Steps to Starting a Small Business: #4 Naming Your Business

When you’re starting a business, one of the steps to starting a small business is naming your business.  While a rose by any other name may indeed smell just as sweet, the name you choose for your business is one of the most critical decisions you will make.

Your business name is the foundation of EVERYTHING in your business.  It will affect every aspect of your business from customer perception to the domain name you use for your web presence.   Make a mistake in naming your business and, trust me – it will haunt you for years to come.

This post is obviously a “do as I say, not as I do” kind of post.   I am the QUEEN of choosing horrible names for my adventures.  Case in point – Virtual Impax.  I can admit it – it’s a TERRIBLE NAME for a business!  The “fun-n-funky” hooked on phonics spelling just makes it worse.

How do I know it’s a terrible business name? The first clue I had that the name Virtual Impax was a horrible business name was when first question most people ask is, “What is that?” or “What do you do?”

Another horrible choice – Acumen Web Services.  Do you know what the word “acumen”  means?  If you don’t, you’re in good company.  Naming my alter ego business Acumen Web Services is clearly a case of “Who talks like that?”

The answer – me and only me.

With this said, there is a school of thought out there on naming your business that would tell you that I’ve been BRILLIANT in naming my business ventures.  See, these unique and unusual names means that my web presence is a GUARANTEED NUMBER 1 listing with the search engines.

People who SUBSCRIBE to this school of thought are idiots.

I say this with all the love and affection possible, but these people truly do NOT understand search.

WHO CARES IF YOU HAVE A NUMBER 1 SEARCH PLACEMENT ON A TERM NO ONE IS USING TO SEARCH?

You put yourself at a huge advantage if your business name is also your domain name.

“But wait,” you may be thinking, “Xerox is a made up name and they’re a house hold word now!”

Ah, yes my Padawan learner (veiled Star Wars reference) Xerox, Kodak, Kleenex – even Google are all “not real word” names that have come mean something in our daily lives but the path those “brands” have taken have literally been paved in gold.   In each case (except for Google), the path to creating a brand name that becomes a household term is achieved through extensive and relentless advertising.

One of my early web development clients was a local Tru Value store.  This was way back in the 1990’s and my client had recently purchased the store.  While the storefront was barely breaking even, the previous owners had started selling lighted Christmas lawn displays out of the back room.  Now THAT was a business worth buying.  My client had decided to take the business “to the web”, which was VERY cutting edge thinking way back in 1998.  Unfortunately, the name he chose was Holiday Silhouettes.  The only reason I can spell silhouettes is because of the time I worked with him.   He took a pass on the easy to spell, easy to remember domain name “Christmas Lights.com” Is it a coincidence that the company who chose the easy to spell domain name is still in business and he’s not?

So if choosing an obscure hard to spell word, a nonsense jumble of letters or purposefully misspelling common words are all LOSER business naming strategies, what are some WINNING business naming strategies?

The following advice is for those who don’t have a lot of money to spend on either a branding consultant or a naming service.

  1. A great small business name tells what you do.
  2. A great small business name communicates your business’ unique place in the universe.
  3. A great small business name uses words that people can easily spell.
  4. A great small business name uses words that people are using to search for solutions to the GDP (not Gross Domestic Product but rather Goals, Desires and Problems).

A rose by any other name may indeed smell as sweet – but you can make the climb to the top easier by choosing the right name for your business.

Steps to Starting a Small Business: #3 Promotion (a.k.a. “marketing”)

This is the third in the Steps to Starting a Small Business series and I’m assuming you’ve cleared the first two steps to starting a small business, which are of course the HARDEST hurdles to overcome.

The first step to starting a small business is you’ve got to come up with a GREAT idea that you’re passionate about.  The second step to starting a small business is to  figure out a way to package this idea into a product or service so that people are actually willing to write a check and PAY you for providing this valuable product or service.

Now, the third step to starting a small business is to let the world know about your business, also known as marketing.

Marketing is simply communicating the solutions you offer with the people who need your products or services.

People have problems – people have goals – people have desires.  If your product or service doesn’t help people solve their problems, achieve their goals or satisfy their desires – then go back to the drawing board and start over again.  After all, why else do you think people are going to whip out their credit card or check book and give you their money?

Begin your marketing strategy by asking yourself this simple question, “Who needs my product or service?”

If you answer, “Everyone,”  then smack yourself across the face- HARD!  “Everyone” is the answer that will doom your small business to failure.

When you try to target “everyone” you are in essence targeting NO ONE!

Akemi of the Yes to Me blog interviewed Tom Volkar. From the interview at Coaching The Freedom Of Self-Employment: Tom Volkar

In my coaching business the challenges were more internal and consisted of trusting myself and working through the underlying fears that developed around the lack of time and money. In chronological order here were my biggest challenges.

  1. Not completely following my core values, allowed me to be lured by projects that looked financially promising but were not authentically aligned with who I was.
  2. I fought prevailing wisdom to niche myself for far too long because I thought it would limit the work I’d receive and cause me to earn less.
  3. I allowed my fear of learning technology to get in the way of my business growth.

The emphasis above is my own.

Time and time again, small business sucess stories usually start at the moment the business owner defines a target audience, known as a “niche market”.

Long ago and far away, I worked with a tiny bakery located in the basement of a former office building in a dying downtown area of a rust belt community.   The location was horrible, the product was expensive and probably not the best fit for a town populated by unemployed factory workers.  Yet those two ladies created an incredibly successful business in a relatively short period of time.

The secret to their success was simple and began when they tightly targeted their niche market.

In the early days of their business (before I was working with them), they ran ads in the newspaper – declaring themselves to be a bakery.   Ho-hum.  Wal-mart had a bakery.  The local grocery chains had bakeries and those bakeries were not only cheaper, they were a lot more convenient!

However, when they began talking to a specific audience – working women who didn’t have TIME to create home made goodies for their friends and families – their bakery business literally exploded.

We began running ads that talked about the extravagant cheesecakes and unique cookie platters.  We described them as the kind of “treat” that every woman would love to create – if only we had more time.  We placed those messages in places where working women would be exposed to it and the change in focus was like adding a match to gasoline fumes.

Did we alienate men as customers with these messages? If we did, it certainly didn’t show on the bottom line.

Did we alienate stay at home mothers with these messages? Again, if we did, it didn’t hurt the business.

By targeting WORKING WOMEN in this tiny community – we unleashed an avalanche of business upon that tiny bakery.

Even though there were only 63,000 people in the community – by tightly targeting the message and the audience, we were able to deliver more than enough customers to make this bakery a success.  They didn’t need 63,000 customers – they needed 300 customers and by tightly targeting their message, they surpassed that goal with ease.

By targeting a niche audience, we were able to create an effective marketing message AND find the right places to deliver that message to the right people.  Blogs are one way of delivering that message, but believe me – they are NOT the only way!

What is your defined “niche” audience?  What solutions do you offer and to whom do you offer them?  Take this opportunity to toot your horn and declare your niche (or your intended niche)!

Steps to Starting a Small Business: #2 – The Implementation

In the first post of this series, Steps to Starting a Small Business: #1 – The Idea, I covered what is perhaps the most IMPORTANT part of starting a small business – the idea behind your business.

Once you’ve got an idea whose passion has taken you prisoner, it’s time to get down to the next step which is the implementation.

You know – the BORING stuff like the legal FORM of your business, choose an accounting method, apply for an EIN, set up a business checking account, order business cards and stationery – yada, yada, yada!

One of those “yadas” may be to apply for a line of credit or a business loan. There’s been a lot of debate over years over the cost associated with starting your small business.

In one online debate, the two sides are arguing over how much it really costs to start a freelance business. One side says plan on spending a couple of hundred dollars, while the other puts the figure quite a bit higher in the $1,000 – $3,000 range.

Remember, I’ve worked with HUNDREDS of wanna-be small business owners and I have to say, the $300 or less plan is a very dangerous point of view to adopt.

When you’re starting your own small business everything is going to take longer and cost more than you planned.

Chances are, you aren’t a MASTER at all of the jobs you’re going to need performed in your small business, so you should probably plan on farming out at least SOME of the work.

  • If you’re not a web developer, you’ll probably need to hire one to create your website or blog.
  • If you’re not an accountant, you probably need to find one to help you set up the book keeping for your business.
  • If you’re not a graphic artist, you’ll probably need to hire one to create your logo and identity package.

The list goes on and on. (Trust me!)

Without a doubt, the biggest obstacle you face as you start your small business is trying to do EVERYTHING yourself.

Several years ago, I wrestled with a client for almost a year over the opening page to her website. That’s right, it took 12 full months to create a single page. She was obsessed with not only controlling every aspect of the appearance of her website, but she was EQUALLY determined to spend as little as possible.

The thing is, she had a GREAT idea for a small business. Unfortunately, putting up the site was quickly turning into a decades long ordeal and during that time another competitor came to market offering a similar service. My client lost her opportunity to be “first to market” and the last I heard, she had given up on the idea all together.  Meanwhile, her competitor is enjoying the accolades and success of being “first” to market.

Time is NOT money. You can always make more money. You can’t make more time!

Time is constantly ticking away. Ooops! There went another second. No matter how much money you have in the bank, you can’t get back that last second.

This is important. If you’ve got a GREAT idea for a business – one which has captured your every waking moment, every day is precious. Trust me, if it’s a GREAT idea, someone else is working on it.

Every hour you spend trying to piece together your brochure or trying to create a header for your blog in Photoshop, is another hour you postpone the grand opening of your business.

If you’re charging $50 an hour for your services – start viewing the job of designing your business cards, designing your header, setting up your blog via that lens.

You may pay $750 to have a talented graphic artist put together an identity package for you, but in all probability that is probably the BEST use of your time and resources.

See, If you spend 40 hours trying to learn how to create a logo in Photoshop – that means you’ve invested $2000 of your time in creating your identity package. Unfortunately, the logo YOU design probably won’t look as professional as the one you would have HIRED someone to create and may actually PREVENT you from signing clients.

UGH!

I believe this is what my mother would call being, “Penny wise and pound foolish.”

Meanwhile, if you’d hire an experience graphic artist, you’ll get a professionally designed logo which communicates without words all that your business is and does.

That’s why I cringe when I hear someone tout “ultra shoestring” budgets for launching any business.  Create a business plan. If necessary, take out a business loan or better yet – start it after spending a full day at your ‘real” job for a while.

Whatever your do – don’t start your business under capitalized. Plan on everything taking longer and costing more than you think it will.

Now, I’m not advocating getting VC style funding which enables you to splurge on polished marble floors for your office and a hiring half naked, well built men to massage your shoulders as you work.

[Wow – all of a sudden,  I’m wishing for some VC funding.  I believe I just unwittingly set a GOAL for myself with that previous sentence!]

Get enough cash so the desperation doesn’t ring in your voice as you go out and try to drum up clients. If you can do that without a loan, all the better!  However,  while”balls to the wall” isn’t usually isn’t the preferred mode, some people NEED that kind of pressure to get started.

Your comments – as always – are welcome!

The “Real Deal” – The Value of Authenticity in Blogging

If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.

David M Ogilvy

It’s no secret that I’ve been a HUGE fan of Cath Lawson for quite some time now.  While I don’t remember exactly which blog post it was that I first read, but I still remember the feeling that washed over me when I discovered her blog.   Was it recognition?  Was it relief?

It was probably a little of both.  After all, I’ve publicly declared that there are times when I feel like I’m the only ” honest politician in Washington” because sometimes, I sometimes get EXHAUSTED by the “self proclaimed gurus and experts” who talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk!  I was half way through reading my first Cath Lawson blog post when I recognized that I had found another “honest politician”, even though she lives “across the pond” from me.

See, Virtual Impax is NOT my first rodeo.  I’ve jumped in and out of self employment ever since the birth of my oldest child and I worked extensively with entrepreneurs and business owners during my time as an AE with an advertising agency.

So it’s only natural I guess that when I had trouble finding a reliable cleaning lady, I decided to start my own cleaning business on the side.  I don’t know WHY I thought that was a good idea at the time.  Looking back, that one was PURE FOLLY!  “Let’s see, I can’t find ONE person who will clean my house properly – I think I’ll start a business where I have to plant my foot in the buttocks of a CREW of people who don’t know how to clean a house properly OR show up for work!”

In the end, I learned A LOT about myself.  I discovered that  I SUCKED as a boss.   I ran my business like it was some kind of charity organization.    I hired women who needed flexible hours and extra money instead of hiring people for their work ethic.   I hired dwarves instead of giants!  I hired people who wanted easy money, not people who took pride in their work!

Of course, my employees used and abused me.  (As Liz Struass would say, “They were people being people.”)   I closed shop when I had a dream that I was working in food prep at McDonald’s.  In the dream, I was stinking of grease and exhausted, but I declared  within that dream that it was better than cleaning houses.

So that’s probably why, when Cathleen would write about the trials and tribulations of running her plumbing company, I could relate.  I recognized the voice of another battle scarred business veteran.

With that said, I don’t know why I was so FLOORED by reading Cath’s offer to run an ad for free on her blog.  I just sat back in shock and awe.

DAMN – SHE’S GOOD!

As a matter of fact, I’d say she’s a MARKETING GENIUS!  No wonder I’m such a fan!  Not only is she a giant, but her readers are as well.   As her readers have been finding this blog, I’m feeling quite privledged to be in the company of so MANY giants at one time.

By the way, I can DEFINITELY tell a difference between Cath’s readers and mine.  Cath’s readers leave comments.  Mine email me or use the contact form.  Either way is good for me!

Starting Your Own Small Business: Tell Your Story

In advertising and in business, familiarity doesn’t breed contempt -it breeds business.

Telling your business story is an essential part of your marketing efforts. James Chartrand writes in his post Creative Storytelling

A good story grabs anyone’s attention. We love stories. We listen to the tale and imagine everything in our mind’s eye. We experience emotion and are compelled to take action because of the stories we hear.

Matt McGee seconds shares in his post 12 Tips on Creating Content for Social Media that sharing stories is a GREAT way to leverage social media.

Heck, I even wrote about the importance of sharing your business’ story in my book Beyond the Niche: Essential Tools You Need to Create Marketing Messages that Deliver Results:

You must be familiar with your customers. Know who they are, where they live and what they like to do. Then, be sure that they become just as familiar with you. Tell them your story. If you don’t think you have a story, consider these questions:

• How did your business get started?
• If yours is a family business, why did your ancestors get into this line of work?
• What factors led you to enter into this business?

If you’ve got your own small business, then you have a story to tell. How did you get started? What inspired you? What would you do differently if you could do it over?

I’d love to share your story of how you started your own small business with readers of this blog.

Just fill out the form and I’ll be happy to share your story. (I will reserve the right to final editorial approval.)