How to choose the right name for your small business

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What’s in a name? Well, quite a lot, actually.

Most entrepreneurs will tell you that picking the perfect business name is like naming your first child. You’re going to want the name to feel right, like a part of your business baby’s identity. After all, you’ll have to say it, print it, write it, and preach it until it’s at least 18. (Kidding, though 18 years of business is definitely a good goal.)

There can be a lot of pressure and hand-wringing when it comes to landing on the perfect name for your business. Take some comfort in the fact that you have a little bit of flexibility. You can change your business name later or file for a trade name (often called a “doing business as” or “DBA”) if you need to.

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That being said, finding the right fit from the start is rewarding, and it can save you a lot of headaches and administrative nightmares later.

Unfortunately, they don’t make baby name books for small businesses, but that’s why we wrote this for you. Consider this your complete guide to exploring your options and finding the perfect name for your brand-new company.

 

If you want to start your small business right and reduce your chances of failing, you’re in luck. All across the country, there are experts who have seen firsthand what business owners often do wrong—and right—and can help you avoid similar mistakes.

Experts from the nation’s 63 Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) are more than happy to share their advice for starting and growing a business successfully. They work with entrepreneurs every day, providing free and low-cost consulting. Collectively, SBDCs help a new business launch every 31 minutes, and provide more than 1.3 million hours of consulting services to entrepreneurs annually.

To get you started, we’ve asked some of these advisors to share their best tips for new businesses.

 

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“Know your customer,” advises Lee Lambert, director of the Alameda County SBDC in Oakland, California. “To succeed as an entrepreneur, you must know your customer and what they want; it’s the key to success. Spend time doing some grassroots marketing, and go out to talk to your customers before you start the business, and continuously solicit their feedback after that,” he suggests. “Doing this will help you build stronger, longer-lasting customer relationships.”

 

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While you are doing your research, make sure you analyze the competition, says Tamela Darnell, management consultant for the Kentucky Small Business Development Center. “Many entrepreneurs think they don’t have any competitors and that is not the case,” she says. “You have direct and indirect competitors.”

 

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Some business owners will launch with a distinct vision of their unique niche, but for others the path to success may not be so clear. If you’re in the latter group, remain open-minded and cast a wider net, suggests Enrique Romero, regional director of the University of Texas of the Permian Basin SBDC. “You will eventually find your niche market by working through as many customers as possible, and find a certain customer base that will stick.”

 

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Do your homework before you launch, recommends Robert Bahn, lead business consultant with the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center. He sometimes sees clients who think that they can launch a business as long as they have enough money to cover rent and opening costs. “Then they wonder where are all the customers?” he says. Whether it’s market research or information on how to prepare for and get business financing, there are plenty of resources available to help you prepare before you start your business.

 

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What if your problem is that you have too many good ideas? Beware of spreading yourself too thin, says Marelena Sandy, program manager for the Illinois SBDC at College of DuPage. “Trying to make all of your business ideas effectively work at one time is simply not attainable,” she says. She recommends you use a feasibility checklist to figure out which one works best for you. “What’s the market like? Your competitors? Do you have experience?” These are just some of the questions you need to ask. “Make one idea successfully work, and then decide whether you want to take on another venture,” she recommends.

 

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Start with as clean a financial slate as possible before you launch, urges Romero. “Begin to get your ducks in a row,” he says. That includes reviewing and working on your credit, “saving money and [getting] up-to-date on your finances, including your taxes,” he says. “Why? Because as a new business owner, it will be tough road ahead and you don’t need a lot of baggage holding you back.”

 

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Speaking of money, you need to start with enough funds to cover expenses until you break even, and you’ll want to make smart decisions to protect your finances andyour business credit.

 

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If you get financing, whether from a credit card, bank, or family member, be careful warns Bahn. Being “stupid with your own money” is one thing, he says, “but when you have members of your family giving you money to start a business, then treat it as someone else’s money.” It’s the same as getting a loan, he explains. It needs to be paid back.

 

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He also says it’s important to project the path to profitability. “Most business owners want to make money, but you need to know when you expect to break even,” he says. “This way when you do not meet the timeline, you have to make some big decisions, one of which is to shut down.”

 

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“Spreadsheets are your friends,” says Sandy. “Make a list of startup and operational costs, keep track of what you are spending, organize your contacts, and by all means, keep them up-to-date,” she urges.

 

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As you market your business, remember everything you do has a cost. An example: social media. It’s not free, warns Darnell. “You pay with either your time or money,” she says. “It takes time to build a social media presence as a startup.”

 

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Know when to get help. Too many entrepreneurs try to do everything themselves. “You will have a tremendous amount of responsibilities” warns Sandy. “Time management will be key to accomplishing majority of your tasks, (but also) take a step back and determine if it is time to hire someone and/or individuals onboard to assist.”

 

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Find mentors who can “help you to navigate the myriad challenges that come with being a business owner,” advises Lambert. Research from the Small Firms Economic Development Initiative found that 70% of small businesses that receive mentoring survive more than five years–double the rate of non-mentored businesses.”

 

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And above all, “Be open to learning, learning and learning,” Romero says. “You will make mistakes, lots of them. Learn from those mistakes, move forward and improve on those mistakes.”

 

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3 steps for choosing a business name

Business names are typically between only one and four words, but you still want them to say something about what you’re all about.

Think of companies like Amazon, Nike, Apple, or Zoom. Their business names may only be one word, but combined with a great brand, those common words are a full identity.

Take a deep breath—most small business owners will be rightfully intimidated at the prospect of filling Amazon’s or Apple’s shoes. Fortunately, that isn’t necessary. They’re simply examples of how much power lies in a great name.

Ready to land on your own moniker for your new business?

Step #1: Brainstorming

There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned brainstorm. Truth is, you’ll need to come up with a lot of name ideas before you land on a company name that feels right. Trust the process.

Ideally, a good business name will be:

  • Memorable: You want your business name to stick for your target audience.
  • Easy to pronounce: You don’t want your customers to go cross-eyed trying to figure out how to talk about your business to other people.
  • Unique: Generic names can be appealing because they often check the “memorable” and “easy to pronounce” boxes. But ultimately, your business name should be as unique as your business itself.
  • Representative of your brand: Your brand identity carries a lot of weight here, so make sure you think about what sort of image you want your name to portray. For example, if you’re opening an upscale brunch restaurant, a name like The Waffle Wagon probably doesn’t match your desired aesthetic.

Now that you know what criteria you’re working toward, start by reflecting on some questions and jot your answers down on your notepad. These questions include:

  • Where were you when you were struck with the inspiration to start your business?
  • What are some people, places, or things that are meaningful to you and your business?
  • Is there a certain person who inspired you to start your business?
  • What are some things you want your business to be known for?
  • What pain points do you solve for your target customers?

Those will get the creative juices flowing and help you start piecing some names together. But, if you’re still feeling stuck, you can turn to an online business name generator to get your wheels turning. A few popular ones are:

Most name generators require that you enter a keyword or two that you want your business to include. That’s why it’s smart to begin with those reflection questions to get a few starting points.

Step #2: Searching

You’ve spent the time brainstorming and you’ve come up with one—or maybe even a few—potential names for your new business.

Next you’ll need to do a bit more legwork to ensure that name is free and clear for you to use without any extra headaches or hassles. Here are a few sites you should visit to check the availability of your desired business name:

  • Secretary of state: Most secretary of state offices have a business search function online. There you can type in a business name and see if a business structure with that name is already registered in your state. Using a duplicate name might not only violate trademarks (which we’ll get to next), but it can also cause a lot of confusion for customers.
  • Trademark database: Business names can be trademarked and, if you violate that, you could face a lawsuit. So avoid hot water by doing your due diligence up front. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office maintains a database where you can search trademarks and see if your desired business name comes up.
  • Domain names: There’s nothing worse than landing on the perfect business name only to discover that there aren’t any relevant and available domain names. Start by typing the URL you’d use for your business name into the address bar of your browser. If nothing comes up, it could be available. But you should still visit a domain name registrar (like Google Domains or GoDaddy) to search for your domain name. Make sure it’s actually available and isn’t a completely unreasonable price.
  • Social media: Turn to social media to make sure the handles you’d want to use with that business name are available. This might sound like a trivial step, but you want your social media handles to be close to your business name. That way, people can easily find you, tag you, and more.
  • Google search: Finally, it’s worth doing a straightforward search for your business name to see what comes up. You’d hate for the name you choose to be affiliated with something inappropriate without your knowledge.

Do you have a business name that you feel good about and passed all of these tests? Let’s move on to the final step.

Step #3: Questioning

Remember, naming your business is a big decision, and it’s smart to do a gut check. This will help you narrow your choices or confirm that the one name you landed on is the one you actually want to stick with.

Start on your own by saying the business names you came up with aloud. In fact, say them over and over again. Do you still like them? Can you picture them on business cards? Or on company swag? Or on a website?

Keep in mind that you don’t have to go through this process alone. It’s wise to ask friends, family, industry peers, or other trusted confidants their opinions on the business name or names you’ve come up with. That might reveal a clear winner among your final choices.

Ultimately, choosing a name for your startup is up to you—it’s your business. But it doesn’t hurt to solicit feedback and get different perspectives.

The right business name is out there—you just need to find it

Some small business owners are lucky enough to immediately know what to name their company. But others are left wrestling with the decision.

If you fall into the second camp, rest assured that there’s a better way to find a business name than throwing a dart at a board. (Although you never know. It could work!) Spend a little time brainstorming and workshopping, and you’ll land on a name that’s memorable, available, and does your new business justice.

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This article originally appeared on the QuickBooks Resource Center and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.


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