How to Get a Great Business Name & Own It
Welcome Natalia Sylvester of Inky Clean, freelancer and novelist I’ve followed admiringly for months on Twitter. Both her freelance and creative writing careers have taken off, fueled as much by her ambition as her power over words, and I’m thrilled to have her share a tiny piece of her success with you. Read on for useful resources, find and own that great name you’re after, and don’t forget to follow Natalia on Twitter.
For some reason, people really like my business name. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met someone and they’ve said “Great name!” followed by “How did you come up with that?”
I wish I could say I came up with it the right way. That I first came up with a naming brief, and then a list of potential names, and then I held focus groups to see how they were perceived, and then, when I finally narrowed it down to a few, I checked to make sure they weren’t yet trademarked.
The truth is I didn’t do any of that. I didn’t exactly pull the name out of thin air, either, but I sure learned a lot about the process through trial and error. Here are my Do’s and Don’ts for naming your business and making sure you own that name.
Don’t think typing random names into your URL bar counts as research for which names are available. I’ll admit I did this, when what I should have been doing was checking the USPTO’s database to make sure the name wasn’t already trademarked. I’ve heard horror stories of people who used a URL and company name for years…only to have someone else send them a cease and desist because they, in fact, owned the trademark.
Do give a lot of thought to who your target audience is and how you want to be perceived. When coming up with my name, I knew I wanted something fun and quirky, because I wanted to work with clients who were looking for that kind of writing style.
Don’t just leave it as a thought: write it down. Come up with a naming brief that takes into account your market, your company’s history and future goals, your competition and how you’d like to stand out from them, and what story you want your name to tell.
Do consider how the name will look in all its forms. Keep in mind that there’s no room for spaces in URLs, or when you scrunch the letters together for a Twitter handle. Sometimes those spaces make all the difference between a great name and an unfortunate one. (For example, I still cringe when I see links to Who Represents: Whorepresents.com.)
Don’t purposely misspell names or get clever with numbers without giving it a lot of thought first. When done wrong, this can cause a lot of miscommunication and confusion. If the name is misspelled in a way that doesn’t stick in a person’s mind, they may have trouble finding your company online or contacting you. And until your brand is established, you might find yourself spelling the name out a lot (“that’s P as in penny, H as in hat, I as is…eye.”).
Do think about how the name will sound out loud. Place yourself in the future, on a very busy day because business is booming. The phone rings and you say “Thank you for calling so-and-so Coffee, how can I help you?” Except you’re kind of in a hurry and it sounds more like “so-so Coffee” so now your clients are thinking of “so-so” as in quality. What if the name ends up sounding more like a tongue-twister? Might not be so good for word of mouth.
Don’t ask friends and family if they like your new business name. Instead, ask them questions that will actually help you, like what the name conveys to them. Not every business has a budget for a focus group, and that’s okay. Instead, check out these tips for DIY-ers from naming expert Nancy Friedman on how to get real, useful feedback on potential names.
And finally, do get legal advice before filing for your trademark. It’s not a cheap process, and it can become even more expensive with a few, easily avoidable mishaps. If you don’t have the budget to hire a trademark lawyer, there are other alternatives. Most cities have resource centers for small businesses, like a local SCORE chapter, where you can attend workshops and learn about trademark and copyrights. Before I filed for my trademark, I paid $30 and spent two hours at a workshop that gave me enough guidance to navigate the process on my own.
Are you in the process of naming or renaming your business? What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered?
Natalia Sylvester is the founder of Inky Clean, a copywriting and editing firm in Austin, Texas, that helps startups, entrepreneurs and small business owners build their brand with the right words. She blogs about why business writing should never be boring at The Copywriter’s Soapbox and Tweets from @NataliaSylv.
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This is one of the most thorough articles written on trademarking a brand and how you get to that point. Really good work!
Your last point is so right on, Natalia. I went through this exercise with a recruiting & consulting firm. What happens is that nobody ends up liking anything OR you end up with some generic, non-descriptive name. You have to have the right people be a part of the process.
Thanks, Jenn. Great point about involving other people. As a small business owner and sole proprietor, I know how personal naming your business can feel (not quite the same as naming a child, but I have heard the comparison being made). Ultimately it's about so much more than choosing a name that sounds nice or a name that you're attached to.
I used to submit entries on CrowdSPRING, but stopped a ways back because they aren't worth the time. (That's another blog post on here somewhere actually). Most of the projects for writers are naming projects. And a large percentage of those closed out without the clients choosing any of the hundreds of names submitted. Having the right people is essential, and having a good dialogue to focus it (which is hard to do when dealing with hundreds of professionals on a crowd-source site like that, even though it has the capability) is just as essential to finding the right name.