[Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of practical advice for entrepreneurs — things you’re probably aware of but are likely to forget in the rush of launching a business.] Today whether you are opening up a new retail store in San Francisco or launching the next Facebook or Twitter you should select a name with an eye towards findability , i.e., how easy it will be to find online (or offline, for that matter). You’ll want something unique, but you should also consider how the name sounds out loud, how people might spell, or misspell, it, and most importantly what expectations it sets (you don’t want to confuse prospective customers). AOL small business just ran a short piece on some of the worst brand names – names such as Books-a-million (who sell more than just books) and the late CompUSA (who sold more than computers and had a bit of trouble expanding globally). More recent examples friend’s cited are firms such as Doostang – a very real jobs site hampered by a truly unfortunate name.
Before you get too attached to the first name you pick, here are a few things to remember:
1. Search for the name. Note what comes up already. Don’t neglect to try obvious variations or slight alternative spellings. Ideally you should pick a name that has little pre-existing Google hits or at worst has a few hits but they’re clearly different and ideally on obscure sites.
2. Check for the name on the social web. You will want to obtain an account for your new company on a range of Social Websites, even if you don’t immediately leverage that presence on each site. You should register the brand username ideally at almost the same time as you register the new domain. The list of possible sites you may want to register on grows by the hour, differs widely by the industry you’re in and what audiences you will need to communicate with. If someone’s already using the name you want on services such as Twitter , you should strongly consider picking a new name before you go any further.
3. Check for the name on professional social networks. Do a search on LinkedIn for the new name. While there, update your profile and those of your co-founders with your new venture. Also search other professional databases such as: Zoominfo , Jigsaw , and Hoovers . Remember to also look for non-US companies with the same brand — the Internet is global.
Once you’ve decided on a name, here’s a quick checklist on getting your site started:
1. Register the new domain. If you have the budget, consider also registering likely misspellings and alternative URLs. Once you’ve registered, set up at least one email address for yourself on the new, primary domain. Use this new address when completing the steps below. I suggest initially having this mail forwarded to your main email. Services such as Gmail can be configured to allow you send from this new address. There are now hundreds of registrars, I recommend picking one and using it for all of your domains to simplify managing renewals in the future.
2. Set up social media accounts for the new domain. At a minimum, you’ll need to set up a Twitter account, but there are likely a half-dozen or more other services you may immediately want to register for, depending on your focus.
3. Establish at least a basic landing page — something simple, although I’ll cover a range of great and cheap options in future posts. But once you register the domain, make sure the site it points to is more than just a parked domain page.
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