Enterprise Centre

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When starting up a small business there are many decisions to make, and choosing a company name that will draw potential customers is a critical one.

“The name of your company is the brand. When naming your business, it’s extremely important to come up with a name that projects the image you want your company to project,” explains Gillian Fairley, South Georgian Bay Small Business Enterprise Centre Manager.

So how do you pick an appropriate name that will convey the types of products/services your business will provide? By brainstorming and researching.

Shortlist the possibilities

Your business name should project just what your company does, and should appeal to both you and potential customers. It should be unique so that it’s easily distinguished from similar businesses.

You want your business to be easily found, and a simple name is often effective. An abstract name may stick in people’s minds but will require an effective marketing strategy to support the name and convey the right message.

Look to the future when naming your business. Will the name work when your business grows or if you expand into other areas? Will the descriptive term you used become out-of-date or inaccurate as the business evolves?

Narrow down your choices then vet those names through friends or acquaintances that are not close to the business to see what their perception of the business is.

“When you’re so close to the business, it’s really hard to be sure the name works,” Gillian cautions. “You may think you’ve picked a great name for your company, but when you talk to others they may not agree.”

Research, research, research

Once you’ve narrowed your choices, do your research. You need to know if there are companies with similar names, and if there is, you need to know if those names are legally protected through a trademark.

A great place to start is by doing a business name search through Service Ontario. A name search costs between $8 and $26 to search non-incorporated businesses.  The search provides you with a report of registered businesses operating with the same name and where these businesses are located in Ontario.  These are names not protected by law.

A business name or logo can be legally protected through a trademark.  Trademarks are registered and protected by the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO).  If a trademark has been granted, the owner has a claim over that mark which is enforceable throughout Canada.  As a result, it is important that you search the Canadian Trademark Database before choosing a business name.  This is a valuable resource that lets you research business names for free. When searching this databases, try different spacing and word combinations to find all possible matches.

Planning to incorporate your business?  Conduct a NUANS search for incorporated businesses in your province or across Canada for a cost of $20 + HST. Before you try NUANS, you can do a free Arvic corporate registry pre-screen at www.arvic.com.

Do a basic Internet search using Google or another search tool to avoid any potential conflict or unwanted associations with any business, club or group operating with the same or similar name to the one your are considering.

Sole proprietors who choose to operate a business under their personal name (with no additions) do not need to register the business name with Service Ontario. But, if you modify your personal name in any way, it will require a separate business registration.

As the business grows, it may become important to look at trademark protection. There are costs involved and it is best to consult a lawyer when going through the process.

Even if you have no immediate plans to develop a website, you may do so in time. Confirm the domain name is available for purchase and if it is, register your domain name. Domain name registration is an inexpensive annual cost and will protect your business name and prevent anyone from using that specific website address. You can search for and purchase a domain name at a number of different websites such aswww.Netfirms.com or at www.1and1.ca.

Create Your Brand

Your name is the first step in creating your company identity, and it’s important to get an early start building enthusiasm and recognition for that name. Consider consulting a marketing or graphic design company to create a logo that supports your name and company, which will distinguish it from similar businesses.

Keep in mind that it can be difficult to change your business name down the road, advises Gillian.

“You can re-register under a new name, but once you’ve gone out into the community with a name and a business, you become tied to that name.  It’s a lot more difficult to rebrand than to go strong out front with a name you’re confident with.”