If you’re thinking about starting a new business here in San Luis Obispo County, chances are you already have a name or two in mind just like any expecting parent would. Naming your business can be a lot of fun for the creatively inclined individual, but if you stop to think about it for a moment, the name of your business might just be the most important attribute of the entire thing. Think about it – the name will become your website, social media handle, logo, marketing, merchandising, and is the foundation of your brand’s essence. Selecting a name isn’t something to take lightly. In fact, creative people often choose names that are the furthest from a representation of their brand, so everyone needs to be prepared to roll up their sleeves and do some serious work.
It’s first important to know at least something about your brand: what you want to represent to the world, how you want customers to see your business, maybe even what color your brand will be. For example, my color is green (like the money I help my clients find as a business coach), which in marketing means my business is about growth, restoration, prosperity, sanctuary, and good judgment. Green is also the color of Starbucks and Holiday Inn.
Secondly, a business name is best if it conveys a message. This is where art and science get together to help you form a name. I could have named my business The Business Consultant of San Luis Obispo County because that name conveys the message of what I am, but it doesn’t convey any messaging about what I do or what I value. Going back to Holiday Inn for a moment, the word Inn conveys what they are, a hotel, and Holiday adds value to the name’s message about their brand – remember they chose green for restoration and sanctuary and a holiday (meaning a vacation, not Christmas) is a great time to find restoration in your own little sanctuary away from home. You can continue to read into the name further, but you should now see that even at the surface a business name is more complicated than you might have thought. Some of the best branding consultants have studied psychology to aid them in making these kinds of decisions.
Next, you have to look for the unique without going overboard. Other businesses may have the budget to use an unrealistic name. By pouring money into heavy branding marketing (where the purpose of the advertisement is for name recognition and brand awareness, not sales – i.e. “I’ve heard of them, they do ____.”), a name like Zoopla might mean something to you some day. But from the marketing budgets I’ve seen in this area as a business coach and consultant, I am going to guess you don’t have enough set aside to blanket your industry with name recognition ads. As you start to come up with name ideas, type them into an Internet search or on a social media platform like Facebook. Check to see if anyone is using it in a big way, or a negative way. What you don’t want to have happen is pick a name like Red Bull Paso Robles when you sell livestock because there will be so much noise from the Red Bull energy drink interfering with your traffic that you’ll have an uphill battle to fight every single day. Red Bull Stud Service might even be too difficult for your clients to try and find you on Facebook, so ask yourself if you can settle for a different shade of red and check out becoming Wild Bill’s Burgundy Bull Stud Service of Paso Robles.*
After filtering your name options down to the ones with less noise and less competition (maybe there is a Play It Again Sam’s Second Hand Store* 1,000 miles away but you’re still really interested in the name), it’s time to start checking for legal availability. There are three places to search before you make your final decision on a name: the County Clerk Recorder, the California Secretary of State, and the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
County Clerk Recorder – http://clerk.slocounty.ca.gov/fbn
What you’re looking for here is a Fictitious Business Name (FBN) within the same county that is the same as what you are thinking about using. This is the most important of all three of these legal listings for small businesses that are not planning on becoming a corporation or registering a trademark for their business name. You can go to the County Clerk Recorder’s website and search business names to see if there is anything the same or similar to what you are considering. It’s important not to skip looking for similar names to prevent confusion or infringement on their rights. Don’t think you’re so small that no one will notice – it has already happened here with a restaurant in San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles and it could become a very expensive legal battle for you.
California Secretary of State – http://kepler.sos.ca.gov
You want to conduct a business search to look for corporations registered with the State of California. This search will not tell you if a name is available, but it will tell you if something is in use already. After you check the name with the USPTO, you can come back to this site and reserve your name for 60 days for just $10 (currently) if you are planning on becoming a corporation. For more information about making the decision to become a corporation and the types of corporations, please watch both parts of my presentation for the AARP here:
USPTO’s Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) – http://tmsearch.uspto.gov
The easiest way to use this site is to conduct a Basic Word Mark Search. You’re looking to see if the name you’re after is in use, not if a logo is in use. In the search form select plural and singular, live (dead trademarks might be something you would pursue), your proposed business name in the search term, then leave the rest as-is and click on Submit Query. This will show you registered trademarks on the name, if there are any. Some businesses will have many registrations to protect all forms of their name, like Pepsi which will pull up 391 records including #sayitwithpepsi® and Crystal Pepsi®.
Now you should have refined your name into something meaningful, communicative, and uniquely yours. Now get out there and make it known!