If your business is facing a big transition, you’re not alone: More than one-third of small businesses are planning an ownership change in the next five years. Whether you’re inheriting an existing business or seeking to pivot your existing business, changing the name may be necessary.

This was the case for Lovett’s Snoots Fish Chicken & More, one of the six Alton, Illinois, businesses chosen to receive a marketing revitalization during season 3 of Small Business Revolution — Main Street. To better describe its offerings and attract new diners, the family-run business decided to change its name to the more memorable (and more search engine-friendly) Lovett’s Soul Food.

As Lovett’s discovered, renaming your business is a fantastic opportunity to spread the word about your brand. A thorough rebranding strategy will make the process seamless. To start, complete these 10 to-do’s to grow your customer base while keeping your loyal clients.

1. Get feedback first

If you have a new name for your business in mind, start by testing the waters with real people. Doing some fast research can give you a valuable perspective on the name. Poll some of your customers, or reach out to people whom you’d want to buy your products or services. Ask questions like:

  • What’s the first thing you think of when you hear (business name)?
  • What do you think this business does or offers?
  • Hearing just the name, is there any reason you would NOT interact with this business?

If you find customers get the wrong idea or have a bad impression of the new name, it might be time to go back to the drawing board.

2. Check whether the name is available

Once you have a new name that consumers love, check the business name availability. Start by searching the U.S. trademark database. If your name is in use by another company, you could face legal action for co-opting it.

If you’re in the clear with the Patent and Trademark Office, comb the internet for the new name. Do a Google search to uncover organizations, products, groups or other entities that utilize the name or something similar.

3. Notify the appropriate agencies

Once you’re ready to take the plunge, you need to register your business name with numerous organizations and business partners. This process will be different whether you own a sole proprietorship, are in a business partnership, or lead a corporation or LLC. Depending on your business, you may have to contact:

  • The secretary of state
  • Licensing and permitting agencies
  • The IRS
  • Your local government
  • Vendors and business partners
  • Donors
  • Investors

The Small Business Administration offers a comprehensive list. In addition, make a list of all the people and organizations whose paperwork needs updating, then spend some time each week making calls, until everyone has been notified.

The importance of strong branding can’t be overstated: A great logo helps customers understand and remember your business. Now that you’re doing business under a new name, your old logo deserves an update. Imagine what kind of logo is right for your business, and partner with a skilled designer to bring it to life.

When Lovett’s Snoots Fish Chicken & More became Lovett’s Soul Food, a new logo was in order. The original logo featured an illustration of a pig that the owners of the eatery loved. But the logo wasn’t communicating the right message about the restaurant’s food, and it was difficult to replicate:

Lovett's old logo was hard to replicate

The winning logo design features the beloved pig icon and looks more modern, but still has the rustic feel that was important to the family behind the business:

5. Revisit your marketing strategy

You’re probably changing your business name because there are big changes on the horizon. Have you considered how those changes will affect your marketing efforts as a whole? A successful marketing strategy empowers business owners to make wiser choices about reaching new customers, improving their reputation in the community, keeping loyal clients and more.

You don’t need to be a marketing pro to develop a winning strategy. Use this simple checklist to answer a series of questions about your business, and you’ll be well on your way.

6. Change your online address

Do you have a business website under your old name? It’s time to pack up and move. First, purchase a website domain from a web hosting provider to match your new business name. A domain name is part of a website address. For example, the domain name of www.hemstruckandauto.com is “Hem’s Truck & Auto” (but with no punctuation or spaces). Think of your website domain as the land a house is built on, and your website as the house itself.

Second, update your business website to incorporate the new name and logo. While you may be able to move your old website to your new domain, some tweaks are necessary. Much like you would buy new furniture after moving into a new home, your website will need some sprucing up too. Be sure to remove all references to your old business name from the website. Better yet, use this opportunity to overhaul your website, top to bottom. Ask yourself these basic questions about your website to get started.

Finally, use your new domain as your business email. For example, a mechanic at Hem’s Truck & Auto could be reached at “roland@hemstruckandauto.com.”

7. Update your local listings

If you move from one home to another, you update your address, right? Don’t forget to do the same for your address online. Take an inventory of your business listings on directories like Google My Business, Yelp, Angie’s List, TripAdvisor and dozens of others. Gradually start claiming and updating the listings to include your new name, phone number, address and website URL. Make sure to list your business consistently across these sites to improve your chances of getting found locally.

Short on time? Enlist the help of a service that can scan and update your listings for you.

8. Assess your social media identity

Depending on which social networks your business uses, adopting a new social media identity can be simple. Most networks allow you to change your handle (your username) and your URL (the “www” address where visitors can find your page) while keeping your followers. Twitter and Instagram allow businesses to easily change their name, provided it’s not already in use. Facebook, however, requires businesses with more than 200 followers to submit documentation before allowing a page name change. The process can take up to a week.

Once you’re ready to make the switch, notify your followers. Announce the exciting news that your business is making changes, and let followers know they can expect to see updates under a new handle. You’ll also want to set aside some time to reply to any comments or private messages about the new name. That way, you can clear up their questions and address their concerns.

When Lovett’s Soul Food updated its name, its business pages on social media got a facelift too. By adding the new name, the updated logo and irresistible photos of the mouthwatering food, Lovett’s used its social media accounts to broadcast the name change while still focusing on the warm nature of the family business.

Whatever you do, resist the temptation to abandon your social media accounts. While it may seem simpler to start new pages with the updated name, that will leave your followers in the dark — leading to confusion and frustration.

9. Order new marketing materials and office supplies

Put your new name on paper! Looking around your business, you probably see plenty of items that require freshening. First, you should gather and dispose of the printed materials bearing your old name. Then get fresh supplies.

You may need:

  • Business cards and stationery
  • Brochures, postcards, flyers, stickers and other printed items
  • Signage and menus
  • Branded apparel, drinkware, napkins, pens and other promotional items
  • Packaging like bags, boxes and tissue paper
  • Business checks and forms

If you have a big stock of business cards or brochures, it may be tempting to use them up before ordering new ones. But your top priority is to communicate your new business identity — and using items emblazoned with your old name and logo could muddle the message.

10. Communicate with customers

Don’t assume your loyal customers, clients or donors are aware of your name change. Not only should you notify them, but you should reward them for sticking with you. Remember: People are often fearful of change, so ease the transition by offering them special promotions or rewards.

The face of your business isn’t going to change overnight. But by staying true to what makes you unique and taking care of your customers, you’ll soon be known in your community under a new moniker.

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