Thursday, 5 January 2012

Starting Out: What's in a name?

Shakespeare told us that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet...

If you're naming a business, that's just not the case. After all, I doubt Shakespeare had to worry about tradenames and search engine rankings!

A business name can be anything - it can be your name, a description of what you do, or something completely random. The choice is entirely up to you but, before you order your business cards, make sure you've answered these key questions:

1. Is it memorable?
If people are looking for you, are they going to actually remember your name? This is particularly important if you are competing in a big market. It's hard to be loyal to a brand you can't remember!

2. Is it descriptive?
It doesn't have to be, but it is worth thinking about whether a descriptive name will help market your business. "Fashion with Sleeves" leaves nobody in any doubt what I do at Armed & Glamorous... but it is a little boring for a creative, fashion orientated company. On the other hand, a more random name like, for instance "Apple" might need more marketing and explanation eg. "Apple Computers". I've gone for middle ground, using words that connect with my business, but aren't directly descriptive. For MilkChic, I came up with a list of words that I felt connected with my business and then combined them until I had something I liked:

3. Does your name give you room to develop your business?
Try to ensure that you don't name yourself into a corner. Think ambitiously about areas or products you might want to expand into in future - will your name still work? As an example, Apple Electronics gives more scope than Apple Computers... For Amazon, the ultimate one-stop shop, nothing is out of bounds!

4. Is it easy to spell?
I really messed up here! MilkChic is often spelt MilkSheek, MilkSheik, MilkShake, MilkChick etc, etc. Luckily for me, most of these mispellings aren't real words and don't compete with other businesses so still lead to my site on Google. The exception is "milkshake", which gives some interesting results if you've got time to waste... Armed & Glamorous uses a combination of dictionary defined words, so errors are much more easily found by the search engines. Also, is it easy to pronounce? Imagine getting that big break on TV or radio and the presenter getting it wrong!

5. Is anyone else using the same company name?
PLEASE check this. If you don't you may find that you are wasting all your marketing efforts promoting a similar company who is higher on the search engine rankings than you are. Just because they haven't trademarked, doesn't mean that they have no legal protection against copycats. Make every effort to be original - do a web search and check local trade directories.

6. Is it already trademarked?
Always check this out. If you choose a name that someone else has trademarked within your business sector, then you are asking for trouble. You will likely have to change your business name, and worst case, you could find yourself in a serious legal battle.You can search for existing trademarks through the Intellectual Property Office.

7. Do you want to trademark now or in future?
I am personally unsure of the value of trademarking for small businesses. If you feel you are likely to build a brand strong enough for other people to copy (and copy easily), this is something you should consider when choosing a name. Trademarks need to be unique within your sector, so are unlikely to be granted for names which are common in the English language or for words/phrases in common usage. As an example, "Milkshake" could potentially be trademarked as a fashion brand, but would get you nowhere in a food sector. Your best chance of getting a trademark granted is to make up a name or phrase (eg. "Armed & Glamorous" would be more likely to be granted than just "Glamorous") but you should also ensure that there aren't a lot of businesses already trading under similar names who might have an earlier claim.

8. Is the website domain name in use?
I originally wanted to call Armed and Glamorous "Sleeves" - simple, to the point, and great for search engine rankings... but the domain was already taken. Think twice about accepting a long or convoluted domain for the sake of keeping your preferred name.
Most people use the web to find businesses now, so even if you're a local bricks and mortar operation, you will probably want to claim your domain at some point just to have a web presence. Also check variants of your name / mispellings etc. If a common mispelling is going to lead customers to a competitor's site, you may need to rethink. Buying domain names isn't expensive (mine ranged from £2.49-£6.99 per year at 1&1) - if you are lucky enough to find the descriptive name free, why not claim that one too?

9. Are there any social networking conflicts? 
Social networking is a cheap and effective way to promote your business but you don't want to compete with established sites or use different names on every site. Check whether anyone is blogging under your name on Blogger or Wordpress, and search Twitter and Facebook for any obvious conflicts.

10. Who are your competitors for search engine rankings? 
Type the name into a search engine and see what you find. If you don't think your site can realistically compete for rankings in the first 2 pages of the results, change your name!

Last but not least... do the initials / abbreviations spell anything rude or potentially misleading? 
I know it probably wasn't an issue when the Bush family opened our local interior design firm, but since vajazzles hit the UK, I can't drive past "Bush Decorators" without giggling...

With all of these questions, think big. If you might want to trademark when your business goes global, you need to think about it now not when it happens. Can you imagine how traumatic it would be to have to change your brand name once you already have a global operation??

This is the first in a series of posts looking at the steps I took in starting my businesses and will hopefully give other businesses starting out the opportunity to avoid my mistakes! 

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