Friday, September 20, 2013

SOP Friday: Getting Started - Naming Your Business

Picking a good business name is an important part of starting your business. And, under certain circumstances, you might even rename your business. Here are some thoughts for picking a successful name.


Choosing a Name Based on The Formation of Your Company


Your company might be a sole proprietorship (doing business under your own Social Security Number/Tax ID). Or you might be a corporation (S corp or C corp), or an LLC, or a variety of other entities. This only matters for a few things.

First, you cannot use a title such as "Inc." when you are a sole proprietor. In some states it is illegal. But it's always misleading. Legally, when you sign contracts, you need to sign them with your name and title. This might be ...

John Doe, d.b.a. My I.T. Company
Jane Doe, President, My I.T. Company
John Doe, President, My I.T. Company, Inc.

It's important that, whatever the name of your company, you sign documents correctly. If you are not a sole proprietor, signing documents incorrectly could make you personally liable rather than your company - exactly what you want to avoid.

Second, if you move from a Sole Proprietor (Sole Trader in the UK) to a corporation or other form of business, you may want to take the opportunity to change your name. You don't have to, but you'd be surprised at what a difference it can make.

My business was originally KPEnterprises just because I'm KP and I don't have a huge imagination. When I incorporated, I changed the name to KPEnterprises Business Consulting, Inc. This sounded a little more formal and stuffy. And guess what? One of my long-standing clients called me and said, "I see you're doing business consulting now. Can you come by and help us with a problem?"

Of course I said yes. The cool thing is that even people who knew me took a different view of my business once the name changed.


Choose a Professional Business Name


Pick a good, professional name for your business. If you want to charge top rates, be taken seriously, and make it easy for people to give you referrals, then you need a good name.

As a general rule, you should avoid cute and gimmicky names. Instead, tend toward professional business-like names. As I've said before, I don't want to hire the Lawyer Wizards to represent my company. I don't want the Plumbing Guru to magically fix my pipes.

In Sacramento we have a transmission repair shop that used to be called the Transmission Nerds. Maybe it's just me, but I don't put a lot of faith in a company with a name like that. If we want to be professionals, we need to be aware of the kinds of companies that have respect among our clients.

If you're just forming a business, or reformulating your business, try to pick a name that sounds business-like. Ideally, your business name should state what you do. Computers, mobile, networks, and business consulting are fine. Partner names are great (e.g., Johnson and Andrews), as are local landmarks (tower, lake, Sierra, valley, etc.).

Here are some more good names:
_____ Associates
_____ and Co.
_____ Professionals
_____ Resources
_____ Technical Resources

I have high hopes that our field will become more professional over time. Perhaps a byproduct of that will be the gradual dissappearance of gurus, geeks, and cyber-goobers.

Just my opinion.


Changing Your Business Names


If you want a more professional name, incorporate, or just want to rebrand, don't worry about your existing client base. You might resist getting rid of a cutesy name because your ego gets in the way. If so, you have to decide how much your ego is worth.

One of the guys in the Sacramento SMB I.T. Pro group has changed his business name three times in the last twenty years. Note that he's still in business after twenty years! He never lost a client because he changed the business name.

In my own case, the move from KPEnterprises to KPEnterprises Business Consulting, Inc. was very minor and few existing customers really noticed. Later, when Mike took over the business, he adopted the name America's Tech Support, which is a sole proprietorship. We sent letters to our clients and asked them to change the name in their accounts.

No one mentioned it or questioned it. To existing clients, the name change was an extremely minor event.

New prospects didn't know, of course. The new name sounds nice and has no negative connotations. We do lose a bit of brand awareness, since KPEnterprises had operated and advertised that name for sixteen years. But this was a minor issue.

Ideally, any name change will be a long-term change. So take it seriously. Think of it as an opportunity to start your branding from scratch. In fact, that's exactly what it is.


Which Comes First: Company Name or Domain Name?


On several occasions I've mentioned to groups of consultants that I have several Internet domain names registered. Basically, whenever an idea pops into my head, I try to register several domain names for it. I have about 300 domains in total.
Sometimes the domain names I register are the name of a product, service, or company. Other times, they are additional "landing page" domains so I can use Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and blogs to funnel traffic to my primary sites.

But of course you will have one primary domain name. It should be as simple and easy to remember as possible. Many of the techno-goobery names discussed above are very difficult to convey to people by phone. Again, cutesy doesn't work well.

One of the important considerations these days is whether your domain name "matches" your company name. And then, do you name the domain after the company or name the company after the domain? I don't know if there's a right answer here.

Many very professional companies have domain names that are not their company name. Go down your list of clients and you'll see this, especially with service professions such as attorneys, doctors, and accountants. But you should try to get your company name and domain name as close as possible.

The good news on the domain name front is that people are now used to long domain names. It used to be that three- and four-letter domains were hot because they are short. But that's less of an issue today. So a name like Americas Tech Support can get away with americastechsupport.com.

Let me jump back to the discussion of choosing a professional name for a moment. If you have a company name and a domain name that are descriptive of what you do, this can help with some very basic search engine optimization. After all, if someone searches for "Alhambra Computer Services" and your company name is Alhambra Computer Services, and your domain is alhambracomputerservices.com, you should be right up at the top of the results.


You're probably happy with your business name, and don't plan on starting a new division anytime soon. But if do need to adopt a new business name, I hope these thoughts are helpful.

Comments welcome.

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About this Series

SOP Friday - or Standard Operating System Friday - is a series dedicated to helping small computer consulting firms develop the right processes and procedures to create a successful and profitable consulting business.

Find out more about the series, and view the complete "table of contents" for SOP Friday at SmallBizThoughts.com.

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Next week's topic: Getting Started - Business Licenses, etc.

:-)

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