Organizing Your Business
Now that you've written your business plan, you should have a good enough feel for your prospective venture to start considering names. Picking your name is the first step in organizing and registering your business. Once you have chosen your name, you can choose a legal structure for your business, register your business with the appropriate local and state authorities, and then open an official business checking account.
Ideally, your business name should convey to potential customers exactly what business you are in, be catchy and easy to remember, have an available web address, and not already be in use by someone else. This is easy to say, but hard to do, so I'll start out by talking about what not to do when picking a name for your business.
Avoid names that tie you to a physical location, such as "Main Street Books." Inevitably, if you pick such a name, your downtown will get revitalized, your landlord will jack up your rent, and you'll be explaining to customers that, although your name is Main Street Books, you're now located across town on South Street.
Avoid cutesy spellings and puns. Given today's Internet environment, you want a name that will make an easy-to-type web address. Thus "Ben's Bookshop" is preferable to "Ben's Book Shoppe." If you're unsure about your prospective business name, call up a few acquaintances and tell them the name and ask them to write it down and email it back to you. If all the answers come back the same, you're good to go; otherwise, you may need to rethink things. Conversely, make sure that someone looking at your written name is going to be able to pronounce it easily. If they can't, your word-of-mouth campaign may fall completely flat.
Avoid really long names. The longer your name, the harder it will be to remember and the more your signage is going to cost. Plus, as the letter count increases on your sign, the letter size (and thus the distance that your sign can be read from) will decrease. If you find yourself trying to cram too much information into your name, consider going with a shorter name and adding a tag line to convey some of the missing information. For example, my business name is Fiction Addiction, which implies that I'm a bookstore and that I carry fiction. My tag line, "Used paperbacks and more," lets people know that I have used books as well.
Don't feel like your name has to convey everything there is to know about your business; instead it just has to evoke the essence. When I started Fiction Addiction, I was not planning to carry any nonfiction at all. Needless to say, that was a bad plan, and I think we started adding nonfiction within six months. But if I were restarting the business today, I'd still go with the name Fiction Addiction even though it is not a complete descriptor of the business. What it does do, however, is get across the message that we're a bookstore and that, even better, we're a bookstore for book addicts and thus we probably like to talk about books, recommend books, and answer any questions you may have about books.
The old adage that your name should start with an A or B to get you at the front of the Yellow Pages listings may still hold true for beauty salons or accountants, but there are usually not enough bookstores in town for this to be a big factor in your name selection.
Once you've developed some potential names, you'll need to check for web availability and trademark conflicts. To check for web availability, go to the website of a domain registrar such as GoDaddy and do a domain search. If you have a multiple-word name, then first try typing the name altogether (like www.fictionaddiction.com). If that's already taken or will create an unwanted consequence (i.e., the site "Who Represents" is an online database of agents, managers, etc. for Hollywood celebrities, but its URL, www.whorepresents.com, can easily be misread as www.WhorePresents.com), then try separating the words with dashes (www.fiction-addiction.com). Keep in mind that addresses ending in .com are much preferable to .net or anything else. If any of the names you are considering are available, you may wish to purchase one or more of the domains immediately (GoDaddy offers rates of under $10/year/domain) so as to preserve your options.
The US Patent and Trademark Office offers a web interface that lets you search its database of pending and registered trademarks. You should do a search for your prospective business name for two reasons: One, to see whether the name is available for you to trademark. After all, if you've picked out a really great name, you don't want anybody else to be able to use it. And two, to make sure you'll not be infringing on anyone else's trademark. If you choose a name that already has been trademarked, at any point in time your business could be sued by the owner of the trademark and be forced to pay fines and/or go through the added expense of picking another name.
When searching the trademark database, keep in mind that trademarks are granted in specific classes. For example, my trademark is for Retail Bookstore Services, Class 35. This means that someone could probably trademark the name Fiction Addiction Web Services as the name of a web design company.
Just because a name isn't trademarked doesn't mean that no one is using it. Before finalizing your name, do a Google search, check your local Yellow Pages, and do a state business name search (usually offered through the Secretary of State's section of your state website).
If you have any questions about naming your business, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stay tuned for the remaining parts of this article:
Part II - Assembling Your Power Team
Part III - Picking Your Business Structure
Part IV - Registering Your Business
Part V - Creating Your Business Logo
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BookThink's Contributing Editor Jill Hexdrix?
Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark