Choosing a name for your business is tough. Not only does it tell your potential customers a ton about who you are and what you do—it’s also the thing you pour your time, energy, savings, and soul into.
The good news is that there are a few quick questions and exercises that can help you narrow down your choices, fast.
If you’re looking for a name for your small business, here’s a few questions that will help you focus your options and pick the perfect business name for years to come.
How Will You Acquire Your Customers?
In the old days when customers relied on phone books to find companies, choosing a name was easy. Since all the businesses were listed alphabetically, naming your company Aardvark Security, AAMCO, or AAA was a sure-fire way to generate leads.
Nowadays it’s not as easy to dominate a single lead channel using only your business name, but your name can still make a big difference.
How to Choose a Business Name If You’re investing in SEO
Let’s say you’ve decided to invest heavily in SEO. If you sell mostly to a local audience, you’re going to want your business category in your company name.
Because Google’s local packs heavily favor companies with names like this:
While it’s not impossible to get into that map pack without “plumbing” or “plumber” in your company’s name, you’ll have an uphill fight without it. Search for a plumber, dentist, chiropractor, or locksmith wherever you live and you’ll probably see results just like this.
If your business isn’t local to any specific area, you should still consider adding a keyword to your business name. Many sites that link to your business will just use the business’s name as anchor text (like Robot House Party) which means that adding a keyword to your business name can make you rank considerably better for searches related to it. Learn more about anchor text, and how it works, here.
How to Choose a Business Name If You’re investing in Social
On the other hand, let’s say you want to do most of your advertising through word-of-mouth and social channels.
If that’s the case, you’ll need to do some homework to make sure your customers (and potential customers) can find your company on the first try. That means your business’s name should be unique, fairly memorable, and available as a username on all your crucial platforms. If there’s another company with the same name on the other side of the country, even that could cause problems down the road.
The easiest way to start this search is on Namechk.com. Just type your business name once and you’ll instantly see where it is, and isn’t, available as a username.
While this tool also helps you check out available domain names, you don’t necessarily have to have one that matches your social accounts, as long as the connection is intuitive. While Sherri’s Berries owns (and heavily promotes) berries.com, all of their other accounts use SherrisBerries as the username.
Who Will Your Customers Be?
Hopefully you’ve given some thought to who your core customers will be. If you already know exactly what kind of customers you want, there’s nothing wrong with using your business name to qualify your leads.
Let’s say you’re a handyman and your realize your average female client spends twice as much as your average male client. In that case, a name like Hire My Husband might help you get more of the leads you want. Or, say you want your toy store to appeal to kids under 12 while keeping the older kids away. In that case, using a more juvenile name like Toys R Us might make that distinction clear.
What Will Change About Your Business Over Time?
Would I book a hotel from Hotels.com? Sure.
Would I book a flight from Hotels.com? Maybe.
Would I buy a car from Hotels.com? Probably not.
Your business’s name sets an expectation. While that name doesn’t have to contain everything you want to offer, but it shouldn’t contradict what you offer, either.
Before deciding on a name for your business, you should probably have some idea where you want that business to be five years from now. That way you can make sure the name will still fit when you get there.
Your Offering Can Change
If you guessed that Timberland Tree Care offers tree care services, you’d be right. But what you might not guess is they’ve also grown to offer sod installation, custom fire pit installation, and sprinkler repairs. Since all of these services are more or less related to landscaping and landscape installation, it’s not too much of a stretch and the name still works. However, if Timberland Tree Care ever decides to get into house painting too, they might want to change to Timberland Home Services.
Your Service Area Can Change
An expanding service area can also contradict your business’s name if you’re not careful. If I needed a roofer in Campbell, CA and saw an ad for Campbell Roofing, I would probably call them. If I lived one city over in San Jose, there’s still nothing wrong with that. However, if I lived 30 miles away in Hayward and saw that ad, I might look for a closer company.
If you have big plans about how your business will expand, change, and evolve over the next several years, make sure your business name will still be relevant when you get there. Like Wayne Gretzky said, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”
What Will Never Change About Your Business?
What’s one thing about your business that will absolutely never, ever change? I’m talking about your fundamental selling point: a value, practice or promise that defines everything that has ever or will ever set your business apart.
That is the soul of your business.
Not every company has one, but if yours does, it belongs in the name.
There’s one thing about Dollar Shave Club that they’ll have a hard time changing. The company built an empire around the fact that they sell razors for just $1 per month. Since then they’ve pushed the limits of what customers will stomach, from offering a $10 bottle of hair gel to only making their razors $1 each for the first month before bumping it up to $3.
But just imagine what would happen if you visited their site one day and no razors were available for just a dollar. It would undermine their original business model and betray the promise in their name. It would cost them their soul.
So why would you do something so dangerous with your business name?
Because it sets crystal clear expectations.
The demand for cheap shaving razors is real and Dollar Shave Club capitalized on it full force, gaining over 3 million Facebook followers in the process and ultimately selling to Unilever for a billion.
You can do this with your small business’s name too, and it doesn’t have to be about price. All Weather Pool Service’s name also comes packed with a promise: they work through all weather to clean your pool on schedule. It speaks to customers who value dependability above all else, and it speaks volumes.
But what if your company doesn’t have a soul? Well, if you’re still shopping around for a business name, it’s not too late to find one. Take a look at your competitors’ reviews and see where their one star reviews are coming from. If you see a trend of high prices, poor customer service, or just about anything else, that’s a real opportunity for your new business to start out on the right foot.
What Is Your Exit Strategy?
If everything goes according to plan, one day your business won’t be so small anymore.
Eventually you won’t want to run the business yourself anymore. Maybe you’ll want to hand the business down to your child, or sell off your clients to a larger business, or sell off the whole business as-is. If you already have an exit strategy in mind for your new business, make sure the name doesn’t get in the way.
Using your name in the business’s name, like in Bob’s Burgers or Cappelli Window Cleaning, sends a clear message that you are personally committed to the business. Customers will expect to see you every once in a while, and they’ll be disappointed when they don’t. Putting your name in the business’s name can help you earn some fiercely loyal customers, but they’ll notice if you ever try to sell the business off.
Can People Spell Your Business Name?
I’ll be honest here: the name “Navolutions” causes some problems. I’ve heard “Navo Solutions” more times than I can count, and I can only begin to imagine how many times people have gone to the wrong website or tried sending an email to the wrong address.
Don’t make that mistake. If you’re going to go with a company name that isn’t a real word, make sure people can spell it on the first try. Ask friends, family, and strangers on the street until you’re absolutely sure.
Is Your Best Domain Available?
If you can’t buy the .com domain that matches your company name, you’re going to have a bad time.
Forget .net, .us, and all of the other top level domains unless you make your domain part of your company’s name. Otherwise people are going to try going to the .com version.
Don’t even consider using a domain with dashes. People are going to forget the dash and end up at the wrong domain.
Definitely don’t think that you’re going to be able to buy the domain of your dreams once you have some more money. Whoever owns it will see your deeper pockets and use them against you.
If you are in love with your business’s name but can’t get the exact match domain, your best bet is to add another word or words to the business name to get the new domain name.
Simpson Plumbing did this with their domain, simpsonplumbingservices.com, and it causes relatively few problems. Compare that to simpson-plumbing.com, simpsonplumbing.us, or their other options.
Just be sure that the additional words follow the same rules as your business’s name: If you eventually want to branch out from California, simpsonplumbingca.com is probably not your best bet.