Does the name of your firm matter? It’s a question that I get asked a lot. Years ago it wasn’t an issue that accountants gave any time to; you called your firm after yourself, stuck your plaque on the wall and got on with business. But then, years ago, accountants didn’t really compete and didn’t feel the need to market. Maybe the world hasn’t changed but the needs of the accountant have.
Let’s go back 500 years, to William Shakespeare and arguably his best-known work, Romeo and Juliet, and look at the words of its ill-fated heroine:
“’Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot, nor arm, nor face, nor any other part belonging to a man.
O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d, retain that dear perfection which he owes without that title. Romeo, doff thy name, and for that name which is no part of thee, take all myself.”
Juliet argues that it is the man that is important, not the name, that a rose would still smell as sweet whatever it was called. And yet the name, and all its connotations, cannot be ignored. Ultimately the impact of the name determines the unfortunate fate of the most romantic of couples.
A name makes a statement. Most of us go through life with the name we are given. We were not part of the naming process but we live with the consequences. Whether you are a James or a Justin, a Beverley or a Beyoncé, your name has been part of how people have perceived you, especially those who aren’t close to you. We live with the statements our name makes.
When it comes to our business, we have a choice. We are there at the naming. So we should consider what statements we want to make and what perceptions we want to influence.
Here’s a quick test. Imagine you are self-employed (not an accountant!) and you are looking to choose a firm of accountants for your business. Purely on their name, are you drawn towards:
A. Enterprise LLP
B. Ford & Jones Accountants
C. Jane L Smith Business Services Ltd
Which one would you think is the most expensive? Which one is more trustworthy? Which is more professional? Which one is more dynamic and which one would you think gives the best advice?
We asked 100 business owners those very same questions, based simply on the name. Here are the results:
75% thought (A) the most expensive followed by 25% (B). By default, everyone assumed (C) to be the cheapest.
75% thought that (B) looked the most trustworthy whilst 62% also saw them as the most professional.
An overwhelming 88% saw (A) as the most dynamic firm.
50% would expect (B) to give them the best advice.
Overall, 63% would pick Ford & Jones as their accountants, 25% would pick Enterprise LLP and 12% would pick Jane L Smith Business Services Ltd.
Now, we don’t claim that this is a scientific or exhaustive survey but the findings are interesting and tie in with work done in the US.
Using a ‘brand’ title, such as Enterprise, can be seen as more modern, corporate and dynamic.
Incorporating ’partner’ names, such as Ford and Jones, is seen as more traditional but boosts trust and professionalism.
Implying a sole practitioner, or an unqualified, such as Jane L Smith Business Services, impacts on price expectations.
The responses are, of course, purely speculative, a perception formed only by the name. We have no idea which firm is the best, the most expensive or the most trustworthy, but the name creates an impression that then makes attracting the client either harder or easier depending on who is being targeted.
If Jane L Smith Business Services aim to run a price-driven model seeking to be the cheapest firm in town, then they have just won 12% of the market without even trying. If they are a high-value, highly professional, top-end operation seeking high-level fees, then attracting the other 88% (and, indeed, avoiding the 12% who are price-driven) is made a whole lot harder by the name.
When it comes to naming your firm, you must think very carefully about who your target market is. What are the characteristics of your firm that you are seeking to highlight and what will best resonate with your market-place? What best describes who you are and what your business is?
Quality Accountants LLP and NoTax4U Ltd could both be highly successful firms, but only if they are attractive in the right market-place. The name is a step forward in the right sector and a significant barrier in the wrong one.
Whilst their target markets may be different, both of these firms have a significant strength in their name…they both say exactly what they do in the name. One is about quality, the other is all about getting the tax bill down. In the helter-skelter, Google-driven world we live in, making it obvious what you do and really easy for the right clients to find you has clear advantages.
There is no such thing as a wrong name, just a wrong name for a particular target market. In the right circumstances, Enterprise LLP, Ford & Jones Accountants and Jane L Smith Business Services Ltd are all good names:
Enterprise LLP for the corporate, more growth-orientated market;
Ford & Jones Accountants for those looking for a trustworthy, sound professional;
Jane L Smith Business Services Ltd or personal service and lower fees.
Remember though, that as well as attracting the right client, the rest of the market may turn away. That could be no bad thing of course but needs to be considered.
So, think carefully about your target market, your fee levels and your firm’s image. Does your name support or hinder what you are trying to achieve? It could just be time for a change.