Tips for finding the perfect business name
What’s in a name?
Naming a business can be tricky. Sure, you may get lucky and think-up a few clever syllables that sums up your enterprise perfectly with little effort at all. If so, fantastic - although I would still recommend following through with the process regardless as it means you know you've exhausted all avenues and have the BEST name rather than always wondering if there was something better.
For most people the blank canvas can feel very intimidating, especially if you don't consider yourself creative. It’s common to get stuck in a loop of the same few (pretty crappy) ideas, or think that finding a name similar to a competitor or what's in trend is a good idea (it isn’t) or perhaps turn to crowdsourcing to find a name. I’ve even seen people do this for their children!
Although a group of strangers on Facebook maaaaaaaay be able to come up with the perfect name for your business (or your first born) wouldn’t it be nice to actually come up with it yourself, or at least play a big part in the process?
After all, it’s your baby, literally in some cases, so it deserves some love. I’ve got a few tips to help you strike gold.
Understand your brand.
Before you start even thinking about names take the time to really be clear about what your business is about. Get yourself some large pieces of paper and start to brainstorm.
1) Consider your target audience?
Who are they? Are they male or female, young or old, on a budget or have a disposable income? Where do they live? What do they do? Are they professionals or students or people with young families? Really explore this as it will help so much with the process.
It could be that you want to target a broad demographic and that’s fine. At the very least you might be able to rule out names which wouldn't appeal to males for example if you want your business to appeal to both men and women.
2) How would you appeal to them?
As much as I hate to break it to you, it’s very likely that your incredible business idea has been thought of before, perhaps even many times before. But that’s ok. Just like there are only so many musical notes in the world people still manage to release music that people want to buy and listen to. Heck, people have even been churning out covers for decades. But every time the music is tweaked sightly and finds a new audience so that tune, regardless of whether it was originally released by an obscure band 30 years ago, has a new lease of life and will hold a special place in the new audience's hearts for years to come. It’s the same with your business. Once you’ve identified your audience you need to ensure that you appeal to them. The best ways to do this is ensure that you’ve done the step above and then to figure out your strengths or points of difference from your competitors.
I’ll use Seven Hats as an example here. My target audience was small business owners and start-ups, between 25 and 55 and not gender specific. I wanted to appear professional but with a creative edge. Not only is that my personality, it's also a big factor in what I do. As a soletrader my business is essentially ME so it's important I try and show this from the get go. My biggest strengths and points of difference are the variety of things that I can assist with as well as my mix of left and right-brained thinking. I also needed it to feel solid, dependable and approachable. Finally, I didn't want a pedestrian name or a vanilla brand. It needed to be memorable. I think I managed to tick those boxes. I followed-on with this with my branding and tone.
3) How do you want your customers to feel?
When recently naming a personal styling business this was the part that ultimately helped us strike gold. We really tried to imagine how potential clients might feel before using the services and what the desired feeling would be afterwards. The target demographic was primarily women from the age of 30 and above. They might range from people with young families who didn’t have time to invest in their appearance, career women who either through retirement or redundancy finally had to ditch the business suits and figure out their out-of-office identity or perhaps were women who were aging gracefully but who felt somewhat ignored by a society that prefers youth to wisdom. What we realised was that many women start to feel invisible for a variety of reasons and the real mission of the business was for them to feel the opposite. Therefore, Being Seen was born. It was a real shift away from what the competition were calling themselves but still made perfect sense. An added bonus was that, although my client wanted to work mainly with women she would still happily work with men. With a gender neutral name this makes it possible.
You’ve done the background work – what now?
Hopefully, if you’ve been brainstorming thoroughly, you’ll have a number or words or phrases coming out from each of the above questions. You might find that there are some obvious key words coming through. I’ll give another example to show you how you can now move forward.
When I first launched Seven Hats one of my very first clients was a new business aiming to sell ‘beautiful, modern Australiana for kids’ via an online store. The owner wanted all the products to be ethical and sustainable and to represent Australia’s natural beauty and famous icons in a way that standard souvenir shops failed to do.
Luckily there had already been a fair amount of work done with regards to the brand values and personality so this made the next part a little easier.
The keywords were kids, Australia and nature. Whatever the name was it really needed to be something that felt child-like and ideally linked to Australian flora or fauna. After a lot of brainstorming Puggle Post finally had a name. It’s fun without being tacky, represents 'young' and 'Australia' (for those that don’t know a Puggle is a baby echidna). The 'Post' part reflects the physical posting and receiving of the gifts in the mail and above all else, the words sound lovely together. This makes it memorable.
If you can identify the key things that are essential to your business or to your customers you’ll find it much easier to get out the thesaurus and start to work through those keys words to see where they take you.
How do you know what is a good name and what isn’t?
It’s not always easy to answer this. Some obvious ones would be if it’s too similar to another business, particularly if it’s the same industry and the same locality. It’s always worth saying out loud (pretending your answering the phone for example) to see how it feels. Mike Hunt Repairs may look good on paper (well, that's debatable) but said out loud… oh dear! I would also avoid misspelling words or combining words together in most instances. People may have issues searching for you, plus it can often sound pretty naff. However, I should also say that it's actually a really good practice to get all of the names that pop into your head down onto a piece of paper, no matter how rubbish. You may never have an intention of using them but getting them onto paper gets them out of your mind. Otherwise they have a tendency of popping up again and again. And you never know, they also may help lead to the final name in some way.
Also, you need to ensure the name is congruent with your brand and your values. If you’re a legal firm you don’t want to be mistaken for a florist, or if you’re fashion label you don’t want to sound like a bookkeeper. If you want to appeal to the cashed-up you don't want to sound common as muck. You don’t have to be absolutely obvious from the outset (tag lines can always help) but you also don’t want to sound like something you’re not. It just confuses people.
If you want feedback try running it by a small, select group of friends or acquaintances, but just be warned, people have different opinions and the more people that get involved the more likely you’ll start to feel confused. I would always start by explaining your brand thoroughly and how you got to the name/s. Putting in in context will help them understand your process and they won't necessarily be so quick to dismiss it.
So, you think you have a name. What now?
If you think you’ve found a name now is the time to look at domain availability, possible trademarking issues (check ATMOSS - if in any doubt you may need to speak to a specialist as you don't want to risk infringing someone's trademark) and then look to register the business name. Even if it looks as though a name and domains are taken consider whether if it’s really going to effect your business. Again, I’ll use myself as an example. I found there was a Seven Hats (education consultancy) in India as well as a registered business name in Melbourne Australia (that had lapsed). Sadly I couldn’t get the .com.au domain as, although it wasn’t active it wasn’t available for me to buy at that stage. However, I weighed everything up and figured that as the location of my customers was really targeted I would opt for the .sydney domain. I also figured that as I was in a different industry to SevenHats.in that wasn’t an issue either. Of course, this might not be the case for you and if so you may need to tweak it slightly or even go with a plan B.
What if you don’t have a plan B?
There is always a plan B! You just need to really delve deeper. Again, depending on the nature of your business you may find inspiration in all sorts of areas. If you have non-English speaking heritage look at exploring relevant languages. Although picking non-English words that translate to a business name isn’t always recommended, if it sounds right and there’s relevance or a real story behind it I think that’s ok. You can look at people, places, books, films, your background, your family, nature, space, mathematics, science, mythology… I could go on but I think you get the idea.
So yes, naming your business isn’t always easy but there is a process you can follow and that process can actually be quite fun instead of a total headache. There’s a certain satisfaction that comes with naming your company yourself. After all, it’s the cornerstone of your business so it's important you get it right. Once that's in place you can focus on building a truly congruent brand.
I hope this helps. If you do find you need some more help please feel free to contact me. I offer naming workshops or can try and work to find that elusive name myself if everything else you’ve tried has failed.
If you named your own business please tell me how you went about it in the comments...
Jennifer Long is the owner of Seven Hats Sydney. She offers a variety of services to small-businesses and start-ups including business naming. See more here.