How to Name Your Business

If you're lucky, you'll end up with three to five business names that pass all your tests. How do you make your final decision?

Recall all your initial criteria. Which name best fits your objectives? Which name most accurately describes the company you have in mind? Which name do you like the best?

Each company arrives at a final decision in its own way. Some entrepreneurs go with their gut or use personal reasons for choosing one name over another. Others are more scientific. Some companies do consumer research or testing with focus groups to see how the names are perceived. Others might decide that their name is going to be most important seen on the back of a truck, so they have a graphic designer turn the various names into logos to see which works best as a design element.

Use any or all of these criteria. You can do it informally: Ask other people's opinions. Doodle an idea of what each name will look like on a sign or on your business stationery. Read each name aloud, paying special attention to the way it sounds if you foresee radio advertising or telemarketing in your future. Professional naming firms devote anywhere from six weeks to six months to the naming process. You probably won't have that much time, but plan to spend at least a few weeks on selecting a name. Once your decision is made, start building your enthusiasm for the new name immediately. Your name is your first step toward building a strong company identity, one that should last you as long as you're in business.

Filing a DBA

Now that you've decided upon a name, do you need to file a DBA? If you're structuring your company as a sole proprietorship or a partnership, a dba ("doing business as") or fictitious business name allows you to legally do business under your new business name (rather than your own name). You may be required by the county, city or state to register your fictitious name.

Procedures for doing this vary among states. In many states, all you have to do is go to the county offices and pay a registration fee to the county clerk. In other states, you also have to place a fictitious name notice in a local newspaper for a certain amount of time. The cost of filing a fictitious name notice ranges from $10 to $100. Your local bank may also require a fictitious name certificate to open a business account for you; if that's the case, they can tell you where to go to register. In most cases, the newspaper that prints your fictitious name ad will also file the necessary papers with the county.

In most states, corporations don't have to file fictitious business names unless the corporations do business under names other than their own. For example, using dbas allows your corporation to run several businesses without creating separate legal entities for each one. But if you've just got one business that's a corporation, incorporation documents have the same effect as fictitious name filings do for sole proprietorships and partnerships.

This article is excerpted from Start Your Own Business: The Only Start-Up Book You'll Ever Need by Rieva Lesonsky and the Staff of Entrepreneur magazine, Business Startups magazine and Entrepreneur.com.

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