Series – Starting a Business 101 – Week 1

Last week, I posted an introduction for this series.  This week, we will be talking about choosing a name for your business.

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Introduction - Why make it complicated?
Week 1 – Choose a name for your business.
Week 2 – Determine the legal structure.  (Sole Proprietorship, Partnership, LLC, etc)
Week 3 – DBAs and business licenses.
Week 4 – Get a federal tax id number.
Week 5 – Determine your federal, state and local taxes.
Week 6 – Record Keeping.
Week 7 – Other good information.

Did you have a lemonade stand growing up?   If so, was it tough to think of a name?  Couldn’t it just be “Lemonade” or “Lemonade Stand?”  Maybe add your name in there and you are set.  Nothing more to do other than start making the sign.  If only choosing a business name was that easy.  Let’s talk about what all goes into choosing a business name.

Before Choosing a Business Name
For the purposes of this series, I am going to assume you have the talent, training (no matter if it’s from a school, apprenticeship or is self-taught after years of purposeful learning) and that you have a very clear vision of what your business will do.  Preferably, that very clear vision is written out in a business plan.

Prior to going through the mechanics of getting a business started, you should have asked questions like – How will you make money?  Who is our target audience?  Will you sell furniture and such to clients or just services?

For Hyphen Interiors, we knew we would make money by selling services primarily.  My target audience is middle class clients who appreciate beautiful design and often prefer to execute the design plan themselves, rather than me doing a full installation.   Of course, there is more to it and more questions you should be able to answer, but that is our answers in a nutshell.

Why It’s Important to Choose Carefully
Before you can get started with the actual paperwork and make your business official, you need to choose a name for your company.  Do this carefully.  There are many examples of companies that have picked names without doing the proper research and later they were forced to change the name.  This can be costly.  You may have to throw out stationary,  signs, business cards and even redo websites.

Keep in mind that in most places, a company’s name may not be deceptively similar to any name used by another domestic or foreign filing entity either formed in or authorized to do business in that state.

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Search to See if the Name is Available
Check to see if it’s available.

1.  Do a quick Internet search.
Are there any obvious websites and companies out there that use the name you had in mind?

2.  Check for trademarks.
Check the United States Patent and Trademark Office database to see if your name is already trademarked.  Could someone sue you for using the name?  To find out more about trademarks, go here.

3.  Check other similar businesses.
Scan professional association directories in your industry, such as ASID, to see if there is a listing of a company with the same name.

4.  Check with local government.
Check with your county clerk’s office, state department of revenue and secretary of state to see whether your name is similar to that of an existing business.  Your state should have a database of corporations and limited liability companies.  Try using your favorite search engine type in “(your state’s name) business name search.”  Make a call to one of the offices mentioned if you have further questions on what is too similar.

5.  Check to see if the domain name is available.
Assuming you plan to have a website, check to see if that name is available in the form of a domain name.

To do this, go to Godaddy.com and enter the name you have in mind in the “Search for a new domain” field.   It will tell you if that name is available and what extensions (.com, .net, etc) are available for purchase.  Purchase the one you want if you see it.  These names do go fast.  You may find this to be the most difficult part of securing a name.  Godaddy is very helpful when it comes to buying a domain name – feel free to call them for a step by step walk-through.

A domain name usually costs around $10-20 if it is not taken and not “premium.”

These five steps will help you decide if the name you had in mind will work for your business.

If a lot is at risk, you may want to hire a business or intellectual property lawyer to turn over all the right rocks.

It is also not a bad idea to go ahead and lay claim to a Facebook and Twitter name at this point in time.

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How I Named Hyphen Interiors
Of course, my first step was to brainstorm, then checked to see what was taken.  Based on that, I chose Hyphen Interiors.  What does it mean?  I consider creating a design plan a collaboration between client and designer, thus the hyphen.

Tips for a Choosing a Name.
Things to consider:

1.  The name should be easy to spell.  Hard to spell names may be fun and look cool on a storefront, but it can be difficult figuring out how to find the url when you aren’t sure how to spell it.

James at Passive Panda writes, “Is it Qualtronics or Kwaltronix?… Let’s say you start a company called 5 Minute Massage and you’re giving out mini-massages all across the city. The name is pretty good. It’s memorable and easy to recall.  But what’s your website? Is it 5minutemassage.com or fiveminutemassage.com? Do customers look you up in the phone book under “5″ or under “F”?”

2.  How will your name look as a logo, on a business card and on a website?   How does it sound when you say it out loud?    What are the initials?

3.  What images does the name you are interested in evoke?  Most words make us think of certain things.  For instance, the word architect makes me think of a drafting table, the word fireplace makes me think of warmth and so on.

4.  Include what you do in the business name.  Granted, some businesses such as Amazon and Google don’t follow this rule, and that is fine if you have a multimillion dollar marketing budget.  If not, it can be a good idea to have the name include information about what the business does.  A name like Oak Creek Library may be better than Oak Creek.   In the design world, most businesses have the word design or interiors in the name.  However don’t let that make you skip over being creative!

5.  Avoid a name that is too specific.  If you decide to name your company Storyboards by Stacy, what if you end up doing more than storyboards?   The same is true for geographical names.  Denver Area Design restricts you to the Denver area.   Don’t box yourself in.

6.  Consider a tag line.  Many business have a tagline under their name that provides further information about what the business does.  Consider what this may be for the name you have in mind.

For Fun
Here are some websites that can help you brainstorm.

Rhymer – This site lets you enter names and add suffixes and such to them in order to come up with a unique combination.

Picky Domains – If you want to let a team pick for you, but only pay if you like it, check this site out.

Naming Force – This site allows you to give a monetary prize for the best name and users brainstorm for you.  You end up with a large number of pretty good names to choose from.  The link leads to a list of completed contests so you can see the names they had to choose from.

Next Week
Next week we will talk about determining a legal structure for your business.

I hope you enjoyed Week 1 and that the information is already helpful.  Please add your own insights into this step in the comments.

Disclaimer
As a disclaimer, I am not a CPA, lawyer or business expert. I am simply sharing what I’ve learned in case you have no idea where to start.

kristysig

3 Comments :

  1. Thank you so much for creating this series! I have been wanting to open an etsy store and wasn’t sure where to get started because it seems so overwhelming! I can’t wait to read the rest.

  2. I’m so far behind your series with what I’ve had going on. Great post, can’t wait to have time to read the remainder.

  3. Jonathan Norton

    Awesome information for the not so educated entrepreneur looking to start a business. THANK YOU!

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