What you name your business can make or break it-that much you probably know. But do you know how to choose your name? Keep in mind, your decision will impact not only potential customers' first impressions of your business, but also your ongoing success rate. "Think of your name as a marketing tool," advises Terri Lonier, president of homebased business consulting firm Working Solo Inc. in San Francisco.
So before you print up that letterhead and take out an ad in the Yellow Pages, make sure your business name meets the following criteria:
1. It's unique. "Stay away from cute, hokey names-anything that seems hip right now," says Lonier. "You want something that will stand the test of time."
And make sure your name isn't already in use. This isn't just a suggestion; it's illegal for two businesses in the same geographic area to operate under the same name. Check with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to determine whether your business name is already taken. And if you plan to have a Web site, don't settle on a business name until you know whether the matching domain name is taken. Check with ICANN or Network Solutions for more on finding and registering a domain name.
2. It's meaningful, not vague. If you're selling high-tech electronics, you don't want a name like Wacky Widgets. "If your name is totally meaningless, you're going to waste all your marketing money explaining it to the public," says Lonier. That doesn't mean you have to be boring-it's possible to choose a name that's both descriptive and clever.
3. It's easy to live and grow with. "Don't start out too narrow," says Lonier. "Your name should give you room to expand." For instance, if you opened a party store a few years ago and named it Party Like It's 1999, don't be surprised if customers won't set foot in your store this millennium. Think about whether your name will still work several years from now.
4. It's easy to understand and pronounce. People shouldn't have to consult their dictionaries in order to understand what your business name means. Domain names in particular should be easy to spell, understand and remember.
Lonier also recommends showing a list of possible business names to colleagues, friends and family. "It gives you another perspective," she says. "A lot of times you can eliminate a name based on someone's look or their silence over the phone."