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Changing the name of your business

Dick Nichols 0020
Dick Nichols, Business Beat

I’ve noticed a trend among professional corporations – doctors, dentists, lawyers, accountants – to change their firm’s name from  ‘Smith & Jones’ to something like “Okotoks Law.”

I wondered whether this was just a marketing trend or if there’s something else behind it.

Michael Kuntz runs Cornerstone Accounting whose client base includes small, owner managed, local businesses. He recently changed his firm’s name from Nattress Kuntz Accountants, and I decided to ask him why. It turns out he had a strong business rationale.

“The firm was established as Nattress Accounting,” Michael explained. “After I became a partner, we added my name to the title. When Randy Nattress retired in early 2019, I intended to keep the name ‘Nattress Kuntz’.”

However, when CPA Alberta, which is the governing authority for the accounting profession in the province, learned that Michael would be a sole practitioner going forward, they ruled he could not retain the name because it implied that there were at least two partners.

At that point Michael had a choice. He could either continue in business as Michael A. Kuntz, Chartered Professional Accountant or come up with a generic name.

Changing names can be an expensive, time-consuming process involving a lot of paperwork and a whole new marketing campaign. Michael decided that it would be most effective to choose a generic brand name because if he took on another partner or decided to sell the practice, the name would not have to be altered again.

Once the change has been accomplished, Cornerstone Accounting had to communicate its new identity to clients and prospects.

“We sent out a notice to our clients, had a customer appreciation/launch party, and set up a newsletter,” Michael said.

For a long time, the professions – doctors, lawyers, dentists, accountants – were not allowed to advertise. Although it’s now common to see business card ads for professionals in the Western Wheel, professionals still face limitations on what they can say in advertisements.

“You’re not allowed to claim that you are ‘better’ than your peers.” Michael said. “You can say, ‘we offer accounting and taxation services,’ but you can’t say ‘I’m the best accountant in town.’ You can be unique but not comparative.”

Given that, how is a consumer supposed to determine which accountant to employ?

“Use your network; ask for referrals and then sit down with the accountant to get a gut feeling about whether this is someone you could build a relationship with over time.”

With tax season coming up, I couldn’t resist asking Michael for a free tip. So, what’s the most important thing for people to do to get ready to prepare their taxes?

“Put all your slips in one spot!”

That’s it?

“You have to remember the slips trickle in over a couple of months. It takes a while for everything to get to you. If you lose one it can be a real nuisance getting a replacement.”

Dick Nichols writes about business every month in the Western Wheel.