How to Select the Right Name for Your Business

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Drive through any rural town and you will see that many local businesses are still named after their owners. "Walker's Drugstore" and "Carl's Café" monikers are still common in these areas, but for most new businesses, naming it after yourself is not always the best bet.

Many rural American towns are frozen in time -- they are part of a micro-economy that has little room for growth and, in many cases, are on their way out. Most budding entrepreneurs are not looking to start a business in this vein, so most startups should avoid using their own name as the business name.

There are a number of exceptions in which using your own name is really the best marketing option. If you are a well-known expert in your field and customers will be driven to purchase your product because of your name, by all means, use your own name. Artists, such as clothes designers and painters, use their own names for obvious reasons and customers come to identify styles by the artists' names.

Small construction firms are also named after the owner, though most national and international startups are getting away from that trend. Doctors, lawyers and accountants incorporate under their own name, but again, they are counting on their positive reputation to drive sales. If your business idea does not rely on your current reputation to succeed, consider developing a more descriptive way to identify your venture.

One problem with using your name as the business name is that it doesn't tell your potential customers anything about what you do. "Smith, Inc." could sell anything from pencil top erasers to luxury yachts. Even "Smith's Boats" isn't great for setting you apart from the competition. That business could sell anything from scale models to ocean liners. A name like Rivercraft Boats, on the other hand, offers the image of mid-sized, well-made boats for use on, well, rivers.

Selecting the right name for your business is not as easy as it used to be. Even 20 years ago, whatever name you liked could probably be used, even if another company in a different industry had the same name.

With the advent of the world wide web, your options are far more limited. Every new business needs an online presence, and your best bet is to have a domain name that matches your business name. With over 100 million domain names already in use, finding a business you like that is also available online is more difficult.

Develop your business name by brainstorming words and terms that describe your business and industry. Mix and match your favorites until you come up with three or four that represent the image you want to present. Check whether these names are available as a domain name. If you are serving a local area, consider adding a state or city to the name to increase the odds of finding the domain name for your favorite business name.

Just remember that any change you make should be used consistently across all of your marketing materials. If your business name is Acme Designs, that is what your customers will search for online. If your web address must be AcmeDesignsNY, use that full name on all of your marketing materials.

Once you find two or three names that you are happy with, run them by your friends and family for some feedback. Sometimes entrepreneurs are too close to the project to see problems with a name. For example, Chevrolet's Nova brand from the 1970's was very popular in the US, but they couldn't sell any south of the border. Guess why? Because "no va" means no go in Spanish. Seriously. Apparently nobody on the Chevy team was aware of that. So, ask around and listen to the feedback.

What you name your business is ultimately a personal choice. You will be saying, writing and hearing that name millions of times over the life of the business, so it is important that you like the sound of it yourself. Unless you have a good reason for doing so, don't use your own name. Instead, develop a business name that is reflective of the product you offer and the image you want to project. Keep it simple, easy to spell and pronounce, and logically related to what you do.

Choosing a business name is a big step on the road to entrepreneurship. The name you choose will be your customers' first introduction to your business and how they refer others to you. Your entire brand will be built around the word or words you choose, so be sure they encompass the image you are planning to build.

Be sure to match your domain name as closely as possible to your business name and keep your marketing consistent across your marketing efforts. Put in the time to develop the right name so that your business gets off to the right start!

About the Author-K. MacKillop, a serial entrepreneur with a JD from Duke, is founder of LaunchX and authors a blog focused on starting a business. The LaunchX System includes choosing a name for your business as part of the step-by-step business startup process. Take the free Business Readiness Assessment and get on the road to business startup today.

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