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The Art of Naming Your Business

Naming your business should be enjoyable, but for some entrepreneurs, it is stressful. What if you pick the wrong name? While it is smart to be cautious, it is nothing to get overly concerned about. The important thing to realize is that your business name will become your alter ego, so you have to pick a name that reflects well upon you and your business.

How do you pick a great name? You have three options: You can pick a clear name, you can pick an obscure name, or you can hire a business to come up with a name.

The first method is to pick a name that says exactly what your business is and/or what benefits people will get by choosing it. This is my favorite technique as it’s hard to go wrong.

Begin with what your business is going to do and what image you are trying to create.

Begin with what your business is going to do and what image you are trying to create. Both must either be in the actual name of the business or at least reflected in the name, so that when people hear it, they know what you are offering. Using this method, you would pick a name that quickly explains what the business is: Mr. Plumber, or Borders Bookstore and Café, or CompUSA.

Alternatively, you might want the business name to express the benefits that people will get by patronizing the business – think Jiffy Lube or Quickee Mart or Baja Fresh.

If you want to name the business yourself after a benefit, I recommend that you answer the following questions:

  • What sort of business are you starting?
  • What will be the distinguishing characteristics of the business?
  • What benefits will people get by coming to the business?
  • List five adjectives that will describe the business:
  • What are the good and bad things about those names?

Based on the above, come up with five possible names for you business. After you come up with five names that you really like, get some feedback from people you trust; they may not think your name is as good as you think it is. Remember, your home-based business has to serve a market need, and so finding out what the market thinks about your proposed business name, even in a small and informal way, is smart.

As you settle on one, be sure the name is not already in local use and it is not too similar to that of a competitor. Try and pick one that is catchy and memorable; alliteration often works well.

When Nolan Bushnell started his home-based business, he wanted to name his company Syzygy. Since that name was already taken, he settled on Atari instead.

Be sure too to pick a name that is not difficult to pronounce or spell. When people call directory assistance, you want them to be able to find you. For example, when Nolan Bushnell started his home-based business, he wanted to name his company Syzygy. Luckily, that name was already taken, so he settled on Atari instead (a word used in the Japanese game GO to warn opponents that they are about to be conquered.)

Bushnell was using the second method: Picking a name that is totally unique – think Amazon.com or Xerox. These names are great because they are in fact so unique, and therefore, memorable. The risk though is that while yours may be memorable too, if you can’t afford to get people to remember it, it may just be an odd name. One reason Amazon and Xerox are memorable names is because those companies had the wherewithal to get people to remember them. If you do not have a sizable marketing budget, picking an obscure name can be more of a curse than a blessing.

The last method for creating a winning business name is to hire a business to name it for you. There are companies whose business is to come up with business names. They usually do a great job of coming up with a memorable name, and get paid handsomely for their efforts – $50,000 is not uncommon. For the right business, it may be a smart marketing move, but most home-based businesses are best served by coming up with a name themselves.

The bottom line: Find a few names, get some feedback, and pick one that will catch people’s attention.

 

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About Steve Strauss

Senior small business columnist at USA TODAY and author of 15 books, including The Small Business Bible, Steve is your host here at TheSelfEmployed.com.


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