Naming your small business can be a lot like naming a baby. Sometimes you just know well in advance, and sometimes you agonize over the decision to find the perfect Goldilocks fit that’s “just right.” And regardless, everyone has an opinion, and not always a good one. Take my recent suggestion of the name “Lincoln” to a preggy friend after completely forgetting her last name was Park. Her withering reply: “Really, Olga?” …
… Given that my expertise lies in marketing and branding, I approach choosing a business name from the Goldilocks “awesome fit” perspective:
- Does the communication of the small business name choice clearly indicate the product or service you’re offering?
- What does the business name evoke through emotional and other connotation cues?
We recently answered an Ask Olga question from Kimberly Sanchez, the proprietor of the Long Beach bakery now known as Sweet Dixie Kitchen. Kim wanted to know how to promote her eatery and drive in more foot traffic. One somewhat surprising admission from Kim was that she had undergone three name changes in the short time since launch, which, among other things, made promotion a fit of starts and stops.
There are many reasons that a new business owner may decide to rename their baby:
- The name may not effectively convey the product offerings, bringing in the wrong customer demographics.
- The name may not convey the breadth of product offerings, one reason Kim likes her ultimate choice of “kitchen” over “bakery,” which she feels more accurately communicates that her shop offers much more than just sweets.
- According to superfriend and lawyerfriend of mine, Caroline Rath, “New business owners may also rename due to potential trademark infringement claims by an already existing business. Trademark owners have to actively police possible unauthorized use of their intellectual property, or possibly lose their rights. So plaintiffs tend to be extra vigilant about perceived encroachment and that much more legally aggressive." Attorney-to-English translation: Valid or otherwise, an adverse trademark claim can turn into a extremely expensive legal problem for a new business owner, sometimes making it wise to cut bait and rename.
- Finally, new entrepreneurs may find their business name is confusingly similar to a geographically close organization in another industry, another problem Kim ran into. For her, this meant fielding a lot of calls looking for the down-low on a local soup kitchen at an area homeless shelter.
Yikes! Problems like this equal wasted time and money from changes in signage, marketing collaterals, your website, etc., not to mention crazy legal fees should an infringement claim arise. These are the types of lessons small business owners tend to find out the dreaded hard way – through bruising experience.
It’s nearly impossible to anticipate every possible worst-case-scenario in the exhilarating and exhausting process of starting a small business. However, Google can help. A lot.
How to save thyself from pain:
- Put your top name choices in quotation marks and straight-up web search each one.
- Make sure no one else in the same industry has already set up shop under the same (or a substantially similar) name. Clear enterprise names but consider other related trademarks as well. To give an example, in 2010, a company that sold bakery management software called Cake Boss at its website cakeboss.com secured an injunction against the identically named TLC TV show Cake Boss. Same name + related industry = possible problem.
- Then, test out as many similar names as you can think of. Try this trick over at domain name registrar Go Daddy and/or domain name lookup engine WhoIs.net.
- Then head over to Google maps to test those name choices in your larger region and then very local area.
- Try out any key words featured in your new business name to see any and all other business concerns in your vicinity that may sport similar titles, deflecting business away from you or pushing unwanted traffic your way.
If we waited for everything to be 100% perfect before moving forward in life, snails would regularly beat us. But definitely take extra vetting time when choosing a name for your small business; it will hopefully save a lot of headaches and moolah in the long run.
Have a different question? Bring it on!