Your Business Name

A big part of creating your identity is the first step – brainstorming a name and tagline and then making sure you’re not encroaching on any names that are not already in use.
Try to pick a name that’s easy to remember, easy to pronounce, and that relates to the product or service you’re selling.

Brainstorming a Tagline
Along with your name, a tagline can be an important part of your . A tagline is a word or phrase that helps people readily identify with what you do or what you sell. “You’re in good hands with Allstate” or GE’s “We bring good things to life” are two examples.
A tagline is part of your unique business identity and is meant to be used for a very long time.

Tagline vs. Slogan
You can differentiate between a tagline and a “slogan” by remembering that a slogan is typically used with a single marketing campaign, whereas a tagline should be considered permanent.
You’ll want to develop your tagline early on in the life of your business so you can incorporate it into your logo, , letterhead, and web site from the very beginning. While you can add it later, you’ll have to have designs redone and stationery and reprinted, which can mean unnecessary expense.

Make Sure Your Business Name and Tagline are Not in Use
Once you’ve decided on several (say, at least five) names and taglines, you’ll want to research them to make sure they’re available. You don’t want to use them if they’re already being used, especially if that business is one of your competitors or is located in your area. You certainly don’t want to infringe on someone else’s trademark or service mark.
You can check on the availability of a business name within your state through your state’s Secretary of State’s office. Your state’s website is likely to have a search box where you can type your proposed business name and see if it’s already registered. Don’t register yet, because if you’re going to do business with out of state customers, you’ll need to make sure you’re not treading on someone else’s trademark before you register the business name. Additionally, you’ll want to establish your and telephone numbers before you register your business with your state. That way, you won’t need to update your records with the Secretary of State’s office once you get a and phone number and your personal contact information won’t be used for your information.

Searching the Internet for Your Business Name and Tagline
It’s also a good idea, and a necessity if you plan to do business outside of your state, to conduct an Internet search using both your proposed names and taglines to see who else might be using them. Is the user active in your area? Do they do the same type of work or sell the same type of product as your home business? Do they show a trademark (TM) or service mark (SM) next to the name and/or tagline? If so, select an alternate.
While you don’t register a tagline, you should consider using a trademark or service mark as soon as you can. In many states, the ability to trademark your tagline will be based on the length of time the tagline was in use when it comes time to apply for the registered trademark. Of course, if you can, consider hiring an attorney to help you with this.

Your Business Name and Your Website’s
If you’re planning to have a website, you’ll also want to see which domain names are available that match your business name, tag line, or that relate to what you do or sell. You can search Network Solutions’ WHOIS database to check domain name availability. Try to use short, easy-to-remember and easy-to-spell names for your domain name.
If the domain name is available you’ll be encouraged to reserve it, but shop around for the best price you can get on a domain name registration before you actually reserve it. The domain name registration business is highly competitive and there are great deals to be had if you shop around.
Much like registering your name, if you hold off on claiming the domain name for your business until you have a business address and phone numbers, you can keep your home contact information private.

Keep Your Business Name and Tagline to Yourself

Keep your business name secret until it’s registered and keep that catchy tagline to yourself for right now. While you may be tempted to share your great business name and tagline with everyone you know, someone may overhear you and register the name or use your tagline before you get the chance.

Create Your Business Identity

Creating a identity is an essential task to open your doors for , or “hang out your ”, if you prefer. Here’s Step 1 in the process necessary to create an identity for your home business.

The second step I recommend in identity is to set up an address and phone number for your . You’ll also want to decide how you want to handle . You can accomplish this step after you decide on a name but before you register your with your state. Completing this step early means that your and phone number won’t become when you do register your business.

You’ll also need this information when it comes time to order your and when you set up your web site (if you’re going to have one), which are later steps in the process. That’s why I suggest taking this step first.

If you initially register your business using your home phone number and address, changing your registration later with your state’s Secretary of State’s office may not be as easy as you might think. And, it’s something you might forget to do later. I’ve been trying to get my changed for over a year. From , I’ve found it’s easier just to update your mailbox or telephone billing information to include your once you know it.

Your Business Address is Part of Your Business Identity
If you’re going to operate your business from your home, the basic choices for a U.S. business address are:

* Open a with the US Postal Service
* Use a private , like the Store

PO boxes are considerably less expensive than . However, your decision may in part depend on the image you’re trying to project for your business. Some prospects may view your use of a for your business as meaning it’s small or not fully established, or that you operate a “fly by night” company from your garage. If that’s going to be a problem for the type of business you want to engage in, private mail services can give you a more distinctive address, which implies to those who don’t know that your business has a legitimate public location.

I started with a private mail service and switched to a PO box, primarily for cost reasons. I never regretted it and don’t plan to switch back any time soon. Since my clients typically assume I’m a one-person business operating from home, image isn’t an issue for me.

Your Business Phone
If your home business is small and you’re starting on a shoestring as most of us have, consider using a cell phone as your business phone, at least when you’re first starting out. If you already have a cell phone, you can use its number or buy a second phone for your business line.

Getting a cell phone with a prepaid wireless plan like TracFone works well because you don’t have to pay a monthly service fee and you won’t have any surprises when it comes time to pay the bill. The downside is you won’t get a business listing in the local phone book, but you can always get that later if you feel it’s an important part of your business identity. Again, you don’t need to know your business name to complete this step in the business identity process.

Another option for your business phone is to use a virtual telephone service, like GotVMail. Using this option you can establish either a local phone number (available in most areas) and/or a virtual toll-free number for your home business. For information on how virtual phone systems like GotVMail work, see my review of GotVMail.

Whether you have an additional land line installed for your business or you decide to use a dedicated cell phone as your primary business number, the biggest benefit of having a separate phone number is that whenever that phone rings, you’ll know it’s a business call. Additionally, your children and spouse will know not to answer the phone when you get an incoming business call if you don’t want them to answer your business calls.

Your Business Fax Number
Whether or not you need a separate fax line strictly depends on your volume of faxes sent and received. If your home business depends on sending or receiving faxes and you want to keep your voice line available, a separate line is pretty much a necessity. However, you can also send and receive faxes using most virtual phone systems, like GotVMail. In my case, I have a low volume of both incoming and outgoing faxes and I can use the same phone line for my DSL Internet connection and faxes. My fax line is never busy, even though I’m online for the better part of every day. Using an online fax service or a switchable voice/fax setup are other options.

Using Long Distance Calling Cards
I buy prepaid long distance calling cards for business long distance. I use the card whenever I need to make a business-related long distance call from a land line – regardless of where I am when I need to make the call. In my opinion, it’s hard to beat the incredibly low cost per minute of my prepaid calling card. I also use the calling card for sending long distance faxes. I never get any surprises with unexpected long distance charges using this method. If you don’t have a dedicated business phone line or cell phone, the added advantage is that you’ll be able to track the costs of your business calls very easily.