How do you establish an effective brand? Branding--creating a distinctive corporate identity for your business--is critical to your success as an entrepreneur. You can, and must, use the process of setting up and managing your business entities to establish your own distinctive brand.
The world's greatest companies have mastered this art of branding. You don't need even need to to see the name of the company to recognize the Mercedes or MacDonald's logo, so effectively have these companies imprinted their identity into the minds of the consumer.
But branding is not just about a logo. It's also about making sure that you have a consistent identity, one that is reflected in your website, your stationery--all communications with the public. Individual entrepreneurs often use a haircut, accessories, even style of dress-as the "Man in Black" Johnny Cash did--to imprint their identity into the minds of the public. Even a small business owner doing business on eBay will profit from having a consistent, memorable image as an established, reliable firm associated with expertise in its niche.
You can use the process of structuring your business (see our newsletter) to start building a strong brand. Whether you are establishing an LLC or a corporation or other entity, you will want to follow a number of steps to make sure that your structures will build a strong foundation for your brand.
I recommend that you follow the sequence below:
1. Make a list of several possible names for your company that reflect your area of expertise and your USP--"Unique Selling Proposition". Number them 1 to 5 or even 10 in order of priority.
2. Check with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office http://www.uspto.gov/main/trademarks.htm (or the Intellectual Property Office in the country where you live if you live outside the United States) to make sure that you have not selected a name, one you might soon be using in a potential trademark, that is already taken. Running a search is an easy matter on the internet. If you find that the name or mark is already taken by someone engaged in a line of business close to your own, make a note of it and move on to check the next name on your list.
3. Conduct a similar search on the web site of your state's or province's authority for establishing corporations--in most cases, the Secretary of State. If you are considering setting up a Nevada corporation or LLC, be sure to do the same both in Nevada (https://esos.state.nv.us/SOSServices/AnonymousAccess/CorpSearch/CorpSearch.aspx) and in your home state or province. You can find the appropriate authority in your state easily by doing a search on Google.
Make sure that you check both the LLC and the Corporation databases. There could be a corporation with a very similar name to the one you want to use for your LLC that your sate authorities might not catch if the corporation and LLC divisions are separate. Too close a similarity with the name of an entity of a different type will cripple your efforts to establish a distinctive brand and could cost you in the long term. Years ago the Body Shop did not bother to do this checking outside of California, and ended up being forced to change their name when challenged by a more successful business started earlier with a similar name years later.
4. Next, conduct a search on the fictious names (or DBA "doing business as") registry of your county or other local jurisdiction. Once your make a decision on a name for your entity, if you are using anything other than your own name or a name that clearly indicates exactly what you are doing (something other than Mary Jones Plumbing, for example) or if you add something like "Associates" to your name, you will need to file a fictitious name statement with the County Clerk. There is usually a nominal fee associated with doing this, but Don't think of this as an annoyance. It is actually an effective way establish your exclusive claim to the use of your DBA.
By the way, you'll also need to check with your municipal government to see if you need to register to do business in their jurisdiction. This will no doubt cost something, but it is an essential part of doing business. I prefer to think of it as yet another opportunity to brand myself in the mind of the public.
5. Check with a web domain registrar (such as LuckyRegister.com) to see if your preferred name or names are available. If your first choice is not available as a .com or .net or other common domain type, you now have the option of setting up a .ws (for web site) domain. You can do that at: http://www.azurpacific.ws. Or, you can choose a variant like xxxxxonline.com or xxxxxxlive.com. Go ahead and purchase the domain names that correspond to your preferred business name. Even if you don't use it, domain names are valuable virtual real estate these days--you might be approached to sell one of the names you've purchased later and make a tidy profit!
6. Select your preferred name and reserve it with your state authority. Sometimes the entity formation process can take longer than expected, and you want to be sure that the name is reserved exclusively for you long enough for your structure to be put in place. The reservation is good for a certain period of months or days.
7. Be sure to register your preferred entity name as a DBA or fictitious name if required by your regional authority.
Once your entity is in place, you're ready to brand yourself by developing a memorable graphic logo, ordering your professional stationary, and getting your web site developed around your new corporate identity.
There is, of course, much more you can do to build your brand. Kim Castle's free BrandU newsletter is an excellent resource that I highly recommend. You can sign up for it free at our website.
Copyright 2006 Azur Pacific Associates