As an entrepreneur, coming up with business name is one of the hardest things you will ever do. It may seem like a simple matter, but the business name you choose will define your brand for years to come, and you want to make sure that the name conveys the right message of who you are and what you stand for.
In the process of deciding on a business name, I read many articles and asked many people for advice. Naturally, I ended up with just as many opinions. On top of that, I needed a domain name to match my business name. There was also the question of whether to include my own name or use a less personal brand name.
During my journey to find the “perfect” name, I discovered that my struggles were not uncommon, but shared by many other entrepreneurs. If you’re struggling too, allow me to shine a bit more light on your path.
Personal vs. Brand Name
I confess that I wavered between these two options for a while before deciding to go with a brand name. For the first few months of flying solo after leaving a web design agency, I worked under the name J.C. Foster Design. I also bought a domain name: jcfosterdesign.com. This worked well for me and there is nothing inherently wrong with it. However, I was not satisfied with the message the name conveyed to my target audience.
A Matter of Trust
It has been a great hurdle for me to go from being perceived as a freelancer to being regarded as an established consultant. Of course I’m a one-woman show right now until I expand my team, but I’m definitely not a freelancer. By “freelancer” I don’t mean anything derogatory, as I still do freelance as a copywriter and proofreader on occasion and I know there are numerous people who make a living that way. But in the field of web design and digital marketing, I strive to position myself as a stable source of expertise and customer service. This means that I don’t accept every client who walks in the door and I’m not working temporarily.
I’ve had more than one client ask me, “What will happen to my site if something happens to you, like you have an accident, or get married, or move somewhere.” I would bet that most agencies don’t hear such questions, though I suppose clients could ask, “What will happen to my site if you go out of business?” In my view, this indicates a lack of trust and a perception of instability, which is precisely what I want to avoid.
Web vs. Other Businesses
In some cases, going with your personal name makes sense. For example, I have connections to a large group of wedding photographers, and many of them choose to call their business “Jane Doe Photography” and don’t change the name even if they get married. They typically remain solopreneurs for the rest of their careers, contracting out services to other vendors as needed. And they make good money too.
However, for web-related businesses who plan to expand their team in the future and take on large and ongoing contracts with other businesses, the name can make a difference. Some bigger clients may not want to work with you if you use your personal name, because they don’t see you as the leader of a team, but as a single freelancer.
Moreover, you need to consider if your personal name will be future-proof. Does your name alone carry enough weight to engender trust and loyalty in potential clients? The name itself doesn’t matter; it’s the reputation behind the name. In my case, I simply did not feel that I could move forward in the best way under “J.C. Foster Design.”
Finding a Domain Name
Having decided to change my business name, I entered a stressful period of brainstorming all sorts of potential names. Each time I thought I had a winner, I checked to see if there was a matching domain name available with the .com suffix. More often than not, the domain I wanted was either already registered or the owner wanted an exorbitant amount of money for it. Eventually, though, I had a fairly long list of potential domain names.
It’s unfortunate that domain name availability limits your pool of business names. I sometimes wonder if I should become a domain name broker to get a share of the tens of thousands of dollars these names go for. I’m only half joking.
Alternatives to .COM?
Many businesses deal with the problem by getting a different domain suffix like .net or .biz. (Of course non-profits can get by with .org). I’m not a fan of this method because it tends to dilute your brand recognition. When we do a Google search for a company’s website, we usually type in .com after the business name. That suffix is so common that most people assume your domain name ends with it. So if you have a less common suffix, you will have trouble being found on the Internet.
For a while I toyed with the idea of getting a .co suffix, but that presents even more problems. It’s fine to purchase .co in addition to your .com domain, but it should not be the main domain because people tend to add the “m” and they might land on a stranger’s site (or even your competitor’s site). I went ahead and registered the .co version to protect my brand so that I wouldn’t end up with a competitor with such a similar domain.
Start With Why
At this point I’d like to take a moment to credit Simon Sinek, the author of Start With Why, which is an amazing book that every entrepreneur should read. And by amazing, I mean life-changing. Yes, it’s that good. In the book Simon uses detailed examples of real businessmen who started out with a clear sense of WHY they were in business in the first place. If you don’t know your WHY at the beginning, you will have to resort to manipulating customers using price and features, instead of winning their loyalty through a shared belief.
What Do I Offer?
After a couple of weeks of trying to invent a catchy business name, my brain was tired. I still didn’t have my WHY nailed down, though I did have a fuzzy idea of WHAT I wanted to offer. I knew I didn’t want to be a boutique or “bespoke” web agency that created completely unique designs. Don’t get me wrong, I am a creative person. I love to design websites, write stories, and solve problems. But I’m not out to win any web design awards or select clients based on the artistic potential of their projects. That’s why I generally don’t accept projects that require logo creation or branding design unless the client has the budget to allow me to outsource these tasks.
On the contrary, my goal for this business is to create good-looking websites that work for their owners in terms of generating inquiries and increasing sales. Along with my creativity, I have a rather pragmatic outlook. I want my websites to actively meet a need: to do something besides look pretty on the Internet.
Lastly, I considered the client’s perspective. What kinds of problems do most clients face when trying to build an online presence? And what makes them part ways with one web agency and seek out another (such as mine)? There can be a multitude of reasons, but commonly they become dissatisfied with the status quo because their site:
- Is out of date
- Looks bad on mobile
- Doesn’t get a lot of love from their current agency
- Isn’t making any money
- Is difficult to use
In other words, clients want a website that is modern, mobile-friendly, secure, well-maintained, and profitable for their business. Obviously it also needs to be user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing, but the design doesn’t have to include a lot of bells and whistles. Think of it as the difference between a concept car and a sedan.
Finding My Why
Finally the name came to me: Imagine Higher. It wasn’t an epiphany or “aha” moment. In fact, this name was just another idea my weary brain churned out. I said it aloud a few times, tested it on my friends and family. I even typed it in to the domain search…it was available! But was it “perfect”? At first, the answer was no. However, after infusing it with my WHY, I found that it did suit my business perfectly. To use Simon Sinek’s formula:
WHY: I believe in serving other human beings to help them succeed.
HOW: The way I do this is by building relationships with other businesses based on honesty, integrity, and trust.
WHAT: I build and maintain websites and offer digital marketing services.
From my journey you can see that choosing a business name can take time and a lot of thinking. If you don’t take anything else away from this post, I hope that the concept of WHY sticks with you, maybe even makes you a bit uncomfortable. But once you endure these existential growing pains, you will find that you have a greater sense of purpose, and that will translate to your clients, who will see not just a service provider, but a partner in their success.