Q: I have been in the income tax business for 18 years, and this year I have just stepped out on my own. Now I need a name for my tax service business. Can you give me any ideas?

A: Choosing the right name for your business is a daunting task for many new entrepreneurs because there is so much at stake. Does your name stand out to prospects and customers? Or does your business get lost in the crowd? Does your name communicate the right message? Or does it inadvertently keep prospects from calling you?

To simplify the process of generating a name for your new venture, begin with a brainstorming session, asking yourself the following questions. This exercise will help you get ideas on paper so you have something to work with.

  • Who exactly are my target customers?
  • What problems do I help solve for them?
  • What words or phrases appeal to them?
  • What are the three to five most attractive benefits my business brings to customers?
  • Are there word pictures or metaphors that communicate what I do that would be relevant to my customers?
  • What names do my competitors go by? What kind of name would differentiate me in the marketplace?

Your answers to these questions serve as "raw data" from which you begin to formulate a list of five to 10 possible names.

Evaluating Your Names
Once you've generated your list, how do you narrow it down to the names that possess the most potential? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Does the name appeal to my target customers? Get feedback from customers or potential customers. What names appeal to them the most?
  • Does the name give me room to expand, or is it limiting? For example, the name "Press Release Services" would be confusing to prospects if the owner were looking to expand services to include Web site copywriting, bylined articles or any form of writing beyond press releases. The assumption is that this company only does press releases.
  • Does the name distinguish me in the marketplace? An example here is a high-tech attorney firm in Atlanta. Most attorney firms are named according to their partners' last names, such as "Brock & Clay." But when Evelyn Ashley launched her law firm, she came up with something very different. She named her firm "The Red Hot Law Group of Ashley." This name has become a highly recognizable brand throughout the Southeast and has helped generate dozens of PR opportunities.
  • Is the name "too cute"? You want to avoid using cute puns or phrases in your name, which may be confusing to customers if they don't understand what you mean. This is especially important to avoid if you want to project a highly professional image.
  • Is the name simple to spell? If it's not, people will be much less inclined to send you referrals or log on to your Web site. Make things as easy as possible for your customers, prospects and referral sources.
  • Does the name elicit pride and enthusiasm within me? Choose a name that makes you beam with excitement when you talk about your business. Prospects will notice your enthusiasm and want to do business with you.

Making Sure It's Available
After you've shortened your list to one or two "winners," how do you find out whether the name is available? One of the first places to start is the US Patent and Trademark Office. To check out available Web site domain names, log on to www.networksolutions.comor www.icann.org.

Sean Lyden is the CEO of Prestige Positioning (a service of The Professional Writing Firm Inc.), an Atlanta-based firm that "positions" clients as leading experts in their field-through ghost-written articles and books for publication. Clients include Morgan Stanley, IFG Securities, SunTrust Service Corp. and several professional advisory and management consulting firms nationwide.


The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.