Successful architecture firms have one thing in common: a great business name (okay, maybe not, but I digress ). After many long years of paying your dues, the dream (or nightmare depending on your point of view) of running your own firm is within reach. Regardless of what other firms are doing, you are ready to branch out and do your own thing, but what do you call yourself? The time has come to choose a business name for your newly minted architecture firm.
While there are many options for choosing a business name for architects, you can quickly simmer the choices down to two main categories:
- Use your own personal name (followed by architect or designs or whatever the case may be)
- Use a fictitious business name (the sky is the limit with this one)
So what will it be? Do you stick your personal name on the sign, or do you try to come up with something a little more catchy and trendy? While some firms use the initials of principal players within their company, other architects wouldn't be caught dead doing something so conventional. Of course, there are pros to each type of business name; think carefully before painting the sign for the office!
The Traditional Architect Business Name
For decades, the majority of architects have chosen to go with traditional business names. The business name for architects normally included the initials of the founders' last names, a list of their last names separated by commas or the first and last name of the firm's sole architect. The firms SOM (Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill) and HOK (Hellmuth, Obata, and Kassabaum) are two examples among many.
Using a set of initials certainly seems impressive, and it definitely gives the firm room to grow. On the other hand, it is a bit odd to use a set of initials if you are only one person strong.
You can't go wrong using your own personal name (unless you happen to be Lew Spen). By using your own personal name you can leverage your existing reputation, people know who they are dealing with. ‘face-value' to a new architecture firm. Also, a certain amount of transparency and ‘human-ness' is conveyed when a firm bears the name of its owner. Frank Gehry and Richard Meier are two examples.
However, there are reasons why naming an architecture firm after the founder may not be a good idea. If the founder leaves the company for any reason, the firm is stuck with a name that no longer has any meaning. Instead of using both the first and last name of the founder, you may want to stick to the last name only or their initials. However, if you never plan on growing the firm and know you will remain the firm owner, your own proper name should be just fine (until it comes time to sell the firm that is)! Additionally, customers may also be put off by the fact that they are doing business with a firm that's named after a person if they aren't directly dealing with that person.
The Catchy Yet Professional Name Architect Business Name
If an eponymous firm isn't your cup of tea, a catchy business name for architects may serve your design firm well.
For instance, Oscia Wilson, in her interview for Business of Architecture TV, mentioned that she didn't want to use her personal name because her firm is based on collaboration.
Maybe you want your business name to convey a sense of what the firm does (Med Design), where it is located (Springville Architects), or something about your firm's brand (Modative). Of course don't overlook checking to see if your domain is taken (you can check here to see if your web address is available).
A common mistake that's made when choosing a business name for an architecture firm is that they often end up sounding like law firms. Remember to keep it loose and don't get too serious (unless your target clients wear long faces and tweed jackets). Regardless of how you choose your name, make sure to clearly state what services you provide so that customers know that you are an architect and not a law firm or dentist!
Lastly, there are legal considerations when choosing a business name for an architecture firm. In the United States, businesses must file a fictitious business statement when operating under a name other than a given personal name.
Usually this is done in the county where the firm does business. Also, any company that uses the name “architect” or “architecture” in the firm name or offers “architectural services” must have a licensed, chartered or registered architect in responsible control of the instruments of service (legalese for “someone has to go down if something goes wrong”!).
If you cross over this legal line there are stiff financial and legal penalties (of which I'm reminded each time I receive the California Architect's Board newsletter).
There are several services you can use to see if your architect business name is taken. First try a Google search.
You can also check with your local county clerk, as well as your state's Secretary of State, which approves filings for LLCs and corporations. Each country has unique requirements; in the U.S. you can also search the federal Trademark Electronic Search System.
Forget the Name and Go to Work
It is easy to get hung up agonizing over the perfect business name. Sure you want a great name that represents your firm well, but don't overlook your number 1 concern: finding new work to pay the bills. In fact, if you are looking for ways to jump-start your new firm, sign up for your free account on Business of Architecture access free business resources (click the green “Join Free” menu button at the top of this page).
To summarize, here are the options for choosing an architect business name:
- Use your own personal name
- Pros: people know who they are dealing with, personal name has a more human feel, engenders trust
- Cons: complicates transition to another owner, ego-centric (for some this may be a positive), name mightneed to change as new partners are promoted
- Use a brand name
- Pros: can convey a sense of the firm's philosophy or focus, can seem like a larger firm (this might also be a con), not tied to a specific owner or personality
- Cons: domain name might not be available, impersonal, requires more effort to brainstorm
So what will it be? A personal name or something more creative? Whatever choice you make for your architect business name, don't forget what is most important – get out there and find clients! A great architect business name, no matter how good, won't pay the bills.