Branding Your Small Business: What’s in a Name?

One of the first things most small business owners must do is name their business. Sounds easy enough, right? But, it’s not that easy. Your business name is an extension of your brand – you know, that perception that customers or clients have about your product or service. Your branding is more than just your logo, colors, and name, though. It should reflect and reinforce the culture and value of your business.

So, how do you choose a business name that reflects your product and extends your brand?

Start by identifying your market. Who are your customers or clients? What makes them tick? What do they like and dislike? Talk to them and find out everything you can about them. They are the people you want to impress with your business name.

Next, brainstorm a long list of words that are associated with the work you do and the value you provide to your customers. What do you want people to think of when they think of your business? Play with the words and generate some possible names. Evaluate those names – test them out on friends and potential customers and narrow your list to three to five decent choices.

Naming experts generally agree that effective business names should be short (one or two words), memorable, easy to say, easy to spell and convey the purpose of the business (like Whole Foods). Alliteration works nicely (TED Talks), but don’t force it. Coining a new word (Google) works, too, but avoid awkward iterations like “QualiServe”.

Now, test your top five names to make sure they are not already in use or trademarked and to insure there is a domain URL (web address) available for them. Google your name choices, check social media sites for them, and use a testing site like or the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office test site to see if your top choices show up somewhere else. Using a name that is already trademarked can turn into big trouble later on. Olympic Provisions, a charcuterie shop in Portland, Oregon, had to change its name to Olympia Provisions years after it started its business because the U.S. Olympic Committee sued them.

Once you’ve vetted your short list, say each name out loud. What does it sound like when you answer your business phone? How do people react to it when they hear it?

Now, choose the best of the list, and do a happy dance!

This process may seem like a lot of work, but it’s worth it. After all, your business name is a first impression. If you don’t think you have the skills to go through this process, you can hire a professional naming/branding firm. There are some firms willing to get you started for a decent fee, but if you want to turn the whole process over to a major firm it can cost up to $80,000 and six months of time to get your business named.

After you’ve selected your single best business name, you’ll need to register and protect it. You can register your name by filing a DBA (Doing Business As, also known as a Fictitious Name) in your state, by setting up your business as an LLC or partnership (which works if you’re only doing business locally or in a small defined area) or by trademarking your business name (for national or web-based businesses). If you want some help, Team Holly can do it all for you! Just drop us a line.

Naming your business is a big step in your branding strategy. Have fun with it. Be creative. Be diligent and you will be well on your way to success.  Already have your business name? Tell us your business naming or branding story.

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