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How To Choose The Perfect Business Name

By November 15, 2016Branding
The perfect business name cover image.

Recently, Julie Harris Design has been going through a major rebrand. It’s been two years since our initial launch and so much has changed. We’ve learned so much about who we are, what we stand for, who our ideal clients are, and how we want to conduct our business, both online and offline. While our values and morals are still the same as when we first started, the clarity behind how we want to go about promoting those values are finally all coming together and we are so excited about this next chapter in our business.

I am so excited to officially announce that Julie Harris Design will be rebranding to Whiskey and Red Design this new year.

Whiskey and Red Design official logo reveal

One MAJOR piece of our rebrand was deciding whether or not to chose a new name. “How to pick the perfect business name” is something I get asked about all the time by potential clients and small business owners who are looking for that perfect title for their brand. It’s definitely a decision not to be taken lightly. Not all names are created equal, so, to help you learn how to pick the perfect business name for your brand, we’ve come up with our top 5 steps for picking the perfect name for you.

How To Pick The Perfect Business Name Click to Tweet on Whiskey and Red

First things first…

First off, if you have already been doing business under a specific name and are considering making a change, you definitely want to weigh the pros v.s. the cons of switching your business name.

Pros:

  • What does this new name mean for your business? 

Ex: For us, “Julie Harris Design” represented just one piece of our partnership. By changing to Whiskey and Red, we were able to embody both creative partners of the brand while leaving room for growth and the potential to sell the business down the road if we ever decided to. 

  • Can you expand your reach or client base because of your new name?

Ex: Julie Harris Design is my name which worked great, but I found that I was loosing a larger more corporate side of our clientele who was looking for more of a complete team to partner with, as well as coming off as a bit feminine and some of our male client’s weren’t sure if I even worked with guys (yes, we definitely do). So by changing to Whiskey and Red, we are able to better clarify our creative partnership, give off the  feel of a more complete business team, and have the playful creative title while reaching a wider client base of both men and women small business owners. 

  • Can you better differentiate your brand with this new name?

Ex: Whiskey and Red has zero competition in the design world. Our biggest competitors would be Whiskey brands, but knowing that we’d strongly emphasize our design services, this would help us stand out more in the design world and not be confused with any other “Harris” design teams.

Cons:

  • How could changing your name potentially hurt your business?

Ex: I am by no means a big dog on the block, but I have fortunately built up a very professional reputation for myself and by changing my name, I open us up for confusion amongst our followers if we don’t execute the transition smoothly.

  • Could you potentially lose any clients because of your name?

Ex: We decided that the use of “Whiskey” in our name meant more to our history that the risk of losing clients who might not like the alcohol term in our brand. This is also a filtering system for clients. If this is a big factor to them, then they might not be the right client for us. Having run it past our past clients, their strong support for the name gives us confidence in this decision.

  • How widely shared is your current name and how many people do you need to notify of the change (and potentially lose out on traffic through the change?)

Ex: This will be a biggie for me, but hopefully since most social platforms allow you to change your handle on the same account, we’ll try our best to create a smooth transition and notify all past collaborators of the changes, as well as factor in as many redirects as possible to help maintain our referral traffic. We’ve also hired an SEO specialist to help support us through this huge transition.

Ok, so you’ve weighed the Pros v.s. Cons for this name change of your’s and you are confident that making a name change is right for you. Or you’re just starting out and this last section didn’t apply, we’ll rest assured, as this next part definitely will.

How To Pick The Perfect Business Name

How to chose the perfect business name for your small business. 

1. Keep It Personal While Professional

While it’s nice to have some personal relationship and story behind  your name, giving it a history and personality unique to you and your business, trying to get too deep or being too symbolic can also create complicated titles that loose the relevance to your target market. So, if someone asks “What does your name mean?” Can you easily answer that question in 3-5 sentences? Does your answer give a personal look into who you are as a business owner and professional and does it entice the questioner to ask more about you and your business?

Ex: Whiskey and Red is truly a balance between who Steven and I are as both life and business partners. Steven served in the US Army as a medic (formally referred to as a 68 Whiskey). While he is no longer in the service, the lessons he learned there, including teamwork, communication, collaboration, organization and respect are all a big part of how he does business, hence Whiskey. And my personal nickname is “Red”. (Can you guess why? 😉 ) Plus as the designer, colors and tones are a big part of what I work with so having the dual meaning between designer and redhead fit for me.

2. Availability. Is your name available?

Domain Availability: It can be a huge heart-breaker when you come up with a name you absolutely love and have been loosely using for the past few months just to realize another business has already grabbed it. To avoid this sad scenario, before getting your heart set on anything, make a list of all the potential business names you’ve been considering. Come up with as many as you can that you can potentially see yourself working under. Then, immediately go to a site like GoDaddy.com and search their domain availability to see whether or not any of your top names are even available. This will help you cut down your list dramatically and provide you with a list of available domain names.

Social Media Handle Availability: Ideally, you want to chose a name that you can use consistently across all social platforms. No crazy abbreviations or alterations to the name to make it fit, as that generally causes them to be harder to find, and if someone is working under your name on social media, you probably don’t want to be associated with that individual or be confused as them. Now I’m talking about all platforms, not just your favorites. Grabbing the handle on all popular social platforms, even if you don’t plan on having a presence there is key. You don’t want to leave anything up for anyone else to use that could potentially affect the success of your business.

You don't want to leave anyting for anyone else Click to Tweet on Whiskey and Red

“But what if my name is available via domain but not on social media?”

In this case you have two options:
Option 1. Pick a different name. You really do want to try and have your business name correlate consistently across all your social platforms so that you fully control the reputation under that title. BUT with so many social accounts on the web today, this can be easier said than done.
Option 2. Find a complementary handle that is consistent across all social platforms but directly relates to your business name.

Ex: My original business name is “Julie Harris Design” but as “Harris” is an incredibly popular last name, anything under “Julie Harris” was taken or too close to another brand for me to want to use it. So instead I came up with “@brandingbyjulie”. As a brand stylist, this handle made sense for me and directly related to my brand. It was not fully ideal, but gave me a chance to have as much consistency across the web as possible. PLUS, I purchased the available brandingbyjulie.com domain so that I knew on one else would be able to use it.  

Plural Availability: Going back to my last example of deciding to stick with my name despite the high competition, what I didn’t think about was purchasing up the plural versions; “Julie Harris Designed”, “Julie Harris Designs”. By the time I’d thought of it, both were taken. Julie Harris Designs is a bridal Veil designer on Etsy, so I wasn’t too concerned about being confused with her, but still, the possibility of our names being mixed up could cause us both clients who don’t want to work harder to find us.

We decided to pick a name for our brand that didn’t have a high or sensible chance of plurals. “Whiskey and Red Designs” makes some sense but chances are low that we’d have to worry about that, and “Whiskey and Red Designed” also doesn’t make much sense as it’s somewhat awkward to say, so not a huge concern. (But that doesn’t mean we didn’t cover our butts anyway).

Registration Availability: You want to make sure that the name you decide to work under is also available for business registration in your State. To check this important piece of availability, you can check your secretary of state website or commerce division to confirm your business entity registration is available. (It literally takes 60 seconds and can really affect the future of your business entity).

3. Legibility

How easy is it for your name to not only be visually legible on it’s own, but legible in all the various version of it? With an online business, you name will be written an number of different ways and you want it to read as clearly, and consistently as possible every time.

Write down your business name as:  

4. Easy To Say

Don’t get me wrong, I love me some solid alliterations, but doing business online and virtually means that you’ll be writing and saying your business name a lot, and the last thing you want is for others to be confused about how to pronounce your brand name.

Ex: Steven’s original brand name was Harris Designed. “Harris Design” was taken and he decided to use the “ed” version as it was available. (Again, refer to my last note about picking a plural version and purchasing up all the variations of that name) But when saying his email out loud or business URL he has to make sure he fully enunciated the “ed” and then repeat that there is an “ed” after Design. This is a small but inconvenient problem that can happen if your name isn’t easy to say, and can easily cause someone to look for the wrong business and never find you.

5. Competition

So you’ve picked a name with significant and simple meaning ✔, checked that it’s available as a business name ✔, domain ✔, and social handle ✔, and it passes the legibility and easy to say tests ✔.  Awesome! But last, and most certainly NOT least, what’s your competition like?

Are there any other brands or companies out there with a similar name that dominates your niche market? Also, even if there is a business with a similar name in a different market, do any of those brands have a negative reputation and or products you wouldn’t want your brand associated with?  You want to be sure that you business name is not in high competition with other brands inside or outside of your market that could potentially confuse visitors and future clients. And equally important is being associated with an unpopular brand. Not only is the negative PR that could affect your business reputation, as an online business, if that brand has a poor rating and ranking online, this could effect your own search results as people won’t want to seek out that name.

“But what if I really want to use my name although it’s hugely common?”

This is a pro and con list that you’ll have to make for yourself. When I first launched Julie Harris Design, I knew that “Harris” was going to have huge competition, but I still wanted to use my own name. I was a solo business owner and people were hiring me and my services. So despite the competition for my last name, I decided to stick with it. When it came time to rebranding, Steven and I looked at all versions of “Harris” and “Design” we could but all were taken and often by other design teams, so the chances of someone going to the wrong company was a big concern.

Ex: I just booked a wonderful new client who came to me thinking I was a different designer. She was looking for a “Julie ‘Something’ Design” knowing that this designer had just gotten married and changed her name, it was completely conceivable that I might be her. So she reached out sharing how excited she was to work together again and I had to politely ask when we had worked together in the past. Because of the similarities in our name, the clients made an assumption that was wrong and it cost the other designer a job.

Because of this personal experience and our relevant concerns about being confused with another “Harris Design”ers, we decided to step away from our last name, and move toward a business name that would allow us to make a greater impression, stand out more within our industry, and that had less direct market competition. (If someone landed on a Whiskey site, I’m pretty sure they will know they are in the wrong place).

Brand Name Checklist

FREE Checklist download!

A brand by any other name does not smell just as sweet.

Download my FREE Brand Name Checklist to help you choose the perfect name for your small business.  

FREE Brand Name Checklist

YOU CAN DO THIS!

Selecting your business name is a big deal and the decision should be taken seriously. Once you find something you like, or a few really top choices, ask the people closest to you what they think. I don’t recommend doing this in big Facebook Groups where you have such a mix of professionals, industries, and experience. Everyone loves to be a critic, and it can easily get out of hand. But preselecting a choice number of both personal and professional individuals you trust to be honest and respect their option is always a good choice. It helps you step away from a name and get an outsiders perspective that can often bring up either new concerns or reaffirm a great decision.

Having just gone through this brand challenge ourselves, both Steven and I are here to help answer any questions you may have as you prepare to pick your own business name or prepare for a major rebrand yourselves.

Share your thoughts with us about this critical branding process in the comments below and let us know how you decided to come up with your own brand name. Where did it come from and what does it mean?

And of course, if you know of anyone who could benefit from this post, please send it their way. Sharing is caring!  

Sincerely,

Julie and Steven Harris' post signature.

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PHOTO CREDIT: © Dollar Photo Club

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