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BFS Capital Blog

The Do’s and Don’ts of Naming Your Small Business

July 23, 2015

Nobody’s rushing out on Valentine’s Day to buy a dozen long-stemmed stinkweeds.

So even though a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet, you wouldn’t get nearly as many people to buy them. And in the world of small business, getting people to buy is what it’s all about.

Though it might seem like an afterthought to some busy business owners, your company’s name will be how your business is identified, and it is painfully difficult to change once you get started. Instead, take some time to come up with a great business name, and you’ll see why having a catchy name is a key to your business’ long-term success. Here are some simple Dos and Don’ts to follow when naming your small business.

DO incorporate keywords associated with your business – For example, if you’re opening a restaurant business consider using words that define the cuisine or dining experience. If you’re looking to name your liquor store or bar, experiment with words like “spirits”, “whiskey”, “regrettable choices”, whatever. Then see if you can add on some interesting suffixes or prefixes to make it catchy. Sites like Dot-o-Mator, Rhyme Zone, and WriteExpress’ free Online Naming tool can help you brainstorm an original name for your small business.
DON’T use made up words nobody understands – Don’t just make up a word that sounds good to you, because nobody knows what on Earth a “Gerflumfel” is. Unless you’re Google, of course. Google’s name is actually an accidental misspelling of a real-life mathematical term, “googol”, which is used by people smarter than us to reference the numeral 1 followed by 100 zeros. So they accidentally made up a word and it worked out for them. But your business is not Google (yet), so don’t get too cute.

DO use descriptive words about your business – Are you a high-end luxury spa? You might want to throw soft, relaxing words like “rejuvenate” and “serenity” onto that list of keywords. Or if you are a tax prep firm, use words like “accurate” and “you won’t get audited.”
DON’T be cliché – Calling your business “Best Accountants” or “Ultimate Linoleum Installation” is kind of like making your entire industry a summer camp where everyone gets a trophy. If everyone is special, then nobody is special.

DO have a name that says what your company does – Calling your air conditioning maintenance company “Flamingo Repair” might make sense to you, but it doesn’t let your customers know if you fix air conditioners or broken lawn Flamingos. Or you’re a veterinarian who specializes in tropical birds. See? We’re confused already.
DON’T make it long and complicated – Try to keep your business’ name under 10 letters, as that seems to be the magic number for most successful companies. “Big Al’s Air Conditioning, Dishwasher, Cable Box and Flamingo Repair” doesn’t exactly fit neatly into a Twitter handle or your storefront signage.

DO have your business names stand for something – That “something” should be what your company does. Going back to the Google example, did you know that they almost named their business “BackRub”? That’s right, go BackRub it … uh, I mean … Google it and see for yourself. Seems like they dodged a bullet there, didn’t they?
DON’T use a bunch of letters that stands for something nobody knows – “But   wait!” you say. “IBM and KFC and 3M all do that! What can’t I?” Because when they started they were International Business Machines, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing. When your small business gets that big, feel free to shorten your name at will.

DO use funny plays on words, if you can – Why not call your airport parking/dog kennel “Bark and Fly,” or calling your gym the “Swoleness Center”? These quirky business names may get a few chuckles and even some welcomed word-of-mouth referrals.
DON’T use pop culture or dated references – Because in five years, hopefully nobody will remember what “Ariana Grand Pianos” refers to.

DO have a name that resonates with the local community – Your business name should evoke warm and pleasant associations of the area your business is in. Like ‘Sunshine Liquors” in Florida or “Perpetual Groom Wedding Planning” in Seattle.
DON’T use city names – Because what do you do with “Toledo Waxing World” when you decide to expand to Michigan? And, no, everyone in New York, putting your city’s name in front of your business located elsewhere doesn’t make people think it’s any better.

DO make your name unique – Calling yourself Uptown Plumbing is the quickest way to make sure your customers say “We used Downtown plumbing last time, right? Call them again.”
DON’T make it an illogical spelling – Sure, if you’re selling snapback baseball caps at the mall, then it’s ok to call yourself “Lidz.” But your target market probably isn’t going to take you very seriously if you call yourself “Angie’s Interior D-zinez.”

DO think about how the name will look EVERYWHERE – Will your business name look good printed in a newspaper ad, screen printed on a t-shirt, embroidered on a jacket? How will it look on your mobile app, as your Twitter handle, and on your Facebook page? A name that’s too long or that doesn’t reproduce well across various mediums may end up driving people away
DON’T rush the decisions – Naming professionals (yes, this is an entire industry) go through over 300 names when choosing one for a client. It’s a very important decision, so it’s ok to spend at least 3-5 weeks on the process, if not more. Make sure you do your research if you decide to go with a professional naming firm.

DO say your business’ name out loud – Make pretend you’re an 8 year old brat and try to come up with ways to make fun of the business name you’re considering. Say your business’ name out loud to make sure it doesn’t sound weird and rolls off the tongue. This guy clearly did not.
DON’T forget to see what it might mean in other languages – Large corporations do this too, like when Chevy promoted their Nova in Mexico. If you forgot 9th grade Spanish, “no va” in Spanish means “doesn’t go.” Oops.

DO get input from other people on your name – And those people should be the people who are going to care most about your name: your potential customers. This is pretty easily done via an email survey or LinkedIn, Facebook, and other social media channels.
DON’T get the input of friends and family – Though running business names by your spouse every night might seem like a nice change of dinnertime conversation, imagine the repercussions if you don’t take their input.

DO make sure your name isn’t taken – There’s a decent chance that the stroke of genius you just had was already thought of by someone else before. Look to your state’s incorporation site and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to see if your awesome business name idea has already been registered. Not all business names are trademarked, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still be sued. So poke around on the Internet as well.
DON’T make it so close that you could still get sued – Calling yourself “Bestest Buy Electronics” not only makes you sound like a 3rd grader, but will also get you a cease and desist letter.

DO register all domains and social media accounts – People are lazy. So if your business is named “Ear Plug Zone” and your store’s Twitter and Instagram handles aren’t @earplugzone and your website isn’t, then people aren’t going to take the time to find out what they really are.
DON’T use a .net, .biz or .info if your .com domain name is taken – This pretty much screams “I was too cheap to buy my domain from the guy who already has it, and not creative enough to come up with anything else.”

Naming your small business isn’t something that you should take lightly. As shown in this business naming guide by Igor International, it is a process that takes creativity and diligence. It is much more difficult, expensive and time consuming to have to rebrand your businessthan it is to take these business naming tips to heart and get it right the first time.