As a business owner, your brand is one of the most important aspects of your business that you have absolute control over, and the freedom to do what you want with it. And, like with most things, with great power comes great responsibility. If you're just starting out, you want your brand to be memorable and noticeable in the sea of other new (and old) businesses out there. Sometimes, that can lead you do funny things that made sense at one time, but might come back to haunt you.
One of our customers has been in business for almost 10 years now. When he created the business, he'd heard that if your company name starts with the letter A, he'd do better in the service directories and yellow pages because his company would be listed first. He chose A+ Wildlife Control, which seemed like a good name. It starts with an A, very clearly says what service he provides, and if you read into the A+, he hoped it would mean he does a good job on his work. It's served him well enough, but almost 10 years later, he's learned a few lessons.
First, it doesn't stand out. Everyone else has heard the same thing about using the letter A in their name, so his company name and brand has been competing with other companies that aren't even in his industry—companies like A+ Plumbing, A+ Landscaping, and so on. While you definitely want to stand out in the crowd, you don't want to have someone struggle to remember your name because there are a bunch of other businesses whose name sounds really close to yours. He mentioned that most people who called him would ask for A1 Wildlife Control. A1 is steak sauce brand most people know, and even though you'd think people would know the difference between steak sauce and a local business, he's found that wasn't the case.
What seemed like a good rule for choosing a name caused his brand recognition to suffer.
Second, he learned that many people, including customers, usually couldn't remember his company name. However, because he runs a small business and deals with his customers directly, they always knew his name. He'd stumbled upon something that many small business should really take advantage of—you, at least as far as your customers are concerned, are your brand. He was high touch with his customers, and they both knew him by name and recommended him by name. He realized he'd been making it harder on them by having a company name and brand that didn't just call out to his name, which already had plenty of easily remembered recognition.
Third, he learned that his company name didn't grow with his services. Ten years ago, he started his business doing wildlife control only. As his business became more mature and he went through slow seasons, he realized he wanted to offer more services to keep work and income flowing during those slow seasons. He would occasionally get referrals for pest control services, and eventually decided to accept a few. Expanding his offerings helped him grow his business, and helped him weather the slow times. Unfortunately, his company name was still A+ Wildlife Control, and no longer accurately reflected the full suite of services he offered.
As far as your customers are concerned, you are your brand.
It took him almost 10 years to arrive at the decision, but the years gradually convinced him he needed to rebrand the company, and choose a new name that built on these lessons learned. Although the original A+ name worked and helped him build a business for 10 years, it was time to update things and choose a new identity that new and existing customers could remember, that wouldn't sound like a bunch of other companies offering completely different services, and would tell people exactly what he does today.
Rebranding isn't something a business owner should take lightly. It requires careful consideration, and ought to be done to solve known issues that might be standing in the way of making your company and its services more recognizable, and easier to remember. Matt had spent several years identifying these issues, and ultimately found that it just made sense to make a change from A+ Wildlife Control to Hawkins Wildlife and Pest Control. This new brand sums up all the lessons he'd learned—his name, the thing most people already remember, is in the brand; the company doesn't sound like a bunch of other local businesses providing unrelated services (or steak sauce); it's now clear that his company is open for business taking care of wildlife and unwanted pests.
Tips for naming your service business
If you're just starting a business and thinking about a name, or looking to rebrand your existing business, we encourage you to reflect on these lessons and take some time to think through how well your brand will serve you for years to come.
- Don't be ashamed of your name—nicknames, first names, last names. People remember other people's names better than they do a company name at times, especially when it's a local service business. For better or worse, the work you do will always be tied to your name, regardless of what company name you use. Think about using that to your advantage.
- The internet has made alphabetical naming rules pretty irrelevant, so don't think you have to start your company name with an A. Instead, think about choosing a name that someone can easily type into Google and find with minimal effort. For more help on that, check out our post on listing your business on Google.
- Don't box yourself into a geographical area by defining your service area in your name, unless you know for sure you're never going to expand or move your business. For example, South Tennessee Landscaping might make North Georgia customers think you don't service them. The only time including something like a city or regional name in your business name makes sense is if you're running a brick-and-mortar business that's unlikely to move (such as the Chattanooga Choo Choo, the Tennessee Aquarium, or something like that).
- Ask friends and family what they think of your name. Make sure to ask the friends and family you know will give you an honest opinion, and not just tell you what they think you want to hear.
- Search! You don't want a name that someone has already taken, or a name that shares too much similarity to someone else's business. You should also make sure it's unique enough that no other industries or competitors come up when you search for it. If you search for your business name and see your competitors or unrelated businesses, you can bet your customers will see the same thing.
- Check for an available domain name and social media handles. A service like namecheckr will do all this for you in one go!
- Mention your core service so people know what you do. You can also cover these in something like a tagline used in marketing or on business cards, but you're going to get a lot more mileage out of having your services clearly mentioned in your brand.
We hope these tips help as you think about your business, and how well your brand will serve you now and into the future. If you have any other tips or lessons you've learned that you'd like to share, let us know!