Ask SCORE: Coming up with the right name crucial to business

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 19, 2013 

Question: I'm thinking about some possible names for my new business. Is this a big deal, or not? I guess I could change it, if I misfire the first time. What do I need to know about naming my new business?

Answer: Well, let me be frank with you here. I think you should step back and get more serious about your business and its name. Realize that you are working on one of the most important steps in starting your business.

Consider this: For the first several months of your business, your name is all that the public - your prospective customers - will see, hear, or have much knowledge of. Let's talk about this.

Today we'll look at some tips for naming a business, and also some traps to avoid. But first off, an important note: Most of our discussion today also applies to an existing business looking at naming a new product or service that it might offer. Large companies are experts at this. Examples: the McRib Meal; Kellogg's Pringles; Toyota's Lexus brand. These are all "coined" (made-up) names not in the dictionary. You, too, can give a proprietary name to something, and trademark it.

Here are some basics about naming a business:

- Realize that it's important that you get this right the first time. Having to later rename and rebrand a business is very disruptive. It's confusing to your customers and clients, and also expensive.

- Get some outside help. If you're blank, you might find a jumpstart at an online business name-generator site. Here are three: biznamewiz.com; namefind.com; and panabee.com. Look for simple, catchy names that are descriptive and memorable. Also, keep a thesaurus handy to look up synonyms and related ideas.

- Using your own personal name is easy and tempting, but it has some real drawbacks. It can seriously narrow the field of people who would be interested in eventually buying your business. Better to get some creative friends and brainstorm some names with content about what you do.

- Geographical name references can be helpful initially, but might be a real problem later on. For a small and local business, a name like Whatcom Auto Repair or Mt. Baker Salon is probably OK. But if you have growth aspirations, it could be a serious liability. And, what if Cornwall Avenue Books moves to Meridian Street?

- It should sound good. A person who hears your business name should be able to write it out. This is called "the radio test." It originated back when marketing people tested ads on a small radio across the room. When you have focused down to a handful of names, it's easy to get a small group of people together and test this. Just read the list, and have them write their answers down. See how they did in hearing them correctly. If the name is not understandable, or has to be spelled out, dump it.

- Avoid using just initials. Some people think that company names like IBM, 3M, KFC and HP contributed to their success. But the fact is, all of these companies, and many others, actually grew up with long spelled-out names, for decades.

- Top-of-alphabet names like AAA Construction and Aardvark Hair Salon don't work now. That was only for phone books.

- Include some value or content that makes it memorable. One technique is to use alliteration, like "Transmission Tune-ups." Or you can suggest value, like "Maid for You" or "Lean Cuisine." In marketing-speak, this is called "stickiness."

- Visualize your logo. Think about how your business name could work into an attractive logo. Here's where initials might come into play. Consider using the formula of: consonant-vowel-consonant. For example, Northwest Engineering Team might be able to build NET into a good logo.

- Be website-ready. Every business should have multiple domain and social networking names that match.

- Test out your ideas. Here's an easy and inexpensive suggestion. When you get your short list together, write the names on separate cards. Then ask several people to go through the cards and rank them from most to least favored. Keep track of their responses. Also, be sure to Google each name to avoid cultural surprises.

- As a last step, verify that you can trademark your name with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, uspto.gov. Also, there's a new website that may be helpful, check out trademarkia.com. If you expect to form an LLC or a corporation in Washington, check with the state at sos.wa.gov before you file any applications.

Name on!

Ask SCORE is prepared for The Bellingham Herald's Sunday Business section by Bob Dahms, a business counselor with the Bellingham chapter of SCORE. Submit questions for this column to newsroom@bellinghamherald.com.

To learn more about managing cash flow, and other small business matters, contact SCORE, "Counselors to America's Small Business."

SCORE is a nonprofit nationwide organization with more than 13,000 volunteer business counselors who provide free, confidential business counseling and low-cost training workshops to small business owners. Call the local SCORE chapter at 360-685-4259 to schedule an appointment. For details about the organization, visit SCORE.org.

Reach DAVE GALLAGHER at dave.gallagher@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2269.

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