With the economy on skates, many seasoned mid- and upper-level professionals are struggling on their own, using their experience to build their own future and control their own destiny. For many of these aspiring entrepreneurs, building a compelling brand is new territory, a complete and utter mystery. They know it’s an important part of the equation and they may even have had a full-time marketing department at their previous company. But now is the time to “do it yourself” and there is a dearth of information on how to start a successful new consulting business. Fear no more. The first step in branding a consulting business is knowing your goals. Here are four key questions to clarify your goals …
1. Do you want your business name to stand out or fit? This may seem like a trick question, but there is no right or wrong answer. Some new consultants are so concerned with gaining acceptance in their industry that they are much more comfortable with a name that sounds established and credible, right from the start. If that’s the case, try searching for a list of others in your industry on sites like dmoz.org. Below you will get an idea of the nomenclature used in your field. You may be able to emulate the feel, just as other industries have (for example, Microsoft’s Outlook, Apple’s Safari, Netscape’s Navigator, etc.). If you want to get noticed, do the opposite. Look at the names of companies in your field and use interpretive naming strategies. For example, if almost everyone in your category uses proper names (sometimes known as “legacy” names), use a metaphor (ie, Jaguar, Caterpillar, Amazon, Monster, etc.) to convey your business attributes. Or try positive connotation words to create a whole new identity (ie RedHat, OnStar, FireDog, etc.). Just make sure you have a justification that can explain why you chose that name and one that leads into a deeper dialogue about your company.
2. Have you explored all the possibilities? New business owners are often frustrated and discouraged when naming their new businesses, simply because they have tried only one or two naming strategies. Many times they have created a list of literal / functional names (i.e. custom software consulting) only to find that the domain names are gone. Or they’ve tried some obvious metaphors (i.e. Summit, Pinnacle, etc.) and found dozens of companies with similar names. The trick is to use several methods. These include …
* Key attributes: For example, we named a BrightHire.com staffing company based on their desire to attract the smartest candidates. You can see this employed with company names like SirSpeedy, EconoLodge, Priceline, and Smart Cuts. Does it provide any general benefits that you can incorporate into your name?
* Made up names – This is a consultant favorite, but proceed with caution. It’s easy to get caught up in searching for a new name and gradually change the spelling and message until it’s unintelligible. It’s okay to use parts of Latin words and obscure references if the name is still easily pronounced and spelled. Small businesses have the advantage of conveying part of the brand message in person, over the phone, or at a business conference. But don’t push it. If you have to constantly type or correct your spelling, it is a mistake. And keep in mind that the name can be made up and still have a sense of meaning. We named a company Claricent, because they were able to provide a clear vision and direction to their customer base. So you can still pass on an attribute, even in a made-up name. (i.e. Verizon = Horizon, Agilent = Agile, etc.)
* Descriptive Hybrid Names – These names combine a descriptive industry word and combine it with an evocative word. Examples include companies like Emisstar, consultancies in the emissions control industry. Examples of big brands include JetBlue and CarMax. If you use this approach, make sure your industry descriptor is one that doesn’t change over time.
* Metaphors: Given that the proverbial “the picture paints a thousand words”, metaphors are a great way to convey multiple attributes of the company with a single image. FourBridges Capital, for example, expresses the ability of this investment banking firm to “close the gap” and “connect business with capital” and so on. With four major partners and four major bridges in Chattanooga, TN, the story gains even more traction.
3. Have you prioritized your wishes? Starting a new consultancy provides a beautiful blank page on which to build your story. Take the time to determine what is most important about that story.
* Do you want a name that is memorable?
* Do you want a name that is easy to say and spell?
* Are you more concerned about the trademark?
* Are you convinced you have the exact matching.com domain name? Find out the key drivers behind your naming challenge, so that when you get to a final list, you can look back and choose the one that meets your main criteria. Often times, the process can get confusing and unfocused after a long search for a name, and all the words start to sound the same. So make sure you know what you want before you start. That way it will help you when it’s 3 am, your eyes start to cross, and your spouse no longer wants to be your sounding board.
4. Are you seeing the big picture? – Create a short list of your favorite names and then give them a try. Make sure you choose people who are in your potential market or who understand a good brand. Rather than throwing names out at random, create a context for each name so that when the name is spoken it fits in place. You may even want to invest in some quick logo treatments to help visualize the brand. Many major brands would sound sacred if they were only spoken to. Judge the whole package … name, approximate slogan, logo sketch, to get the real feel. A consulting name like BearingPoint gains traction once it has a logo, tagline, and story. Decide if you want to fit in or stand out, use multiple naming strategies, prioritize your “wish” list, and test your ideas, and you’re well on your way to a great consulting brand. Once you’ve made your selection, make sure your trademark attorney executes it and you acquire the matching, or closely matching, domain name. Continue to embed your brand message throughout your website, corporate identity, collateral materials, and advertising to further strengthen your presence. Done right, you will have a business name that will serve you well, both now and for years to come.