Having a baby, forming a band, starting a small business: what do these great life events have in common? The pressure to find the perfect name! This part can be the most fun—brainstorming to your heart’s content and letting your imagination run wild before settling down to business.
But much like a child or a band, naming your business has serious implications. Once chosen, it becomes part of your identity and can be difficult, though not impossible, to change.
What’s in a name? A message to your target market. Whether you are at a blank slate or already have some ideas to work with, here is some help on finding a name that’s perfect for your business.
#1 Who are you? Define your business personality
You may already have considered the personality you want your business to project as part of writing a business plan, but it’s worth making sure you are clear on this. Play some mind games to help you define your business character. Jot down some defining attributes: passionate, inspired, quirky, expert, serious, reliable … You can also think of concepts that match your business persona: celebration, practicality, craftsmanship, problem-solving, innovation… If you struggle expressing your inner thoughts, grab a dictionary or a thesaurus; you definitely wouldn’t be the first to find the perfect name for your business that way. If you’re more of a visual thinker, make a simple sketch. Is your business male or female? Smiling or stern? Business suit or casual gear? What about an animal? You get the picture.
#2 The power of a simple business name
The perfect name for your business could be as simple as your own name. In a service industry, a plain name can carry more authority and trustworthiness than something whimsical or overly generic. Combining your name with a simple statement of what you do, e.g. “Beverly Jones Carpentry” or “James Smith the Mobile Chef”, could be all it takes. If you want to be even more pragmatic and go for the “what it says on the tin” approach, consider incorporating your town, city or area into the business name. It may not set off fireworks for those who see it on the side of your van, but at least it anchors you and shows where you belong.
#3 Using your own name for your business: some downsides
The simple approach is not without merit, but mind the potential pitfalls. Limiting yourself to your own name could devalue your brand if you ever sell your business on. Likewise, specifying what you do as part of your business name has the obvious danger of your activities outgrowing your name as you expand operations and branch out. This should not put you off simplicity; it’s merely one of the things to consider when starting your own business.
#4 A successful business name could be an acronym or pun, but be careful
Sometimes an acronym suggests itself and the result is smart, memorable and a perfect name for a small business. But acronyms that squeeze themselves into the desired “word” can look forced and clumsy. Take Grangefield Enterprises New Intelligence Unusual Solutions—not really too clever, is it? On the other hand, if you are considering a name consisting of multiple words, make sure to check the resulting acronym, and check again—Fairleigh Optical Outlets Lab could make you feel silly. By the same token, it is always worth checking foreign or slang meanings to avoid future problems. Puns, deliberate misspellings and foreign words can work brilliantly, as long as you’re sure that your solution is memorable and easy to find using search engines.
#5 Take note of what’s not allowed in a name for your business
You can’t use the word "Limited" as part of your official name unless you are in fact a limited company, as this would be misleading. Also off-limits: words that imply a connection to government, a national role or some kind of endorsement—think "British", "Royal", "National" and words like "Corporation", "Institution" or plc. It goes without saying that a company name that includes offensive terms cannot be registered either.
#6 Checking the availability of the perfect name for your business
Before you start investing valuable resources on design, domain names, websites or signage, you need to check that your chosen name is available. This might be simpler than you think. You can check online business directories, most notably the Companies House WebCHeck service. If your name is not unique, it is not necessarily a problem unless the other business is geographically close to you, or if they are a national business. You will also need to do a quick online search on government websites to ensure no other company has registered your proposed business name as a trade mark. If that happens to be the case, sadly, it’s back to the drawing board.
#7 Getting around the problem of a duplicate business name
If you’ve really set your heart on a particular name that is already taken, you could take the "trading as" route. You wouldn’t be the first: by the last count, there were at least 55 "Mr Chips" fish and chip shops in the UK, with "The Codfather" a close runner-up. In this case, you could simply register a unique business name (such as your own name or a variation thereof) followed by "Trading As"; the correct name, however, must always be displayed on business documentation and signage.
#8 Does the perfect business name double as a domain name?
The first preoccupation of many entrepreneurs, when it comes to finding the perfect business name, is whether it will be search engine-friendly and if a domain name is available. Short domain names, you will probably find, are usually already taken or held by speculators. Our advice: don’t worry too much about this, or about being a dot-com either. Plenty of start-ups may become dot-coms further down the road, but it’s probably premature to start limiting yourself to what’s available. A domain name that is descriptive of your business, rather than its exact replica, may just do. Other workarounds include personalized domain extensions, or a domain combining your business name and locale—think "mobilechefmanchester.com".
#9 Your perfect business name in print, both small and large
There are other practical aspects to how a successful business name works as marketing tool. How does it sound when you answer the phone? How will it look on your invoices and business cards? Can you do anything interesting with the shape of the letters themselves? Most important of all, how will you promote it with one of the best marketing tools available: emblazoned on the side of your van? It’s an important consideration whatever your transport, but if you have a panel sided van like the Renault Trafic or the Renault Master, you have a ready-made mobile billboard (and, traffic being what it is, sometimes you have a captive audience too.)
#10 Any other formalities after choosing your business name?
If you are a sole trader, you don’t need to register your business name with Companies House; this is only required if you’re setting up a limited company. All you need to do is to register with HMRC that you are self-employed. Easy as that. You may, at a later date, decide to become a limited company, or to register your name as a trade mark.
Now you’re in business. What was that name again?