You have a great idea for your new business, and you’re ready to set up shop. How do you choose a business name? If you’ve already come up with a name for your business, how do you make sure it’s a good one?
Three things to keep in mind while deciding on your business name are trademark, search engines, and domain names.
Trademark – yours and theirs
Do I need to trademark? You aren’t required to trademark your name, but you should definitely do your best to make sure that a competitor hasn’t already trademarked it. If you do decide to pursue a trademark for your name, you may have a hard time if you use a common phrase.
Can two businesses have the same name? It’s okay to have the same name as another company as long as your businesses are different, but if you have the same name as a company that sells the same thing as you (or if there’s any chance your customers could be confused between the two businesses), then the original company can approach you about trademark infringement.
For instance, a “Bluebird Bakery” can’t stop a “Bluebird Jewelry” from using the name “Bluebird.” The bakery’s customers are unlikely to walk into a jewelry shop wondering where the muffins are. However, if two people making jewelry try to use the same name, that is where you run into trouble. For instance, if Bluebird Jewelry runs a brick and mortar shop, and you set up a Bluebird Jewelry online shop, they have every right to send a Cease and Desist order your way. Their customers may mistakenly order from you thinking it’s the original company.
What’s so bad about having a name that isn’t unique? If another company has trademarked the name you choose, or can prove they have the rights to it, they can legally stop you from using the name. This can be an expensive hassle if you’ve already set up a site, have paid for logo or design work, or had business cards, advertising, and packaging printed.
Emily Ley covered how to trademark your business name last week, so please check out the “Navigating the Trademark Process” article for great info on this.
How will people find me online? Imagine you’re at a craft show and someone purchases something from you. They’ve thrown out all the tags and packaging, but they remember your name. Now they want to go to Google to see if they can find you and order again.
To test your business name in search engines, you’ll want to think of what your customers will type into Google if they’re trying to find your site. Type your business name idea in to Google yourself and see what comes up.
If the answer is “hardly anything, and nothing relevant,” you’ve picked a winner! For instance, if you search for “Rare Device” in Google, the first result is their web shop, and almost all of the following results relate to them in some way. If another shop tried to use the name Rare Device, it would be easy for the real Rare Device to prove that the name was theirs originally.
If the answer is, “other businesses that seem similar to what I’m doing,” then your customer is going to have a hard time choosing the right site – and you’ll have a hard time getting anywhere near the first page of results. For instance, choosing something like “Bumblebee Kids” is a bad idea, because this is not only a very common pairing of words, but there are many potential competitors in the search results.
If the answer is, “a million results for a famous phrase having nothing to do with my business,” this may not be the best choice. For instance, if you choose the name, “Cuckoo’s Nest” for your vintage shop, you may never show up anywhere near the front page of search results, because it will be so stuffed with results for the movie and book. In this case, “Vintage” will get you in double trouble, because if people try to use “Cuckoo’s Nest Vintage,” they’ll get results for vintage copies of the book and movie.
Bottom line: You want a name that, when typed in to Google, will pop you right up as the first listing.
Why do I need a domain name? Even if you don’t plan to set up an online shop right now, it’s a smart idea to purchase a domain name as soon as you decide on a business name. This way, you’ll have it if and when you want it. If you leave this step out, you may find you want a website a few years down the road, and there is nothing available that works for your business name. Even if you never set up a website, this will prevent someone else from using your domain.
What should I do with my domain name? If you’re not yet ready for a website, you can still use your domain for email, and to redirect to whatever online presence you may have (Etsy shop, Twitter account, etc.).
What makes for a good domain name? When planning a business name, try to choose a name that has an available domain name that is short and the same as your site name. I wouldn’t recommend using a hyphen or a .net domain.
For instance, if you sell knitted kids items, and you’re thinking of the business name “The Laughing Sheep”, ideally you would want laughingsheep.com, not laughing-sheep.com or laughingsheep.net or laughingsheepknitemporium.com. Customers who sort of remember your domain name will try the first one and the other domains won’t occur to them. If they type in laughingsheep.com and see something that looks kid-related, they may think they’ve found you, even if they have the wrong domain.
In this case, you may also want to snap up thelaughingsheep.com – both for people who try to type it in and to prevent a similar business from using it.
Need some help?
We offer business name consultation at Aeolidia, if you’d like some help coming up with and researching a business name. You will answer a questionnaire about what you think will work for you and your customers, words you like and don’t like, and the feel you’re going for. Our copywriter will then brainstorm possible business name ideas, making sure each has a good domain name and isn’t being used by a competitor. Then you can go over the list and we refine from there until we have the perfect name for your business (and once you have a name, we’d love to talk about your logo!).
If you’d like a peek into how the process works, read more about business name brainstorming on the Aeolidia blog. That link has articles about choosing business names, business taglines, trademarking, changing your business name, and more.
Here are some resources for looking into this further.