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Raising A Millionaire: Quote of the Week

"The path to our destination is not always a straight one. We go down the wrong road, we get lost, we turn back. Maybe it doesn't matter which road we embark on. Maybe what matters is that we embark."

  -Barbara Hall

Raising A Millionaire: Article of the Week
How to Name Your Business
What's in a business name? Plenty. Not only must your name reflect your brand and be memorable, there are also a host of legal issues to consider. Here's how to choose a name that'll best suit your business.

What's in a name? A lot, when it comes to small-business success. The right name can make your company the talk of the town; the wrong one can doom it to obscurity and failure. If you're smart, you'll put just as much effort into naming your business as you did into coming up with your idea, writing your business plan and selecting a market and location. Ideally, your name should convey the expertise, value and uniqueness of the product or service you've developed.

There's a lot of controversy over what makes a good business name. Some experts believe that the best names are abstract, a blank slate upon which to create an image. Others think that names should be informative, so customers know immediately what your business is. Some believe that coined names (names that come from made-up words) are more memorable than names that use real words. Others think most coined names are eminently forgettable. In reality, any type of name can be effective if it's backed by the appropriate marketing strategy.

Do It Yourself?
Given all the considerations that go into a good company name, shouldn't you consult an expert, especially if you're in a field in which your company name will be visible and may influence the success of your business? And isn't it easier to enlist the help of a naming professional?

Yes. Just as an accountant will do a better job with your taxes and an ad agency will do a better job with your ad campaign, a naming firm will be more adept at naming your firm than you will. Naming firms have elaborate systems for creating new names, and they know their way around the trademark laws. They have the expertise to advise you against bad name choices and explain why others are good. A name consultant will take this perplexing task off your hands--and do a fabulous job for you in the process.

The downside is cost. A professional naming firm may charge anywhere from a few thousand dollars to $35,000 or more to develop a name. The benefit, however, is that spending this money now can save you money in the end. Professional namers may be able to find a better name--one that is so recognizable and memorable, it will cut down your costs in the long run. They have the expertise to help you avoid legal hassles with trademarks and registration--problems that can cost you plenty if you end up choosing a name that already belongs to someone else. And they are familiar with design elements, such as how a potential name might work on a sign or stationery.

If you can spare the money from your startup budget, professional help could be a solid investment. After all, the name you choose now will affect your marketing plans for the duration of your business. If you're like most small-business owners, though, the responsibility for thinking up a name will be all your own. The good news: By following the same basic steps professional namers use, you can come up with a meaningful moniker that works . . . without breaking the bank.

What Does It Mean?
Start by deciding what you want your name to communicate. To be most effective, your company name should reinforce the key elements of your business.

Should your name be meaningful? Most experts say yes. The more your name communicates to consumers, the less effort you must exert to explain it. Alan Siegel, chairman and CEO of Siegel & Gale, an international communications firm, believes name developers should give priority to real words or combinations of words over fabricated words. He explains that people prefer words they can relate to and understand. That's why professional namers universally condemn strings of numbers or initials as a bad choice. On the other hand, it is possible for a name to be too meaningful. Naming consultant S.B. Master cautions business owners need to beware of names that are too narrowly defined. Common pitfalls are geographic names or generic names. Take the name "San Pablo Disk Drives" as a hypothetical example. What if the company wants to expand beyond the city of San Pablo, California? What meaning will that name have for consumers in Chicago or Pittsburgh? And what if the company diversifies beyond disk drives into software or computer instruction manuals?

Before you start thinking up names for your new business, try to define the qualities that you want your business to be identified with. If you're starting a hearth-baked bread shop, for example, you might want a name that conveys freshness, warmth, and a homespun atmosphere. Immediately, you can see that names like "Kathy's Bread Shop" or "Arlington Breads" would communicate none of these qualities. But consider the name "Open Hearth Breads." The bread sounds homemade, hot, and just out of the oven. Moreover, if you diversified your product line, you could alter the name to "Open Hearth Bakery." This change would enable you to hold onto your suggestive name without totally mystifying your established clientele.

Brain Storming Business Names
Begin brainstorming business names, looking in dictionaries, books and magazines to generate ideas. Get friends and relatives to help if you like; the more minds, the merrier. Think of as many workable names as you can during this creative phase. Professional naming firms start out with a raw base of 800 to 1,000 names and work from there. You probably don't have time to think of that many, but try to come up with at least 10 names that you feel good about. By the time you examine them from all angles, you'll eliminate at least half.

The trials you put your names through will vary depending on your concerns. Some considerations are fairly universal. For instance, your name should be easy to pronounce, especially if you plan to rely heavily on print ads or signs. If people can't pronounce your name, they will avoid saying it. It's that simple. And nothing could be more counterproductive to a young company than to strangle its potential for word-of-mouth advertising.

Other considerations depend on more individual factors. For instance, if you're thinking about marketing your business globally or if you're located in a multilingual area, you should make sure that your new name has no negative connotations in other languages. On another note, if your primary means of advertising will be in the telephone directory, you might favor names that are closer to the beginning of the alphabet. Finally, make sure that your name is in no way embarrassing. Put on the mind of a child and tinker with the letters a little. If none of your doodlings make you snicker, it's probably OK.

Making Up a Name
At a time when almost every existing word in the language has been trademarked, the option of coining a name is becoming more popular. Perhaps the best coined names come from professional naming firms. Some examples are Acura, a division of Honda Motor Co. coined by NameLab, and Flixx, a name CDI coined for a chain of video rental stores.

Properly formulated coined names can be even more meaningful than existing words. Take, for example, the name "Acura." Although it has no dictionary definition, it actually suggests precision engineering, just as the company intended. How can that be? "Acura" was created from "acu," a word segment that means "precise" in many languages. Working with meaningful word segments produces new words that are both meaningful and unique.

An easier solution is to use new spellings of existing words. For instance, CDI's creation: "Flixx." "Flixx" draws upon the slang term "flicks," meaning movies. But the unusual spelling makes it interesting, while the double "X" at the end makes it visually appealing. Just as important, "Flixx" is more likely to be available for trademarking than "Flicks," a factor that's especially important to a chain operation interested in national expansion.

The truth About Trademarking
After you've narrowed the field to, say, four or five business names that are memorable, expressive and can be read by the average kindergartner, you are ready to do a trademark search.

Must every name be trademarked? No. Many small businesses don't register their business names. As long as your state government gives you the go-ahead, you may operate under an unregistered business name for as long as you like--assuming, of course, that you aren't infringing on anyone else's trade name.

But what if you are? Imagine either of these two scenarios: You are a brand-new manufacturing business just about to ship your first orders. An obscure company in Ogunquit, Maine, considers your name an infringement on their trademark and engages you in a legal battle that bankrupts your company. Or, envision your business in five years. It's a thriving, growing concern, and you are contemplating expansion. But just as you are about to launch your franchise program, you learn that a small competitor in Modesto, California, has the same name, rendering your name unusable.

Ensuring that your name is going to be federally registerable is important. Also make sure that the individual states that you want to do business in will let you do business under that name. Enlisting the help of a trademark attorney or at least a trademark search firm before you decide on a name is highly advisable. The extra money you spend now could save you countless hassles and expenses further down the road. Try to contain your excitement about any one name until it has cleared the trademark search. It can be very demoralizing to lose a name you've been fantasizing about.

Final Analysis
If you're lucky, you'll end up with three to five business names that pass all your tests. How do you make your final decision?

Recall all your initial criteria. Which name best fits your objectives? Which name most accurately describes the company you have in mind? Which name do you like the best?

Each company arrives at a final decision in its own way. Some entrepreneurs go with their gut or use personal reasons for choosing one name over another. Others are more scientific. Some companies do consumer research or testing with focus groups to see how the names are perceived. Others might decide that their name is going to be most important seen on the back of a truck, so they have a graphic designer turn the various names into logos to see which works best as a design element.

Use any or all of these criteria. You can do it informally: Ask other people's opinions. Doodle an idea of what each name will look like on a sign or on your business stationery. Read each name aloud, paying special attention to the way it sounds if you foresee radio advertising or telemarketing in your future. Professional naming firms devote anywhere from six weeks to six months to the naming process. You probably won't have that much time, but plan to spend at least a few weeks on selecting a name. Once your decision is made, start building your enthusiasm for the new name immediately. Your name is your first step toward building a strong company identity, one that should last you as long as you're in business.

Raising A Millionaire: Other Articles

12 Great Reasons to Start a Business - Before you dive in check out the following 12 best reasons for starting a business.

Making Your Dreams a Reality -The successful entrepreneur does not keep his or her head in the clouds for long, because the only way dream becomes reality is a plan.

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