How To: Name your business

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Fredrik Rubensson/Creative Commons

By Kirsten Adshead/motherbility

The business name you choose isn’t going to make or break you.

But as the gateway to your venture, it can determine whether people step inside or walk on by.  So it’s worth significant thought.

Here’s some expert guidance on making that decision:

“A good name is the title of your story, it’s not the whole story,” said Nancy Friedman, a San Francisco-based professional business namer. “So you still need a good story, good product, good customer service — all of those things. But you don’t want to hamper yourself at the outset with a name that isn’t pulling its weight.”

Too generic and your name won’t stand out. Too creative and it’ll confuse. Plus, you have to consider whether another business is operating with that or a similar name, which can get you in legal hot water.

“You want a name to be memorable, pronounceable and available,” Friedman said. “Those are the three ‘musts.'”

Amy Gannon, co-founder of the Doyenne Group, which supports women entrepreneurs, said naming a business can be a struggle, but sometimes people don’t struggle enough.

“And what I mean by that is, sometimes you pick the fastest name you can pick that seems obvious, but it actually doesn’t help you, in the sense that it may be obvious to the work you’re doing, but it doesn’t stand you out from the noise that’s out there,” Gannon said.

A particular challenge: Picking a name that not only represents the initial business venture, but also allows for growth and diversification.

When Madison-area entrepreneur Sara Parthasarathy began selling her packets of Indian spices and recipes, she named the endeavor Ethnic Spicery. After advice from Gannon, however, she renamed it Flavor Temptations.

“(Gannon said), ‘Your brand has to say what you’d you like to do, what is it you’re giving? What is it? Are you just giving them spices?” Parthasarathy said. “I said, ‘No, I’m sort of teaching them Indian cooking and sort of giving them the recipe and making it convenient. That’s giving them an experience of cooking with Indian food.”

“And she said, ‘Your brand has to say that. Your brand right now? It says you’re a spice store. Is that what you want to be? … (If not), then I think (the name) Spicery has to go.'”

Parthasarathy said that was tough to hear: She had chosen “Ethnic Spicery” with care and had worked hard to turn it into a profitable business.

She chose, however, to accept Gannon’s advice, worked with a brand specialist, found the new name, redid the website, and created all new labels — including bringing the new labels to all the stores that were carrying the product and replacing the old labels with the new.

“I’m happy with it, because now I can build a story behind that (name),” she said. “I can build a story around, ‘You are getting a flavorful experience and it’s more like, ‘You’re not (only) getting spices.’ … I’m hoping to build around that experience,” perhaps expanding beyond food and adding other ethnic food lines.

Some people choose to simply name their business after themselves — which can work just fine, Gannon said, especially if they’re selling their own services.

But consider, she said: What if your business grows and you add employees? Will it generate resentment if they’re working for a name that solely credits the owner? Will customers feel like they’re getting second-best if they think they’re hiring you, but their account is given to another employee?

When naming your business, you can go it alone or get professional advice, from people like Gannon and Friedman (who has written a Naming 101 blog series, and can be hired for phone consultations).

But even the experts say business owners should accept feedback with a discerning eye.

Just like naming your child, everyone will have an opinion on the name you give your business.

But ultimately, it’s your decision to make.

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