07 Feb 2012

5 Tips for Choosing a Name for Your Business

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Once you have decided what kind of business you would like to start, you will need to pick a name. The name you select is very important because it is part of your brand. The name should communicate a message to your customers and it will be your business identity in the marketplace.

Here are 5 tips for choosing a name for your business:

1. Brainstorm. Write down every name that you can think of for your company, even the silly ones. Be creative and don’t judge what comes to your mind. Try to come up with at least 10 possible names. Do not include names of companies that already exist. You need an original name that someone else has not yet used for your type of business. Invite some trusted friends to join in the name game for an even broader brainstorming list.

2. Weigh Pros & Cons of Descriptive v. Made Up. Your business name can either be descriptive or it can be a word or phrase that is unique, catchy and memorable (think Google). For example, a descriptive name would be Smith’s Fishing Supplies. This name clearly tells your prospective customer that you sell fishing poles, tackle and other supplies for fishing. In contrast, The Big Catch is a fun name that is related to fishing but not as descriptive. A completely made up word for a fishing supply store could be Minoos. If your company name is not at all descriptive, you have to do a lot more marketing to educate the public about what you do, but your name will also be very original which has trademark protection benefits.

3. Investigate Availability of your Top Choices. Once you have decided on a list of names that you like, you need to see which names are being used by someone else already. For example, when my 7 year old daughter and I were looking for a name for our business together, Aspen made a list of over 20 possible names. Our company educates girls about entrepreneurship and sells fun products for girls, women and dogs. Her first choice was ZigZag Stuff named after her favorite stuffed animal zebra named ZigZag. But when we searched online, we found that there was already a company called ZigZag Stuff selling items on eBay. I also learned that ZigZag is a common name for rolling papers, not ideal for a brand for young girls! Therefore, Aspen had to move on to other names on her list. Many of her choices were already being used or the domain names were not available. We ended up using her name and the name of our family dog. Now we are looking for pet products to market on www.aspenandlucy.com!

4. Don’t be Without the Domain. Because websites are so important to a company, you should make sure the domain name you want is available. You should also buy up similar domain names. For example, the domain name for this law firm is www.hunterlawtampabay.com but I also purchased www.hunterlawtampa.com to protect our firm’s brand.

5. Invest in a Trademark Search. Once you have gone through steps 1 through 4, it’s time to invest in a trademark search. You do not want to receive a letter from another company’s attorney ordering you to cease & desist using the name or face a lawsuit after you’ve invested thousands of dollars in marketing! Just searching online to see if anyone else is using the name isn’t sufficient. Neither is confirming that your state doesn’t have another company formed under the name you desire. Doing a basic “TESS” search of the registered trademark database at www.uspto.com (United States Patent & Trademark Office) is wise but it won’t tell you if someone has what are known as common law rights to the name, even if not a registered trademark. All of these steps will rule out the obvious conflicts, but only a thorough trademark search by a qualified intellectual property attorney can give you the highest level of assurance. There are also nuances to trademark rights that could enable you to use the name you do want even if another company is using it, such as when the other company is in a completely different line of business.

Once you have selected your name, take an equal amount of time to select the color, font and design of your logo. Put it all in front of a focus group before you make a final decision. Even if you are certain about your wishes, it is valuable to know how your brand is likely to be perceived. Upfront time and money will save you time and money in the future!

Disclaimer: This article is not a substitute for personalized legal advice and should be considered an introduction to these matters, not a specific guide.

By Sheryl Hunter Esquire

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