Choosing a Name for Your Business

What's in a business name? Plenty. Here's how to choose one that works.

What's in a name? A lot, when it comes to small-businesssuccess. The right name can make your company the talk of the town;the wrong one can doom it to obscurity and failure. If you'resmart, you'll put just as much effort into naming your businessas you did into coming up with your idea, writing your businessplan and selecting a market and location. Ideally, your name shouldconvey the expertise, value and uniqueness of the product orservice you've developed.

Finding a good business name is more difficult than ever. Manyof the best names have already been trademarked. But withadvertising costs and competition on the rise, a good name iscrucial to creating a memorable business image. In short, the nameyou choose can make or break your business.

There's a lot of controversy over what makes a good businessname. Some experts believe that the best names are abstract, ablank slate upon which to create an image. Others think that namesshould be informative, so customers know immediately what yourbusiness is. Some believe that coined names (names that come frommade-up words) are more memorable than names that use real words.Others think most coined names are eminently forgettable. Inreality, any type of name can be effective if it's backed bythe appropriate marketing strategy.

Do It Yourself?
Given all the considerations that go into a good company name,shouldn't you consult an expert, especially if you're in afield in which your company name will be visible and may influencethe success of your business? And isn't it easier to enlist thehelp of a naming professional?

Yes. Just as an accountant will do a better job with your taxesand an ad agency will do a better job with your ad campaign, anaming firm will be more adept at naming your firm than you will.Naming firms have elaborate systems for creating new names, andthey know their way around the trademark laws. They have theexpertise to advise you against bad name choices and explain whyothers are good. A name consultant will take this perplexing taskoff your hands-and do a fabulous job for you in the process.

The downside is cost. A professional naming firm may chargeanywhere from a few thousand dollars to $35,000 or more to developa name. The benefit, however, is that spending this money now cansave you money in the end. Professional namers may be able to finda better name-one that is so recognizable and memorable, it willcut down your costs in the long run. They have the expertise tohelp you avoid legal hassles with trademarks andregistration-problems that can cost you plenty if you end upchoosing a name that already belongs to someone else. And they arefamiliar with design elements, such as how a potential name mightwork on a sign or stationery.

If you can spare the money from your start-up budget,professional help could be a solid investment. After all, the nameyou choose now will affect your marketing plans for the duration ofyour business. If you're like most small-business owners,though, the responsibility for thinking up a name will be all yourown. The good news: By following the same basic steps professionalnamers use, you can come up with a meaningful moniker that works .. . without breaking the bank.

What Does It Mean?
Start by deciding what you want your name to communicate. To bemost effective, your company name should reinforce the key elementsof your business.

Gerald Lewis, whose consulting firm, CDI Designs, specializes inhelping retail food businesses, uses retail as an example. "Inretailing," Lewis explains, "the market is so segmentedthat [a name must] convey very quickly what the customer is goingafter. For example, if it's a warehouse store, it has to conveythat impression. If it's an upscale store selling high-qualityfoods, it has to convey that impression. The name combined with thelogo is very important in doing that." So the first and mostimportant step in choosing a name is deciding what your businessis.

Should your name be meaningful? Most experts say yes. The moreyour name communicates to consumers, the less effort you must exertto explain it. Alan Siegel, chairman and CEO of Siegel & Gale,an international communications firm, believes name developersshould give priority to real words or combinations of words overfabricated words. He explains that people prefer words they canrelate to and understand. That's why professional namersuniversally condemn strings of numbers or initials as a bad choice.On the other hand, it is possible for a name to be too meaningful.Naming consultant S.B. Master cautions business owners need tobeware of names that are too narrowly defined. Common pitfalls aregeographic names or generic names. Take the name "San PabloDisk Drives" as a hypothetical example. What if the companywants to expand beyond the city of San Pablo, California? Whatmeaning will that name have for consumers in Chicago or Pittsburgh?And what if the company diversifies beyond disk drives intosoftware or computer instruction manuals?

Specific names make sense if you intend to stay in a narrowniche forever. If you have any ambitions of growing or expanding,however, you should find a name that is broad enough to accommodateyour growth. How can a name be both meaningful and broad? Mastermakes a distinction between descriptive names (like San Pablo DiskDrives) and suggestive names. Descriptive names tell somethingconcrete about a business-what it does, where it's located andso on. Suggestive names are more abstract. They focus on what thebusiness is about. Would you like to convey quality? Convenience?Novelty? These are the kinds of qualities that a suggestive namecan express.

For example, Master came up with the name "Italiatour"to help promote package tours to Italy. Though it's not a realword, the name "Italiatour" is meaningful. Right away,you recognize what's being offered. But even better, the name"Italiatour" evokes the excitement of foreign travel."It would have been a very different name if we had called it'Italytour,'" says Master. "But we took aforeign word, 'Italia,' but one that was very familiarand emotional and exciting to English speakers, and combined itwith the English word 'tour.' It's easy to say,it's unique, it's unintimidating, but it still has anItalian flavor."

Before you start thinking up names for your new business, try todefine the qualities that you want your business to be identifiedwith. If you're starting a hearth-baked bread shop, forexample, you might want a name that conveys freshness, warmth, anda homespun atmosphere. Immediately, you can see that names like"Kathy's Bread Shop" or "Arlington Breads"would communicate none of these qualities. But consider the name"Open Hearth Breads." The bread sounds homemade, hot, andjust out of the oven. Moreover, if you diversified your productline, you could alter the name to "Open Hearth Bakery."This change would enable you to hold onto your suggestive namewithout totally mystifying your established clientele.

Excerpted from Start Your Own Business: The Only Start-UpBook You'll Ever Need, by Rieva Lesonsky and the Staff ofEntrepreneur Magazine, © 1998 Entrepreneur Press

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