Are you struggling to find a great name for your new product, service or business?  

Recently, I wrote an article called How To Choose A Brand Name (In 3 Simple Steps).  That business love-bomb teaches you how to brainstorm for your perfect name, and create a short-list of great options to consider.

This article assumes you’ve got that short list, and now need to narrow your choices down to one great name that you have the right to use and can use consistently.  (Haven’t got your short list yet? Start here.)

You’ll invest time, money and effort into building and marketing your brand, and you want to have total confidence that you can build your brand around your chosen name, without stepping on someone else’s brand toes.  At the same time, you want to protect it so if someone tries to squat on your brand name, you have the legal right to stop them.

And not doing this can have serious repercussions – from your customers not finding you (and therefore not connecting with you or buying from you) to you getting sued.

These steps will save you time, money and heartache.

This is not Chicken Little-y, my friend.  I have personally had to shut down my business, turn away paying customers, and pay over US$3k to rebrand my program, due to a company contesting my use of a brand name that was similar to theirs.  (The short story: I got bad guidance, and paid for it.  And learned from it! I now have a trusted go-to trademark lawyer. He tells me he’s had clients investing tens of thousands of dollars only to have to go back to square one.  Don’t let this be you!)

And of course, you’re also protecting your own brand by doing this the right way.

It takes a little effort to do this part, but the secure, confident feeling you have at the end of the day is so worth it.  So don’t skip this part.  Pinky swear you won’t.

 

5 (nearly) foolproof steps

…that will significantly decrease your risk and will help you sleep like a baby:

#1 – Confirm if the .com domain is available

What to do:
  • Check the most popular extensions (.com, .co, .org).
  • If they are – buy all three – even if you’re a for-profit.  You’ll use the .com, and sit on the rest. (If you’re a tech company, consider buying .io as well.)
How to do it:
  • Check URL availability and buy your names URL from a domain registrar like Namecheap. (I love Namecheap.)

Pro tip: Want a useful tool to help you think of similar alternative names? Try Lean Domain Search – it’s free! 

Why you should do it:
  • You want to ensure your customers can find you, and that your business name comes up naturally when someone searches for it in a search engine like Google.
  • You want to protect your brand and can avoid brand confusion by buying the most common extensions and sitting on them.  Imagine putting heart, sweat and money into building a brand called My Awesome Company and find someone has suddenly created a huge brand presence for myawesomecompany.org. (This has also happened to me. It sucks.)
  • If the URL is not available, it’s a red flag that the name may be legally protected, regardless of extension. (For example, you might buy myawesomecompany.com, but someone has trademarked Awesome Company.  If you go forward with that name, you’re at risk of losing it, too.) 

#2 – Confirm if the social media handles are available

What to do:
  • Go to the most popular social media platforms, and check if someone is using that name.   
  • Pick a handle, and register them on the major social platforms.  
How to do it:
  • One by one, go to each social media platform and type in the preferred name.  See if that name, or similar names pop up.
  • Write down what you see.  
  • Consider your options. Ideally, your preferred name is available across all social platforms.  If they aren’t – consider alternatives.  For example, if My Awesome Company looks good, and you buy myawesomecompany.com, your social handles could be could be @weareawsome. The goal is consistency across all platforms.
  • Once you’ve found a handle that works, register your social names! Even if you only plan to use one or two, you’ll know you’ve got the option to use the others in the future, if you want. 
    • Facebook (business page)
    • Twitter
    • Instagram
    • LinkedIn
    • G+

Pro tip: If you have both a personal brand (your name) and a program brand (your product) then register BOTH and use one consistently.  For example, I own all the social media handles for both my name, Wendy Kotila, and She Gets Business, my program for women entrepreneurs.  I use wendykotila across the board, but have protected the other name. (I just created a second email address in Gmail to register the second name.  Easy peasy.)

Why you should do it:
  • You want a consistent brand presence across your website, social media content, materials, and more.  This helps build credibility for you and your business and helps you amplify your brand.

#3 – Do a trademark search

In the US or selling to the US market? This is for you.

Outside of the US and not selling to the US market? This is still for you! Though your process may be different, you will still need to be aware of trademark stuff. This article will help you ask the right questions for your own business. 

What to do:
  • Have a trademark lawyer do a preliminary assessment on the level of risk for using that name.  
How to do it:
  • Hire a lawyer who loves small business and specializes in trademark law.  (You’ll thank yourself later when you come back to this person again and again!)  Many lawyers will use a 3rd party entity who does a very thorough search checking domain names, websites, brick-and-mortar companies, and more. Great lawyers, like mine, will take that a step further and do an independent search as well. (This normally takes about a week.) 

Pro tip: Need a recommendation for the US?  Hire Kyle Durand or Toya Gavin.  They are both great.  

Why you should do it:
  • Before you spend a penny on creating brand assets like your logo or website, you want to be sure there’s a low level of risk for your investment.

Now, some people might say, “Oh, you don’t need to do this until you’re much bigger.”

I disagree. Here’s what happened to me:

My former program name was called She Knows Business.  After six months of significant work, I launched my program.  Two days later, I got a “cease and desist” email from a trademarked company called She Knows, a news website that has tidbits about things like fashion, fertility, and pets.  

She Knows maintained that my use of She Knows Business “has caused, and is likely to continue to cause, confusion to the public as to the affiliation, connection or association of SheKnows with you, your website, and your online course called She Knows Business.”

Now, my personal opinion is that anybody, and I mean ANYBODY, can tell that their website is not an online course for women business-builders, and my website is not about fashion, fertility, and pets.  But here’s the kicker – it doesn’t matter what we think. It matters what the USPTO (US Patents and Trademarks Office) thinks.

And they agreed with She Knows.  

So, within days of launching, I had to kill my sales page.  Remove every instance I could for She Knows Business.  Turn away paying customers who I would very much like to work with, because I know I can help them transform their businesses.  

The result? Lost revenue, lost time, and increased costs because any asset I have with that logo had to be altered.

It was horrible.  Learn from my mistake! Work with an awesome trademark lawyer!

#4 – Protect your brand name

What to do:
  • After you’ve determined there is a low level of risk for you using your chosen name, hire a trademark lawyer to submit a trademark application to the USPTO.  (Still developing your product, and don’t yet have public-facing commercial activity? Have your lawyer submit an intent to trademark.)
  • Set up Google Alert for your brand name, so you know if someone else starts using it
How To Do It:
  • Again, hire a lawyer who loves small business and specializes in trademark law
  • Set up your Google Alert by following these steps. (It takes about two minutes.)

Pro tip: I know many people who have tried to cut corners here by filing their own trademark application and ended up getting burned.  It’s just not worth it.  Go pro from the start, and work with someone you trust.

Why you should do it:
  • When you own the trademark, you can protect yourself from someone squatting on your brand, legally.   

#5 – Move forward, biz rock star

  • You now have the perfect name for your product, service or business.  It attracts your ideal customer and gives them a clear sense of what you sell.  And the best part – you now move forward with total confidence that you are legally able to use that name. Congratulations, rock star. 

Got something to add? Have a great recommendation for another country? I want to hear it.  Hit reply, or add your comments below.

To you, your business, and your brand,

Siginture

Wendy is the creator and founder of She Gets Business, an online community and five-week program for women who are ready to create the life they love, make the money they crave, and build something they’re super proud of.

She’s an experienced business coach, mentor, and teacher with a great love for education, technology, and empowering women and girls.  She has 12+ years experience with companies like Adobe, Apple, and Google, and has coached oodles of entrepreneurs with products ranging from fancy frying pans to enterprise software.

Her true love is teaching women how they can apply these best practices to their own small business, take their business to the next level, and flourish.  

Learn more about Wendy

Learn more about She Gets Business

P.S. If you liked this post, why not share it with a friend?