Building a brilliant brand online requires a brilliant domain name but unfortunately, supply and demand aren't in your favor when it comes to acquiring great domains. Trying to find a catchy .com can seem as difficult as trying to catch a fly.
But that doesn't mean that the perfect domain name is out of your reach. To the contrary: when you know where to look, finding the domain you've always dreamed of can be far easier than you might imagine.
There are a handful of domain name marketplaces where great domains are available for purchase and auction. On Afternic, for instance, you'll find more than 2.5m domains for sale. DNForum, which is a message board, has fewer but is a popular hangout for 'domainers' and can be the source of bargains for those willing to sort through the chaff to find the wheat.
Buying and selling domains is a big business and it's no surprise that some have made a big business out of it by purchasing more domains than anyone could ever use. Some companies, like BuyDomains, are willing to part with their domains for amounts that are quite reasonable. Example: if you're starting an export service you might be pleasantly surprised to find that you can become ExportExpress.com for only $1,888. In my opinion that's quite a minimal amount for a domain that can serve as a brilliant brand.
Domain names are expiring all the time and thanks to the economy, there are plenty of great domains being let go on a regular basis. With services like Pool.com and SnapNames you can often catch them the instant they drop. You pay for it; Pool.com, for instance, charges $69 (if it's successful) provided that nobody else wants the domain too (in which case you'll have to bid it out) but most people would agree that the perfect domain is worth the money.
Worth checking out is NameJet, which has special registrar relationships that sometimes enable it to acquire domains on a 'pre-release' basis before they officially drop. Like Pool.com, NameJet charges $69 if it's successful in acquiring a domain for you and if more than one person wants the domain, a bidding process is used. The best pre-release domains often fetch four and five figure amounts but there are bargains to be had; for a few hundred dollars I recently picked up a great pre-release domain that had been registered continuously since the 1990s. A small benefit of pre-release domains: they're transferred to you before they drop so you keep the original registration date.
If you have the perfect domain name in mind but it's already taken, don't hesitate to use WHOIS to obtain the owner's contact information and send an inquiry. While negotiating the acquisition of a domain name can be difficult and there are plenty of people with unreasonable expectations, in general reasonable offers get reasonable responses and you should never avoid direct inquiries out of fear.
Remember: a domain name is one of the most valuable assets a business has. A great domain can not only serve as a strong digital brand, it can sometimes generate direct navigation traffic and provide SEO benefits. While it's safe to say that most of the obvious great domains have already been registered, registered doesn't necessarily mean unavailable. When you look in the right places, use the right tools and are willing to make a reasonable investment (e.g. more than $10), there's far more supply than is immediately visible. Use that to your advantage. Happy hunting!