recently posted an article on Entrepreneur.com on "3 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Naming Your Business". In summary, these were Alina's 3 main points:

  1. Research the name to make sure it hasn't been registered by another company
  2. Make sure the name obviously fits your business or industry
  3. Don't pigeonhole your company by using a specific location or niche in the name

And while we agree with those incredibly practical pieces of advice, we have a few more to throw in ourselves:

Don't misspell words in the name.

If someone has already registered Uptown Car Wash, don't name your company Uptown Carrr Wash.  It sounds obvious, but c'mon, you know you see that all the time, so much so that I think our society has become immune to what is tantamount for institutionalized ignorance.

By the way, this also includes making up your own spellings of foreign language words, especially using apostrophes to take the place of a properly accented letter (such as cafe' instead of café).  Nothing drives me - a polyglot - up the wall more then made up foreign words.

Ask what others think of the name first.

I'd like to think that if some business owners asked their friends and family for their opinion, some of the more epic company name failures would have been avoided.

Growing up, my father owned a sign company, and I remember my mom helping a new client try to come up with a name for their restaurant. They were a very nice couple who had recently immigrated from China, and they spoke little English. They were intent upon naming their Chinese restaurant Lion Food, failing to understand how bizarre, and possibly carnivorous, that would sound to Americans.  I don't remember what name they ended up settling on, I think perhaps Golden Lion or something such as that, but that story has always stuck in my mind.

A quick Google search of "funny company names" will provide you with hours of entertainment, reveling in the utter ridiculousness and stupidity of some people.  That may sound harsh, but let's face it, Americans like to laugh at the ignorance of our peers, especially when it involves a good double entendre!

Don't pigeonhole your company name with a location.

So this was mentioned in the Entrepreneur article, but I have always found it very important not to pin your company down by including a location in the name.  In the city of Columbus I can think of two really obvious examples. Clintonville Electric and 5th Avenue Florist both left their namesake location years (in some cases, decades) ago, and let's face it, Clintonville Electric looks out of place in Dublin, and 5th Avenue Florist looks out of place 2 miles away from 5th Avenue.

There are ways around this, and some large corporations have overcome their location-based named to grow internationally.  HSBC is probably unknown to most by their original name, Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. Up until a recent name change, the Caroline Panthers played in the RBC Center, a venue named after the Royal Bank of Canada.

I've been a bit glib in this post, but for good reason.  A name is an extremely important part of who your company is, just like it is to you as an individual. It defines who you are and how your company is known as it grows (or possibly fails).  Unlike our given names, we have the ability to choose our company names, so choose wisely!

BONUS: Funny company names make funny signs

\Funny sign/company name hunting almost became a sport when I lived in Ghana.

Westerners are constantly laughing (lovingly) as the endless availability of funny signs, so much so that the non-profit I used to work for actually created a book of all the funny signs to sell. Joe's Hair That Talks is a hilariously awesome book full of hundreds of photos snapped by Global Mamas volunteers and employees (such as myself), across Ghana, and the proceeds all go back to the non-profit.


Originally posted on Gong Gong Communications' blog on March 12, 2013

 

I recently attended a webinar offered by Kenexa on employee engagement and compensation and a particular slide in the PowerPoint deck caught my attention: What employees want. Wow…is there really a simple answer? A magic bullet? Turns out, there actually IS a pretty simple answer to what employees want, but balancing the component parts of that answer is the art.

In a nutshell, and this should not surprise anyone, employees want RESPECT. Yep, Aretha got it right. All we want is a little respect. The question is, what does that mean? Well, it varies from employee to employee, but if you address the following 7 areas, you’ll be certain to hit on your employees’ sweet spots.

R: Recognition. You might be surprised to learn that this is a close second to pay. All the pay in the world does not make up for the lack of a simple “Thank you,” or “Nice job.” While fair pay is important, people often view their paychecks as one part of a transaction: I will do my job; you will pay me. It’s generally an impersonal (but important) transaction of “this for that.” However, when someone takes a moment from a busy day to stop, look you in the eye, and give you a warm, genuine acknowledgement, it is PERSONAL. In this day and age, personal goes a long way.

E: Exciting work. We can’t all be James Bond. Some of us will just have to deal with the fact that we have an office job and no expense account. Exciting work, though, is relative. Every small company gets projects that are short-term, but offer a bit of a challenge, or require out-of-the-box thinking. When you understand what makes your employees tick outside of the day-to-day demands of their jobs, you might find an untapped talent or interest. These little projects, as well as the opportunity to own the job for which they were hired, may be just enough excitement for your team.

S: Security. This is a tough one. As an employer, you simply can’t guarantee that jobs will be there tomorrow. The economy is too schizophrenic, and the butterfly effect is too real. So, how do you guarantee security? You can’t. But what you can do is ensure that you approach security from a physical, emotional and psychological perspective. First, provide your employees with an environment that is safe and secure. They spend upwards of one-third of their life in your facilities. Make sure they feel safe coming, going and being there. Make sure you are investing in technology that allows them to do their job without being hacked, phished, or harassed. You might be surprised to learn that this “want” was third out of seven.

P: Pay. This was the “want” at the top of the list, but it may not be exactly what you’re thinking. Unless it’s your mother, very few people are willing to work for free. People want to be fairly and equitably compensated for the work they do. As a small employer, you may not be able to compete with the big companies, but a great place to start understanding what “fair” pay is is online. Google job titles and salaries. Visit the Occupational Outlook Handbook to explore position descriptions and pay ranges. Remember that a lower salary may be acceptable if you can offer other benefits, such as free parking, flexible work schedules, and even more vacation.

E: Education and career growth. Who wants to do the same job day in and day out, forever? Nobody! Look at opportunities that will allow your employees to grow. A few ways to accomplish this include adding a small, per-employee budget to send an employee to a class or certification program each year, opportunities for your employees to develop and deliver classes (related to business need, of course) to your other staff or clients, or even expanded roles (with appropriate compensation increases) that will help your employees stretch their skills naturally. Also, don’t be shy about talking to your vendors or professional trade association to see if there are low- and no-cost webinars and courses that your employees can attend. Banks will frequently sponsor programs (lunches, breakfasts, etc.) that are highly educational in exchange for an opportunity for them to get their materials into your employees’ hands.

C: Conditions. Closely related to security, your employees want a nice place to work. You don’t have to make costly renovations to your office to provide nice conditions. Think creatively. Will putting a table and chairs outside, but within reach of wi-fi, expand your “office,” while providing a change of scenery? Do you have a space in your offices that can be converted to a creative room, stocked with healthy snacks, games, white boards, and comfy seating to allow your team to think creatively? Are your office colors vibrant and interesting? A lot of this is visual, but also think about your “rules” and processes. Is it easy to get work done? Is it enjoyable to come to work? Are people and tools accessible when your team needs them? Finally, what is the tone of your office? Are people happy and helpful…or hateful? It is important to keep an eye on this, particularly, because hateful could be a short step away from harassment or discrimination–a potentially costly condition, indeed. All of these contribute to the conditions in the workplace.

T: Truth. Truth touches on all the areas above, as well as ensuring your workplace has an honest, productive and CONSTRUCTIVE culture. I had a client who was in serious financial trouble and found himself in the position of needing to sell his business. Rather than communicating with his team and letting them know that times were tough, he said nothing. One morning they all came to work and found a “For Sale” sign on the building. They panicked and their trust was violated. Over a year later and he is still trying to regain their trust and move the business forward. They are still struggling with being blindsided. Truth also means being honest with your employees when they are not doing the job you need them to do. Small business owners sometimes have a more personal relationship with their employees, which increases the difficulty they have in being honest and direct. Establish now your communication approach and apply it consistently…no matter what. You and your team will be better for it.

The percentage breakdown, in terms of importance, for each of these areas:

R – 20%
E – 7%
S – 18%
P – 25%
C – 9%
T – 11%

Remember, the goal is to find the right mix for you and your unique company and needs. And avoid assuming that just because you might not want something, it does not mean your team does not want it.

 

Originally posted on BoldlyGo's HR Blog on February 25th

ps-book-coverAs a business owner, I want my clients to think of my business as a nice company. What business owner wouldn’t? So when PR and customer service guru Peter Shankman comes out with his third book entitled Nice Companies Finish First: Why Cutthroat Management is Over – and Collaboration is In, how could I NOT snap it up to read it?

Before I dive into the book, I should probably first confess that I was already a Peter Shankman fan. I have been following him online for some time. It all started when he launched this little resource called Help A Reporter Out (HARO) that connected reporters who needed story sources with experts in various fields. It was a big boon to my business to be quoted in The New York Times and The Atlanta Constitution Journal, spotlights that were the direct result of HARO, and incredible marketing tools for my business. So one might say that I probably worship at the Peter Shankman alter a tiny bit.

So let’s get the necessities out of the way first. The book was published in 2013 by Palgrave McMillan, a division of St. Martin’s Press. It won’t be a fast read as it comes in at almost 240 pages, but it’s a pretty easy read. It’s pretty readily available from any major bookstore and a snap to order from Amazon. There. That’s done. Now on to the good stuff.

How can you argue with a book that begins with a quote from Gandhi? Every small business owner knows, or should know, that they are their business, so when Gandhi says we need to be the change we want to see, nearly every business owner can attest that she probably started her business either because she wasn’t getting what she needed from an existing business, or she thought she could do it better. Shankman lays the foundation of his book about nice companies and nice leaders by profiling the exact opposite, citing actual examples and statistics. In highlighting all of this negativity, he creates a list of positive “nice” traits and uses his book to define these traits and underpin them with plenty of “nice company” examples.

Trait number 1, for example, is Enlightened Self-Interest. On the surface, this actually sounds pretty selfish, and if I never got past the first line of this description, I might think Shankman was promoting the very qualities that make companies and their leadership not-so-nice and ripe for social backlash and 2008-style retribution. The key word here, though, is enlightened. Specifically, companies need to do not only what is good for them (a strategic business decision), but also what is good for their constituents. It’s a bit like doing unto others and no good deed goes unnoticed all in one. Businesses can’t survive without making money, so why not figure out away to be nice AND make money? It can be done and Shankman’s examples of Miraval Arizona Resort and Spa, finance firm PrimeRevenue, and UniWorld Group highlight this.

There are a total of nine traits discussed in the book. In addition to enlightened self-interest, other traits include accessibility, strategic listening, good stewardship, 360 Loyalty, glass half-full POV, customer service-centric, merit-based focus, and giving a damn. Throughout each example, Shankman profiles companies that embody each of these traits and gives examples that I circled and underlined, my mind working overtime on how I could translate them into my own HR consulting business.

The biggest nugget from the book might actually have been the simple phrase, “…it’s still possible to compete on your merits and win” (p. 184, p. 4) As a small business owner constantly working on how to differentiate myself from my actual and perceived competition, the simple reminder that it’s all about me (and the permission to be okay with the fact that my business really is all about me, or at least the values I instill in it) made me feel a lot less worried about competing against everybody else and focus on just competing against myself.

Shankman closes his book with his own seven rules rules that he runs his life and businesses (Yep. Plural) by and this chapter alone is worth the $25 price (or less through Amazon) you’ll pay. In case I haven’t mentioned this, for small business, the owners ARE their business and these rules, and the traits of nice companies presented in the book will help any of us create a competitive culture of nice.

Sharon DeLay, SPHR, CPCC, is the founder and president of BoldlyGO Career and HR Management, LLC, a full-cycle HR services firm that works with professional services companies with 2-35 employees. She is also the executive director of the Women’s Small Business Accelerator, Inc., a non-profit business accelerator focused on helping women launch and grow their businesses.