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What's in a Business Name

One of the questions I get asked about the most when I meet new clients or network is about my business name Virtual Satsuma Ltd. I have even had potential clients contact me – just because they like the name. My business name took exactly 2 minutes to come up with – for years, my oldest son has said “You are as edgy as a satsuma”, a line from the Might Boosh - which we all loved. The virtual bit was easy – I am a virtual assistant – so we married the two and became ‘Virtual Satsuma Ltd’. But how do you go about naming your business – this seems to be a common question. I love my company name - I am not sure if it is a great example of a good name - but once heard never forgotten.

Think about what you want the name to convey.

Your company’s name is an important part of your company’s identity. The name will appear on business cards, your letterhead and website, promotional materials and more, to identify your company and its products and/or services.

Service-oriented businesses should consider whether prospective customers will find it easy to recognize what services the business provides, based on its name (example: Friendly Dog Walkers, Bright Accounting or Quickly Legal).

Brainstorm to identify possible names.

Once you understand what you want your company name to convey, set aside some time to brainstorm. Think about words that describe your industry or the products or services you offer.

Consider words that describe your competitors and words that describe the differences between your and your competitors' products and services. Also, consider words that describe the benefits of using your products or services. While brainstorming, look up Greek and Latin translations of your words -- you might find new ideas from that exercise. Look at foreign words, too (Swahili is often a great choice).

Expect this process to take some time.

Keep the name short, simple and easy to write and remember.

The companies you admire typically have names that are short, simple, and easy to write and remember. (Think: Apple, Chanel, Virgin, Amazon).

Obscure business names are often difficult to write and even more so to remember. This is a problem for small businesses especially, as word-of-mouth advertising is their most successful form of marketing. If your customers can’t remember your name, can’t spell it, or properly pronounce it for others, they won't be able to help promote your business. For years I pronounced Huawei as Hawaii… So, think about where your business will work, is it easy to say your company name in that county.

Don’t forget to consider the acronym of your company name – make sure the acronym is appropriate.

You might not use an acronym, but your customers might refer to your business that way. Just be careful: A side business like "Apple Support Services" can result in an unfavourable acronym: ASS.

Avoid names that are too narrow or literal.

Think about how your business may evolve over time and make sure that the company name can evolve, too. For example, if you name your company "iPhone Accessories" and later expand to sell accessories for other products, your original name will be too narrow and restrictive.(Apple might also take a dim view of your using its product name in your name.)

The same advice applies even if your company sells a niche product. For example, if you sell antique lamps, consider whether in the future, you might sell more than lamps. Naming your business "Jean’s Antique Lamps" may be too limiting once you later start selling antique clocks and furniture.

Avoid decisions by committee, but “test” your name with others.

It’s tempting to involve friends, family, employees, and customers in finding a name for your company. Sometimes, this can work out well. But there are risks.

People might be upset if you don’t pick a name, they think is great. You’ll also find that trying to reach consensus can lead to a very plain name. If you must involve other people, pick a small group who understand you and your business (and include a mix of right- and left-brain types so that you can have some variety).

Once you’ve selected a few possible choices, share them with a few trusted friends, family, and customers to get feedback about the name.

Avoid plain words.

Plain words make it difficult to differentiate your company from your competitors'.

There are exceptions. General Electric is made up of two plain names. But it was one of the first companies in its product/service category and so was able to get away with a plain name by spending millions of dollars on marketing and advertising.

Be careful with geographic names.

Some people use their town or city as part of their company name. If you plan to work only in this city, a geographic name might serve you well. But it could hinder you later.

Avoid obscure words.

Company names that help tell stories can be powerful and memorable (think about Google, for example). But obscure words or references might be difficult to spell or pronounce. Be especially sensitive if you’re trying to reach a mass audience, such as one on the internet. Obscure or invented names can work – Xerox is a great example – but this often requires a huge marketing budget and tremendous effort.

Avoid trends.

You’ll want your company’s name to evolve as trends evolve, so be careful to identify trends and to avoid following them. For example, in the late 1990s, it was trendy to use “.com” after your company name if your company was an internet business. Then the internet “bubble” burst, and “.com” became synonymous with having no business model at all.

The companies that survived quickly dropped the “.com” from their names.

Consider whether you can register a domain.

It’s important to make sure that your competitors are not using the same name. Certainly, it’s not uncommon to find similar, or even identical, names in different industries, but this can cause confusion for customers and vendors.

If your competitors are using the same name, you'll also expose yourself to possible litigation and likely be unable to obtain trademark protection for your company name.

So, look for one that is also available for registration as a domain (ideally, a .com domain). This is not easy because .com domains are very popular, and you’ll struggle to find available domains that match your company name. So, don’t decide on the company name until you have checked you can purchase the domain name.

Today, URLs are becoming less important because most people are searching online and clicking on links. But it’s still important that your URL be short, easy to pronounce and easy to spell. And, whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of operating under one name but having a URL pointing to a completely different name.

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