what’s in a name for a small business?

My friend Anna is starting a business as a lifecoach. She has a solid business background, an MBA and a long-term interest in subjects such as NLP which will inform her new enterprise. I think she’ll make an excellent personal coach, something I can say with some authority as I am currently one of her guinea pigs.

In return I offered to help Anna think of a name for her new business. Over a couple of cups of coffee we began a mini branding process. Of course some people simply pluck a name from thin air and run with that. But for many others, naming your business is something that requires a lot of thought. After all, you don’t want to be lumbered with a name you loathe after a few weeks or, even worse, a name that actually prevents people using your services.

The first step I suggested was to look at naming “territories”, and here are a few examples.

  • The calling a spade a spade approach (aka the Ronseal approach “it does exactly what it says on the tin”) which would result in a name like Anna G Lifecoaching. The virtue of this is that everyone will know your name, and what you do right off the bat.
  • An abstract approach. An example of this is Orange. Orange of course doesn’t “say” phones, telecommunications – but after millions spent on advertising everyone now knows that it does. For a one person operation, having to explain that you were called Strawberry, but actually you were a lifecoach, could potentially be a barrier to business.
  • Reflecting the way the coaching works – the fact that you are helping people feel empowered to change their lives and take a step forward could lead to a name like Stepping Stones Lifecoaching, for example.
  • Describing the relationship you have with your client – to create a name that conveyed – say – trust, empowerment and confidentiality.
  • Describe the end benefit for someone coached by Anna – e.g. Transformation Lifecoaching.

There were at least half a dozen other territories which cropped up in ten minutes. However we began to discuss the most important asset in her future business, which – of course – is Anna herself. Ultimately people are either going to buy Anna’s service based on their opinion of her. And, fortunately for Anna, she is attractive, positive, sympathetic and professional. Exactly the sort of person you’d feel happy to coach you.

That’s because an important thing to remember is that when you are creating a brand for your business, the name is just one element. There is also the kind of imagery you decide to use, the typeface, logos, colour palette and any other amount of materials which will influence people.

So, for example, Anna could choose to call her business Anna G Lifecoaching. On her business card and other material she should make sure she uses photographs of herself – this means she is already at an advantage. Her personal credibility is vital for her brand too. So showing her qualifications, and telling people about her life experience as a wife and mother will all be useful, as often she will be working in a family environment.

A brochure which describes her services could also contain imagery from the “end benefit territory”. She could use images of transformation – such as a cygnet turning into a swan, or a bulb pushing up through the earth. This allows her to suggest that people using her service will change for the better – she will be letting the pictures do the talking and the will suggest transformation without having to say it in words.

Anna would then have a clear brand which does several jobs at once. It will explain instantly what she does, it shows that she looks very approachable, and it suggests the growth and positive change people will experience from using her as a lifecoach.

This is early days, for her business of course – but thinking about the name and branding has made Anna address some fundamental issues in her business: such as refining her target market – and questioning how her brand positioning will attract those people.

One thing is certain, however. Putting in this early legwork will benefit her business a great deal when it is up and running.

By Peter Kenny

I lead a double life. Identity #1. A writer of poems, comedy plays, dark fiction and the odd libretto. Identity #2: A marketing outlier, working with London creative agencies and my own clients as a copywriter and creative consultant.

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