Friday, June 1, 2007

Naming your business

Over the years many people have come to me for advice with regards to setting up a private company, taking the break from being an employee to a stand alone self employed professional.

It is a worrying time, with feelings of uncertainty and what if’s. But among the mixed emotions that many feel, much useless time is spent on thinking up a slick name for the new company, and aimlessly searching to see if the web address is still available.

For most interim or project managers, the new business will only ever be a one man band. Although for some strange reason, so many of us want to give the impression that our business is somehow much bigger than it really is. This is possibly because we have taken the step away from being a manager of many and find it hard to resist the title of Managing Director or CEO, as a compensation for not having been one in ‘real life’?

But how can you be a managing director, if you do not have any directors to manage? And how can you be a chief executive officer, if you are the only officer? The problem, as I see it of giving your new found company a grandiose name, is that you cause disappointment and confusion in the eyes of your potential customers.

For example: Call your business Executive consultants Ltd. And you immediately give the impression that there are many of you. The first question a potential client will ask is, “how many employees do you have?” Unless you lie, you will end up saying things like ‘we are very small at the moment, but we have plans’. Who has plans? Only you have plans, unless you include your life partner, dog or family parrot!

The other risk of a grandiose name is that potential clients may even see you as a threat, especially if you are likely to obtain your assignments via agencies and supply companies. They may worry that you are out to steal their business or recruit their employees and contractors away from them. Another problem can be that a client may not be able to get your company onto their short list of suppliers.

In the interim management and project management line of business it is best to build your career based upon the quality of your work and not on your business itself, unless that is your companies objective. Mixing the two can be dangerous.

When you go self employed as an interim manager, consultant, project manager or IT consultant the best thing to do is to set up your own private bvba. Give it your own name. Unless you are called John Brown, or Mike Smith or Mr. Patel or De Smit (or any other very common name), no one will ever confuse your correspondence or forget your company name. Your client will also not feel inferior to you and will enjoy ‘patronising you’ by giving you loads of work! And when your invoice comes in, your client will instantly recognize it and because you are a small ‘one man band’ they will have more sympathy for you and make sure that you get paid sooner than your grandiose competitors. If you look as if you can afford a lawyer, soon or later your client will cause you to use one!

Later on, if you have a really good business idea, you can always set up another company, with an appropriate name and invoice into it from your own private company. This has many tax advantages and gives you the freedom to do many things, as you wish. In Belgium, when you set up a business you have to state what it is your business will do, so it is important to get as broad a brief as possibly. You need a description that encompasses almost everything. In my private Belgian bvba (similar to a Ltd. Company in the UK), I can do almost anything apart from taxidermy and cooking – two things that I simply can never imagine ever wanting to do!

So my advice is: give yourself a simple private business name. If your real name is Jean-Paul Schot, call it Jean Paul Schot bvba or Ltd. Give yourself an e-mail or web address (if you really need one) with the same name - Everyone will recognize your invoices, letters, e-mails and faxes and you will never cause confusion. People will never be able to tell if you earn 3 million Euros per year or 300,000 or 30,000 – unless they bother to check the public records.

One last tip – never, never try and be cleaver with the name by mixing half your wife’s name with yours, it will end up sounding like a small yacht, moored on a cheap quayside in Blankenberg or Brighton and everyone will grown when you proudly explain the background of the name. And (God forbid) if you ever get divorced, you will regret the name so badly and your accountant will curse you for having to set up a new business, when you had a perfectly good one before. And al because you just couldn’t resist a one night stand with the receptionist of the Holiday inn, Madrid.

End note:

I would like to start a collection of the worst named companies ever, if you know some, please feel free to share them, if they are yours, you can always submit them anonymously!


Chaos Theory said...

Hi Harley,

Try this one : Complexis Management Consulting...

Right... could be worse I think.
Actually, the aim was not to appear as a big company, and I've always been clear with my partners on that topic. I have no plans in hiring someone in the coming year(s).

However, I wanted the name not to reflect who is behind but well the company's activities and passions. I could start telling you the whole story of the name but I' not sure it might be of some interest.
It was just to provide another point of view as the one expressed here.

See you soon,

Harley Lovegrove said...

I am confident the story will be of interest to our readers, especially those who are setting up a business right at this moment. If you have the time, feel free to share it...


Chaos Theory said...

Actually, I've always been convinced that we do not live in a simple world. I always hear people saying "Keep It Simple & Stupid" while things are not.

Complexis is a latin word meaning Complexity. One should not confuse complex and complicated.

Complicated is the opposite of simple. Complex is the opposite of independant. This only means that a fact can never be looked isolated from the rest of the world.

It should always be the case for a good Project Manager... he shouldn't look at his project as an autonom entity but always be able to get a helicopter view, see interactions with the company, how it fits in its strategy, how it serves its organisation, how he can possibly provide the highest added value to the company he works for.

Complexity is also linked to "chaos theories" and the "dissipative structures" of Prigogine.

One would say that Chaos is just a complete unordered mess... while it is just the complete opposite. Chaos is the most organized things, but... the logic behind is so difficult to understand, to define that usually people just see the mess and the underlying rules. So is it often in a company... one would think it's a total mess, that the formal organisation is not respected etc while you just have to understand what are the politics behind, how are the informal networks and flows... once you start mastering it, try make it transparent, try to simplify, so that the highest efficiencies can be found.

Dissipative structures are just stating that a system is stable for only a temporary moment.
It will always meet a "disturbance" point. The system will start fluctuing... and a bit later will meet a "biffurcation" point where it is going to take a random direction, unpredictible and irreversible... Up to you to adapt to this situation.

Based on those Physics and Chemical principles (I should add general relativity but it's not the point here) I personnally built sort of philosophy that help me in my life and in my job.

I'm convinced that :
- the world is complex
- stability is temporary
- security is an illusion
but knowing those facts and accepting them help in dealing with those situations. Companies always tend to stability, people are seeking security (dam'n, be exposed, take risks and you will grow...), that the underlying "rules" are complex but can be understood. If not changed they can be used to bring added value.

Based on this I wanted the name of my compa,y to reflect this philosophy and that I'm there to help dealing with complex situation and help adapting to a perpetual changing environment.

That's the story... maybe a bit long but I hope this interested you. (geee... I think this will be my next post in my blog)