If you're just starting up, one of the first -- and most important -- decisions you'll make is what to name your business.
It sounds easy enough. Make up a funny name like Google or Yahoo, and you're in business. But nothing is ever that clear cut. Branding, in particular, is often a tricky exercise and there are many pitfalls to avoid along the way.
Here are four tips to help you get started:
1. Settle on a tone.
In choosing a name that's representative of your brand, you have to first define yourself. You already know what service you provide, or what value you offer the world, but now is the time to establish how you're going to convey that to your audience. Are you playful and lighthearted? Cool and rebellious? Serious and highbrow? These considerations need to be taken into account from the beginning because they will heavily influence your naming strategy.
2. Research is key.
Before committing to a brand name, make sure to cover your bases by doing some thorough research. On a very basic level, check that the domain and social-profile usernames are available for the name you've chosen. If they are, be sure to claim them before announcing your new name.
You should also do a basic trademark search to find out if anyone else already holds the trademark for your preferred name. If yes, it's probably a good idea to abandon the name in question and start brainstorming again. If no, register the trademark for yourself to be on the safe side.
3. English isn't the only language.
If you plan to expand your business abroad someday, you should do your best to account for that in your initial naming and branding strategy. As such, avoid names and slogans which are offensive in the languages in which you'll one day do business.
If you do expand abroad, make sure any and all translations are top notch. Otherwise, you may end up asking your customers to "Eat your fingers off!" rather than proclaiming that your chicken is "Finger-lickin' good," as KFC had the misfortune to do when they expanded to China.
Related: The Logo Mishaps of Giant Brands
4. Feedback is your best friend.
When it comes to naming and other significant brand decisions, always be sure to solicit feedback from employees, customers and users. They will often be brutally honest in their responses, and their feedback can help you identify previously unforeseen issues or negative associations.
What's your best naming advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? Let us know in the comments section.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.
Alanna Francis is the Director of Marketing at Blue Fountain Media, a digital agency in New York City. Alanna leads a department of 18 marketers and consults with clients regarding digital strategy and online presence. Her writing has been featured in Mashable and Business2Community, as well as on Blue Fountain Media's blog, the ROI Factor.