Picking a Business Name in 7 Easy Steps

by Tom McEwin on 15 December, 2010

The process of picking a business name can be a tough one, and is something I went though recently.  In this post I’ll outline how to tackle this task in 7 easy steps and give you some resources to help simplify things.  Hopefully this will help to overcome some of the potential stumbling blocks and make sure the process doesn’t end up in tears.

The Importance of Picking the Right Business Name

Picking the wrong business name can end in tears

Picking a business name can be an absolute chore, but it is something that is important to get right.  A business name can potentially have a powerful effect on a customer (good or bad), so it is worth spending a bit of time on.  If we get it right, then we can have a name to be proud of and something to happily channel our time and effort into.  But if we get it wrong and choose a name that is not suitable, we may find ourselves back where we started and having to pick another business name all over again, or possibly even abandoning the business.

Choosing a Business Name in 7 Easy Steps

Step 1 – An Idea

The first thing to do when picking a business name is to have a clear idea of what you intend the business to do and where the business may end up.  In particular, it is important to make sure we have a firm idea about the goals and products/services of the business and some sort of a rough plan for its future development.  This way we can ensure that the name chosen will suit the business not only initially but also as it grows.

Step 2 – Brainstorming

The next step is to get the creative juices flowing and to start brainstorming names which suit the business.  As outlined in this article, there are a number of different ways to come up with a business name, including:

  1. Personal names (such as McDonald’s or Gillette);
  2. Made up names (such as Microsoft or Google);
  3. Descriptive business names (such as British Airways, or International Business Machines); and
  4. Combined Business Names (such as Dell Computers).

Each of these have their benefits and disadvantages.  For example, one issue which personal names and made up names may encounter is that it is not apparent from the name itself what a business does.  But while purely descriptive business names tend to avoid this problem, they do so at the risk of being potentially less ‘brandable’.

Here are a couple of methods which I found useful when brainstorming:

  • thinking of a theme for my business and then chasing down synonyms using thesaurus.com;
  • thinking of part of a word stem I wanted to turn into a made up or combined business name, then using the ‘contains’ search at morewords.com to explore options; and
  • online business name generators such as this one.

Step 3 – Culling the List

Once we have a bunch of possible business names, the next step in picking a business name is to whittle down the list.  In practice I found myself doing this a fair bit as I went, although I did have patches when I would just get into pure brainstorming mode.

The questions I asked myself in relation to each potential name were:

  1. is it easy to spell and pronounce?
  2. is it fairly short (1 to 3 words)?
  3. does it have a visual element to help make it memorable?
  4. does it have a positive connotation that matches my business?
  5. does it give my business room to grow?
  6. does it communicate the unique selling proposition of my business?
  7. does it include any major keywords I want to target?

None of these questions were will be determinative and there could be good reason to go with a name which doesn’t fit one of these criteria.   But they are a useful guide.  I found that when a possible name didn’t meet a number of these then I really needed to keep brainstorming.

Business Name Availability

Step 4 – Checking Availability

Once we have a list of suitable business name options, the next step is to check whether those names are available.  By ‘available’ I mean not only seeing whether a particular business name / company name is already in use, but also checking domain name availability and any registered trademarks which could complicate things.  If you would like more information on the differences between these from an Australian perspective, then try this useful article by IP Australia.

It is at this stage where a fair amount of luck comes into play.  In doing my own research I found the domain names more likely to be the limiting factor.  There were so many domains for great business names taken and not being used for anything.  A shame on all those domain name hoarders out there.

Here are some tools I used to take care of the research for an Australian business:

Taking a Bit of Extra Time

Step 5 – Sleep on it

Eventually we will get to a point where we have what seems to be the right name, that fortunately happens to be available.  Then what?  Unless the name looks like it is so good that it could shortly become unavailable, I recommend taking the time to reflect on the name and see if it really meets all the above criteria, and to play around with it a bit.

If it doesn’t seem quite right, then back we go to steps 1 through 4 (kind of like snakes and ladders).

Step 6 – Consult

Once we have reflected on things and are sure the name does actually meet all the requirements we have set for it, the next step in picking a business name is to road test the idea with friends and family.  The sort of people who will happily give constructive criticism and can also act as a sounding board for explaining the business concept.  I found this step particularly useful, and it gave me a bunch of ideas to feed back into the earlier steps when I had already thought through most of the issues.

Locking it in!

Step 7 – Registering the Business Name

There will come a point when we have a suitable business name, that meets the above criteria (or most of them) and is available.  It is easy to keep analysing past this point.  But if we did that then the business would never get off the ground.

Once we have done the work, it is important to take action by:

  1. registering the company or business name;
  2. acquiring the domain name; and
  3. getting started on the business itself.

Next time you are picking a business name, I hope you find the above steps take some of the pain out of the process.  Good luck!

© Tom McEwin

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Jan Littlehales December 17, 2010 at 11:04 AM

Hi Tom,
I registered a business name in 2000, well before the internet had really taken off, so I didn’t consider several of your valid points – like is the domain name available? and does it include major keywords?
For anyone considering picking a business name today, your advice is spot on. Great work.
Jan Littlehales´s last blog post ..Pasta Bake – in Ten Minutes

Cade December 17, 2010 at 9:35 PM

Excellent article Tom.
Thanks for the great advice on picking a business name.

The use of keyword tools can really speed up the brainstorming process, as its where the value can be added or lost (thanks for the links). If your business name also includes your keywords, it can help you rank your domain, early in the piece, as made-up names can be take time to get established.

Cade´s last blog post ..Learn How To Blog – “Sneak Peak” Review

Jackie Stenhouse December 17, 2010 at 9:46 PM

Thanks for these great tips on picking a business name. You really have to put a lot of thought into this as its often the first impression of your business.

Tom McEwin December 19, 2010 at 11:14 PM

Hi Jan, Cade and Jackie – thanks for you comments and glad you found it useful. Took a while to research everything, but writing this post really helped clarify the things for me as I chose my new company name.

Cheers, Tom

David Moloney January 5, 2011 at 11:08 PM

Hi Tom,

This is a really good resource for people trying to grapple with the process of picking a business name. It’s great that you not only cover the creative side of things (which is the most popular part), but you’ve delivered extra value by taking the time to list all the other resource links that business owners need to be aware of. It’s clear from your article that picking a business name is so much more than a creative process with a pencil and an eraser.

I’m also a big fan of ‘sleeping on it’, coming up with a good business name can make you feel happy. But bettering it with a great business name will make you feel on top of the World.
David Moloney´s last blog post ..ColorPic- Determine Any Colour on Your Screen

Tom McEwin January 6, 2011 at 9:49 PM

Thanks for your comment David. The creative side of picking a business name was definitely the hardest part of the process for me. Luckily my family were able to help out with a few ideas along the way and the final business name was and is a perfect fit.

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