Commentary | Your business name is important

August 9, 2013 

Consider a man riding a bicycle. Whoever he is, we can say three things about him. We know he got on the bicycle and started to move. We know that at some point he will stop and get off. Most important of all, we know that if at any point between the beginning and the end of his journey he stops moving and does not get off the bicycle he will fall off it. That is a metaphor for the journey through life of any living thing, and I think of any society of living things.

-- William Golding

A business name is important as it communicates what the business does and how it can help its customers. Basically it represents in words what you do, and it must be vetted very carefully to ensure it says the right thing.

I recently went on a bicycle ride sponsored by Sunshine Cycles. They hold group rides every week, which I enjoy very much.

During one ride, I struck up a conversation with the guide, Brady Irwin, who is the manager at Sunshine Cycles and part owner of the business next door called The Science of Speed. We talked a lot about his business goals and I asked Brady what The Science of Speed did. He explained to me that it helps runners and cyclists improve their endurance and speed for competition.

To accomplish this, they use neat computer technology that, among other things, is able to optimize the fit of a bike to an individual person. You would be surprised how much difference a small thing

like seat height or handle bar elevation can make in both speed and endurance.

At one point during our conversation, I commented that I had no idea what the business did until just now when he told me. He seemed surprised, but he had been doing this type of work for a while. To him, the vernacular was not foreign, but to me - and I suspect to other potential customers - it was.

Putting on my mentor hat, I asked him what the business does most. He said athletic coaching to increase speed or endurance. At this point, I encouraged him to change the name of the shop to something that would convey that more clearly to his customers. Since nothing really novel or unusual came to mind at that moment other than "speed and endurance coaching," I suggested that he consider using focus groups to help ferret out a name that would really speak to potential customers.

When all is said and done, your business name must clearly state what you do. For example, something like Jones Services could be just about anything; whereas, Awards4U leaves little room to wonder. Aegis Business Technologies is clear and they have changed their name several times as their services have evolved. Tallahassee Powder Coating is pretty clear - assuming you know what powder coating is - but Bill's Sales is of questionable value.

The bottom line is your name must be crafted to reflect what you do, and this can change over time. Though changing your name can be costly, it presents an opportunity to remind current and potential customers of your existence and tell them a little bit more about your business.

Now go out and make sure that the name of your business resonates with your customers.

Jerry Osteryoung, a consultant to businesses, is the Jim Moran professor of entrepreneurship (emeritus) and professor of finance (emeritus) at Florida State University. He can be reached by email at jerry.osteryoung@gmail.com.

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