How to Come Up With a Great Name for Your Business

Naming a business is something that many business owners struggle with. And hiring someone to help you name your business can be very expensive.

I recently had lunch with a colleague that is launching a Social Media business. He needed a little creative boost, so I gave him some suggestions as to how to approach naming his business. The experience got me thinking, “Hey, every new business can use a little help in this area,” and thus this post was born….

As a brand designer, I’m usually brought in at the conception level of a business creation, which more often than not includes business naming. Depending on the size of the project and the team involved, I sometimes lend a hand in the process. Very few designers embrace business naming, probably because it’s really more strategic than creative. But I enjoy flipping sides of the brain I’m using (left vs. right) and relish this process tremendously. The techniques I’m sharing with you today are those I learned when I worked for a global PR firm, and are used by many marketing agencies today.

If you follow the guidelines that I have provided below, you too can have a great business name – one that that will support your brand for many years to come!

There are many different methods for coming up with a good business name, but most of them involve making lists – lots and lots of lists! In this post, I’d like to share with you my personal, simplified method. I think you’ll find it to be a fun process!

For this exercise will need:

* Note paper
* Pencil or pen
* A domain registration provider of your choice, such as GoDaddy or HostGator
* A trusty thesaurus (I’m partial to thesaurus.com)

THE WHAT, THE HOW AND THE WHY

Between your business name, your tag line and a descriptor, you should be able to effectively articulate WHAT you do, HOW you do it and WHY someone should buy from you instead of your competition. The fact is, your business name is a lot like an employee – it can’t do everything. So give it the most important task. What it can’t do, just pass on to your tag line or your descriptor. This sounds difficult, but it really is very simple, I promise. Read on…

Your business sells something. This something is either a product, a service, or the drawing of a crowd (such as an event, campaign or fundraiser). The something you sell is at the foundation of your WHAT.

But use caution when defining your WHAT. As in the common example, people don’t really ever buy a drill – rather, they buy a hole in the wall. That hole is the real WHAT that people desire and are actually purchasing from you. So for instance, if you were selling Social Media services think of the benefit that you are actually selling to people: Is it connections? Is it relationships? Is it customers? Write these words down, in a list along the left side of a page, like so:

As you develop this list, you will inevitably find yourself crossing out the ones that don’t work. Keep them on the list anyway, albeit crossed out; my old PR manager once told me, “It’s just as valid to eliminate bad ideas as it is to come up with good ones. And you won’t know you have a good idea until you can see the bad ones crossed off in front of you.”

You do what you do in a way that no one else does. And believe me when I tell you, people love that about your brand! They may not tell you, because they may not realize it themselves. But they are attracted to your brand because something about your way of doing things resonates with them on a personal and emotional level. Harness that. Embrace it. HOW you do something has so much more meaning to others than the mere WHAT you do. Do you do it authentically? Organically? Intuitively? Write these words down on the same sheet of paper, in a list on the right side, like this:

Now, I hate to burst your bubble. But you have competition – and loads of it. There are a million people out there selling the same product or service you are. Even if you are a non-profit, you are competing with other non-profits for donations. This is why it’s so very important to tell people WHY they should commit to your brand instead of someone else who is selling the same thing as you are. What are the benefits that someone can get from your brand, that no other brand can offer? I’ll give you a hint: it’s not because you’ve been in business for 35 years. It’s not because you care about your customers. And it never, never, ever should be because you are cheaper. Anyone can claim these things, and the fact is that they pose no real value to a customer that has the potential of becoming your brand loyalist.

> People don’t care how long you’ve been in business, how well educated you are, what your background is, or what your process involves. All they care about is, what’s in it for them.

You need to answer the question, WHY? “WHY should I buy from you instead of from someone else?” And the only good answer is a benefit – a statement that clearly communicates you will improve your customers’ quality of life (which is something far more valuable than saving a few bucks). Is it because you can help them make money? Is it because you can improve their health? Is it because you can protect their children? Think about what your potential customers are pained with, and tell them WHY selecting your brand will make their life better. Make this list on separate sheet of paper.

By now, you probably have a healthy list of WHATs, HOWs and WHYs. In an ideal world, your business name should answer the WHAT and the HOW. You can reserve the tag line to answer the WHY, because WHY is usually a little longer. If you can fit all three into a business name, great! But good luck with that; a business name should be short – as short as possible – so I usually extend that which I can’t fit into a name, into a tag line, and that usually winds up being the WHY.

Look closely at your list of WHATs on the left side and the HOWs on the right. Begin pairing your WHATs and HOWs. Play with combinations. How can you combine the WHAT on the left with the HOW on the right, so that the two sound and feel good together? Draw lines to connect one with the other (at this point, some people move their lists to a chalkboard for visibility). Here’s my sample:

If you find that, after playing with several variations, nothing seems to feel just right, break out the thesaurus; you may need to change up one or both of the words on either side of the list with an alternate.

There are two places you will need to search for your preferred business name: Your local county clerk recorder’s office and the US Patent and Trademark Office.

Your local county clerk recorder’s office will tell you if there is a DBA (Doing Business As) registered already. Most counties provide this feature on their web site, free of charge.

The second place you need to check is the US Patent and Trademark Office. Run a TRADEMARK SEARCH, here is the link: http://www.uspto.gov/

IMPORTANT: Even if you do not plan to register your business as a registered trademark, you must check to make sure that no one else has already registered the name with the US Patent and Trademark Office. The fast and simple rule is this: Federal supersedes local. So even if you only plan to register as a DBA (local), and someone has the name federally trademarked, you will be forced to cease and desist or face criminal charges. DO NOT MAKE THIS MISTAKE. Check twice and secure your name once, with peace of mind.

You should register your domain name in the exact same way that you intend to spell your business name, even if you host your content on a different URL (like I do). If you cannot secure your business name as a domain, move on to the next option. I’m serious about this and here are two reasons why:

1. You want to make it as easy as possible for others to remember your web site address. As a marketer, it is your responsibility to make sure people don’t have to work hard to find you. Make it easy for your customers and prospects to locate your web site by ensuring the two are the same, domain and business name. It’s much easier to remember that FedEx is at FedEx.com, and not shippingworldwide.com (or some variation thereof).

2. Unfortunately the world contains evil people. And some of those will not hesitate to put something distasteful on a web site in a form of “extortion.” It happened to a Client of mine; she discovered that her domain name was converted into a web site with “dirty pictures” and the owner demanded $10,000 to remove the pictures and relinquish the domain to her (unfortunately, there is no law against this – whoever owns the domain can do whatever they want with it). Of course, she didn’t have that kind of money. So in the process, her brand suffered credibility, she lost her business and needed to start over.

Please trust me when I tell you: If you can’t secure your business name as a domain, forget it and move on. It’s the only way to protect your brand and serve your customers with ease and convenience.

Sometimes, no matter what you do you can’t come up with two words that go well together, are available as a domain, are free from trademark restrictions and accurately and intriguingly describe your business. That’s when you can experiment with hybrids! This part is loads of fun, and you have a lot more flexibility and creative freedom. For example:

Based on my sketch board above, the name Intuitive Connections could have potential (for a social media consultancy business, that is). But maybe the name is too long, or the domain is already registered, or someone owns the trademark. That’s when I say, start slicing and dicing! This is your opportunity to experiment with variations, which we call hybrids…. and it’s really quite a lot of fun!

In this case, I might convert “Intuitive Connections” into InConnect, or InCon, or InConn, or even InConnecto, or InConnecta… Now you see what’s happening? The possibilities just became practically endless! And if you’re concerned about someone not “getting it,” well…. truth is, they probably wouldn’t get it anyway. The traditional names are all taken (especially all the dot coms), so you really have very little choice but to be creative about your business name at this point. Besides, you still have a tag line and even a descriptor that will fill in those blanks and explain things to your prospects more clearly, whereas the business name only leaves room for imagination.

Now that you have a good business name that answers the WHAT and the HOW, it’s time to add a tag line to wrap up the WHY! But heaven knows, this article is long enough, and I don’t want to exhaust your eyes. So I’ll reserve that for a future post. Be sure to subscribe to my feed so you don’t miss anything.

As always, comments are appreciated! Maybe you can tell us how you came up with your business name? After all, we are all always teetering on the inspirational….

Until next time,

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