Change your business name: 7 issues
What's in a name? Everything particularly when it comes to your business.
And that should make extreme caution the bedrock of your thinking when considering changing the name of your business.
Granted, there are justifiable reasons for a name change. Perhaps you bought a business with someone else's name and you'd like the operation to reflect you. Maybe your operation has changed so that the current name simply misrepresents your products or services.
Rule of thumb: Approach a name change carefully. Here are seven issues to bear in mind:
1. Identify a substantive reason to change the name.Never change your business' name simply because the current one bores you. Instead, think carefully about what might warrant such a decision and make sure it's genuinely compelling. "It's always a difficult decision," says Luda Kopeikina, author of The Right Decision Every Time: How to Reach Perfect Clarity on Tough Decisions. Your name is a brand that touches a lot of people, and that's a major consideration, Kopeikina says.
2. Know what a name change really entails.Don't ignore all the ramifications of a name change. It doesn't just affect the sign over your front door. Think about business cards, stationery, sales materials and, in particular, any relevant Web sites that will have to be updated. All those taken together can run into a fairly hefty price tag. Kopeikina recommends that any business changing its name maintain two Web sites for at least several months so that customers going to the old site can be redirected. Still, know that a name change isn't 100% customer safe: "You're bound to lose some customers along the way," says Kopeikina.
3. Can you reestablish a brand name?Even the smallest business brands its products and services with its name. If, for instance, you acquire a family-named business with a long-established history associated with that name, determine whether it's feasible to expect that a new name will hold onto even a portion of that valuable branding. "It may often be the better decision to keep the old name and merely say that the company is under new management," says Kopeikina.
4. Keep an eye on your core functions.Up to now, a fairly compelling case can be made to stick with an existing name under most circumstances. But that's not always the case. An effective name must always mirror the primary focus of your business' activity. With that in mind, give some thought to a fresh name if what you do has changed substantially so that a new name would better reflect that activity. Case in point: Seattle-based Curecorp changed its name to 1-800 Water Damage to focus on the company's central purpose: Addressing homes with water damage. "For small businesses, it's a good idea that the new name includes precisely what the business does," says Kopeikina.
5. If a new name makes sense, check it out.If circumstances suggest that a new name may, in fact, benefit your business, don't just slap it on. New York attorney Keith Emmer recommends extensive due diligence see if the name is strikingly close to the name of another business. In particular, watch for registered trademarks: "If your name is even something close to a registered trademark, using it could have expensive legal consequences," he says. Do the same work on the Internet registry if you hope to have an online presence with the new name.
6. Run the new name by customers.Even a new name that strikes every chord with the owner may hit nothing but sour notes with clients and customers. Set up focus groups or conduct extensive interviews with everyone from customers to suppliers. Have them tell you how they feel about the new name. Do they think it captures the essence of your company? Will they remember it a few weeks from now? Do they share your reasoning behind the possibility of a name change? Soliciting feedback from others not only broadens your perspective, but also gives you a feel for how things will actually go if, in fact, the name change moves forward.
7. Above all, take the process slowly.No matter how immediate or compelling a quick decision may seem, it's imperative to approach the decision of a name change as slowly, and as thoughtfully, as possible. The one thing you want to avoid above all is a knee jerk decision that carries destructive consequences for years to come. If you devise a rationale for a name change, review it in a week or two to see if the argument holds up. If you come up with a killer new name, sit on it for a bit to see if it keeps its charm. Ask a customer about a new name, then pose the same question a month later to see if her reaction changes. "You're essentially losing your identity if you decide to change your name, so sleep on it for quite a while," says Kopeikina. "Given enough time, you may realize that it's not worth it. You've got to have a business name that you can live with for a long time."