Well, hi there! It’s time for the second installment of JebraWHAT!?, our new non-techy, ultra-friendly advice column for social entrepreneurs and non-profits managing their web sites on their own. We’ll be answering your questions about ways you can take control of your own web presence, keep your site updated, and integrate the technology that best supports your customers and donors — and hopefully, our answers will be as easy for you to understand as a cookie recipe.

This week’s question comes from Hilary Faverman of Hilary Faverman Communications, a content marketing and social media management consultancy. She writes content for her clients like a veteran celebrity impersonator, taking on their voices with such smoothness that you’ll never know they used — shhh! — a ghost writer. She also helps them set out strategic plans for their online content and social media placement, and fairly often, she’s writing the content of their web sites.

In her own personal writing, which you can read on her blog (here’s my favorite post), her tone is confident, irreverant and no-baloney, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have questions. In her work on planning client web site content, she’s often approached by people who are starting from absolute zero. There is a lot of ground to cover there.

This month, we’re answering Hilary’s question. She asked “Should a solo entrepreneur’s domain name be their actual name or a new name just for their business?”

You’d Better LOVE IT

This is a decision you cannot take lightly. This domain name will stick to you for years and years because — let’s face it — your web site is one of your most constant and loyal marketing tools, whether you embrace it or not. A bad web site is still advertising something, after all. You’ll use this domain name not just for your web site but your email addresses, so you’ll be reading this domain name out loud all the time. You’ll say it, you’ll spell it, you’ll mention it in your elevator speech and when you’re networking, you’ll put it on business cards and in your email signature. You will type and/or look at this domain name many, many times a day for the duration of your time as the owner of this business.

So you’ve got to LOVE this domain name.

A quick story: Jebraweb.com is my domain name. I bought it in 2002 when my brother, Josh, was recently out of college with a degree in computer science and I was looking for a partner with serious programming chops. My name is Debi, and my dad’s name is Jeff, and when my brother and I were kids, our mom used to call us for dinner with the following frazzled-mom-jibberish: “Dob…Jesh…Jeb…JEBRA, DINNER!” When my brother and I started Jebraweb in 2002, business names that included the word “web” or the prefix “e-” or “i-” were all the rage. Combine my mother’s mess of a dinner call and the hip business nominclature of the early 2000s and you get “Jebraweb.” It was cute. I thought it would be fun. Now, 12 years later, my old business partner moved on and no one has “web” in their name anymore, and I am stuck. I’ve debated buying the domain name “zebraweb-with-a-j.com” because of how often I spell it that way on the phone.

Moral of the story: be  careful how you pick a domain name.

How Big Can You Get?

Many businesses start as solo-preneur enterprises; it’s just one person and his dream of landscape architecture. He names his new business “Joe Jones Gardens,” with a domain name to match. Working alone — or with a team who will not be the primary contact for his clients — is  how he intends to run his business forever. If he never, ever intends to get bigger than that, joejonesgardens dot com is a domain name that will work for him forever. It’s perfect, it’s memorable because everyone who interacts with his business will interact almost exclusively with Joe Jones himself, and he’s unlikely to ever change his name. JoeJonesGardens dot com is going to be a great domain name for him forever.

The flip side of that is Suzy Smith, opening her cupcake bakery on Main Street. Using the domain name suzysmithcupcakes dot com, she is happy to lend her name to the business and the web site. Four years later, her cupcakery has become the smash hit of Main Street, and she’s so succesful that she’s ready to open a second storefront on State Street and take on a business partner. Now Suzy Smith Cupcakes has multiple owners, multiple public-facing employees, and a brand name that Suzy may have outgrown. Too bad that everyone in her business orbit has @suzysmithcupcakes dot com in their email contacts, their Twitter feeds, and bookmarked in their browsers. Sure, she can buy a new domain name for the business if the name changes, but there will be headache and multiple accounts to manage and email to forward and inevitably, things will slip through the cracks.

“That’s Two E’s and ONE L”

If you have a first or last name that’s uncommon where you live, you already know how annoying it is when people misspell it. When it’s your domain name, it becomes more than annoying — it becomes a roadblock to people trying to find out more about your business.

Take my fictional friend Evyline Markulius, who runs a fictional accounting firm. Her domain name — evylinemarkulius dot com — is going to require extra work from absolutely everyone involved in that business:

  • Prospects who have her printed materials and want to see her web site are going to have to look carefully at them, letter by letter, to type in the domain name correctly
  • Prospects who are googling her are going to have to try several spellings before they get to the right one
  • Evyline herself is going to have to spell her domain name — slowly and more than once — during every phone call that requires it

If your actual name is that hard to spell, save everyone some time and irritation and pick a business name that doesn’t include it.

I cannot stress this enough: domain names are serious decisions. Take the time to pick the right one by testing it in these ways:

  1. Call several friends and tell them your domain name without spelling it. See if they can do it correctly.
  2. Imagine your business in five years. Will the domain name still fit?
  3. Try variations on your name in http://whois.net/ to see what will happen if users mistype it. (Note: happycamper.com and happycampers.com are two totally different business web sites)

Other resources on domain name best practices are abundant online. Take your time!

Ready to take the first step with your new site? Send me an email, or reach out on Facebook or Twitter. If you need help writing content for your site or social media, contact Hilary Faverman.