What’s in a (business) name? As it turns out, a lot! The name of your business can do everything from letting customers know what services you offer to helping you stand out from the crowd.
It can show off your unique personality with a pun-tastic name or proudly show that it’s a family business.
And if you name your business right, you can even use it to your advantage when setting up your online presence (I’ll discuss this in a bit).
Wondering how to choose a name for your business? Whether you’re playing around with a few ideas or just have no idea where to get started, we can help with the following advice from real business owners (myself included!).
Be clear and descriptive
If you want people to know what your business is all about, it goes without saying that your business name should be as clear as possible. I know, it seems like basic advice - but you’d be surprised at the number of business owners who aren’t aware that their company names are 100% clear.
That’s a real problem, especially when you consider the limited amount of time your customers have to look at your name. Think about it this way: There are only a few occasions where your customers are probably exposed to your business name (like maybe seeing your truck, or searching for a contractor in your trade online). If your business name isn’t immediately clear, there’s a good chance that your customers will pass up on you in favor of another business.
One way to ensure customers know what your business is about is to include your trade in your name. For example, if you’re a landscaper, have some sort of reference to landscaping, lawn care services, or landscape architecture in your business name. It may not be the most creative approach to naming your business, but it is the most clear.
If you feel strongly about naming your company after yourself or a family member, make sure your subtitle includes a reference to your trade. For example, if you’re a general contractor specializing in residential services and you want your company name to be “John Smith & Sons,” ensure that your full business name is “John Smith & Sons: Residential Construction”.
It’s a simple but effective way of creating a business name that’s clear, descriptive, and easily identifiable by your target customers.
Take a look at your competition
Chances are if you’ve had an idea for a business name, your competition might have, too. I cannot stress enough the importance of doing competitive research before taking all the steps to file your business name. It’s not only embarrassing to discover that you share a name with someone else, but you could potentially end up in legal hot water.
When I first started my freelance writing business, I immediately knew what I wanted to name my company. But before I registered it, I spent a couple days doing some internet research trying to dig up if anyone else had it. I did come across another company that shared my business’s name, but they were in a completely different industry, so I determined it was safe to go with the name I really wanted.
While I didn’t end up in legal trouble, it did end up making customers a lot more difficult to find me online. My company isn’t the first result to show up on Google, even if you’re searching for me specifically. And LinkedIn still constantly confuses where I work, which is never fun trying to explain to a customer who finds me on that site.
Based on my own experiences, here’s what I recommend doing to scope out the competition for your business name:
Google the business name(s) you have your heart set on. See what pops up on the first two or three results pages. If there are a bunch of companies with your business name - even if they’re not all in your specific trade - cross them off your list. At that rate, there’s too much competition for you to get the online space you need to attract customers.
See if there’s any negative news articles about companies with your potential business name. You don’t want to get confused with another company that’s currently going through a PR crisis!
Do a search on Facebook to see if there are any local companies with your business name. This step is important because a Google search may not turn up everyone who has your potential name, especially if it’s a local company that doesn’t have a website.
Just because someone has your business name doesn’t automatically mean you should toss out the idea. However, if they’re located near you, they operate in the same trade, and they have a lot of results on page 1 of Google, you should steer clear - it’ll take years to compete for customer attention online!
Ask for feedback
This is perhaps the most important step of all, precisely because it pays to check if your business name resonates with people in your social circle. Think of your family members and friends as representatives of your future customers. If they end up looking confused by your business name ideas, there’s probably a good chance the name itself isn’t very good.
The best people to ask for feedback are those who can give you the honest and direct advice you need to hear. For example, your partner may not give you the most useful feedback simply because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. Another example could be that a friend doesn’t understand your particular industry, so they don’t have the necessary insight to judge if your business name is a good idea or not.
Try to get a diverse group to give you feedback. If you seek out people who look and think like you, you’re really restricting your feedback and could end up missing something critical. Maybe your business name is fine to certain people, but others might find something weird or even offensive about it. It’s rare, but it does happen - and you don’t want to deal with the nightmare that can come from being on the wrong end of a mistake like that.
Besides, you don’t want to risk alienating any of your customers!
When asking for feedback, remember not to take things too personally. If you seem hurt or mad at someone’s feedback, there’s a pretty good chance they won’t be 100% honest with you about what they think. Remember, this advice will help lead you to the best business name possible, so keep that in mind in case you get a little upset about how someone reacts to your ideas.
Take a shower
Hear me out! Ever notice that you seem to have your best ideas while you’re focused on a mindless activity, like taking a shower? It’s because you’re not multi-tasking or spending tons of brain power on another problem. You’re in a relaxed state of mind - and that’s exactly the kind of mindset that can lead to the “eureka!” moments you might need to name your business.
Science backs up the theory that you have your best ideas while you’re sleeping, showering, or focused on any other type of monotonous yet relaxing activity. Here’s why, in a nutshell: When you’re in a relaxed state of mind, your brain is free to go on autopilot, allowing it to pass from thought to thought without inhibitions. This kind of free association allows your prefrontal cortex to relax and come up with creative connections that you may not have otherwise thought of when you were focused on a specific problem or neuron-consuming task.
It explains why you come up with your best solutions at seemingly random moments!
Want to take advantage of this relaxed state of mind? Try engaging in more relaxing yet monotonous activities, like:
The point here is that any monotonous activity that allows you to relax is one that can help fire up the creative process needed to come up with your business name.
Don’t get too cute
Some entrepreneurs think that their business name is the best way to show off their cool personality or unique sense of humor. While that can certainly work (in fact, here are just a few examples of hilarious business names), going “too cute” with your business name can go wrong very quickly.
Think about it this way: If you’re prioritizing being funny but your humor isn’t really striking the right note with customers, you’re running the risk of losing them to your competition. If your business’s name is a joke or a pun, it should be instantly recognizable and pertain to the services or products you offer. The joke shouldn’t be an offensive one, or make your customers think too hard in order to get it.
If you’re really sold on using a joke or pun as the foundation of your business’s name, make sure to pass the idea behind a mixed group of people before moving forward. I say “mixed” here because you don’t want to make the mistake of running the joke by people with a similar sense of humor to you. Find people with various styles of humor to ensure that it’s going to work with the general population. If most of the responses to your business name is more “meh” than “heh heh,” you might need to ditch the idea.
Speaking of which…
Don’t get stuck on one idea
Finding the perfect business name feels like a huge effort - so when you finally hit on a great idea, it’s tempting to cling to stick with it. But if folks are telling you it’s not that great - or worse, you find out that your competition has a similar name - you need to learn to let go and move on quickly.
The ultimate goal here is to find a business name that works for both you and your customers. When you get stuck on one particular name, you risk drowning out feedback from potential customers. Plus, it’s a lot harder to change the name of your business once you’ve already submitted paperwork and filed for taxes.
Your best bet is to come up with a few contenders and let the names sit with you for awhile. Really mull over which name resonates with you the most. What name is the most clear? Which one accurately describes what you do? Have you shared your business names with others so you can get feedback?
Once you’ve found your winning idea, do a quick competition check to make sure no one else has it. If you’re in the clear, register your business with the SBA right away so no one else can steal it out from under you.
Picking a name is probably one of the toughest aspects of starting your own business, but fortunately, you only have to do it once. Follow the advice in this article, and you’ll not only have a business name you love - your customers will love it, too!
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I love writing about the small business experience because I happen to be a small business owner - I've had a freelance copywriting business for over 10 years. In addition to that, I also head up the content strategy here at Simply Business. Reach out if you have a great idea for an article or just want to say hi!
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