PSU Insight

Writing Your Business Plan

Choosing Your Business Name

If you’re a sole proprietorship, then your personal name is also the name of your business. Or putting it another way, you are your business, so your name is your business name. For many professional speakers, this is quite acceptable... but it might not be the most effective thing for you to do.

If you wish to operate your sole proprietorship under a different name, then you need to create a D/B/A (“Doing Business As”) alternate name. (This is in the U.S., of course. It may be different in other countries. In fact, the way of doing this varies from one state to another within the US (and possibly varies from county to county within the state), so you’re going to have to research what the steps are in your particular situation.

However, professional speakers seldom gain an advantage by doing this. If your name is Harvey Schwartz and you call your business “Harvey Schwartz”, then your customers know who they’re dealing with — good ol’ Harvey Schwartz. But if you call your business “Dynamite Customer Service”, then your prospects have no idea who they’re dealing with... and you’ve lost a valuable marketing tool.

(It's different if your last name happens to be “Dynamite”. In that case, “Dynamite Customer Service” can be a terrific DBA business name.)

Some speakers like to adopt a DBA of “Harvey Schwartz and Associates” — even if you don’t have any other associates at this time. This can give your prospects the perception that you’re a bigger business than you really are, which might work to your advantage. (But be careful — you need to be prepared to answer the potentially awkward question of “who are your associates?”)

Here’s another warning — avoid puns in your business name if you anticipate doing business in countries where English is not the primary language. I learned this the hard way. My first corporation was called “Barberian Enterprises, Inc.” in honor of my last name (Barber). This worked well in the United States, where my choice of business name was generally recognized for its creativity.

But when I started doing business in Europe, I ran into some confusion. Although my clients were quite fluent in English, puns don’t translate well and they had trouble figuring out why I would name my company after someone who pillages and loots. (The fact that “barbarian” was misspelled confused them even further.) It didn’t cost me any business, but it didn’t help either. So my advice is — avoid puns in business names if you anticipate doing business internationally.