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Ten Steps for Choosing a Business Name

Now that you've chosen your market niche, drafted a winning business plan, and secured financing from family and friends, it's time to settle on a business name. This is not something you want to rush into, however, as the name of your business will become an important part of your brand and identity.

If it's too clever or unique, you run the risk of causing confusion with your target market. But you also don't want a name that is too generic, since it won't stand out enough for customers to remember. It can seem a little overwhelming at first, which is why it's important to take it one step at a time. The following list will help you get better organized as you search for the ideal business name.

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Choosing a Business Name in Ten Steps

1. Choose a list of names that you would like to use.

  • Start by brainstorming, then narrow down your list by considering how the name can be used as an Internet address -- check to see if the name or a variation thereof is available as a domain name.
  • Try the names out on family members and close friends to get their reactions.

2. Live with your ideas for a while to see how you feel about them after you've had more time to reflect.

3. Check to see whether your ideas are already on the list of fictitious or assumed business names on record with your county clerk or Secretary of State.

4. Determine whether your state requires state or local registration of assumed business names for unincorporated businesses and, if so, register your name with the requisite local authorities.

5. If you are going to incorporate your business, check with the Secretary of State's office in your state's capital city to see whether your idea is the same as or confusingly similar to an existing corporate name in your state.

6. Even if you are not incorporating, you will need to decide whether you should register for trademark protection on the state level.

  • If you do opt for state registration, do a trademark search, checking all state trademark registers, trademark directories, yellow pages directories, the Internet, and other resources for the same or confusingly similar marks in the states in which you plan to register, or ask your attorney to do this search for you.
  • File an application with the state office that handles trademarks (often the Secretary of State's office), or have your attorney file it on your behalf.

7. Decide whether to register your name on the federal level, and then perform all of the above searches, or have your attorney do the same, on a national scale.

8. Once all searches are complete and your decision is final, register your Internet domain name.

9. Have your business cards, stationery, advertising, and signs printed or made.

10. Start your business!

Consider Getting Legal Help when Starting a New Business

Starting up a business is not for the faint of heart. You will most likely take on tasks you never even considered, since entrepreneurs tend to wear many hats. But while starting a business is the ultimate do-it-yourself project, some tasks are best left to trained specialists -- such as attorneys. If you have any legal questions about choosing a business name, need help getting it registered, or have additional questions or concerns, consider speaking with a business and commercial law attorney in your area.

The Choosing Your Business Name section contains additional resources to help you get started, including state-specific resources to help you refine your search and follow state registration procedures.

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