There was a day when your corporate identity was tied to engraved letterhead and envelopes. Obviously, it is a new day. You probably still need a logo and business cards, but your domain name and web presence should now be a big part of your business branding.
Every company needs a web presence regardless of what they do. It is the tri-fold brochure of this century.
Of course you have to start with your company’s name. Lots has been written on that topic and I’ll let you Google at your leisure and decide what advice to take. Some say that the name has to let the customer know what you do, but we have certainly seen a lot of companies (Zappos, Google, Yahoo) that used a word that is just catchy. Of course, some work, some don’t.
Most of all, don’t panic. Many a small business has changed its name at some future point because it either didn’t fit the business anymore or because they were acquired by someone else. Unlike your children, you aren’t burdening your business with this name forever.
When thinking about names, there are a couple of things I like to keep in mind. When you say it to people, do they know how it is spelled? If not, they will never find you online. Is it easy to pronounce? Don’t be so clever that no one can figure it out. On the other hand, if you show no originality at all, there are going to be hundreds of companies with similar names.
And the name does have to be unique. Check with your state’s Secretary of State for existing names. Most now have web searches you can run to check the availability of the name you are considering. I also like to check with a Domain Registration Service such as www.register.com to see if a domain name is available for that name. (In fact, I often start there.) Lastly, check with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to see if someone has trademarked a similar name for a similar product or service.
Once you have determined the name, hire a graphic designer to design a simple logo. You will find lots of designers on the web or ask a peer for a referral. I’m a big fan of logos that are just nice fonts and colors using your corporate name. Stylish, but easily readable. Your graphic designer will deliver your completed logo in .jpeg, .png, or .pdf format. Make sure you save the logo in a safe location because it stinks to not be able to find the original logo you paid good money for.
While your graphic designer is making the logo, get your domain name registered. A domain name is the internet’s way of converting the cryptic string of digits that is the address of your web site (known as an IP address) into a memorable word or phrase. The internet has services called Domain Name Systems (DNS’s) that look up the word you type in the browser and route traffic to the numeric IP address. (Kind of a big phone book of the internet.) And though this detail may seem overly technical, some day your site and email won’t be accessible because the DNS has not been updated or the old address is cached and you’ll be gnashing your teeth thinking, “I wish I had known that stuff.”
Please don’t take the easy route of using a “firstname.lastname@example.org” address. It just implies that you aren’t a real business and that you have no internet savvy. (Side note: it’s never a bad idea to reserve the gmail address though. I have seen people use that address to imitate the company, which is obviously not a good thing. The same goes with other web identifiers which I’ll discuss later.)
My thoughts on domain names are:
1) Avoid anything but a .com suffix if at all possible. People just assume it’s a .com and you will forever be missing emails because they send it to the .com address. Just as bad, they will visit the www.YourCompanyName.com site and think it is you. .Net is not a terrible second choice. I would avoid .co because it is so easily confused with .com (at quick glance of an email address, you won’t notice.)
2) Avoid punctuation or underscores if at all possible. If you can get greatcompany.com v. great-company.com do it. Again, I always assume a company’s site is without the punctuation.
3) Domain names are tricky because the short, easy-to-remember names are taken. (Why didn’t I know to buy all 3-letter domain names in 1988?) Don’t be afraid to add an “inc” or “llc” to your name if that domain is available, especially if the non-”inc” website is not up and running. (Many domain names that are registered do not have websites. Someone is holding them for a future project or to resell. So I check to see if they are registered and then I actually visit the site to see what is there.) I’ve also seen people add “online” or other identifiers to create a unique domain name.
There are several places to register your domain name, and the cost varies depending on the services bundled with them. Some include web hosting and other services, which is not necessarily bad. I have a weird hangup about that personally, but I don’t know that it is based on facts. I just don’t like having the domain name and the web hosting to be in the same place. So I register all my domain names at www.register.com and host elsewhere. That does involve some extra work, as I have to tell register.com where my web host is located on the internet. However, it is not impossible. Most registrars have information on how to update their DNS Servers, and your web host will tell you how to update them. (Usually something like ns####.hostgator.com. Your web host usually gives you at least two of them.) The advantage is since all my domain names are registered in one location, it is easy to update payment information and check expiration dates.
Once you have hosted your website somewhere (it doesn’t have to be an actual site yet, just a domain name directed to a place), create your email address. This is how you get your email@example.com address that makes you look like you know what you are doing. That email can be accessed either through a utility that your web host provides, or can be accessed through Microsoft Outlook or Gmail. Virtually all web hosts have help pages that will walk you through accessing email.
Where you host your website will be driven largely by two things: money and capacity. Web hosts offer shared and dedicated servers- shared servers are obviously shared with other users, dedicated are devoted to you and only you. Of course, dedicated servers cost more. In the beginning, you are probably fine with a shared server with small bandwidth. If it turns out to be a bad decision, upgrade. And if your host turns out to be unreliable, switch to another. Hosting companies are everywhere- I’ve used several over the last 16 years with various results. They all have different specialties and different levels of service. Just be aware that the free or cheapest is not always the best choice.
Web Site Setup
Every company needs a web presence regardless of what they do. It is the tri-fold brochure of this century. So even if you do not sell products or services over the web and you are sure the majority of your customers will find you through non-internet venues, you should have a website. It should be professional looking, contain basic information about your business and how to contact you.
Again, there are so many resources for website design now it isn’t funny. Many web hosts offer web building services. There are also tons of web designers that can build one for you.
Other Web Identifiers
Reserve a facebook page www.facebook.com/YourCompany Name. Check help to see how the company pages work. I’m sure it will change before I finish this post.
Reserve a twitter account @YourCompanyName. Even if you never use it, you’ve prevented someone else from getting it.
Reserve a Linked In Company Page. Here is their help page with more information.
Reserve “MyCompanyName@gmail.com” for the sole reason of keeping someone else from getting it and using it. I would not worry about other email hosts because they just aren’t popular enough.
Stay current on what is happening on the web. This list can be be outdated in a matter of weeks. As new social and business sites are launched, you will want to make sure your company name is owned by you in that community. Then if that venue becomes the next Facebook, you are already there and aren’t relegated to the user name “TheRealMyCompanyName”.
I still think cards are important, because when you do meet people “in the real world”, it is nice to give them a way to remember who you are and your contact information.
Have your graphic designer design a simple card that includes your name, company name, phone number, web address and email. I personally think a physical address and fax machine number are no longer needed. (Okay wait– include a physical address if you have a physical location that people visit.) Search online for printing companies, and you’ll have your cards in a matter of days. I’ve used www.vistaprint.com and www.gotprint.com. Liked them both.
Now go generate some revenue!