How to Pick the Perfect Name for Your Business

What’s in a business name? A lot, surprisingly. And it’s something far too many entrepreneurs fail to dedicate time to when starting a business. Sure, in the mind of a team putting together the next great internet startup, a name doesn’t really mean much when there’s the big picture things to think about: the business plan, the coding, and the website design and functionality. But a business name is something that should be at the forefront of any businessperson’s mind from the moment they take that first step toward incorporation. Hopefully this article will help to shed some light on the importance of picking a great name the first time—lest there be unforeseen repercussions down the road.

To many, the name of your business is just the thing you wrote down on articles of incorporation or the articles of organization at the time you formed your business. Maybe you spent a few minutes thinking about it—maybe you spent a few hours. But the real question is: Did you consider the branding implications, the marketing prospects, and the complete integration of your business around your name? Didn’t think so.

You see, the name is more than just the name of your business entity. For many entrepreneurs, it also extends to everything their company produces. The website address, the product name, and (what unfortunately becomes a sticking point for many businesses later on) the trademark. Because so much hinges on the business name, you want to make sure you get it right the first time. Changing a name because of trademark issues can be detrimental to your business—and having to settle for a less-than-perfect website address can spell doom for an entirely web-based startup.

So what should you keep in mind when naming your new business? Here are a few questions you need to ask yourself when choosing a name for your business.

  • Is Your Business Name Already Taken? When you decide to form a business entity, you’re going to have to register with some Secretary of State office. At the time of registration, there may be another company with your chosen name—at which point you’ll have to come up with a new business name. Instead of thinking you’ve found the perfect name from the beginning, why not save yourself from disappointment by picking a few possible names and ensuring they’re not already taken in your chosen state.
  • Are There Any Laws Against The Use Of Your Chosen Business Name? Some states have laws regarding what can or cannot be used in a business name. Generally, these laws are designed to prevent use of deceptive business names, but additional laws could cause problems too, so make sure you read the applicable rules and regulations regarding business names before you try and register.
  • Is A Domain Name Available For Your Business Name? Chances are you’re going to want a web presence for your business at some point. Do you really want to have to resort to a .net or .biz domain name? Or worse, has someone registered all of the top level domains for your chosen business name, leaving you to register a domain name that only vaguely resembles the name of your business.
  • Is The Business Name Able To Be Trademarked? This is a big one for companies that want to protect the goodwill associated with their name (which should be every company). If you’ve chosen a name for your business that can’t be trademarked, you may have a tough time trying to protect your business down the road. And if you’re taking your business around the world, make sure you can trademark your business name in places beyond just the United States. This applies to product names, too.
  • Will The Business Name Subject You To Trademark Infringement Claims? Have you decided to name your new company something deceptively similar to another company that already has a very strong presence in the field? If so, you may be inadvertently subjecting yourself to trademark infringement claims. Not a good thing. Make sure you’re not picking a name that is clearly designed to sound incredibly similar to your competitors.
  • Does My New Business Name Mean Something Weird In Another Language? This is kind of silly, but take a page from Ikea when naming your business (and your products) and try to make sure the name isn’t some vulgar word or phrase that could get your company into trouble when you branch out to foreign markets.

But, if you only take away one thing from this article, make sure that when you come up with your business name, you make sure your name is unique enough that you’re not infringing on anyone’s rights.

Image courtesy: Waag Society

The Problem With The Employee Probationary Period

A close friend of mine recently hired a new employee. Things were going swell, and the employee was working out great, but then that person decided they’d rather seek employment elsewhere. During the time that employee worked there, my friend decided the best bet was to test the waters with the employee—try out an employee probationary period whereby everything that employee did was highly scrutinized, given feedback, and, if necessary, terminated for cause. It turned out the employee left before the probationary period ended, but what if they hadn’t?

My friend may have had a terrible situation on his hands. Something no employer wants to have to deal with.

An implied employment contract.

Yes, even though he meant for the employee to be “at-will” and terminable at any time for any reason (any legal reason, anyway, but that’s a post for another day), by simply having a probationary period, my friend might have unwittingly created a contractual employment relationship that could have superseded the desired at-will employment terms.

So how does this work exactly? Well, you start the employment relationship with an at-will employee agreement. That’s fine. That’s what everyone wants. But then you tell your employee that for the first 60 days, you’re going to give her extra feedback and fire her only if warnings have been given in advance. Uh oh. You see, the problem is that some courts have found that an oral employment contract can exist, and if you haven’t structured your employee handbook or employment agreement carefully, you may run right smack into a court saying that your probationary period created an oral employment agreement

There’s the problem. And here’s the solution. Ditch the probationary period all together. You can still keep an extra watch on new employees and give them feedback without the need for probation. After all, you probably tell your veteran workers when they make a mistake and if you’re an effective boss, you know exactly how well every one of your employees does their job—whether they’ve worked there a week or a decade.

Of course, if you really love the probationary period and can’t possibly let it go, you can always make sure it doesn’t affect your at-will employment relationship with a few quick fixes. First, make sure all employment agreements are in writing and include a provision that prevents the formation of any oral employment contracts. Second, include the facts of the probationary period in your written employment agreements and make sure that you outline in specific detail that the conclusion of the probationary period does not create any additional obligations for you or your employee. Third, make sure you have a well-drafted employee handbook and that the handbook explicitly states that no additional benefits, such as vacation time, paid time off, etc., will entitle your employee to permanent employment as opposed to at-will employment. If you keep those three factors in mind, and contact an attorney who can help you make sure your employment documents are in order and legally sound, you will significantly lower the risk that an employee can turn a successful employment period into an oral contract for permanent employment at your business.

Image courtesy: Victor1558