Congratulations on taking another big step towards independence! Establishing your firm under your own “doing business as” (DBA) name instead of using your broker-dealer’s brand can be both exciting and daunting. You are joining thousands of independent financial advisors who have benefited from taking the same path to distinguish themselves.
But, how do you go about choosing a DBA name? You probably have quite a few ideas—you may even have a favorite. A good name will reflect your business’s identity for years to come and it will help you market yourself. Choosing a DBA name can be a lengthy process, but it is definitely worth the time. Once you have chosen your DBA name, not only have you made a significant step toward your independence, but you have also started branding your business and carving out your own niche in the financial services industry.
Choosing a DBA Name Type
Start by deciding on the type of name you want to use. There are different types, and each has its pros and cons. Descriptive names describe what you do, such as provide financial advice or financial planning services. The advantage of descriptive names is that including information about what your business does makes it easier for potential clients to find you. The most popular terms are financial services, financial advisors and wealth management. The disadvantage, however, is that it is difficult to stand out from the competition.
Many advisors use a combination of the founder’s family name with a descriptor, such as Smith Financial Planning Services. This is still a popular option because if a client is talking about you to a friend or colleague, it is easier to remember the referral if it matches your family name when conducting a search.
It may seem early to be considering your succession plan, but now is a good time to think about whether you want a name that is easy to transfer or sell. When you sell your business, you do not necessarily sell your DBA name with the book, but if you have built brand equity over time and the name is well known in your community, the potential buyer may opt to keep the name. Putting a dollar value on brand equity is an art and science, and is dependent on what the buyer intends to do with the book. This is where using your family name can limit your succession planning options.
A new trend we are seeing is partnerships where advisors want to be a one-stop-shop by collaborating with CPAs and estate planners. Common DBA terms used in this scenario are wealth partners, wealth management services, or wealth advisors to represent multiple owners and services. Typically, from a compliance perspective, terminology that implies investment advisory services may be used in a DBA name in instances when the entity is a registered investment advisor (RIA) or if at least one person operating under that name is an Investment Advisor Representative (IAR) of the broker-dealer’s affiliated RIA.
Lexical names rely on wordplay, or modifying existing words in a clever way. We are seeing more combinations of words, such as PlanWise or LifeStyle Management. Be careful, however, with names that may sound gimmicky or appear promissory such as Income4Life or RetireRich, which are unlikely to meet regulatory compliance standards anyway.
As you think about what type of DBA name to use, consider these questions:
- How many advisors are in your practice?
- Are you going to add partners in the near future?
- Do you plan to sell your practice within the next 10 to 15 years?
- Do you want the name to appeal to a certain niche or type of client (e.g., retirees, business owners, high-net-worth)? If so, do you have the credentials to back up your specialty?
- Are you focusing on a particular geographic area or cultural heritage?
- Do you plan to expand your practice to other locations?
- Do you want to promote financial planning and wealth management services as part of your core offering?
- How will your name look when it is on the web, part of a logo, on social media, etc.?
- Do you have CPAs, tax accountants and attorneys on staff in your practice?
- Are you drawn to certain themes or symbols that would resonate with your target market and be suitable to your location such as a nautical theme if you are by the ocean?
- What connotations does it evoke? Does it reflect your business philosophy and culture? Does it appeal to your target market?
Once you have a list of potential names, test them with your colleagues or with your client advocates. They can help determine which names are easy to recall and sound like a true fit.
Registering a Domain for Your DBA Name
It is also a good idea to include a domain search as part of your search. If your DBA name is not available as a domain, you may need to tweak it a bit with hyphens, abbreviations, etc. Or, use this as a deciding factor when choosing from a list of potential DBA names. A common place to start your search is the Go Daddy website. If your preferred DBA name is available as a domain, you can register it with Go Daddy. If it is not available outright, it may be available for sale at a price determined by another owner, and hopefully not at an exorbitant fee.
The most common URL form is still “.com”; however, some firms secure “.net” at the same time and license it for multiple years to lower the cost. A typical practice is to have both domains point to the same site, and track it to see if any traffic originates from the .net domain.
Marketing your business through a DBA name may also have some legal consequences and limitations. For example, under trademark law, some names may be protected for exclusive use by another person or company. Finding a name that is not protected by someone else potentially saves you from a demand letter after you’ve spent money creating your websites, letterhead, business cards, etc. You may also want to choose a unique name that you protect for yourself. Once you choose a name, there may also be filing obligations with the states where you do business, as many states require that DBA or “assumed names” be filed with the Secretary of State’s office. Because these areas are complex or require specific state law knowledge, it is best to seek the assistance of a local lawyer for matters such as these.
Designing Your Brand Presence
Once you have finalized your DBA name, the next step is to build your professional brand. This involves having a logo designed that represents who you are, and evokes what you want people to think and feel about your firm. Having your logo designed can be a very personal experience.
There are several different types of logos, but the two most common are the wordmark and the combination mark. A wordmark logo is where your DBA name appears without an icon and relies on font style and colors, like the Google logo. A combination mark logo has a custom icon that typically appears at the top center or to the side of the DBA name, like the Hawaiian Airlines logo.
Before finalizing your logo, consider how it will fit on all of your electronic and print communications. This includes signage on your building and foyer, your website, email signatures, social media pages, financial plan proposals, etc.—basically, anything and everything that your clients will see. Your logo serves as the starting point for defining the overall style, colors and imagery for all of your marketing components.
Additionally, consider whether you want a tagline to appear near your logo. Not all advisors have a tagline, but your unique value proposition can help define how your logo will appear alongside supporting messaging to build a connection with your audience.
There are several avenues you can take when designing your brand. You can do it yourself if you are savvy in graphic design, you can work with a graphic designer, or you can use online services that offer brand packages for your stationery, website and social media pages.
Whatever avenue you use, start by collecting examples of logos that you like and be specific about why you like them. The types of questions designers ask will help you determine if they will take the time to understand your industry, distinctive services, and target audience. At minimum, designers will want to know your style preferences (e.g. modern versus traditional, playful versus sophisticated) to help determine the typography and color palette.
Pricing for design services varies significantly based on the range of design support you need, and whether you choose to work with a senior-level designer or freelancer who is just starting out. The price can start at $500 for a logo design from an online shop, or range from $2,500 to $15,000 for a full brand package. Choose a designer that you can form a relationship with so that you can go back for future projects as your business needs grow.
An important consideration when choosing a designer is if they will provide a “branding guidelines” document for you. This defines the typefaces and rules for how your logo should appear within different applications, including size and spacing requirements, and any special fonts. It will define the color scheme, including primary and secondary colors for subheadings and online buttons, and provide the RGB color code or Pantone number. Other vendors, such as for your website, will request this document when working with you.
Finally, be sure to check with your broker-dealer for a list of approved vendors you can use for your website and other services. For many independent financial advisors, a uniquely branded DBA name offers the advantages of distinguishing their company, building a connection with their target audience, and creating a cohesive brand experience.
About Cetera® Advisors
Cetera Advisors LLC is an independent broker-dealer and registered investment adviser (RIA) firm offering efficient and convenient access to an extensive network of people, products and services to financial professionals. As part of Cetera Financial Group®, a leading network of independent retail broker-dealers, the firm is able to offer all the benefits of a large, well-capitalized broker-dealer, including innovative technology, leading wealth management and advisory platforms, and comprehensive broker-dealer and RIA services, with the personal relationships often found only at a boutique firm.
Cetera Advisors is a member of the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) and a member of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Inc. (FINRA). For more information, visit ceteraadvisors.com.