For many business owners, naming their business and designing a logo sounds like fun in the beginning, but can become complicated very quickly. In truth, it’s an important step that is more about planning than fun, but that can grow into a valuable asset and a source of pride for the business owner. Here are 3 important considerations when naming a business.
Do you even need a name?
If you are starting a business as a dog trainer, you don’t necessarily have to come up with a name; you may want to consider simply using your own name. You could print up business cards with your name, and contact information. Any checks would be made out to you, personally. You should still have a separate bank account for your business, but it would just be under your name. Any income would be yours and taxed on your personal return.
Many well-known trainers use their own names for their businesses. Think of personalities like Bob Bailey or Susan Garrett. You may not even know their business names, and if you wanted to hire one of them, you would not expect to arrive and find an employee instead.
If you want people to recognize you as an expert and come seeking you, specifically, then using your own name might be a good idea. If you want to hire employees to provide services to your clients, or if you plan to have a brick-and-mortar training facility, it IS possible to transition the public’s loyalty from the individual to the business (think Karen Pryor Academy, or Fenzi Dog Sports Academy), but if that is your goal from the beginning then a business name might work better for marketing purposes.
There are other considerations, as well, aside from marketing. If you want to incorporate (form an LLC or corporation), you need a name for the company. Privacy may also be a concern for you.
It’s my name, and you can’t stop me
Let’s assume that you decide you do want a name for your business that is not your own name. Can you simply make something up and start using it? You certainly don’t want to use the same name as another trainer in your area. But what if it’s not exactly the same, but close? What if they are in a different state, but close? A state far away? What if it’s not a dog trainer, but, say, a groomer? Or a pet food store?
The law says that the person who was using a name first has the right to continue using it in their geographic area for the same goods or services. That means that when you think of a name, you should research to make sure that name or something similar is not being used by a pet professional in your geographic area. This makes the process of picking a name much more difficult and, often, much less fun.
The problem is that there is a lot of grey area there: how do you define your geographic area (especially now, when it is common for services to be provided remotely)? Are they in your service area, your state, just over the state line? If someone else is using the name, how similar are the goods or services they are offering to yours? Are they a dog walker, a groomer, a dog food company? If the name is similar but not the same, how different is different enough? If you have already been using your name, how do you know who started using it first?
One option is to do some research, find a name that seems to work, and hope that no dispute arises. You should search the Patent and Trademark Office website, any state trademark or business registry, professional organizations, the internet, etc., to see if you can find someone else using the name. The risk is that at some point down the road, another business owner will contact you and demand that you stop using your name because they claim they were using it first. A lot of time and frustration can be spent in these types of disputes, and fighting them can cost more than consulting a lawyer in the first place.
A trademark is, in the simplest sense, a notice to the rest of the world that your company is using a particular mark (a name or a logo) in connection with a service or product and intends to protect the good will that you build up in it. There is a federal trademark registry (the Patent and Trademark Office, or PTO), and some states have registries. There is also a system for international trademark registration, which most likely will not apply to your dog training business. In order to qualify for a federal trademark registration, your business must cross state boundaries. If your business is conducted entirely with your state, your state may have a trademark system.
While you don’t need to be a lawyer to register a trademark, the process can be complicated. If you try to register a name and it turns out another company is using a similar name, your application could be denied, and you will have to re-apply. Attorneys work with professional search firms, who can make sure your chosen name has a good chance of succeeding, before you start.
Trademarking also applies to a logo. If you have invested in a logo and want to be sure no competitor can copy it, you should consider registering your logo separately.
The greatest value to having your name trademark protected may come in the future, when you decide to sell your business. Having your name trademarked will give a potential buyer the confidence that their investment is protected. The trademark is an asset that helps capture the hard work you are investing.
While hiring a lawyer to help you with naming and trademarking your business can seem expensive, using a professional search firm can give you the peace of mind knowing that your name is unlikely to be challenged at some time in the future, after you have invested in marketing and networking. And registering your trademark will ensure that if there is a dispute, you have a higher likelihood of success. It’s an investment that can have a big payoff in the end.