yourself how you want your customers to feel. It’s those feelings that represent your brand promise and create a deep emotional connection with customers.
You can start by creating a mind map of all the concepts related to your business: descriptive words, emotions and experiences you’ve felt or want your customers to feel. The founders of Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill restaurants spit-balled ideas by writing concepts down on cocktail napkins over beers. “We ended up with ‘Wood,’ since we grill our core items over a wood fire, and ‘Ranch’ because we wanted the brand to be all-American, approachable and timeless,” said co-founder and co-CEO Eric Anders.
2. Pick something that’s easy to say, spell and remember.
Obviously, new customers will need to be able to remember your business name and type it into their search bar correctly. If your name is overly complex -- for example, it incorporates your last name, tricky spellings, abbreviations, numbers, etc. -- this can be a problem. GotVMail, a virtual phone solution, changed their name to Grasshopper, to make it easier for potential customers to understand and spell. “We do radio advertisements, so it’s important that people understand our name right when they hear it,” they wrote.
3. Survey your potential customers.
Once you’ve narrowed down potential names to a few options, try them out on your target market. Be sure to get feedback from people other than close family, friends and co-founders who are already familiar with your budding business. It’s important to learn the impact of a name on people who don’t know anything about your products or service.
Rachael Miller, designer and founder of Go Sports Jewelry, wanted a name that stood out and was easy to remember. As she was deciding on the right name, she surveyed NFL wives with three different options, asking which name they gravitated towards, which best described her jewelry designs and which name they would remember if they heard it in a loud environment.
4. Don’t narrow your focus too much.
A common naming mistake is to focus on a name that reflects what your business does now, rather than where you plan to go. Avoid picking names with a specific geographic location or product categories that wouldn’t allow you to expand your product line.
When choosing a name for her freezable lunch bag business, PackIt CEO Melissa Kieling wanted something that could scale with the brand. As Kieling explained, “Our product incorporates a proprietary technology, so we were tempted to use freeze or some other word that suggests cooling. But, my vision is much bigger than cooling.”
5. Make sure the name is available and trademarkable.
This may be an obvious point, but before settling on a name, you’ll need to make sure it’s legally available to use, offers a suitable URL and can be trademarked. This process involves three basic steps.
First, check the availability of your proposed name in the state(s) where you’ll be operating to make sure there isn’t already another business with the same name registered there. To do this, you can contact your state’s secretary of state office (some states offer an online searchable database). You can also have an online legal filing service handle this for you, but many sites will perform this basic search for free.
If the state name search comes up clear, the next step is to check out the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to see if anyone has an approved trademark or pending application for your proposed name in a similar capacity. Finally, you should conduct a comprehensive name search -- either through an online service or a lawyer -- to see if anyone is using your proposed name at the state or county level and didn’t register with the state as an LLC or corporation.
If all your name searches come up clear, you’re ready to move ahead and put your branding efforts into full gear. From a legal perspective, don’t forget to register your name with the state and apply for a trademark (check out “A Business Name vs. a Trademark: Do You Know the Difference” for more details). After all, you’ve most likely invested countless hours finding the right name -- you’ll want to make sure it’s yours to use for years to come.