An Expensive Lesson In Domain Names
You’ve heard the standard advice. Start a business, get a domain name. Get a GOOD domain name, one that matches your brand. Too bad I didn’t follow that advice when first starting out with one of my current websites. If I had, I would have saved myself over $3,500 (USD) and lots of headaches. Instead, I learned an expensive lesson. It’s a mistake that I hope I can save you from replicating.
I’m here to tell you firsthand the story of what can happen if your business name and your domain name do not match exactly. And why you need to stop and think about it — now — for ALL your businesses and products, even if they’re experimental products or part-time businesses.
Business is what happens while you’re making other plans
When I first started my current business, I just didn’t foresee the direction it would take. I wasn’t thinking about all aspects of it “mindfully.” Instead, I was deeply immersed in a state of flow, growing the business. I was figuring the business out on the fly. Things were moving along so quickly, that I didn’t step back and think about the domain name consciously and deliberately.
John Lennon once said “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.“ That same saying could be adapted to my situation as “Your business is what develops while you’re making plans for a different business.”
You see, after I left the corporate world in late 2001, I started doing some consulting, first with entrepreneur friends, and later as a consultant for hire. I had the domain name to match my consulting business (no problem there). Everything went along fine for a year.
- Then one day, I was looking for an easy way to publish a few articles online, so that I could link to them in an email newsletter I’d started for the consulting business. A friend suggested Blogger.com as an easy publishing solution.
- I tried it and was hooked. Blogger was much easier than trying to format articles using Dreamweaver, a software program. That was in 2003.
- Soon more people were reading the articles directly on the blog than through the newsletter. I had timed the market well in this instance. Business blogs were just starting. Mine was one of the earliest. I had a classic first-mover advantage.
- One thing led to another, and my blog-that-was-just-an-easy-way-to-publish-a-few-newsletter-articles gradually became my business. Instead of being in the consulting business, now I was in the online publishing business. And my new business was named for my publication.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the URL to match.
A Rookie Mistake …
Yikes! How did I make such a mistake? Wasn’t I smarter than that? After all, I’d been running web businesses since 1998.
Looking back on it now, it all seems so obvious. But it wasn’t at the time. When you are heads down trying to build a business, you sometimes miss the forest for the trees. And I simply missed how important that domain name would become. But you can always see things more clearly looking backward than looking forward.
- In fact, I will confess to something even worse. For the first two years, I didn’t even own ANY domain name for the blog. It had a blogspot.com address, as it was hosted at the time by Blogger, and that domain, of course, was owned by Blogger, not by me.
- Gradually, I came to realize that my lack of a matching domain name was a ball and chain around my business. As the blog grew, the problem only compounded. Every month the problem got worse.
- But now the matching domain name was not available — another organization had it. Still, people automatically assumed that I had the URL that matched the site name. And they kept referring to me and my publication by the wrong URL. And then they linked to the wrong URL.
And so began years of:
- Contacting journalists and bloggers who had written articles about my business, begging them to the correct the URL
- Biting my tongue and trying not to interrupt as people introduced me in front of large audiences using the wrong URL
- Gnashing my teeth imagining the gazillions of visitors going to the wrong site (OK, so maybe it wasn’t that many visitors in the early years, but when you’re a startup every visitor counts)
- Chastising myself for not thinking about that darn URL issue earlier
A Chance to Redeem My Mistake Nearly 8 Years Later
Fast forward to 2011. A contact I knew alerted me privately that the domain name I should have had was coming up for auction at NameJet.com. NameJet is a service that picks up lapsed domain names and auctions them. So I set up a NameJet account and set about learning the ropes for bidding on a domain name through their procedures.
I was determined to get that domain. And so I immediately dropped everything to learn all I could about bidding at NameJet. Luckily I got some pointers volunteered by contacts I knew who were good at investing in domain names.
The fateful day came, and the 3-day auction was on! I had about 10 reminders set up so that I wouldn’t miss the end of the auction — and I didn’t.
It turned out that there were about 70 competitive bids.
- Now, the only reason most were bidding on that domain name is that obviously it was important to MY business (intrinsically, it’s not that valuable a domain name to anyone except me).
- I’m convinced that if anyone else had gotten it, they either would have tried to sell it to me for a lot more, or siphoned off traffic intended for my publication. So now it was a matter of defending my trademark.
Eventually the bidding, which started at $69, topped out at $3,700 . Thankfully I was successful.
- Had I bought the right domain name originally, it would have cost me less than $100 to renew it for 8 years.
- Instead, I paid $3,700 at auction. And I went through many hours of extra work, not to mention the wasted hours of anxiety.
A Lesson Learned the Hard Way
Step back to strategically look at your business and where it’s headed. It can save you money.
Look around at all your products and businesses and get the domain names for them now. And if somebody else already has the domain name you want, consider trying to buy it from them, or renaming your product or business, especially if it’s early days and you can still change the name. If the business or product takes off, you’ll be glad you did.
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