Owning a small business is a lot of work, but it is extremely rewarding to see your creation become successful and bring in a steady stream of income. But your success can also make you a target for others who are looking for a shortcut.
As a small business owner, I realize the success of my business is due to many factors. One of those factors is the branding that goes into my business.
Branding is more than just a logo. It can refer to just about anything associated with your business, including the name of the business, slogans, logos, color schemes, typeset (think of the Coca-Cola logo), domain name, etc.
Your company branding is usually the first thing people associate with your business, and because of this, it is one of the most important elements of your business. You need to protect it from people looking to either debase your standing within your industry, or use your good image to trick others into thinking their business is your business, and walk away with your customers.
How to protect your brand identity
The first thing you will need to do is identify the elements of your brand that are unique and should be protected. This can include things such as your company name, logo or symbol, and other distinct elements of your business. Once you have that list, think of the ways you can protect those elements. I am giving two examples of how to protect your branding, but this list is by no means exhaustive.
Trademarks. According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, a trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. The ® indicates a mark that has been registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
A trademark gives you certain legal rights to use and protect your trademark. To file a trademark, you must first make sure no one else has registered the trademark. You can search the government database, the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS). After you do a preliminary search to determine your desired trademark is available, hire a lawyer. Seriously. There is a lot of paperwork, dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. Protecting your brand is worth spending the money to make sure you do it right.
Domains. The internet is a wonderful place. But it is also full of opportunists. When you select a domain name for your business, consider buying the .com version, as well as the .org and .net versions of the same name. You may not need to buy all three versions of the domain for a personal blog if you do not intend to make it a business. But if you have plans on developing your website into a money making site, then you should consider buying the three main extensions.
I also recommend buying multiple domain names if your website can be easily mistyped into the browser. You can redirect multiple domains to your main site, ensuring no one else can piggyback on traffic that should have gone to your site. An example of this can be seen at the personal finance blog, SquawkFox, which is located at http://www.squawkfox.com/. The misspelling http://www.squakfox.com/ redirects to the correct page. Smart thinking, and solid brand protection.
You should also consider buying multiple domains to protect your brand identity if the words in your domain can be easily rearranged in a manner that could cause confusion if someone were to create a site in a similar vertical.
Don’t think you need multiple domains? A friend of mine recently discovered that someone purchased the .net version of his domain and set up a site that mirrored his. Based on how the other people did it, he most likely has some legal recourse. But in the mean time, it can cause confusion and loss of brand identity.
Domains are one of the cheapest forms of brand identity insurance. Domains are inexpensive – usually anywhere from $5-10 per year, depending on the company you use as a registrar and whether or not you have any applicable coupons. I always search for coupon codes when I register a domain, but it doesn’t hurt to shop around at other registrars.
Protect your brand, protect your company
The old saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” rings true when it comes to protecting your brand. A small cash outlay upfront can save you an immense amount of frustration down the road, and possibly give you legal recourse against offenders.