I recently found myself in conversation with a friend who runs a web design agency. It’s not the typical agency with a big glossy office in a major city, but instead he works from home and hires freelancers when needed. Still, his firm has its own name and website. But he and I both remarked on the strangeness of having to manage a separate brand for what is essentially a solo practice.
Got me thinking, do we all need a different brand aside from our own name?
Legally, setting up a business means creating a unique name for that industry which grants the business some further financial and legal duties. In its simplest for, the business could be named after the founder, a la John Smith Designs, but at this point could adopt any name under the sun.
The Good, The Bad
Should we choose a brand name, or just go with our own?
I can see some immediate benefits to both. In creating a business with a unique name, it sets the stage for bringing in additional people — both partners and employees — since the business is no longer made up of just you. It also allows you to change personalities a bit, communicating with a desired audience in their voice, not necessarily your own. As designers and other creatives, it’s a chance for us to flex our own muscles and craft a visual identity that differs from our personal style, pointing to a result or core business offering that goes beyond just “me”. And if your given name is hard to pronounce or spell, it’s a chance to set things on a new path of ease.
But there are drawbacks too. For many of us working as freelancers or solo practitioenrs, it can be exhausting to market ourselves twice. Even the most efficient and systematic of us become overwhelmed by managing too many brands in addition to our day-to-day work. In the worst case, this can lead to conflicting voices and confusion in the marketplace.
For every scenario above there are examples and counter-examples — many found in the guests featured on [The Busy Creator Podcast](http://The Busy Creator Podcast.com “The Busy Creator Podcast”). Matt Inglot runs Tilted Pixel, but keeps his writing and podcasting efforts under his own name. Cathryn Lavery, in addition to running Best Self Co. (with a partner), blogs under the moniker Little Might. Liz Andrade recently announced “big news” for her business, CMD+Shift Design, in that she’s taken a new full-time job. I just noticed that Courtney Eliseo, who operates as Seamless Creative, has her Twitter handle set to that of her now-retired blog, @DesignWorkLife.
Brand complexity even strikes yours truly, whose one-person business, Starship Design, has hardly any social media or web voice compared to that of The Busy Creator or indeed items published under my own ridiculous name.
The Path To Self-Branding
So what should we, as individuals, do?
First consider your own situation. If you’re taking on a partner, it’s a good excuse to create a new entity which can embody the values and focus of the business, not just your two selves.
Also examine your own stregnth regarding communication. Are you able to change your voice multiple times per day as a writer, and compose articles and tweets as a business and individual side-by-side? Do you look forward to writing long-form email newsletters keeping in my the particular audience and how they may or may not feel about you specifically? Your responses here should lead your choices.
Does your industry follow certain standards or conventions? While a bit of rebellion is always pleasant, you wouldn’t exactly name a law firm the way you name a punk band. (e.g. “Genuine British Eccentrics” or “Death Before Decaf”) But perhaps a photographer, architect, or illustrator can take a step away from self-naming to stoke the imaginations of clients.
Would you be discarding a well-known brand and its equity? This seems to happen more in music than the visual or commercial arts, but if you’ve spent years with one name and overnight switch to other, it can be tough for your audience or clients to follow you.
Where do you stand?
As usual, I want to hear your thoughts. Are you operating as a brand or just your own name? Is your company simply your last name + your industry? Did you go through a full naming exploration? Where did your partner figure into the decision?
Leave a comment and let me know how you’ve handled your brand name and how that’s translated to marketing and promotion (which many of us find the hardest part.)
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