“We” vs “I” – the best pronoun for a freelance business

wevsigraphicdesignblender

If you’re like me, once you started using your official business name, “we” vs “I” became a big issue.

Which sounds better?

Am I misrepresenting myself if I use we?

What will clients prefer?

Think about who your target client is and who they are most likely to hire. What business traits do they expect their designers to have? When do they expect you to be available? How much are they willing to spend? How do they perceive you, and is that the ideal perception for your business?

Today I want to explore the pros and cons for both “we” and “I” when talking to clients about your design business. If I leave something out, feel free to add to the conversation be leaving a comment!

The case for We

Referring to your business using the plural pronoun “we” gives your business a more corporate, established feel.

If you work with subcontractors or partners you aren’t misrepresenting your business, and clients may find comfort in that it doesn’t sound like junior’s soccer practice is going to interfere with your business hours.

“We” helps dispel the stereotype of you designing in your pajamas in your mom’s basement. By creating a professional group aura, you may convert clients who prefer businesslike relations with a company over a person who might be less reliable.

Note: Have an answer prepared for when a client broaches the ‘we vs I’ question: “On your website you say ‘we,’ but now you’re saying ‘I.’ Do you have employees or partners or is it just you?”

The case for Me

Referring to your business using the singular pronoun “I” makes your business sound more personable, more flexible, and more accessible.

You can create that personal connection with your clients so they know their money is benefiting someone whom they care about and trust, and you can take their occasional (hopefully!) calls at 7pm when most design firms are closed.

“Me” might help you gain clients who are looking for a person rather than a company.

They may feel they can’t afford a group of designers or prefer to support a fellow entrepreneur.

Which pronoun I choose

For now I choose “I.” It feels more natural to use “we” (“At Greer Genius, we…”), but I look to build long-term relationships with my clients both as a trusted professional and generally awesome human being.

I focus on clients who may need education in marketing and design.

These clients are often looking for someone who will go the extra mile, can work outside of normal business hours, and who really cares about the success of their business.

We vs Me: which pronoun do you use?

How do you refer to your business? Are you a “we” or are you an “I?” Leave a comment on this post and let us know what side you’re on!

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Comments

  1. says

    I used to use “we” for the longest time. That was just how I was first introduced into the business world. My boss, used “we” and I thought the world of him for that – so I used “we”. The trouble is, he was in a position of power using the collective “we” and I was very low on the proverbial totem pole of life. So my “we” came across as “normal”. But his “we” came across as authoritative. And I think my career has suffered at times from including “the group” (aka: “we”) when it was really I who did most of the work and didn’t take credit, when credit was due.

    These days I use the pronouns more rigidly. If I did it, I’ll say “I” – even if that work was part of a team effort. But if many people had a hand in the work, I’ll use “we”.

    My take away – just be honest. If you did it, say “I”. If your team was instrumental in a group project, “we” is just fine.

    • says

      Great points, It’s WIlder!

      Too often we’re afraid to take credit for what we’ve accomplished for fear of being labeled as a bragger or for not being a team player. There’s nothing wrong with promoting yourself and the great things you’ve accomplished, though.

      Often times, I’ve been able to compliment both myself and my team. I might say something like, “My team has been fantastic and implementing and improving the marketing plan I developed.”

      When I use “we” now, generally I am referring to my client and I as a partnership. “To promote your new line of products, we can…” This makes them feel like we’re in it together and that there’s no power struggle – we’re a team.

  2. says

    I just had this conflict when I was redesigning my website! At first, I wrote a lot of the copy using the “we” pronoun; eventually it started to feel fake. In the end, I switched to the singular pronoun, and I think it definitely better defines what I offer to my clients, and the type of business relationship I look for.

    • says

      Darrell,

      That’s what happened to me, too. “We” felt false and I was struggling to feel comfortable using it. I’m very happy with “I,” and if my business grows to a partnership or a group of designers, I can always change it up.

      Thanks for sharing!

  3. says

    Man- this is something I’ve been back and fourth between since I first started my company-

    Right now I’ve hit a nice level where I can talk about “we” as a company- but make it very clear that it is always me speaking. As in:

    “I’m really proud of the work that we do here, and I make sure all our solutions meet client needs”

    Stuff like that- that way the copy is very personal but it still sounds like a large company.

  4. Nate says

    Great article! I’ve wrestled with this for the 10+ years that I have been designing and I used to operate under a company name that implied that “we” were a large design firm with hopes that “we” would eventually become a large design firm. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with optimistic branding like that. However, I am now employed at performing arts theater as a full time graphic designer and I freelance on the side. I now focus more on branding myself rather than my graphic design “organization”. I now use the “I” approach.

    • says

      Nate,

      There’s nothing saying that if you/your business should grow into a group that you can’t change later. I like your optimism, though – think big and keep that reminder in front of you so that you know where you want to be.

      Thanks for sharing!

  5. Majo says

    Thanks for this article! In the past few weeks I struggled to decide whether I should refer to “we” or to “I” when presenting my business. I finally chosed the “we” approach just for the same reasons you gave: the impression of a more professional, corporate structure behind it. Although it’s just me by the moment, I intend to subcontract some services, so I wouldn’t be lying.
    I also agree with Its Wilder: the credit for a job done by you is yours, unless it was a group project.

  6. says

    Even though I sign most of the contracts personally, I prefer to use the therm “we” because my wife and I are team and the clients love family business concept because it gives closer and more reliable relation. Good article!

  7. says

    ‘I’ use ‘I’ because I want people to know they will be dealing with me and me alone, and the particular skills that I have (on the assumption that’s why they want to work with me).

  8. says

    I use “we.” It works best for me (us) since I work with a business partner in my (our) office. We also have partnering designers who work on projects with us as needed, and occasionally participate in collaborative creative brainstorming sessions for specific projects or clients. Although we don’t have employees per se, we bring a team-based approach to almost every job.

    • says

      Joe,

      Sounds like a great justification. Would you be interested in answering a few questions for me about sharing an office such that I could include your insight in an upcoming post?

  9. Kevin Alvey says

    I’ve used we in the past and have found that with we comes an expectation for a higher level of performance. Along its lines, the expectation by a customer to donate uncountable resources toward a project despite unrealistoc deadlines and limited budget. At the end of the day “I” may lend itself to a greater sense of personal conflict but the job is done and all parties move ahead satisfied.

    • says

      Kevin,

      I have found that some clients are unrealistic, and sometimes they assume “we” means they have the resources of the entire team at their disposal. On the other hand, I’ve had clients who assume “I” means that I have no life other than working for them. What else could I possibly have to do on a Tuesday evening rather than work on their project?

      Those clients are the ones I avoid…and I’m lucky enough to get to choose which clients to work with.

  10. says

    I agree, this is a really great Article. I believe that in order to grow your business as a freelancer you should know at which times to use each pronoun. Using “I” is as April mentions much more personal which is great when dealing with referral clients. This shows them the one-on-one attention that they are most likely looking for since they were referred by an existing customer. Although like Wilder I too like taking credit for my work whenever possible, even if it means going that extra mile that April is talking about. The “we” for me sometimes comes into play when working with larger companies who expect results without all of the added personal consultation. Either way I feel that in order to attract both types of clientele it is necessary to use each of these terms under different circumstances. Thanks for the great advice!

    • says

      Angelo,

      It’s true that you can tailor your message to the client in personal relations…you can be a bit more friendly with the personable client and more professional with the corporation.

      Great thoughts!

  11. Fabiola says

    Great topic! This was also something I’ve gone back and forth with. So what would you say when you use “we” in a business meeting and your client curiously asks how many designers are in your freelance business? That’s why I’m afraid of using “we” even though it sounds better with bigger clients!

    • says

      Fabiola,

      Be honest is the best advice I’ve got. If it’s you but you work with subcontractors, I would mention that. If it’s only you, the best explanation I can think of is that you businesses are usually referred to as “we”s and you didn’t want to confuse your audience by using a business name and “I”, which is usually reserved for people who use their given name as their business name.

      Personally, I use “I” to refer to the people in my business and “we” to refer to the partnership of the client and me working together toward the best solution.

      Great question!

  12. Nakita Pope says

    Awesome article! I struggle with this often, and have gone back and forth between the two. This gives me different perspective on the subject.

  13. Nakita Pope says

    Fabiola….I usually explain that I have sub contractors that work with me on certain projects. If the scope of their project will include that I make sure that they know that, but also inform them that they will be working with me directly.

  14. says

    Great article, I read all the comments because I am also trying to decide what is the best working for my animated video website. I’m also afraid of using we as it’s generally just me doing everything. I am currently trying to improve my website further and I am available for hire!

    Please check out my showreel and use the contact form on my website http://sundstedt.se to Get Started! in getting your awesome, compelling & handcrafted animated video. You can also email or call +44(0)7531-800-711.

  15. says

    I use whatever feels more comfortable with whom I am talking to….if they are part of an organization I tend to use ‘we”, otherwise I tend to use ‘I’.

    There is no hard-and-fast rule, though!

    Love the discussion, and everyone’s persepective…glad you brought it up!

    • says

      Chris,

      I often use “we” when I’m referring to the client and I as a partnership. People tend to associate positive feelings with a team atmosphere; it fosters collaboration and removes the pressure of project success being dependent on just one person.

      I like that you’re tailoring your message as you see fit! After all, you can’t please all people with the same message.

  16. says

    I had a hard time figuring out which pronoun I should use for my little freelance business. But in the ending I definitely figured out exactly what you are saying in you article – I try to make a lasting contact and impression as a human being with my clients. So I have chosen to be a I instead of a we which I feel would be a lie to call myself.

    Since i started I have only had good experiences with my “I-business” and that is exactly hat I and surely most of other businesses are trying to reach.

  17. Cat says

    Is it possible to say both? Like using “we” in marketing and website but when talking to clients using “I” for that more personal feel? When/if asked, maybe answering something along the lines of “‘I’ am the PM and designer and ‘we’ is the different team members (content writers, developer subcontractors, etc.) working on the project”?

    • says

      Cat,

      I certainly think you can pull off a “we” in marketing and personalize it to “I” when in direct contact with clients, especially if you’re subcontracting.

      For example, if you were in a large design firm, your website would say we but when you met with a client, you’d refer to yourself as what “I’m” going to do for you.

      You may want to mention on your website somewhere that you work with a talented group of team members to provide the best solution. This way clients know you’re the main designer but you work with others for content, web dev, etc

      Great question!

  18. says

    The use of “I” works best for me and what I’m currently doing. In the past I have been told by friends and associates to change it to “We”, but it is me doing the work, it is me building the relationships and I like to ask my clients “what can I do for you?”

    • says

      Summer,

      I know how you feel – my friends and family were the least enamored with the business name I chose (Greer Genius) while everyone here on GDB has been totally thrilled with it.

      I realized I value their opinions but I felt this was the best representation of myself and it was something I really liked, so I went for it anyway. And guess what? Once I revealed my logo, tagline, and marketing strategy, they were sold. :)

      Sometimes you just have to hold onto what you think is best and educate why you think it’s the best decision.

      Thanks for sharing!

  19. Sam says

    Great topic, glad I found it. I am in the process of setting up my own freelance business and I hadn’t even thought about how I was going to portray myself as such when considering the manor of speech on my website. I certainly agree with the angle of professionalism where referring to ‘we’ is concerned and the image of a group but I do also agree with the added personal touch that referring to ‘I’ can add. I personally think it is very dependent on the nature of the business in question. For me, setting up a CAD consultancy where an expectation or added value to my business will be the ability to work outside of normal working hours, I think I will tend to steer towards the use of ‘I’ though would try using ‘we’ in some areas of my site perhaps as ultimately the truth is, if I could not handle a certain workload myself, I do have a network of CAD technicians upon which I could rely on if necessary. An approach that a lot of designers in varying industries could take.

  20. says

    Great, great topic April – as ever.

    It’s funny, ive toyed with both versions of this on separate websites and both are equally well accepted. For the ‘we’, I explain that we work as a co-operative, as in I have a bank of industry professionals that all work together together to provide agency professionals, an agency service without paying agency prices. Clients seem to love it.

    On the flip side, my other site aims at the ‘I’ market. The only discernible difference I can determine is that people do seem to haggle prices more if they know its up to you to decide the job rate.

    Thanks again April, keep up the great work.

    • says

      Jim,

      That’s a great point – if your client knows you set the prices, they feel more comfortable haggling with you. Being a “we” subtly implies that the ethereal “someone else” set the prices.

      Being your own boss has both pros and cons. :)

      Thanks for sharing!

  21. Karam says

    I use the term “I” almost exclusively. Even if I’m working with others, I prefer saying “my partners/colleagues and I” instead.

    Once the client understands there are several people working on a project, I start saying “we” because “my colleagues and I” becomes pretty silly when you repeat it a few times.

  22. says

    Are you a “we” or are you an “I?” Any day ‘We’ are ‘We’. We are a group of 10 people, but even though the project is handled solely (in some case) by one person, it is still ‘We’ since once you are part of a group/team, there is only one ‘We’ to go.

    • says

      Shyam,

      Sounds like you’ve got a great group to work with, and promoting this philosophy is a great way to keep morale up and retain serious talent!

      Thanks for sharing!

  23. says

    I had been a freelance designer and sole trader before i started my limited company and could not handle the shift to using ‘we’. I felt i was misrepresenting my position. 12 years on i comfortably use both ‘i’ and ‘we’ depending on the circumstances, same as Alex Singleton.

  24. says

    I use I.

    I really felt it was best just to use “I”. I didn’t want to make it sound like I have a whole team when in reality it is just me. But everyone I do work for knows that it is just me anyway.

    Nice Article.

  25. Jaleesa says

    Recently, I decided that since it’s just “me” right now, it makes more since to use “I”. Although, I’m not sure exactly where that will place me on the scale if I try to go after a few corporate clients. I’m not really that worried about it though. I can ace an over the phone interview without braking a sweat!

  26. says

    Thank you for your article – this problem had been bothering me since I began operating my business in May.

    I have always used ‘I’ as it is just me. And you are correct – clients come to me for that personal touch and to know they are dealing with a real person who cares.

  27. herve butaye says

    Alain Delon (french actor) has resolved this issue, just say “he” when speaking about himself, tha’s a third way, a royal way. :-)

  28. says

    I initially used ‘I’ and of course the clients were happy to receive that personable experience and like you mentioned, reaching out for me at odd hours wasn’t an issue.

    But deeper in the game when the time came to grab larger projects with much larger firms, I wasn’t given a preference and the feedback came back as “we are looking for a group of designers, developers and not just a designer, we would want to see a team working on our project” the reason clients prefer teams is because they know if there are more than one designer on a team, they’ll have better options to choose from and when there would be developers, there would be internal team discussions and the results would be much better and thought through, whereas in a single person’s case, there are always limitations.

    So I started to use ‘we’ even if I subcontracted the development work and started to get bigger projects! It all depends what your target audience wants to see.

  29. says

    Thanks for the article, April… I had no idea other designers had this struggle too!

    Getting most my work from individuals or micro-projects, I use both I and WE, but find that both have their perceived weaknesses. Most times you can “feel it” when you write to your client.

    I always try to use a language that conveys that I can understand the needs of my potential clients in a way that addresses the specific scope of their project. I believe so it’s more about the overall tone and how much you use language and terms that are accessible without being too “cutsy” or “chummy.”

    And I follow-up: clients need to feel secure and special. I often meet clients how are paying way too much for very limited product, but they don’t know this business that much, so for me it’s important to give them a lot for their money, or at least point them to better options. I also don’t always run the clock for every single revision, and make sure to let them know as everyone loves a freebie. And really, if I made a typo, or didn’t crop a picture properly, or used the wrong font, or need to brighten up a banner or recenter a title, I don’t feel the client should pay for it. But I’m a one guy operation, so I can do this. If I had to pay someone else, I wouldn’t play with their pay.

    Anyways, all I’m trying to say is: sometimes treating the client as a person more than a client really is what matters most. Although I’ve had clients treat me as a non-person, but that is beyond the scope of this reply…

    Thanks again!

    Regards,

    Andre Lefebvre

    • says

      Andre,

      You’re welcome, and thanks for sharing your insight!

      I agree 100% – treating your clients well and providing excellent customer service goes a LONG way in maintaining your client relationships and getting future projects.

      Have a great week!

  30. says

    As several have said, just tell the truth. You’ll be more authentic. If you’re working alone, it’s “I”. If you have other people regularly subcontracting or working in your business, it’s “we”.

    The more important pronoun, I believe, is “you”. Don’t speak on your website about “our clients”… speak of “you”. Talk directly to your prospective (or actual) client when you write your web content. Make it about them, not you, and your marketing will be more successful.

  31. says

    This is a great observational piece April. When I first began freelancing I came up against this question. I always found it a bit odd when freelancers I knew would use “we” on their web site while the truth was that they were most definitely an “I” working from home. Those folks also often gave themselves titles like “art director” or “creative director” of their “firm” to put on airs. I think that’s funny—as a freelancer I am the creative director, art director, designer, admin assistant, bookkeeper, custodian, etc :)

    I went the route of using “I”. On occasion I will subcontract and in that context I will give credit. However, using “we” all of the time feel disingenuous. My clients know or will certainly find out that I am an “I” and it’s my work (I hope) not the size of my firm that matters.

  32. says

    Thanks April this is an useful topic and has at least made me feel a little better that I’m not the only one who has struggled with the the we vs I issues I have as a freelance designer. On the one hand I want to appear to be able to take on larger projects – it wouldn’t be the first time that a client assumes that you need many designers to work on their projects. On the other the benefits of being a one man band; lower costs primarily, but also that personal touch attract another section of clients, so which to choose. More and more I think lets be honest about it. I.

    As an aside I worked for a firm for many years in a smallish team of five where the owner of the company always referred to the company verbally in the singular saying things like “I did this”, “I will do that” whereas the rest of us always used we. Over time I realised that despite the obvious fact that he couldn’t possibly do all the work himself this was how he was referred much of his work. The clients never referred to others by the company name only his. Eventually as a kind of experiment I adopted the same approach, and although it felt uncomfortable in the extreme I found the same thing happened, but in my direction. An interesting bit of psychological experimentation, but not something I would condone as its fairly demoralising and demeaning to other membres of the team.
    Nowadays its less of an issue of course.

    • says

      Craig,

      I agree that as an owner, using “I” when you have a team around you makes the team feel less the appreciated. That’s when I think you start using “we.”

      Thanks for sharing!

  33. says

    Hey there!
    This is a real issue you’re addressing!
    I remember when i started out, I used to call myself “we”, then i felt like i was betraying myself and my the client but I wanted corporate clients, so for a while, yes, I was a “we”. Then i started to hire other designers and i was happy that the “we”, even if it meant “two” or “three” was real. The “we” brought big clients, the “we” brought too much expectations, it was great for the money, not for the peace of mind! haha!

    Today, i’m very comfortable with me as an “I” because it is who i really am, a freelance designer not a big design corporation that talks numbers like a banker! It gives me freedom to work the way i desire and more! The clients I get are more in the creative field but also they are REAL people like me so, it’s less pressure do deal with. When I was a “we” i didn’t do much of design work because that’s what the “we” does to you after a while. The “we” needs more attention than the “i”!

    Besides, today is full of “One man/woman show” business people… So the “i” is saved!

    • says

      Prisca,

      I’m with you – I’m a real person with a personality and a cheerful disposition – and part of the reason my clients work with me is me!

      “I”s unite – oh wait, is that a “we”? Ha ha ha.

  34. says

    Great article, have been thinking about the difference in impact the both of these have. You nailed it!

    Although, if your company/business is at a transition level, like mine, where I do majority of the work myself but also see the possibility of working with others, you can refer to the business AS ITS OWN ENTITY.
    For example; “Greer Genius specialise in…”
    “Greer Genius can help you…”
    “Call Greer Genius on….”.

    If it gets repetitive, you can turn it around to your customer.
    For example:
    “You can expect this…”
    instead of
    “Greer Genius does this…”

    It can get a little tricky in some spots but there is always a work around. This is probably more closely related to the ‘we’ definition, except doesn’t imply you are working with a team.
    Thought it might have been worth mentioning and a good solution for those who can’t make up their mind!
    :)

  35. says

    I use “I” and “me”. After all, my tag line is “Your Personal Design Source”. I enjoy working with the small (or start up) business, and I have no desire to misreprent myself as some coporate entity. Besides, if a client calls me and hears my dog barking in the background, or meets me in a public place because I don’t have clients come to my home office, I figure the jig’s up anyway! I am more interested in getting a good “fit” with a prospective client. I have no illusions of getting rich quick! I have learned through experience that there are some marriages which are simply not to be; you must have the ability and willingness to say “no” sometimes.

    • says

      Susan,

      A good fit is what it’s all about – I want to work with clients who want to work with me, not who just need some random designer.

      Thanks for sharing!

  36. says

    Over time, I can always discern if it’s a one person operation, (there are always clues) and if they have been talking to me as “we” I think less of them for lying about their big time operation.

  37. Graham Clark says

    That is what I do Robert: I will say “Thank you for choosing to work with Clark Design” or Clark design would be happy to undertake this project.
    Either that or I use “I”, depending on the nature of the relationship I have with the client. If it is a corporate or a company I will use Clark Design. If the job is for an individual I will use “I”

  38. says

    Great article! I DEFINITELY struggled with this in the beginning. I kept going back and forth, because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to position myself as a freelancer or a company. At first I used “we” because I thought “I” sounded too informal. I ended up switching all my material to “I” when I redesigned my site and I do feel like it represents me better, and that I’m not lying to my clients. Most of my clients hire me because I am a a freelancer, so I definitely seems more appropriate to me—although I do sometimes refer to my company name as well.

  39. Elsie Smith says

    Having been self-employed over 10 years, my clients know that I work alone, but have a lot of partners for their projects. Generally, directly to my clients , I am an “I..” However, many times these clients have people submit things directly to me. When I respond to those people (and partners I’m using for my clients), I use the “we.” THEY don’t need to know that I’m in my PJs on the deck :-)

  40. says

    I also use the company name in place of I or we in my written materials. I have as of yet to have a client that was off put by working with me as a sole proprietor. I am always professional and most of my clients state this as reason to try me in the first place. After that my work speaks for itself.

    I do use subcontractors for some web related projects so we would not be inaccurate.

    Although, I could use we because I am estimator, accounts receivable, accounts payable, creative director, sales and designer. My brain switches not just hats but personalities to accomplish each task. I am We! :0)

  41. says

    I’m a patent illustrator. I have accounts of many ip law firms each with multiple projects. They want to know you can handle any acconts or deadline. I prefer to use “we” when generally pitching the business and “I” when the finished product is being handed. I’ve learnt from the get go not to think freelancer, but entrepreneur. I also manage other freelancers who I subcontract. Interestingly. When it comes to my work, the clients always give me the credit. See my recommendations on LinkedIn

  42. says

    “We” can help you easily pass the business to someone else without taking the clients with you. Some clients will not work with your firm after you leave because “you” are your firm.

  43. Justin Miller says

    I have used “We” for at least the past dozen years. Even if you are a solo one man operation, you still need to get the job printed, or you may need to hire a photographer, writer or whatever. So the we includes everyone on your team you include to do the job. When asked if its just me or I have employees, I answer “My team and I are standing by to help you solve your problems through (insert what you do get the problem solved)” Whatever the case, always present yourself professionally.

  44. says

    Hello April!

    Great article.

    I’m re-newing my whole website and struggling on the pronoun problem. I’m in advertising film business and most of the time I work with my own materials although I count on other people for certain elements. Till now I’ve been using “I” but I feel in such a traditionally team-like business (Film) I should start talking with “we”. The worst part of it is when I have to set an “about” section, which is easy when talking about the services, but difficult to set the “about us” part.

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