Find out the pros and cons of using your name versus a business name, 8 tips for a good business name and what to do after deciding on a creative business name. I also share what went into naming my businesses and what I’d do differently with one of them.
- Conroy Creative Counsel
- Rx Creative Lab
- Name Cheap
- USPTO TESS database
- Gratzer Graphics
- Worstofall Design
- Small Business Administration
Naming your creative business might be one of the hardest decisions you’ll make. It’s not something to take lightly. It is the foundation for your brand identity. So you want to make sure it’s something you like, can live with for a long time, won’t limit you and will resonate with prospects and clients.
Importance of a Good Business Name
What’s in a name? Why is it so important? The business name sets the tone for your business before you even say a word. It leaves an immediate impression, which could evoke clarity, professionalism, fun, friendliness—or something else—or that you’re a freelancer, that you’re an agency or that you’re specialized, etc.
Should You Use Your Name or Create a Business Name?
Often, creatives—especially freelancers—wonder if they should use their personal name for their business or come up with something else.
Your Full Name
There are definitely pros and cons to using your name. And by “name,” I don’t mean just your last name. I mean using your first and last name with the word “design” or “creative” or something like that. For example, if I were to have called my design business “Colleen Gratzer Creative,” rather than “Gratzer Graphics.”
If you use your full name, it gives a more personal touch. Clients may assume (rightly or wrongly) that you’re a solopreneur/freelancer and therefore more reachable than an agency with a hierarchy and a gate keeper. “Colleen Gratzer Creative,” for example, sounds like “freelancer,” whereas “Gratzer Graphics” could be made up of just me or more people.
Many potential clients will seek out working with a solopreneur rather than an agency.
Using your full name, especially if it’s not very common, may prove easier to find a domain name and social media profiles that haven’t already been taken.
Using your full name also makes sense if you really want to be the face of your brand and are putting out content and being known for your expertise.
There are several caveats, though, to using your full name.
1. You plus a team
The first is if you ever decide to expand and have a team, how would it sound to continue using your name? Would you want the business name to sound bigger than just you at that point, or would you be fine with continuing using the same name after that?
There is no right answer. It’s more personal preference. Not every designer wants to grow, and that’s totally fine.
Now, I know of a design studio with employees that was named with the owner’s full name plus the word “Design” after it, so it doesn’t mean it can’t work. It’s just something to think about.
2. Doesn’t resonate
Using your full name makes your business sound more about you than your clients. It doesn’t necessarily resonate with potential clients.
Using your full name doesn’t say anything about the type or quality of work you do, who you work with or how it helps your clients. Even adding the word “design” to your name doesn’t convey “graphic design” or “logo design.” It could also be used by someone who does interior design or fashion design, for example.
3. Potential sale
My next point is that using your full name (or even just your last name, for that matter) may make it harder to sell the business down the line. I’ve seen arguments on both sides of the fence with this though.
You probably aren’t thinking right now about selling your business at some point. But you may indeed think about 10, 20, 30 years down the road.
If the business uses your name, someone looking to buy the business may find that to be less attractive because it’s still your name—not theirs. So that’s one argument against it.
4. Name change
Now, you might also want to consider what would happen if you were to ever change your name—due to a change in marital status, for example.
If you decided to change the name, it would cause for a lot of rework—redoing the logo and all of your marketing materials. Not only that, you’d need to put a lot of effort into getting the word out and making sure prospects, clients and colleagues are aware of the change and use that name going forward. There may be confusion, and you’d want to eliminate as much of that as possible.
There are lots of benefits to using a business name.
1. Flexibility in Size
A business name can make you appear to be any size of business—one person or several people. If your business appears to be more than just you, you could potentially get larger jobs. Even if you have no issues handling larger projects as a solopreneur, clients often can’t help but envision that only one person can do so large a job or take on so much work at a time.
Early on in my freelance career, before I had anyone working with me, I was in this boat many times. It was extremely frustrating. Once, I was turned down for a media kit job, which I could have done in my sleep. When I asked why I didn’t get the work, the prospect told me that “lack of staff” was the reason.
I am not suggesting that you try to be all things to everyone either. I’ve done that too, and it’s exhausting. If you want to be solo, that’s perfectly fine. Just say true to that and work with those who appreciate that.
2. Industry relevance
A business name that isn’t your name may resonate more with potential clients, especially if it’s one that makes sense with the industry you serve. I’ve got a few great examples of this.
- My friend Karin Conroy has a design agency called Conroy Creative Counsel. Can you guess what her niche is? Lawyers. Not only does the name sound all legalese, but even the About page on the site refers to them as “The Firm,” like a lawyer would refer to their practice.
- A colleague of mine has an agency called Rx Creative Lab. The owner used to use her last name in the business name and then rebranded to reflect the industry they target, which is the medical industry.
- Another colleague, Roxy Vélez, has an agency called Vexquisit. It serves the vegan market.
Coming Up With a Business Name
If you decide to come up with a business name and not use your own name, there are a lot of ways to start thinking of some ideas for names. You might want to consider:
- What you want people to think and how you want them to feel when they see the business name,
- The names of your competitors,
- A trait that describes your work or work ethic,
- The service you provide,
- The industry you serve.
When I came up with the name for my design business, Gratzer Graphics, I chose “Graphics” because of the alliteration and because it relates to design.
When I came up with the name for my other business, Creative Boost, I went a completely different route.
I spent several weekends listing out design-related terms. That was a must for me, so my audience, you, would understand what I do. I used a thesaurus to help with that. I also wanted a word in the name to convey such feelings as “uplifting,” support,” “enhancing” and so forth.
I then started putting a few together, mixing and matching them, to see how they looked and even sounded out loud.
8 Tips for a Good Business Name
1. Uniqueness from competitors
Let’s go into uniqueness from competitors. You want to make sure your business name is unique. That may require combining parts from two words, for example, making up a whole new word entirely. But you don’t want to end up with something that, while it may be clever, could be confusing to potential clients. Clear beats clever and confusing any day.
Availability is vital. While deciding on a name for my business that eventually came to be called Creative Boost, after coming up with a few ideas, I went and searched online to see which names, if any, were in use anywhere.
I wanted to check to see if it was being used by anyone in my state, by a similar type of business and which domain names, if any, were available for it. That’s how I ended up having to use a hyphen in the URL to get a .com. I also bought other variations of the domain and redirected them to the main one, the .com.
By the way, if you need to buy a domain, I recommend Name Cheap. Not only are their domain names cheap (see, that’s a good business name right there!), but their interface is easy to use.
Name in use
Besides the availability of the URL, there is also the potential that another business in your jurisdiction is using it already. In the United States—I think but can’t remember, and I’m not a lawyer—that two businesses may be allowed to have the same name if they are in different states. Also, I believe the same names are allowed in different countries depending on the company’s market.
This ensures that business names aren’t confusing to customers within a certain market.
There is also the possibility that the name has been trademarked.
If you’re in the United States, you can search the USPTO TESS database to see if the name you’re interested in has been trademarked or not. You don’t want to infringe on another business’ trademark. That would be costly not only in terms of legal fees and damages but also in terms of having to rebrand your business.
I talked about this with lawyer Matt Johnston in the episode Tips About Trademarking Logo Designs.
Social media pages
It’s a good idea to also check the availability of various social media profiles.
3. Easy to pronounce
The name you come up with should be easy to pronounce. If it isn’t, it will make it harder for people to talk about your business and refer others to you. If it isn’t easy to pronounce, will they remember it?
4. Easy to remember
So speaking of the name needing to be easy to remember, that’s vital. If you tell someone your business name or a colleague refers a potential client to you, if they don’t remember, how will they find you? They can try to look you up online, but they still may not find you.
5. Easy to spell
It’s important that the name be easy to spell.
My business name, Gratzer Graphics, is an example of this. I’ve seen “Gratzer” spelled “Grazer.” If there is the potential for a misspelling, it would be a good idea to buy URLs with those spellings as well. So I could buy GrazerGraphics.com as well.
6. Makes sense for the industry and/or audience
Your business name should be clear to prospects and be relevant to the industries you serve, if you’re niched by industry. Remember the examples I mentioned earlier.
When you serve a certain industry and your business name reflects that, prospects in that industry will immediately feel that you understand their needs. That puts you higher up on their list against more generalist designers or firms.
If I had to go back and redo the name of my client-based business, I might not use my last name and, instead, choose something more specific to nonprofits, since we’ve always served nonprofits.
7. Sufficient specificity
While your business name could be specific to a certain type of work, you don’t necessarily want it to be too specific.
For example, when I came up with the name for my design business, Gratzer Graphics, I thought “Graphics” worked because it wasn’t too specific—like “publications” or “websites” or “logos”—for the type of work we do.
“Design” or “Creative” could have worked, but they didn’t have the alliteration.
Interestingly, one of our clients always calls us the “Gratzer Group.” That sounds less specific but maybe a little more prestigious actually.
But I digress…
You can use specificity in the business name to your advantage. Let’s take a look at designer who’s leveraged that—famous logo designer and author Jeff Fisher. His business name is LogoMotives. That’s his focus. His business revolves around branding and creating logos for many different purposes. That makes perfect sense.
If you make the name specific to a service, just keep in mind that if you later change or add to your services, your business name will no longer reflect that unless you change it.
On the other hand, you don’t want your business name to be too generic either, such as Best Logo Designer. If someone searches online for that, other businesses may appear ahead of yours in search results.
8. No negative connotations
There are cases you can make for and against this, but typically it’s best to avoid negative connotations. It could turn off potential clients.
When Chevrolet was coming out with a name for the Nova, they called it “Nova.” In Spanish that means “it doesn’t go.” So that doesn’t work for a car.
But you could make it work. For example, Pia Silva’s company is called Worstofall Design. It originated from her partner’s last name, Wasterval. While in college, his friends gave him “Worstofall” as a nickname. It’s unique. It’s clever. It’s certainly memorable.
Settling on Your Business Name
Once you’ve decided on your business name, you’ll want to take several steps.
- Design a logo.
- Buy domains, including those that have a misspelling or there is a word that is commonly misspelled, so you can redirect them to your main domain.
- Create social media pages.
- Register the business name with your local jurisdiction.
- Decide if you will make it a limited liability company, a corporation, a limited partnership, etc. I recommend talking with a lawyer and accountant to see what’s best for your situation.
Consider registering the business name as a trademark, to protect it from use by someone else.
Apply for a business tax ID number. In the United States, this is called an EIN, and you use it in place of your SSN.
Apply for a business license and/or sales and use tax license, if required in your jurisdiction.
- Start doing business in your business name.
- Add it to or change it on your:
- e-mail account and signature;
- social media pages/profiles;
- Google My Business page;
- letterhead and business cards;
- estimates, contracts, proposals and invoices;
- bank accounts, credit cards and online payment gateways (you’ll need business accounts if you don’t have them set up that way already);
- client-facing online accounts such as for proposal software;
- phone book (if you have a listing there) and any online directories.
You may also want to check out resources provided by governmental organizations near you. In the United States, check out the Small Business Administration.
What you use for your business name won’t guarantee your success. But there are definitely some practices to avoid, as I mentioned.
I hope this was helpful. If it was, please do me a favor and share it on social media or with a friend and leave a review. I really enjoy creating this content for you, and if you do that, it will really help me out.